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Japan plans Cabinet reshuffle to cool China island row

Kyoko Hasegawa

Japan's prime minister will use a Cabinet reshuffle to try to mend fences with China and to boost his flagging popularity ahead of general elections.

Makiko Tanaka with China's President Hu Jintao. (AFP)

Yoshihiko Noda is expected to elevate Makiko Tanaka, a woman with pro-Beijing credentials, into the Cabinet, a symbolic move to signal Tokyo's hope of moving past a <a href="http://mg.co.za/article/2012-09-26-china-japan-in-tense-talks-on-disputed-islands" target="_blank">damaging row over disputed islands</a>, newspapers reported.


Although a whole scale clear-out is not expected &ndash; several key figures will keep their jobs &ndash; the reshuffle is also the premier's bid to reinvigorate his government after a costly battle to pass tax legislation.

The government's chief spokesperson Osamu Fujimura told reporters all Cabinet ministers had tendered their resignations on Monday morning, a procedural move that happens ahead of reshuffles.

"Today in the special Cabinet meeting the prime minister told us he will conduct a Cabinet reshuffle," he said. "The resignations of all Cabinet ministers were collected."

Noda is expected to make 68-year-old Tanaka education minister. The job is relatively powerless and has little to do with China, but commentators say he is hoping it will show a willingness to move on from the current territorial impasse.

<strong>Ties with Beijing</strong>
Japan and China have <a href="http://mg.co.za/article/2012-09-18-japanese-firms-close-offices-in-china-as-islands-row-escalates" target="_blank">clashed repeatedly over the last few months</a> about the Tokyo-administered Senkaku islands, which China claims as the Diaoyus.

Tanaka is the daughter of former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, who normalised diplomatic ties with Beijing 40 years ago last Saturday, and has warm links with China.

She had a short stint as foreign minister under popular former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Her tenure was marked by rows with bureaucrats and is chiefly remembered for the tearful speech she gave after being sacked in 2002.

The prime minister will likely keep Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and defence chief Satoshi Morimoto in their current posts to provide a measure of continuity as he seeks to navigate between an angry Beijing and rising nationalist sentiment at home.

Finance Minister Jun Azumi will be moved into a top party post, with the relatively unknown Koriki Jojima taking the reins of the world's third-largest economy.

Jojima will have his work cut out over the next 10 days, swatting up for the annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings that Tokyo will host from next week.

<strong>Popularity</strong>|
Noda has named the telegenic Goshi Hosono as policy chief of his Democratic Party, a move seen as an effort to boost popularity in the upcoming general election.

Hosono was widely believed to have been well-positioned to oust Noda as party president &ndash; and therefore prime minister &ndash; during a recent election, but decided against a tilt at leadership.

Noda beat his rivals handsomely in the poll, which had to be held under party rules. His victory was seen less as a vote of confidence and more as the result of there being no other credible candidate in the race.

The premier is under pressure to call an election this year after offering his opponents a vague pledge to dissolve Parliament "sometime soon" in exchange for their support on a pet project to raise sales tax.

But woeful opinion poll numbers have left many in his faction-riven party fearing for their seats, with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party seen likely to narrowly come out on top in a national ballot.

Japan's main opposition party chose former premier Shinzo Abe as its new leader last week, in a vote that potentially positions him to be reinstated as prime minister. &ndash; AFP

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