Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will likely pick ruling party policy chief Tomomi Inada as defence minister in a new cabinet, the Asahi newspaper said on Tuesday, which could upset China and South Korea given her conservative views on wartime history.
Abe is set to reshuffle his cabinet on Wednesday, retaining several key ministers and picking a veteran lawmaker who favours big spending as ruling party number two.
Inada, 57, is a close ally of Abe and shares his goal of revising the post-war, pacifist constitution, seen by some conservatives as a humiliating symbol of Japan’s World War Two defeat. She regularly visits Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honours war dead and is seen in China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
Japan’s relations with both Beijing and Seoul have often been frayed by the legacy of Japan’s military aggression before and during World War Two.
Inada served as minister for administrative reform in an earlier Abe cabinet before being appointed as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) policy chief in 2014.
If selected as defence minister, Inada would be the second woman in the post after Yuriko Koike, newly elected as Tokyo governor, briefly held the portfolio in 2007.
The reshuffle comes as Abe tries to rev up economic growth, handle multiple diplomatic challenges and eyes the possibility of staying in office after his term as ruling LDP president ends in 2018.
Abe is expected to travel to China in early September for a Group of 20 summit, where he may have a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Sino-Japanese ties have also been strained by a dispute over tiny isles in the East China Sea and China’s growing military assertiveness in the South China Sea.