Japan’s new trade minister has submitted his resignation after being accused of violating election law by offering voters money and gifts, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday.
Isshu Sugawara had been in the hot seat after a magazine reported he was suspected of paying 20,000 yen ($185) to a bereaved family in his constituency.
He was also reported to have given gifts to other voters, including pricey melons and even crabs, Kyodo news agency said.
The sums involved, while small, would constitute a violation of Japan’s public office election law.
Abe said Sugawara submitted his resignation after a cabinet meeting and that he had accepted it.
“I bear responsibility in having appointed him. I deeply apologise to the Japanese people,” Abe said.
Sugawara will be replaced by Hiroshi Kajimaya, formerly minister in charge of revitalising communities in the countryside, Abe said.
Sugawara told Abe and later told reporters “it is not my intention that parliamentary debate stall (because of the scandal).”
He was appointed in a recent cabinet reshuffle but did not take over the key portfolio of handling trade negotiations with the United States.
That task remains the purview of former trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who now serves as foreign minister.
Abe’s cabinet has maintained public approval ratings of around 40-50 percent in recent years, despite several political scandals, with experts pointing to the continued weakness of the opposition as a key factor.
Abe “strongly demanded a positive response from China regarding the detention of a Japanese national” when he met Wang Qishan on Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
He gave no further details on the exchange.
The man, who has not been named, worked previously for the National Institute for Defense Studies in the defence ministry and the Japanese foreign ministry, according to local media reports.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she did not know the details of the case, but that China “has always handled foreign nationals suspected of breaking China’s law, in accordance with the law”.
Hua said the detention was a “one-off case”.
“We hope that the Japanese side can remind its citizens to respect China’s laws and regulations and avoid engaging in illegal activities in China,” she added.
Beijing has faced accusations of using detentions of foreigners as a political tool, and observers have called it “hostage diplomacy”.
In 2017, China detained six Japanese citizens for alleged “illegal activities.”
Since 2015, at least 13 Japanese citizens — all civilians — have been detained in China on various charges including espionage, Japan’s Kyodo News and the Asahi Shimbun reported.
Tokyo’s ties with Beijing have been at times strained by rows over history and territorial disputes but have been improving recently, with President Xi Jinping expected to visit Japan early next year.
Some of the interventions listed by Abe include clearing of land mines, health care, water supply, building infrastructure and capacity building in Africa.
Leaders who also gave opening speeches at the conference include Al Fatah Elsisi of Egypt; UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres and the Africa Union Chairperson, Musa Faki Mohammed among others.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari is also at the conference. He is accompanied by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum; Kwara State governor AbdulRaham AbdulRazaq and Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu and other top government officials.
President Buhari is expected to deliver Nigeria’s Statement during Plenary Session Three in which he would appraise Nigeria-Japan relations and takeaways from TICAD6.
Japan is to ban government use of telecoms products made by Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE on concerns about cybersecurity, reports said Friday.
The government plans to revise internal procurement rules to exclude products made by Huawei and ZTE as early as Monday, the mass-circulation Yomiuri Shimbun reported. Jiji Press agency also reported the expected move.
The ban comes after a US request to allies to avoid products made by the two companies over fears they contain viruses used for cyber attacks, the Yomiuri said, citing unnamed government sources.
Domestic products that use parts made by the two Chinese firms will also be excluded from government use, it said.
The Yomiuri said the government was not expected to name the companies directly, so as to avoid angering China.
Asked about the report, top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga declined to comment, adding Japan was “closely cooperating with the United States” on cybersecurity issues.
China said it was “seriously concerned” about the reports, adding that Huawei and ZTE have been operating legally in Japan for a long time.
“We hope that Japan will provide a level playing field for Chinese companies to operate in Japan,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing.
“Do not do anything that would undermine mutual trust and cooperation.”
The reports come after the arrest of a top Huawei executive in Canada infuriated China, sending global markets wobbling on fears of intensifying tensions between Beijing and Washington.
The detention of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, comes after US authorities reportedly launched an investigation into suspected Iran sanctions violations by Huawei.
The firm was already under scrutiny by US intelligence officials who have deemed the company a national security threat.
