New year, old news

Just when I thought that it was the DPJ that was off to a bad start in the new Diet session, the Abe Cabinet once again finds itself in hot water over the inability of a cabinet minister to control his mouth.

As I noted earlier, Yanagisawa Hakuo, health minister, recently referred to women as “birth-giving machines.” Although Abe has criticized him, opposition parties are once again calling for the resignation of an Abe cabinet member. (Last term they sought the resignation of Foreign Minister Aso after remarks that seemed to undermine the government’s commitment to the three non-nuclear principles.) The opposition probably has more reason to push for a resignation in this case, but either way Yanagisawa has managed to change the leading topic of conversation away from the fallout following the resignation of Tsunoda and the contents of Abe’s policy address last week. Once again Abe appears less than capable at keeping his cabinet under control, and, accordingly, Abe Cabinet appears less than capable at running the country.

Alongside l’affaire Yanagisawa has been the feud over Defense Minister Kyuma’s comments about US foreign policy. While I discussed his remarks on Iraq here, I did not discuss the more egregious portion of his criticism of the US, which blamed the US for failing to understand Tokyo’s need to coax agreement from the government of Okinawa before the reconfiguration of the US military presence there can proceed.

This is considerably more outrageous than his comments on Iraq. The US is trying to expedite the process of reducing its footprint in Okinawa, which has been a source of tension for decades — and now the defense minister is criticizing the US for failing to understand that Japan needs to go slow? (Kyuma more or less reiterated his comments on Okinawa in a press conference yesterday). Considering that the initial agreement on Futenma, the Marine air station that has been at the center of the dispute for some time, was reached in 1995, the US has been plenty patient with Japan, waiting for Tokyo to reach some kind of lasting accord with the government of one of its own prefectures. Kyuma claims that since the players have changed, the government has to pause to hear their opinions, which sounds reasonable except that the players have continually changed. At what point does the government just lay down the law and actually implement the agreements it has made with the US?

So it seems that things are back to normal in Nagatacho. The Abe Cabinet is embroiled in disputes with the opposition, and now, with the US, over the ill-considered words of its members.

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