Japan names new foreign minister

Japan`s centre-left government on Wednesday named as its new foreign minister Takeaki Matsumoto, who hails from a powerful political family but faces tricky relations with the US, China and Russia.

Updated: Mar 09, 2011, 12:34 PM IST

Tokyo: Japan`s centre-left government on Wednesday named as its new foreign minister Takeaki Matsumoto, who hails from a powerful political family but faces tricky relations with the US, China and Russia.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan picked the former banker and great great grandson of Japan`s first prime minister because of his "capability, knowledge and to ensure continuity of diplomacy", said Kan`s top spokesman Yukio Edano.

Matsumoto, 51, replaces Seiji Maehara, an outspoken security hawk who resigned this week after just six months on the job over a donations scandal, dealing a blow to the embattled Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government.

The newcomer is due to make his debut next week in Paris at a foreign ministers meeting of the Group of Eight industrialised nations, and then host his counterparts from China and South Korea later this month.

Japan`s new top diplomat, who most recently served as a vice foreign minister, takes the post at a time when his government must deal with a series of diplomatic headaches with key allies and powerful neighbours.

China, which has just overtaken Japan as the world`s number two economy, last year fought its most heated diplomatic battle in years with its traditional rival, sparked by sea collisions near a disputed island chain.

A series of tense confrontations between their vessels and aircraft has continued in and over the East China Sea, where the Asian giants have competing territorial claims, including over areas rich in oil and gas.

A long-running territorial dispute is also at the heart of a row that has flared up again in recent months between Japan and Russia.

Both countries lay claim to the remote South Kuril islands, which Soviet forces occupied in the final days of World War II, a dispute that has so far stopped the neighbours from signing a post-war peace treaty.

Japan`s top security ally since WWII has been its former occupier the United States, but that alliance too has come under strain since the DPJ took power in September 2009 vowing "more equal" ties with Washington.

A quarrel over the relocation of an unpopular US Marine Corps airbase on the southern island of Okinawa helped bring down the DPJ`s first premier Yukio Hatoyama and remains an irritant in relations.
US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, on a regional tour, was due to start a two-day Tokyo visit Wednesday.

The job of juggling all these diplomatic issues now falls to Matsumoto, the great great grandson of Hirofumi Ito, Japan`s first premier when the country ended two centuries of self-imposed isolation in the late 1800s.

Matsumoto`s father, Juro Matsumoto, was a senior member of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which was ousted from power in 2009 after half a century of almost unbroken rule and is now hoping for a comeback.

The new foreign minister, a law graduate of the elite University of Tokyo, first worked as a banker for the Industrial Bank of Japan, which later became part of the Mizuho Financial Group.

He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2000.

Reputed to have wide-ranging policy knowledge, from diplomacy to defence to finance, he previously served as the policy chief of the DPJ in opposition.

Matsumoto will formally take the post after a swearing-in ceremony at the imperial palace at 0900 GMT Wednesday.

PTI