Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi named a new Cabinet on Monday, putting outspoken conservatives, and potential successors, in top positions and retaining his economic team. Koizumi, who has said he will step down at the end of his term next September, named right-leaning Shinzo Abe as his top government spokesman, and Internal Affairs Minister Taro Aso as foreign minister.
The popular prime minister had been expected to put likely successors in leading positions. He also was expected to favor supporters of his reform agenda, including the privatization of the postal service.
"This is a Cabinet to actually implement the reforms," Abe, in his new position, said in announcing the list of ministers. In a nod succession speculation, he said he would perform his duties to show his "potential as a next generation" hopeful.
The new Cabinet will face challenges in foreign policy, where ties are strained with China and South Korea following Koizumi's recent visit to a Tokyo war shrine that critics say glorifies Japan's wartime past.
Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide victory in Sept. 11 elections, but the Cabinet reshuffle was postponed to allow parliamentary passage of the privatization bills, a pet Koizumi project.
The Cabinet lineup reflected the prime minister's aims: a conservative, more assertive foreign policy, and steady economic policy as the country makes a firm recovery from more than a decade of sluggish performance, the AP reports.
Toward that end, Koizumi retained Heizo Takenaka, the main architect of the postal privatization plan, as a top economics minister, this time with the portfolio of internal affairs and postal reform. The prime minister also kept Sadakazu Tanigaki as finance minister.
Abe, deputy secretary-general of the LDP, has favored a hard line with North Korea, and has championed the cause of Japanese citizens kidnapped by the communist regime in the 1970s and 1980s.
Often named as a possible successor to Koizumi, Abe also favors visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including executed war criminals from World War II.
"As an individual and politician I have visited the shrine. I want to continue to maintain the feelings that I have had until now," Abe told reporters.
Aso, another conservative, was formerly Koizumi's top policy planning chief and has previously served in the Cabinet as economy minister. A grandson of the late Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, Aso is also considered a possible Koizumi successor.