Japan's Cabinet reshuffle: Who's expected to stay or go?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said his picks will be a combination of continuity and new faces.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said his picks will be a combination of continuity and new faces.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will reshuffle his Cabinet and ruling party leaders on Wednesday (Sept 11) as he tries to maintain support for his government in the face of a looming tax hike and trade battle with US President Donald Trump.

Mr Abe, 64, whose string of six straight national election victories has set him on course to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister in November, has said his picks will be a combination of continuity and new faces.

Here are some of the major points to watch for:

1. Who gets to stay on?

One person trusted with keeping the economy on course and another with directing Mr Abe's political agenda are set to stay. Weeks ahead of the Oct 1 hike in the sales tax to 10 per cent from 8 per cent, Finance Minister Taro Aso, 78, who also serves as Deputy Prime Minister and heads a key faction within Mr Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), is pegged to stay in his post, according to the Nikkei newspaper. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, a 70-year-old known for his loyalty to Mr Abe, is also likely to retain his post as the chief government spokesman, the Nikkei said.

2. How will Abe deal with successors?

With two years left to run on Mr Abe's term as party leader, a poll published by the Nikkei newspaper this month found Mr Shinjiro Koizumi, the 38-year-old son of a former premier, was respondents' top choice to succeed him. He is widely expected to get a government post.

Current Foreign Minister Taro Kono, 56, also figures among prospective future leaders, and could be switched into the defence position, public broadcaster NHK said. Mr Kono - fluent in English and critical of what he sees as the government's inadequate environmental policy - has bolstered his standing in his current post and built a following on social media through his down-to-earth Twitter feed.

Mr Fumio Kishida, 62, tipped by Mr Abe as a future leader, is likely to stay in his job as party policy chief, the Yomiuri newspaper said. And dark horse Katsunobu Kato, 63, could return to the Cabinet, according to broadcaster TBS.

 
 
 

3. Will Abe's Cabinet show more diversity?

Former Olympic speed skater and cyclist Seiko Hashimoto is widely reported to be in line to serve as minister for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, while Ms Sanae Takaichi may also return to the Cabinet, thereby doubling the number of women from one to two out of its 20 members.

Ms Junko Mihara - an actress-turned-politician - may not end up as a minister but is being closely watched to see if Mr Abe will set her on a course towards higher office.

4. Who will handle US-Japan trade talks?

Mr Abe and Mr Trump last month announced they had reached an outline deal on trade, which they aim to sign in New York in late September, though many of the details are far from clear.

Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, 63, who has led the negotiations thus far, is under consideration to switch to foreign minister, the Sankei newspaper said. It is possible he could take the US trade portfolio with him, rather than have someone else take over at a crucial stage.

5. How will it impact the South Korea feud?

Mr Abe has seen public support at home for taking a tough stand against South Korea amid a feud that has turned relations between the neighbours to their coldest in decades. The prime minister is set to jettison Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya, who has come under fire from some in the LDP for appearing too friendly when greeting his South Korean counterpart.

Mr Iwaya is therefore seen as likely to be replaced - but his successor will be beset by problems from persuading local communities to accept a new missile defence system to dealing with demands from the Trump administration for more financial support for US troops in Japan.

Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko, 56, who has played a role in the spat with South Korea that included placing export restrictions on key materials vital to the neighbour's tech sector, may switch to a party post, FNN reported.