Huawei’s affordable smartphones have made strong inroads in the developing world, but the company has faced repeated setbacks in major Western economies over security concerns.
Huawei has been under scrutiny in Washington for more than a decade, and is facing bans for 5G contracts in Australia and New Zealand, both Pacific allies of the US.
Shinzo Abe will pay the first visit to China by a Japanese prime minister since 2011 later this month, Beijing announced on Friday, in the latest sign of warming ties between the rivals.
Abe will visit from October 25 to 27 and mark the 40th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two nations, said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang.
The visit will “elevate our bilateral ties and put bilateral cooperation back on the right track,” Lu said at a regular press briefing.
Lu added that the two sides will work to “jointly uphold multilateralism and the free trade system” — a comment that comes as China and the United States are mired in a trade war that the IMF said this week will hobble global growth.
Lu said there a reception was planned to celebrate the Sino-Japanese friendship treaty, which was signed on October 23, 1978.
Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping have met numerous times over the last few years on the sidelines of international events.
But no Japanese prime minister has paid an official visit to China since 2011 and no Chinese president has visited Japan since 2010.
Relations between Beijing and Tokyo soured in 2012 over a territorial dispute over several tiny Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea.
Upon returning to power in 2012, Abe took a firm position on Japan’s sovereignty over the island chain, aggravating tensions with Beijing.
But he has since softened his rhetoric and called on China to press North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programmes.
Abe announced last month that he planned to visit China later this year.
“After that, I very much wish to invite President Xi to Japan,” Abe said after meeting the Chinese leader on the sidelines of an economic forum in Russia.
“Through this exchange of visits at the leaders’ level, I hope to raise Japan-China relations to a new stage. I am firmly determined in this regard,” he said at the time.
Japanese businesses have also voiced a desire for closer ties with China to boost trade.
Despite the rapprochement, sources of tension linger.
Last month, Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said China had been “unilaterally escalating” its military activities in the past year, including carrying out new airborne operations around Japan and running a nuclear submarine near disputed East Coast isles.
Japan also carried out in September its first submarine drills in the disputed South China Sea, which Beijing mostly claims. At the time, the Chinese foreign ministry said Tokyo “should act cautiously and avoid doing anything which would harm regional peace and stability”.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won re-election as leader of his ruling party Thursday, setting him on course to become Japan’s longest-serving premier and realise his dream of reforming the constitution.
The 63-year-old conservative secured 553 votes from lawmakers and party members against 254 won by former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba in a two-horse race for leader of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on Friday with survivors of devastating rains that killed at least 204 people in flash flooding and landslides, as the government pledged more aid.
The toll from the record rainfall has continued to rise, as rescue workers dig through the debris and find the remains of dozens of people reported missing.
Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Friday that the toll was now 204 dead, with 28 people still missing.
Around 73,000 rescue workers including police and troops “are working as hard as they can, with the priority on saving lives”, he said.
Abe, who earlier this week cancelled a foreign tour, travelled for a second time to areas hit by the disaster.
Television footage showed him visiting Seiyo in Ehime prefecture, where he visited homes damaged in the disaster and talked to residents trying to clean up.
On Friday morning, meeting with the government’s taskforce on the disaster, Abe pledged new assistance.
The government has already said it will tap around $18 million in reserve funds from this year’s budget, and Abe said $312 million in tax grants would be disbursed early to local governments in affected areas.
“I want local governments in disaster-hit areas to do all they can for emergency assistance and reconstruction, without hesitating to spend,” he said.
The financial cost of the disaster is still being calculated, but the agriculture ministry said Friday it has assessed losses of at least $207 million.
That figure is likely to rise further as clean-up operations continue and the scale of the damage becomes clear.
It “could be the tip of the iceberg, as we are still unable to go and inspect fields,” ministry official Yasuhisa Hamanaka told AFP.
Agriculture Minister Ken Saito said the cost of some vegetables had already shot up between 10-30 percent and that the ministry would be “closely monitoring” price hikes.
The size of the toll in what is now Japan’s worst weather-related disaster in over three decades has prompted questions about whether authorities were properly prepared and acted effectively.
