Kishida Reshuffles Cabinet: Women Empowerment in Focus
Prof Rajaram Panda
Introduction

In a significant move after his return from the East Asia Summit in Jakarta and G-20 Summit in New Delhi, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida undertook the second reshuffle exercise of his Cabinet on 13 September appointing 11 new ministers including five women out of a total of 19. By choosing to appoint five women to ministerial positions, Kishida matched this statistic with the two previous cabinets, Shinzo Abe in September 2014 and Junichiro Koizumi in April 2001.

Two choices particularly stand out: Yoko Kamikawa, the first female to hold the position of Foreign Minister since 2004 who took over from Yoshimasa Hayashi seen to be close to Kishida and Minoru Kihara as the new defence minister. Kamikawa is a veteran lawmaker with previous cabinet experience and is expected to bring a new dynamism to the country’s foreign policy. Those who retained their positions are Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, Digital Minister Taro Kono, and Minister in charge of Economic Revitalisation Yasutoshi Nishimura. The Minister in charge of Economic Security Sanae Takaichi also stayed on. Tetsuo Saito from the allied Komeito Party retained his post as the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. By this exercise, Kishida hopes to gain strength and build a different image for his cabinet and thus maintain stability.

Kishida’s choice to appoint a record five women to ministerial posts in his Cabinet reshuffle aims to increase the number of female executives in politics and business. Some are familiar names with ties with political heavyweights in the 1990s and 2000s. Of the six female executives, four of them followed in their fathers' footsteps and became politicians.[1]

In the previous Cabinet, there were only two female ministers. While Sanae Takaishi retained the same portfolio as minister in charge of economic security, Yoko Kamikawa returned to the cabinet with a new position of Foreign Minister. Other three women are Ayuko Kato as Minister in charge of policies related to children, Hanako Jimi as Minister for Regional Revitalisation and Shinako Tsuchiya as the Reconstruction Minister. These three are first timers. Hanako Jimi, 47, a paediatrician-turned-lawmaker, is the daughter of Shozaburo Jimi, who served as postal minister in 1997 and 2010. Both Sanae Takaichi, 62, who retained as economic security minister, and Kamikawa, 70, were not born into political families.

Kamikawa is a former Justice Minister and held ministerial positions in three different administrations. She was the one who had drafted legislation to make 18-year-olds as legally adults. As a graduate from the prestigious Tokyo University and a Masters from Harvard University in government policy, her credentials are strong. Ayuto Kato, 44, is the youngest face in the reshuffle. Kato’s main policy focus shall be on raising children and adopt measures to halt the declining birth rate. She is the daughter of former LDP Secretary-General Koichi Kato.

On the surface a female foreign minister, first in almost two decades, might indicate a change in the focus of Japan’s diplomacy. The truism is that any significant shift in Japan’s outward-looking foreign policy posture looks unlikely.[2] Though Kamikawa articulated at a news conference after her appointment announcement that protecting Japan’s national interests, increasing its leverage in global affairs and listening to the voices of citizens would be the three key pillars of Japan’s diplomatic policy, it remains to be seen how she tests her own policies in the coming months.

In the changes to key party positions, Kishida appointed Yuko Obuchi as election campaign chief. The 49-year-old’s legacy is that she is the daughter of the former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi (1998-2000) and is the first woman to hold four key positions in the party. However, the choice of Obuchi could be questionable and she could end up being a problem for Kishida rather than an asset. In 2014, Obuchi was forced to step down as industry minister only about a month and half at the post as she was dogged by criticism for her lack of explanation about a money-in-politics scandal. Her former secretary was convicted of violating the Political Fund Control Law. This legacy of Obuchi may not augur well for Kishida as Opposition is likely to raise this issue.

Since many women appointed to important positions come from families with a strong foothold and look to climb the ladder in Japan’s politic but find it hard, Kishida’s move is a signal of his policy towards female empowerment in politics. In the World Economic Forum’s gender equality ranking of 146 countries, Japan ranked low at 138th in the political sector amid the low percentage of female Lower House members and Cabinet ministers.[3]

During his term, Abe launched his Womenomics whereby he intended to bring more women into the work force, a policy very relevant in a country experiencing low birth rate and greying population. His success was marginal but his intent was laudable. By inducting five females to the ministerial positions, Kishida is also sending a similar message to the society.

The choice of Minoru Kihara as the new Defence Minister is also interesting. Earlier, Kihara, also 49, served as Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and Vice Minister of Finance. She was also a special advisor to the Prime Minister Abe and Suga administration. She is an ardent advocate of promoting ties with Taiwan.

With the approval rate of 33 per cent as of August 2023 revealed by the Asahi Shimbun survey, Kishida’s reshuffle exercise at the halfway point of his term probably aimed at improving this rating by bringing a new dynamism particularly in the foreign policy and defence domains. Kishida’s term is set to expire in 2025. By this reshuffle if Kishida’s ratings go up or at least if he perceives that it is increasing, the possibility of calling a snap election in 2024 cannot be ruled out. Kishida hopes the increased presence of women in his administration will buoy the Cabinet approval ratings and allow him to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election by the end of 2023. A rating of 33 per cent in August 2023 was the second-lowest since Kishida became Prime Minister in October 2021. This is not something Kishida would be comfortable with. The disapproval rating rose to 54 per cent from 50 per cent in July 2023.[4] A victory in a snap election either in 2023 or 2024 will heighten his chances for re-election as LDP President in autumn 2024.

