Japan’s New Defense Minister
Abe Names Hawkish Conservative to Post
By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
Yuriko Koike became Japan’s first female defense minister July 4, replacing Fumio Kyuma, who was forced to resign for condoning the U.S. decision to use atomic bombs to end World War II.
Koike, 54, is a former TV news anchor who became involved in politics in 1992. She joined the Liberal Democratic Party in 2002 and was appointed national security adviser in September by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Sumihiko Kawamura, deputy director of The Okazaki Institute, Tokyo, said Koike, who studied Arabic and politics at Cairo University, Egypt, “is known as an expert on the Middle East and Islam, and politically hawkish and conservative in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.”
She also served as minister of state for Okinawa during former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s administration and appears to be well suited to implement a U.S.-Japan agreement to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station, Okinawa, finalized during two-plus-two talks in Washington in May.
But Kawamura does not expect serious changes in defense policy. Abe, he said, “has reportedly instructed her to place priority on the steady implementation of a final agreement made last year with the United States to realign the U.S. bases in Japan. Koike pledged she would do her best to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.”
Koike’s appointment came days before Abe’s government issued its annual defense white paper, the first since the defense agency was upgraded to ministry status. The document prioritizes the deployment of a missile system to defend the region against future North Korean missile attack.
Some say Koike is unqualified for the job but acceptable under the current political climate.
“To think about the current situation of Japan, she is an acceptable person as minister,” said Naoki Akiyama, director of the Tokyo-based Congressional National Security Research Group. “However, if we think about the real security of Japan, she is not qualified because of her lack of knowledge about it.”
Peter Woolley, author of the book “Japan’s Navy: Politics and Paradox,” believes the appointment is a smart political move by Abe, given his increasingly unpopular public standing ahead of the July 29 elections. Abe’s government has been hit by a variety of scandals, and recent polls show him losing public support.
“Koike has proven to be an attractive and effective campaigner at election time, and a dependable and industrious administrator between elections,” Woolley said. “Intellectually, she is no lightweight and her views on defense should satisfy the most hawkish members of her party. Frankly, hers is a good image to have in front of the expanding roles of the Self-Defense Forces and the delicate question of missile defense.”