The English-language Japan Times daily noted that the flooding that engulfed one district of Kurashiki in Okayama prefecture was in line with forecasts from local authorities.
But “evacuation orders were issued by the city to residents in some areas of the district just minutes before the breach of the embankment took place,” the newspaper said in an editorial.
“We need to scrutinise our defences against such disasters, identify the weak points and fix them.”
President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed Monday that it is “imperative” to completely dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program, the White House said.
During a telephone call, the pair “discussed recent developments in North Korea and confirmed they would meet again to continue close coordination in advance of the expected meeting between the United States and North Korea,” a statement read.
“The president and prime minister affirmed the shared imperative of achieving the complete and permanent dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missile programs.”
Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, dissolved parliament Thursday, effectively kicking off a national election campaign where he faces an unexpected and formidable challenge from the popular governor of Tokyo.
Members of the lower house raised their arms and shouted “Banzai” three times — the Japanese equivalent of “three cheers” — after the speaker read out a letter officially dissolving the chamber.
Voters in the world’s third-biggest economy will go to the polls on October 22, as Abe seeks a fresh popular mandate for his hardline stance on North Korea and a new tax plan.
“This is an election about how to protect the lives of people,” said the premier. “We have to cooperate with the international community as we face the threat from North Korea.”
Abe asked for public support for his “strong diplomacy” on Kim Jong-Un’s regime, which has threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea and fired missiles over its northern Hokkaido island twice in the space of a month.
“We need to fight for our children’s future.”
– ‘Party of Hope’ –
Abe stunned Japan on Monday with a surprise call for a snap election, seeking to capitalise on a weak opposition and a boost in the polls, as voters welcome his hawkish policy toward Pyongyang.
But Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has upended Japanese politics in recent days, stealing Abe’s limelight with her newly launched “Party of Hope” that seeks to shake up the country’s lethargic political landscape.
Koike’s new party, formally unveiled Wednesday, has attracted an influx of lawmakers from a wide range of ideological backgrounds and has succeeded in unifying opposition to Abe, presenting Japanese voters with a credible alternative to the premier.
Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party later Thursday decided not to run candidates in the election, effectively joining forces with Koike’s juggernaut.
For the moment, although Koike is leading the party, she is not running for a seat in parliament, preferring to concentrate on governing the world’s most populous city in the run-up to the 2020 Olympic Games.
“I’ll focus my energy on Tokyo. Leading Tokyo will be a plus to the whole of Japan,” Koike told reporters.
But pundits say the charismatic former TV presenter, 65, could yet go all-in on her high-stakes gamble if she thought she could deflect criticism for ditching her current job after only a year.
“The party may gain some seats in the Tokyo area, but a risk for her is that voters may feel betrayed as they voted for her as Tokyo governor and now she is working in national politics,” Kensuke Takayasu, professor of political science at Seikei University, told AFP.
– ‘Vacuum’ –
Surveys show that Koike’s gambit is starting to put pressure on Abe, 63, who until recently seemed to be a shoo-in for a fourth term at the helm.
Abe enjoyed a healthy lead in the polls of more than 30 points only a week ago but the gap appeared to have narrowed following Koike’s high-profile announcement.
A survey in the Mainichi Shimbun suggested that 29 percent of voters would cast ballots for Abe’s conservative LDP, while 18 percent would vote for the Party of Hope.
Polls also suggest there are a large number of undecided voters, giving some hope to Koike’s party that it can bridge the gap.
Abe returned to power in December 2012 and has pushed a nationalist social agenda as well as his trademark “Abenomics” economic policy — big-spending and easy money — to end deflation and to kick-start the once world-beating economy.
The scion of a political dynasty, Abe had promised to achieve two-percent inflation and stable growth in two years, but nearly five years later, he has failed to deliver on those pledges.
He said on Monday he would use a planned hike in consumption tax from eight percent to 10 percent for new social spending, such as free early childhood education, while pushing back his pledges to restore the nation’s fiscal discipline.
Critics argue that Abe called the election to divert attention from an series of scandals in recent months that weighed on his popularity, including allegations of favouritism to a friend in a business deal — which the premier strongly denies.
