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Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2006
Hawkishness is watchword for Abe team
Cabinet ministers are seen as staunch supporters of traditional values
The Cabinet and special advisers named Tuesday by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe share one dominant trait: conservatism.
In Japan, conservatism is usually defined in terms of advocating traditional family values, adopting a hawkish diplomatic stance, seeking to revive patriotism and favoring revision of the pacifist Constitution.
Many in the new Cabinet are controversial figures who share Abe's conservative values and are personal friends and allies of the prime minister.
Take two of the women Abe appointed to top positions -- Sanae Takaichi, minister in charge of gender equality issues, and Eriko Yamatani, special adviser in charge of education reform.
Takaichi is a vocal opponent of a draft bill that would allow couples to use different surnames after marrying.
Under current law, married couples are required to use a single surname and in most cases it is that of the husband.
Many working women have called for a change, saying the law is unfair to women, who lose name recognition in their workplaces.
But LDP lawmakers such as Takaichi have kept the bill shelved for more than 10 years, saying it would undermine the traditional Japanese family.
Yamatani has also raised eyebrows, arguing that "gender-free" education at public schools has gone too far.
"(I will) stop gender-free education, which treats distinctions between men and women as discrimination," Yamatani wrote on her own Web site.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hakubun Shimomura, a longtime friend of Abe, is, like the prime minister, known as a nationalist.
He and Abe were members of a group of lawmakers that called for history textbooks to be revised, saying they present a "masochistic" view of Japan's history and are written to forestall protests from other Asian countries over Japan's wartime conduct.
On foreign policy, too, Abe has chosen to show a hawkish face, reappointing Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who shares his conservative views.
Defense Agency chief Fumio Kyuma has a technocratic rather than ideological reputation, but at a news conference Tuesday he did not rule out changing the government's long-standing interpretation of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, as Abe has advocated.
Article 9 has long been taken to mean that Japan can use force only for self-defense, and that collective defense is not allowed. This severely limits the types of military action it can carry out in concert with its security partner, the United States.
"Times change. Some people question whether we should maintain that interpretation," Kyuma said. "I think some (degree of military cooperation) may fall within (the framework) of individual self-defense."
Only land minister Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, the only Cabinet member from the LDP's junior coalition partner, New Komeito, is likely to favor Japan's traditionally modest defense policies.
But Fuyushiba said there is "no contradiction at all" between being a member of Abe's Cabinet and his position as a New Komeito member.
"The government interpretation of Article 9 has been consistently maintained throughout the postwar years, and I think it is still valid as long as it is not revised," Fuyushiba said.
"But it is possible that you may need to examine specific cases to determine whether they really fall within the category of collective defense or not."
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