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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda unveiled a new Cabinet lineup on Monday, the third reshuffle since he assumed office a year ago.
Noda announced at a news conference ten appointees, including eight new figures to his government, in a bid to bolster sagging public support for his cabinet.
Ex-foreign minister Seiji Maehara and ex-chief of Diet affairs of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan Koriki Jojima were named as national policy minister and finance minister, respectively.
Makiko Tanaka, a former foreign minister who used to enjoy popularity for her sharp tongue, was tapped as education minister.
The decision to bring Tanaka into the Cabinet is believed to aim at repairing soured ties with China following a territorial row over the Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islets in the East China Sea. Tanaka, 68, has personal connections with Chinese leaders through her late father, former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, who normalized diplomatic relations with China in 1972.
She was in Beijing last week as part of a cross-party parliamentary delegation.
Noda denied her appointment was related to the island spat, citing her experience in science and technology matters as vital to her new role.
However, Takehiko Yamamoto, professor of international politics at Waseda University, said there was no doubt that her appointment was intended as diplomatic balm.
"This is clearly a signal and message to China, no matter what the prime minister says," he said.
"Education minister is a key post that oversees cultural exchanges between Japan and China, and Tanaka is expected to improve ties from the sidelines."
Tanaka is the only female member of the cabinet.
Hiroyuki Nagahama, deputy chief Cabinet secretary, and Shinji Tarutoko, former acting secretary-general of the DPJ, will become environment minister and internal affairs minister, respectively.
Noda allotted the job of health, labor and welfare minister to ex-deputy transport minister Wakio Mitsui and gave the post of the postal privatization minister to Mikio Shimoji, secretary-general of the coalition partner the People's New Party, to prop up the ruling parties' majority status in the House of Representatives.
"This is a reshuffle that will help the government and the ruling parties cooperate to address a pile of issues we are facing domestically and diplomatically, and further strengthen the function of the Cabinet," Noda told reporters.
"We will do our best to tackle the issues that are still halfway done, such as recovery from the (2011 tsunami) disaster, the battle to control the nuclear crisis and revival of the Japanese economy," Noda said after announcing the lineup.
Noda, in office for a year, has seen his support rating slide below 30 percent amid public discontent over his push to double the sales tax to 10 percent and general dismay with the ruling DPJ, which swept to power three years ago amid high hopes for change. But he handily won a party leadership vote last month.
He has said he would call elections "soon," but has given no timeframe, and lately has suggested he wants to remain in office to address Japan's various problems. Elections must be called by the summer of 2013 at the latest.
Polls show that voters prefer the main opposition party, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, but many people are undecided.
ICJ out of the question
Noda also said on Monday that Japan has no intention to use the International Court of Justice to solve tensions with China over islands in the East China Sea. "We are not considering using the ICJ", and there is no doubt the islands are an integral part of Japanese territory both internationally and historically, he said.
However, China rejected Japan's claim of sovereignty over the islands which are known as the Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islets in China. China said it enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the islands. Noda's government has been embroiled in territorial spats with China and South Korea in recent months, but his remarks suggest that Japan will deal with the two neighbors in a different manner.
In August, the Japanese government formally proposed to South Korea that the two countries jointly seek a resolution at the ICJ in The Hague to their dispute over a group of sparsely inhabited islands controlled by Seoul but claimed by Tokyo.
Meanwhile, the country's ties with China have fallen to the lowest point in the wake of Japan's "purchase" and "nationalization plan" of the Diaoyu Islands.
(China Daily 10/02/2012 page4)