In his contribution to Weekly Diamond, seasoned political journalist Goto Kenichi looked into Prime Minister Kishida’s recent decision to replace Vice Defense Minister Shimada Kazuhisa with Commissioner Suzuki Atsuo of the Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency, interpreting the move as the premier’s “opening salvo” against the continuing interference in his political management by his predecessor. The following is the gist of his analysis.
The political weight of the post of the vice defense minister is now more consequential than ever, as the nation’s defense policy is about to undergo a tectonic change following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the administration’s commitment to fundamentally reinforcing the nation’s defense capabilities and increasing the defense budget substantially. As such, Abe and his younger brother, Defense Minister Kishi, had wanted to retain Shimada, who served as Abe’s secretary at the Kantei for more than six years, so that they could continue to have a say in security issues via Shimada especially when the administration updates the National Security Strategy and two other key defense documents in December. But Kishida decided not to reappoint the incumbent to remind the Abe brothers that “real power rests with him,” not the former prime minister. An unnamed former defense minister welcomed the departure of Shimada as providing the ministry with an opportunity to “purge Abe’s influence.”
Kishida has been annoyed that his predecessor has repeatedly attempted to meddle in the administration’s policy planning and implementation as evidenced by his repeated calls in May for modifying language in the GOJ’s “big-boned” doctrine that outlined the administration’s fiscal and economic priorities. Kishida is determined not to allow Abe to do the same when it comes to formulating security and budget policies. Although Abe has mentioned the necessity to issue government bonds to finance a planned substantial increase in the defense budget, Kishida remains extremely cautious about undermining fiscal discipline. The prime minister had been keenly aware that he had to reject Abe’s request for Shimada’s reappointment in order to ensure his administration’s breakaway from Abe’s influence.
Agriculture Minister Kaneko and National Public Safety Commission Chairperson Ninoyu will retire from politics after they decided not to seek reelection in the July Upper House race. Hence they will be replaced when Kishida reshuffles the cabinet after the election. DM Kishi will also probably not be retained because Kishida had already overruled his proposal to retain Shimada. The prime minister may try to appoint several more new cabinet members who are not close to Abe. But the former premier is equally determined not to back off in the second round of their power struggle.