In Abe reshuffle, Taro Kono may be given defense portfolio; Komeito’s Kazuyoshi Akaba may get land minister post

Foreign Minister Taro Kono is being considered for the role of defense minister when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffles his Cabinet on Wednesday, while a veteran ruling party lawmaker will replace the current land minister from junior coalition partner Komeito, a media report and political sources said Sunday.

Citing unnamed sources, the Sankei Shimbun said Kono may be tapped to succeed current Defense Minster Takeshi Iwaya following Kono’s tough stance against South Korea over wartime issues which have recently strained political and trade ties between the two countries.

Abe is hoping that the 56-year-old Kono, who is known for his close ties with the United States and positive relationship with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will strengthen Japan’s role in trilateral security cooperation between Tokyo, Washington and Seoul amid the ongoing dispute, the Sankei said.

Meanwhile, Abe has decided to tap Kazuyoshi Akaba, a veteran Komeito lawmaker, as new land minister, according to sources.

In the Cabinet reshuffle set for Wednesday, Akaba will replace Keiichi Ishii as minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, a position held by a Komeito lawmaker since December 2012, when the LDP returned to power and Abe became prime minister for the second time.

Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi asked Abe to appoint a member of his party as land minister when they met Friday, the sources said.

Ishii, who took office in October 2015, has become the longest-serving land minister. Akaba, an eight-time House of Representatives member, serves as a deputy chair of Komeito’s Policy Research Council and is known to be close to Abe, partly because they were both first elected as parliamentarians in 1993.

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