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Japan after Abe

Japan's new PM Suga fills cabinet with many familiar faces

Chief cabinet secretary post goes to Kato; Abe's brother named defense chief

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his cabinet ministers pose for a group photo at Suga's official residence in Tokyo on Sept. 16. (Photo by Karina Nooka)

TOKYO -- Yoshihide Suga, Japan's new prime minister, on Wednesday unveiled a cabinet filled with many familiar faces, some significant tweaks, and only a sprinkling of women.

Suga picked Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Katsunobu Kato as chief cabinet secretary -- the new leader's role for nearly eight years under Shinzo Abe. This position as the government's top spokesperson is the prime minister's main tool for exercising control over Japan's powerful bureaucracy.

These and other choices for top positions signal a focus on continuity from Abe's tenure. Like Suga and returning Finance Minister Taro Aso, Kato is one of a handful of officials to have remained in Abe's cabinet through multiple reshuffles.

"I want to bring together capable individuals who have a desire for reform, and build a cabinet that will work for the people," Suga told reporters Monday.

Kato served as deputy chief cabinet secretary for nearly three years from when Abe began his second stint as prime minister in December 2012. He was later tapped as state minister for some of Abe's top policy priorities, such as resolving the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea. As health minister, he played a central role in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Defense Minister Taro Kono became the minister for administrative reform -- one of Suga's pet issues -- and was replaced by Nobuo Kishi, Abe's younger brother, who is promoted to his first-ever cabinet post.

Toshimitsu Motegi was reappointed as foreign minister, as was Yasutoshi Nishimura as minister of state for economic and fiscal policy and point man for the government's coronavirus response.

Earlier on Wednesday, Abe's previous cabinet resigned en masse -- a formality in Japanese politics before a new government line-up is unveiled. The new ministers were appointed by Emperor Naruhito at a ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in the afternoon.

Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi; Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama; Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda and Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto remain in their current roles. Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba, a member of ruling coalition partner Komeito, also stayed in place.

Suga reappointed Shigeru Kitamura, a former top intelligence officer whom Abe picked as national security adviser last year.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato is set to become Japan's chief cabinet secretary, taking the post now held by Yoshihide Suga, who is poised to be named the next prime minister.     © Reuters

Suga's new agency to coordinate digital policy will be led by Takuya Hirai, a former minister for information technology policy under Abe. Ryota Takeda, currently chair of the National Public Safety Commission, is the new communications minister.

Yoko Kamikawa, who served as justice minister in a previous Abe cabinet, returned to that role. She is one of only two women in the 20-strong government line up.

Suga also brought back Norihisa Tamura as health, labor and welfare minister, a post he held in the first cabinet of Abe's second stint as prime minister.

The new cabinet features a handful of first-time cabinet members besides Kishi, including Kotaro Nogami, a former deputy chief cabinet secretary, as agriculture minister.

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