Abe to reshuffle Cabinet on Aug 3 with Onodera as defence minister

Mr Itsunori Onodera speaking at a news conference at the Defence Ministry in Tokyo, on Dec 17, 2013.
Mr Itsunori Onodera speaking at a news conference at the Defence Ministry in Tokyo, on Dec 17, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will appoint Mr Itsunori Onodera as Defence Minister in a Cabinet reshuffle scheduled for Thursday (Aug 3), NHK television reported on Wednesday.

Mr Onodera, who held the post for almost two years after Mr Abe returned to power in 2012, will take over from interim minister Fumio Kishida, who stepped in temporarily after Ms Tomomi Inada resigned amid a series of gaffes and a cover-up scandal that contributed to a plunge in public support for Mr Abe.

Mr Onodera's appointment comes amid regional instability as North Korea continues to test-launch missiles in defiance of UN sanctions, and as China maintains its assertive stance in the East and South China Seas.

Mr Abe will appoint Mr Kishida to a senior party post, NHK said. The economy minister post is set to be taken by Toshimitsu Motegi, who formerly served as trade minister, NHK reported.

Mr Kishida is set to move to the position of LDP policy chief. Mr Motegi, who studied at Harvard and supervised the clean-up of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactor during his tenure as trade minister, would take over as economy minister from Mr Nobuteru Ishihara.

Finance Minister Taro Aso is widely expected to remain in his post, as is Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko, media said.

“The goal of this Cabinet reshuffle is to intensify ‘Abenomics’ and aim mainly for economic reform,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Wednesday.

Mr Abe, beset by tumbling public support due to suspicions of a cronyism scandal and a crushing election loss by his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Tokyo elections last month, is set to carry out a broad shake-up of his Cabinet.

Recent opinion polls have shown support for Mr Abe plunging to below 30 per cent, its lowest since he returned to office in December 2012 with a promise to revive Japan’s stale economy and bolster its defences. The fall in support endangers his long-cherished goal of revising Japan’s pacifist Constitution.

The appointments reported by NHK suggest that Mr Abe appears to prefer the safety of Cabinet veterans over the appeal of fresh faces, who could bring with them the risk of more gaffes and scandals.