Japan’s unpopular prime minister reshuffled his Cabinet yesterday, picking a woman with Beijing-friendly credentials in what commentators said signaled his hope to move past a damaging territorial row.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda named a relative unknown as finance minister, but kept several key positions unchanged as he seeks a balance of continuity and change ahead of an expected general election.
Noda, whose Democratic Party of Japan governs in coalition with a smaller grouping, told reporters that the changes would help boost his government.
“This is a reshuffle that will help the government and the ruling parties cooperate to address a number of issues we are facing domestically and diplomatically and further strengthen the function of the Cabinet,” he said.
Later in the day, his newly appointed ministers were formally sworn in by Emperor Akihito in a palace ceremony.
Former Japanese foreign minister Makiko Tanaka was appointed education minister. The job is relatively powerless and has little directly to do with China, but commentators say her appointment is an attempt to telegraph Noda’s willingness to heal diplomatic wounds.
Japan and China have clashed repeatedly over the past few months about the Tokyo-administered Senkaku Islands, which Taiwan claims as the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) and China claims as the Diaoyu Archipelago (釣魚群島).
Tanaka is the daughter of former Japanese prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, who normalized diplomatic ties with Beijing 40 years ago on Saturday, and has warm links with China, where her family is held in high regard.
She was in Beijing last week as part of a cross-party Japanese parliamentary delegation.
Her short stint as foreign minister under popular former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi was marked by rows with bureaucrats. It is chiefly remembered for the tearful speech she gave after being dismissed in 2002.