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Nineteen men and one woman Shinzo Abe

The new government of Japan has to solve difficult problems.

October 2 in Tokyo, the inauguration of the new government of Japan, formed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after his convincing victory in the election of the chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) 20 September. The victory allowed Abe to extend his tenure as party leader and, accordingly, in the chair of the head of the cabinet for a third three-year term - up to 2021, which is a record in the history of the country.

Nineteen men and one woman Shinzo Abe
Photo: versiya.info

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
This is the fourth cabinet of the current prime minister since he came to power again in December 2012. It consists of 19 men and only one woman. Abe is already being criticized in the country for minimizing the number of women in the new government, despite his vociferous campaign promises to make the "weaker sex" one of the locomotives of the Japanese economy. The cabinet includes 12 new ministers - the largest number of "recruits" in the history of the Abe administration. The placement of personnel within the government was carried out by its leader, taking into account the wishes of the inner-party factions of the LDP, which supported the Prime Minister in his struggle for the post of party leader.

Seven of the new ministers are veteran politicians who have won elections to the country's House of Representatives seven or more times. This fact means that the Prime Minister tried to attract as many people as possible from the "waiting list" of potential cabinet members who had previously been unable to join the government to run the country. 

However, for the newcomers, there are concerns that their lack of administrative experience will prevent them from effectively performing their duties. Their ability to adequately answer acute questions in parliament is also questioned. In addition, many of them are followed by a train of unsuccessful political statements and scandalous actions. This makes them vulnerable to criticism from opposition forces.

One of these figures is Satsuki Katayama, a lady who holds the post of minister unparalleled in other countries, responsible for the socio-economic revival of the country's backward regions. She was criticized for her tweet on social media, perceived as an attack on a child from a poor family. Katayama was also forced to apologize for being late for parliamentary hearings when she chaired the House Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

New Minister of the Environment Yoshiaki Harada has previously resigned from the post of Minister of Education due to the fact that he falsified the history of his education. He also became famous for demanding a revision of the government's official position on the "Nanjing Massacre" - the mass and brutal massacre of the Chinese civilian population by the Imperial Japanese Army during its aggression on the mainland.

Yoshitaka Sakurada became the minister responsible for organizing the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. He noted with his controversial statement that the so-called "women for comfort and relaxation" - Korean women and residents of other Japanese-occupied countries who were forcibly forced to provide sexual services to the Japanese military during World War II - did so, ostensibly in order to "earn ". In general, in their outlook, many of the new ministers are far-right politicians who support Prime Minister Abe.

In addition, during the internal party reshuffle, Shinzo Abe appointed Akira Amari as head of his campaign headquarters. This functionary resigned in 2016 from the post of Minister of Economic Revival due to accusations of trading in influence, for which he received cash in his own office. Amari is a close friend of the Prime Minister. The new administration now has many politicians who belong to Abe's inner circle. Japanese political analysts are trying to figure out what the prime minister wants to achieve during the upcoming three-year term as LDP chairman and prime minister with the controversial staffing he has produced this time.

The preservation of Abe in the new government of several key figures from the previous cabinet of ministers gives reason to say that the main directions of the country's domestic and foreign policy will remain the same. Such figures include Deputy Prime Minister and conjoint Finance Minister Taro Aso, Secretary General of the Cabinet of Ministers Yoshihide Suga, Foreign Minister Taro Kono and others.

On the economic front, it is obvious that the course called "Abenomics" will be continued. Its main goal is to end the deflation that has been crushing the country's economy over the past decades and put it on a sustainable development path. The main instruments of Abenomics are an aggressive policy of monetary easing and massive government spending. To implement it, the Abe government, in particular, plans to increase the consumption tax from the current 8% to 10% in October 2019. In the past, it has twice postponed this painful step for the population. During the campaign for elections to the House of Representatives in October 2017, the prime minister, among other measures, pledged to spend about $ 2 trillion. yen from income generated from the increase in consumption tax to make schooling free. The prevailing view in the government is that the prime minister is unlikely to delay the tax hike a third time. Finance Minister Taro Aso noted that the economy continues to grow and stated that there are conditions under which such an increase is possible.

The government intends to include large-scale economic incentives in the state budget for the 2019 fiscal year (begins on April 1) in order to prevent the negative impact of the tax increase on the economy. At the same time, concerns remain that, if a huge amount of taxpayers' money is spent on such measures, the government will have to postpone achieving its goal of improving the country's finances. The fact that Japan’s national debt currently accounts for about 250% of its GDP is evidence of problems in this area.

