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Japan to chart new defense course?

August 4, 2016

Tomomi Inada, Japan's new defense minister, has plenty on her plate on the first day in her new job. Beijing and Seoul will be watching to see how hawkish the new minister will be on regional security matters.

Japan's new defence minister Tomomi Inada
Image: Reuters/K. Kyung-Hoon

Inada is a conservative ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and supports his goal of revising Japan's pacifist post-war constitution. It is an area that sends alarm bells ringing in Beijing and Seoul, where Japan's legacy of military aggression before and during World War II remains an open wound.

A well-known foreign-policy hawk, Inada replaces General Nakatani as defense minister. She is the second woman to fill the post.

Abe has changed over half of his 19-member Cabinet in a bid to revamp his economic and security policies, as well as to push for a change in the pacifist constitution.

Two big tests

How to respond to North Korea's recent nuclear missile tests will be the first of several touchy regional issues on the new minister's desk.

Another key area will be China's role in the disputed waters of the South and East China seas. Japan's annual defense review, published on Tuesday, warned of "unintended consequences" if China disregarded international rules, after an arbitration court in The Hague invalidated Beijing's claims to most of the sea.

Overturning the pacifist constitution?

The 57-year-old ex-policy chief for Abe's Liberal Democratic Party has been a regular visitor to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead. It is seen as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Asked on Wednesday if she would visit the shrine again ahead of the August 15 anniversary of Japan's surrender in 1945, Inada declined to comment. "It's a matter of conscience and I don't think I should comment on whether I will go or not," she said.

Abe is set to travel to China in September for a Group of 20 summit. He will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. "We will steadily strengthen ties with neighboring countries such as China and South Korea, and proceed with talks with Russia for a peace treaty," Abe told a news conference after announcing his new cabinet.

jbh/jm (Reuters, AP)