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Commentary: Two “reassigned” cabinet members to tackle difficult foreign policy, security issues

  • September 12, 2019
  • , Asahi , p. 3
  • JMH Translation

By Takashi Narazaki and Ryuichi Yamashita


The Abe administration has valued summit diplomacy where the prime minister himself is out in front. The unique feature of its foreign and security policy is that it is led by the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei] with the National Security Secretariat (NSS) serving as the control tower.


Abe prioritized continuity and stability in the cabinet reshuffle. Toshimitsu Motegi, who handled the trade negotiations with the United States as economic revitalization minister, was appointed foreign minister, and former Foreign Minister Taro Kono was shifted over to the defense minister slot.


Japan faces many foreign policy issues. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton was dismissed on Sept. 10, and there are concerns about the impact on North Korea policy. The U.S. side is asking Japan to substantially increase the amount it pays to host U.S. forces. Negotiations are to get fully underway from next year, and it looks like it will be rough going.


Tensions are rising in the Middle East with the standoff between the United States and Iran, and another issue for Japan is how to respond to the U.S.-orchestrated maritime security initiative to form a “coalition of the willing” to secure safe navigation in the Strait of Hormuz. At the end of this month, Abe will have separate summit meetings with the U.S. and Iranian leaders when he travels to the U.S. to participate in the United Nations General Assembly.


Initially set off by the former requisitioned workers issue, Japan-South Korea ties are bogged down over Seoul’s decision to abrogate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). On Sept. 11, South Korea announced it will file a suit with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Japan’s strengthening of its export control. The Abe administration shows no signs of changing its stance on South Korea, and Foreign Minister Motegi and Defense Minister Kono are expected to adopt a tough stance.


Negotiations with Russia on forging a bilateral peace treaty are stagnating. At the press conference held on the evening of Sept. 11 after the announcement of the new cabinet, Motegi said that Prime Minister Abe has instructed him to “talk with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as soon as possible.”

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