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Politics

Foreign Minister Kono in line to be Japan's next defense chief

Abe aide Hiroshige Seko to become LDP's secretary-general for upper house

Foreign Minister Taro Kono has established a close relationship with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while maininting a hardline against South Korea.   © AP

TOKYO -- Foreign minister Taro Kono is being considered as Japan's next defense minister when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week reshuffles his cabinet, Nikkei has learned. If the move takes place, Kono would replace current defense chief Takeshi Iwaya.

The reshuffle is slated for Wednesday.

Kono would be tasked with cooperating with President Donald Trump's administration as well as maintaining Japan's other foreign and defense policies.

Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi is in line to replace Kono as foreign minister

As for new executive appointment's in Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Hiroshige Seko, the economy, trade and industry minister, is to become the ruling party's secretary-general for the upper house.

Abe on Sunday afternoon met with Taro Aso, the deputy prime minister and finance minister, for about an hour and a half at his private home in Shibuya Ward's Tomigaya district. The two discussed the cabinet reshuffle, party executive appointments and the handling of the administration.

Kono became foreign minister in August 2017 and has since visited more than 100 countries and built connections with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among other counterparts.

He has also headed Japan's efforts to deal with South Korea's handling of the wartime labor issue between the countries, which flared up again last October when Seoul's top court ordered Japanese companies to pay reparations to Koreans forced to work in Japan during World War II.

Kono has been calling on the South Korean government to correct this, which Tokyo sees as a breach of the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Co-operation between Japan and the Republic of Korea.

He has since lodged a protest against Seoul's decision to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan. Appointing Kono as defense minister is also aimed at showing Japan's policy toward South Korea will remain unchanged.

Seko, one of Abe's close aides, has served as deputy chief cabinet secretary as well as minister of the economy, trade and industry since 2012, when the second Abe administration was launched. As LDP secretary-general for the upper house, he will be tasked with mediating between the ruling and opposition camps on important bills and Abe's drive to alter the constitution.

Abe's term as party president expires in September 2021. As such, Abe is appointing Kono and other "post Abe" candidates to key government and party posts. Policy Research Council head Fumio Kishida and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga will stay on, while Motegi is to become the next foreign minister. Katsunobu Kato, the LDP's General Council chair, is also expected to hold an important post.

So far, it has been decided that Aso and LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai will remain. As for junior coalition partner Komeito, Keiichi Ishii, minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, will be replaced by acting policy affairs chief Yoshikazu Akaba.

Abe will maintain his inner circle to ensure stability. He will appoint vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries on Friday.

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