Scandals in Japanese politics are surprisingly very rampant. Throughout post-War years, many ministers have lost their posts when found either directly or implicitly involved in scandal related issues. It is a disease which no party leader has been able to root out. As a result choices of competent ministers to head different ministries have remained a challenge to any Prime Minister.

The opposition always looks for such opportunity to take political advantage. No wonder, this time also the Opposition parties targeted scandal-tainted politicians in an attempt to gain political traction following reshuffle.[5] For example, Akira Koike, head of the Japanese Communist Party’s secretariat, was scathing for retaining Taro Kono as minister for digital transformation for the heavily criticised My Number personal identification system. The system has been plagued by glitches and error and there have been demands to review the system.

The issue of Unification Church, known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, that consumed Abe’s life continues to haunt Japanese politics. Kishida is criticised for inducting four ministers in his new Cabinet who in the past have admitted to having links with this cult. This was confirmed by the ruling LDP’s own investigation in 2022 and was reported by the Asahi Shimbun. In particular, Masahito Moriyama as the education minister was the main target. The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party voiced indignation on Moriyama’s choice when it surfaced that he had attended an event of an affiliated organisation of the Unification Church in March 2023. Three others in the reshuffled Cabinet with previous ties to the Church are Junji Suzuki, minister for internal affairs and communications, Environment Minister Shintaro Ito and Defence Minister Minoru Kihara.

Kishida also considered having Koichi Hagiuda, a close ally of Abe and an important member of the Abe faction, but backed out because of his previous ties with the Unification Church. Instead he was retained as chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council. Nobuyuki Baba, head of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) observed Kishida’s choice of ministers was aimed at securing to win the LDP’s leadership election in autumn 2024.

Foreign Policy

On the foreign policy front, no major change in focus is likely under Kamikawa. While Japan’s policy towards the US shall remain robust, Japan’s approach towards China is unlikely to undergo any major change. The issue of Beijing’s blanket import ban on all Japanese seafood over the issue of treated contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant shall continue to trouble bilateral ties. Kishida’s brief talk with the Chinese Foreign Minister Li Qiang on the sidelines of the ASEAN-related summit in Jakarta in August did not show any indication of resolution. On 24 August 2023 when Japan started the release of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant into the sea, China immediately announced to ban import of Japanese fish.

On the Ukrainian front, Japan committed to support Kyiv against Russia’s military action during the G-7 summit in May 2023. That policy shall continue under Kamikawa. Kamikawa’s predecessor Yoshimasa Hayashi made his first visit to Ukraine, visiting the town of Bucha, where he pledged to continue to assist the war-torn country. Now the onus lies on Kamikawa to continue the same policy. Japan hopes to assume a crucial role in Ukraine’s economic recovery and reconstruction through a mix of public and private investment.

Japan has a frosty relationship with Russia even before the Ukraine crisis broke out. The territorial disputes over the Russian-held Kurile Islands off Hokkaido (Northern Territories) show no sign of resolution. Kamikawa’s efforts may not make any progress, though pressure through sanction measures might be strengthened.

Kamikawa’s mettle as foreign minister shall be tested when she travels to New York to take part in the United Nations General Assembly where she shall be engaged in bilateral talks with her foreign counterparts.

Response from Business and Industry

Japanese business leaders welcomed Kishida's Cabinet reshuffle exercise for its diversity. While welcoming the induction of more females into the Cabinet, the leaders urged him to push forward measures to contain rising prices.[6] Kaidanren or Japan Business Federation, Japan’s most powerful business lobby, expressed high expectations from the diverse line-up. Appreciating Kishida’s move towards women empowerment in politics, Kandanren called for raising the ratio of female board member to more than 30 percent by 2030 at companies listed on the top-tier Prime Market of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. In Japan, firms lag behind the US and European countries in promoting women to managerial positions. The Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry hopes that the new Cabinet will tackle the reputational damage to the Japanese seafood industry following the discharge of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant into the sea.

Impact of the Reshuffle on India-Japan Relations

Given the robust bilateral ties between the two countries over a host of issues, India shall view this entirely an internal affair of Japan and there is no need to express any opinion. With the new Foreign Minister having a strong rooting in Japan’s policies towards the US, it would be relatively easier for India and Japan to coordinate policies when it comes to discuss regional issues such as the South China Sea, Taiwan and North Korea’s nuclear issues. After all, undertaking the periodic reshuffle exercise by a Prime Minister of his Cabinet in a democratic country is a prerogative that need not be seen from foreign policy perspective. It is safe to conclude that India-Japan relations shall look more promising in future than even at present.

Endnotes

[1]Kannako Takahara, “What Kishida’s reshuffle says about female participation in politics”, The Japan Times, 13 September 2023, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/09/13/japan/politics/cabinet-reshuffle-female-ministers-ldp/
[2]Gabriele Ninivaggi, “Japan's new foreign minister: A change in face, not policy”, Japan Times, 14 September 2023, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/09/14/japan/politics/yoko-kamikawa-presser/
[3]Takahara, n.1
[4] “Obuchi’s past could thwart female-presence plan of Kishida”, The Asahi Shimbun, 14 September 2023, https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/15005427
[5] “Opposition parties criticize new Cabinet, focus on scandals”, The Asahi Shimbun, 14 September, 2023, https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/15005552
[6] “Japan Inc. Hails diverse Cabinet and urges it to stem prices”, The Japan Times, 14 September 2023, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/business/2023/09/14/economy/cabinet-reshuffle-business-reaction/

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


Image Source: https://assets.bwbx.io/images/users/iqjWHBFdfxIU/iBsl_knzyuYU/v0/-1x-1.jpg

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
4 + 0 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us