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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Matsumoto new foreign minister

G8 meeting awaits Maehara's successor


By MASAMI ITO and KANAKO TAKAHARA
Staff writers

Prime Minister Naoto Kan named political blue-blood and former banker Takeaki Matsumoto as foreign minister Wednesday, promoting the deputy foreign minister to replace Seiji Maehara, who stepped down over a political donation scandal.

News photo
Takeaki Matsumoto

"The prime minister decided to appoint (Matsumoto) for his ability and knowledge as well as (Kan's wish) to continue his current diplomacy," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said, adding that Matsumoto, as deputy foreign minister, was already playing a key foreign policy role.

After Maehara abruptly resigned Sunday over receiving ¥250,000 in political donations from a South Korean resident of Japan, Edano doubled as foreign minister until a new pick was chosen. The political funds law prohibits politicians from accepting donations from foreign nationals. The donor has a Japanese name.

Maehara was considered a top candidate to succeed Kan, and his resignation has seriously damaged the already shaky Kan administration.

Matsumoto will have to hit the ground running with a Group of Eight foreign ministers meeting next week in Paris as well as a trilateral foreign ministers' meeting among Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing later this month.

Matsumoto once worked at the now-defunct Industrial Bank of Japan, which merged with two other banks in 2000 to form Mizuho Financial Group.

He traces his roots to the first prime minister, Hirobumi Ito, who was assassinated by Ahn Jung Geun in 1909 after serving as the first Japanese resident general of Korea. Matsumoto's mother is Ito's granddaughter.

Born into a family of politicians and diplomats, Matsumoto's father, Juro, a member of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, served as Defense Agency chief in 1989.

Matsumoto's appointment comes at a time when the Kan Cabinet is facing a pile of pressing diplomatic issues, including the contentious relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, territorial tussles with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and Russia over the four disputed islands off Hokkaido.

After leaving the IBJ, the 51-year-old Lower House member won his seat for the first time in 2000 in Hyogo Prefecture's No. 11 district.

He is in his fourth term and was appointed deputy foreign minister last fall.

Known for his expertise in diplomatic and security issues, Matsumoto was appointed policy chief in 2005 when the Democratic Party of Japan was still in the opposition and headed by Maehara.

Matsumoto reportedly has close ties with former DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa, who has criticized Kan's leadership since he took office in June.



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