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NSS leadership change may signal shift in Kantei’s diplomatic focus to economy

  • September 13, 2019
  • , Mainichi , p. 5
  • JMH Translation

Secretary-General of the National Security Secretariat Shotaro Yachi (75) will leave the administration on Sept. 13 on the occasion of the formation of the new cabinet. His successor is Director of Cabinet Intelligence Shigeru Kitamura (62), who hails from the National Police Agency. The change is triggering speculation that the influence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) will decline and diplomacy with an “economic” focus may gain momentum. However, since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is emphasizing “stability,” he has kept Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita (78), the highest-ranking administrative official inside the Prime Minister’s Office (Kantei), in his post.


Kantei personnel also revamped


By Shinichi Akiyama


Yachi and Kitamura had been at loggerheads over national security. Imai favored economic cooperation with Russia through such projects as gas field development in a bid to advance negotiations on signing of a peace treaty. Yachi, on the other hand, was wary about Russia. They were also divided over policy toward China. While Imai called for Japan’s cooperation in China’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” Yachi argued that tensions over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture should be taken into account. Abe “arbitrated” between the two sides and decided to cooperate with China under certain conditions.


In the recent personnel shakeup, Takaya Imai has been given the dual role of secretary to the prime minister and special advisor to the prime minister. A source close to the government explains that “the special advisor to the prime minister is tasked with playing an official diplomatic role, which includes serving as a special envoy of the prime minister.” In addition to this, the selection of Kitamura, who is close to Imai, as head of NSS will accelerate momentum for “diplomacy with a focus on the economy.”


At a press conference on Sept. 11, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga noted that [Prime Minister Abe] “appointed the right people to the right positions,” but MOFA is growing concerned that its influence may decline within the Kantei. A senior MOFA official expressed concern about the risk of Russia leaving it in the lurch after taking advantage of economic cooperation, whereas a senior official at the Kantei held MOFA in check by saying that “it would be inexcusable for MOFA to not provide us with information just because of the change in NSS leadership.”


Abe retains Sugita due to distrust of MOF


By Hironori Takechi


Sugita is a symbol of stability within the government as he has been in his post since the second Abe administration was launched six years and nine months ago. He has developed expertise in crisis management by serving as the security bureau head at the NPA and deputy chief cabinet secretary for crisis management. However, there had been strong speculation that due to his age, he might retire soon after the series of Imperial enthronement rituals and ceremonies end in autumn.


In fact, Sugita is said to have proposed that Abe consider replacing him with Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuyuki Furuya, who hails from the Ministry of Finance. Furuya has a good reputation as he handled administrative matters pertaining to the change of the Imperial era name and worked as a coordinator between ministries and agencies. But Abe, who has strong distrust in MOF, was said to have frowned at Sugita’s proposal by saying, “I’m not going to give two posts (deputy chief cabinet secretary and assistant chief cabinet secretary) to MOF.”


The post of deputy chief cabinet secretary, who oversees administrative matters, has been long filled by an official from the former Home Ministry (National Police Agency, former Ministry of Internal Affairs, former Ministry of Health and Welfare and former Ministry of Construction). A Kantei official explains that Furuya was not picked as deputy chief cabinet secretary because the “balance of power inside Kasumigaseki could collapse” as a result. A former administrative vice minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, who is close to Suga, also emerged as a candidate to succeed Sugita, but “Suga was not so positive about it,” said a source close to the Kantei. Abe decided to retain Sugita as he is also distrustful of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare due to its pension record blunders during his first Cabinet. (Abridged)

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