(Mainichi: February 3, 2016 – p. 5)
New Economic Revitalization Minister Nobuteru Ishihara made an acceptable debut in the plenary sessions of both houses of the Diet on Feb. 2, responding to opposition interpellations prudently. Although he has a wealth of experience serving in key positions in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the cabinet, he has made many careless gaffes in the past. The opposition is now targeting Ishihara in their attempt to lead him toward making mistakes.
Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) lawmaker Chinami Nishimura cited Ishihara’s past gaffes in the House of Representatives plenary session on Feb. 2, calling him a “thoughtless and offensive” person. LDP members had indeed voiced concern about his “tendency to misspeak” (according to a former cabinet minister) when he was appointed economic revitalization minister.
Ishihara did not answer Nishimura’s questions directly. He persisted in using cautious expressions such as “I will exercise leadership and implement policies from a viewpoint close to those who are directly affected.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also defended him, stating that, “He has rich experience in the cabinet, so I think I was able to appoint the appropriate person for the job.”
However, Ishihara mostly read from prepared text when answering questions at the plenary sessions, so a senior DPJ Diet Affairs Committee official said: “Mr. Ishihara seems to be confident about his responses, but we will have our chance when he becomes more self-confident.”
Ishihara will also be the minister in charge of the TPP agreement. There is concern about how he will respond to questions on the TPP, since former Minister Akira Amari had been responsible throughout the negotiation process of the basic agreement. Nishimura questioned his ability to deal with the TPP since he has inadequate knowledge.
Ishihara responded with: “I was actively involved in compiling recommendations to take advantage of the TPP to make Japan a major exporter as the chair of the LDP Research Commission on Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise and Small Business and adviser to the Research Commission on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Strategy.” Still, a senior ruling party official is worried that “he may get stuck in Diet interpellations.”
Ishihara was also questioned on his opposition to the TPP during the 2012 LDP presidential election. He said: “My position was based on the party’s campaign pledge that it would oppose [the TPP] if premised on tariff abolition without exception.” He stressed that his position is not different from that of the Abe cabinet.
In his policy speech to the Diet, he had called for “maximizing the benefits of the TPP to realize a strong economy.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated at his news conference on Feb. 2 that he had “absolutely no concerns (about Ishihara’s responses).” (Slightly abridged)