Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to reshuffle his Cabinet today, with changes aimed at cooling a raging maritime dispute with China, reports have said.
Commentators say that as well as helping soothe the diplomatic wrangle, Noda’s reshuffle is a bid to boost his waning popularity and reinvigorate his government after a costly battle to pass tax legislation.
Noda may tap Beijing-friendly Makiko Tanaka, 68, as a new addition to the Cabinet, the Asahi Shimbun reported yesterday.
Tanaka, daughter of former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka who normalized diplomatic ties with Beijing 40 years ago, has warm links with China which has been jousting with Japan over islands in the East China Sea.
Noda is considering appointing Tanaka to a ministerial post to signal to Beijing Tokyo’s intention of repairing the damaged relationship, the Asahi said.
The prime minister will likely retain Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba in his post, to provide continuity as Japan tangles with China and South Korea over separate territorial rows, the Asahi and Jiji Press said.
The standoff with China over the uninhabited Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), known as the Senkakus in Japan, in China has drawn a furious response from Beijing and set off violent protests in several Chinese cities.
South Korea has its own territorial dispute with Japan over the Liancourt Rocks, called Dokdo Island by Seoul and Takeshima by Tokyo, which flared up after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak paid a surprise visit to the islands last month.
Another highlight of the reshuffle is who will replace Japanese Minister of Finance Jun Azumi, who is being propelled into a top party post.
Although Azumi has not been universally popular in financial circles, there have been concerns of a policy gap now that he is departing, although the minister has assured there will be no “political vacuum.”
Noda is under pressure to call a general election this year after he offered his opponents a vague pledge to dissolve parliament “sometime soon” in exchange for their support on a pet project to raise sales tax.
However, woeful opinion poll numbers have left many in his factionaly riven party fearing for their seats, with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party seen likely to win a national ballot.
Japan’s main opposition party chose former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe as its new leader last week, in a vote that could see him reinstated as prime minister.