Overcoming deflation is also still a major challenge. The downward trend in consumer prices was halted. However, Japan was unable to meet the 2% annual inflation target set by the Bank of Japan. The Bank's ultra-cheap money policy aimed at achieving this indicator has entered its sixth year. During a debate during the campaign to elect the chairman of the ruling LDP in September, Prime Minister Abe stressed that he would like this abnormal monetary policy to end while he is in power.

In addition to these, there are other pressing problems for the Abe administration. The Prime Minister announced his intention to reform the welfare system that will span all generations, as the life expectancy of the Japanese people is expected to increase to 100 years in the future. However, the government is not expected to announce an increase in the financial burden on society through measures such as increased premiums for health and nursing insurance programs until the next elections to the House of Councilors in 2019.

As a concrete measure to reform the social security system, Prime Minister Abe suggested that employers continue to hire workers under the age of 70 instead of the current 65. He also proposed allowing people to start receiving pensions at age 70 at will. The government intends to present the relevant bills during the next session of parliament in 2020.

The Abe administration intends to encourage healthy seniors to work longer in order to reduce welfare costs. However, such measures, which would increase the costs of personnel for companies, may meet with opposition from the business. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimates that Japan's social security spending will skyrocket from its current 68 trillion yen to about 190 trillion yen by fiscal 2040. The government is also considering lowering mobile phone charges. Cabinet Secretary General Yoshihide Suga said in a speech in August this year that tariffs in this area could be cut by about 40%.

On the diplomatic front, the focus will be on Japan's trade negotiations with the government of US President Donald Trump. Abe and Trump agreed in September to begin negotiations on a bilateral trade agreement, under which Tokyo and Washington will mutually lower tariffs on imports of agricultural and industrial goods. In addition, the Japanese government intends to participate in negotiations to conclude an agreement on a Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership in East Asia between 16 countries, including Japan, China and the ASEAN member countries. These negotiations are entering a decisive phase with the aim of reaching this agreement by the end of this year.

In the field of foreign policy, the Prime Minister also intends to resolve the issue of the kidnapping of Japanese citizens by North Korea in the 70s and 80s of the last century to teach North Korean spies the Japanese language. The government wants to return to their homeland the surviving abducted compatriots and clarify the fate of the rest. Tokyo closely links this issue with the problem of the "nuclear missile threat" from Pyongyang. Earlier, when the DPRK continued its programs for the development of nuclear weapons and missiles, Japan refused to conduct a dialogue with this country and advocated exerting all possible pressure on it.

However, since the United States and North Korea began face-to-face high-level communication earlier this year, Prime Minister Abe has also shown a willingness to engage with Pyongyang to address the issue of the kidnapped and normalize bilateral diplomatic relations. “We must end the mutual mistrust and meet face to face with Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Workers' Party of Korea,” the prime minister told reporters at a September 26 news conference.

An important task in the international arena for Abe is to improve relations with China, which have exacerbated in connection with the territorial dispute over the group of uninhabited Senkaku islands (in Chinese, Diaoyu Dao) in the East China Sea. In addition, Tokyo opposes Beijing's offensive naval strategy in the South China Sea, over which the PRC claims most of the water area. Abe also plans to pay an official visit to Beijing at the end of October to mark the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China. Tokyo is also seeking a return visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping to Japan next year.

One of Shinzo Abe's foreign policy priorities for the next three years of his rule will remain the solution of the territorial problem in relations with Russia and the conclusion of a peace treaty with her. Russian President Vladimir Putin, unexpectedly for the Japanese side, proposed at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September that Tokyo and Moscow sign a peace treaty within a year without preconditions. This proposal met with a very negative reaction in Japan... Nevertheless, Prime Minister Abe intends to continue to meet with Putin at various international venues to clarify the true intentions of the Russian leader. And in June 2019, an official visit of the Russian President to Japan may take place, timed to coincide with the G-20 summit in Osaka. The Japanese hope that it will be there that some progress will be made in the territorial issue. In any case, as head of the Japanese government, Shinzo Abe will try to do everything in his power to, in tandem with Putin, cut the territorial Gordian knot in bilateral relations in the next three years. Thus, the Prime Minister hopes to go down in Japanese history as a politician who solved a foreign policy problem that has not been resolved for more than 70 years.
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