TOKYO (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono is being considered for the role of defence minister when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffles his Cabinet next week, the country's Sankei Shimbun reported on Sunday (Sept 8).
Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said Kono may be tapped to succeed current Defence Minster Takeshi Iwaya following the foreign affairs minister's tough stance against South Korea over wartime issues which have strained political and trade ties between the two countries.
Abe is hoping that the 56-year-old Kono, who is known for his close ties with the United States and positive relationship with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will strengthen Japan's role in trilateral security cooperation between Tokyo, Washington and Seoul amid the ongoing dispute, the Sankei said.
The Defence Ministry was not immediately available for comment on the issue.
Tensions between Japan and South Korea have been mounting recently, with Japan removing South Korea from a list of preferred trading partners and South Korea terminating an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.
On Sept 7, South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Kim In-chul said in a letter to the Wall Street Journal that Japan has "stonewalled dialogue and instead retaliated on the trade front," accusing it of "historical revisionism."
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Sunday South Korea is responsible for the worsening relationship with Japan.
"Why has the Japan-South Korea relationship soured this much?" Suga said on a TV Asahi programme on Sunday. "I think it's all South Korea's fault."
The heart of the problem, Suga said, is that South Korea has failed to observe the agreements reached in 1965 when the two nations normalised relations. His comments echoed what Kono had written in an opinion piece for Bloomberg on Sept 4.
The Yomiuri newspaper reported on Wednesday that Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi was set to replace Kono as foreign minister in the reshuffle expected on Sept 11.
Kono, who has served as foreign minister since August 2017, is the son of former chief Cabinet secretary Yohei Kono, who wrote a landmark 1993 apology to "comfort women" who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.
First elected to Parliament in 1996, Kono is a fluent English speaker and was educated at Georgetown University in Washington.