Tokyo, Sept. 30 (Jiji Press)–The spotlight is on Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono to prove his credentials as one of the potential successors to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, since taking on the defense portfolio in the Sept. 11 cabinet reshuffle.
Formerly a foreign minister, Kono is now charged with handling many difficult issues facing the Abe administration, including those of military bases in Okinawa Prefecture, southernmost Japan, and of deploying the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system to planned sites in the northeastern prefecture of Akita and Yamaguchi Prefecture, western Japan.
Kono met with Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki on Sunday during his first trip to the prefecture since becoming defense minister, and called on the local leader to accept the relocation of the U.S. Futenma air base in the Okinawa city of Ginowan to the Henoko coastal area of Nago, another Okinawa city.
“As a way to realize a full return of the Futenma base site (to Japanese control) while maintaining deterrence power, we must achieve the relocation as early as possible,” Kono told the governor.
But Tamaki reiterated his opposition to the base transfer within Okinawa, asking the national government to “immediately stop reclamation work (at Henoko) and engage in dialogue with the prefecture.”
While the standoff between Okinawa and Tokyo over the Futenma relocation continues, the recent discovery of soft soil in the reclamation site off Henoko has thrown a wrench in the government’s plan to press on with the construction work. The revelation has given the prefecture and others opposing the relocation new ammunition, casting uncertainty over the fate of the project.
On the issue of Aegis Ashore deployment, the government has been under fire from residents in Akita and Yamaguchi over incorrect data used to explain the plan to the prefectures. Kono will face a major challenge of convincing the disgruntled public to accept the defense system after the ongoing survey to correct the erroneous data is completed.
During his two-year stint as Japan’s top diplomat, Kono left his mark with his fluent English and activeness, having visited 123 countries and regions.
However, the minister has also faced criticisms, such as over his remark in April that the Foreign Ministry will stop using “gengo” Japanese era names in recording dates for its documents, at a time of public enthusiasm over the new era name, Reiwa, which was announced on April 1 and started in May 1.
Kono also failed to achieve the introduction of a dedicated aircraft for the foreign minister, a goal he has pursued since he became foreign minister.
His new portfolio is expected to test Kono’s ability to steadily work on negotiations, whether it be with Okinawa or with Akita and Yamaguchi.