The timing of the election, amid the North Korean crisis, has also faced questions, including from Koike, who said it created a “vacuum” at a time of national tension.
Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe on Monday called a snap election, seeking a fresh term at the helm of the world’s third-largest economy as tensions with nearby North Korea reach fever-pitch.
Abe hopes to capitalise on a weak and fractured opposition to sweep back into power, as polls show him regaining ground after a series of scandals.
“I will dissolve the House of Representatives on the 28th” of September, Abe told reporters, a precursor to a general election. The prime minister did not give a date for the vote but it is widely expected to be October 22.
Surveys suggest voters approve of nationalist Abe’s hardline stance on North Korea, which fired two missiles over the country in the space of a month and has threatened to “sink” Japan.
“The election, which is the core of democracy, should not be influenced by the threats of North Korea,” stressed Abe, 63.
“Rather, by holding an election, I want to seek a public mandate regarding (the government’s) handling of the North Korean issues,” he added.
– ‘Difficult time’ –
According to a weekend poll in business daily Nikkei, 44 percent of Japanese plan to vote for Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), while only eight percent favoured the main opposition Democratic Party.
Nevertheless, one-fifth of those polled said they were still undecided, potentially opening the door for gains by a new party formed by the popular mayor of Tokyo Yuriko Koike which will field dozens of candidates.
Koike’s Tomin First no Kai (Tokyo Residents First) party humiliated Abe and the LDP in local elections in July, but analysts say the new grouping has not had time to lay a national foundation to mount a serious challenge to the prime minister.
In an apparent bid to steal Abe’s limelight, former TV anchorwoman Koike went before the cameras just hours before his news conference to announce she was creating a national political party called “Kibo no To” (Party of Hope).
“Japan is facing a difficult time considering the situation in North Korea. Economically, the world is making a big move while Japan’s presence is gradually declining,” said Koike.
“Can we continue letting (the existing lawmakers) handle politics?”
But Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Japan, said there was “no opposition worthy of the name in Japan”.
“The LDP is a giant among dwarves. It would take a major scandal to derail the Abe express,” he said.
– ‘Political vacuum’ –
The winner of the expected snap election faces a daunting in-tray of challenges ranging from an unprecedented crisis with North Korea to reviving the once world-beating Japanese economy.
The North Korea crisis appears to have given the hawkish Abe a welcome boost in the polls following a series of scandals, including allegations he improperly favoured a friend in a business deal.
Despite a recent run of growth, the election winner will also have to contend with a sluggish economy, as the heavily indebted country grapples with a low birth rate and a shrinking labour force.
Abe said Japan’s “biggest problem” was a declining number of children in an ageing society.
He pledged to use some of the proceeds of a planned hike in sales tax to fund education and childcare, rather than drawing down Japan’s massive debt, resulting in an effective stimulus package of around two trillion yen ($18 billion).
“I want people’s support. I plan to compile a new economic package by the end of the year,” the prime minister said.
Although Abe is expected to triumph in the vote, there are question marks over whether he will retain the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to reform the constitution to strengthen Japan’s military, one of his stated priorities.
“Despite the seemingly favourable backdrop for Abe, there are risks in calling a snap election,” said Yoel Sano, an analyst at BMI research.
At a time of national crisis over North Korea, Japanese voters may see it as a “cynical and opportunistic move” designed to divert attention from the scandals that weighed on Abe’s popularity, warned Sano.
Commentator Masao Yora said the election would “create a political vacuum” just when the country needs strong leadership in the face of the threat from Pyongyang.
This “may seem normal in Japan but from abroad, it is difficult to understand”, Yora told AFP. If re-elected, it would be Abe’s fourth term.
Abe, the third generation of a powerful political family, appeared to be groomed for power from an early age. He was the country’s youngest prime minister when he first won the top job aged 52.
Abe was the first world leader to cultivate close relations with US President Donald Trump, meeting the tycoon in Trump Tower even before he was inaugurated.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and United States President Donald Trump on Monday held a discussion, following a call to action from the leaders over the “growing threat” from North Korea.
Speaking after the phone conversation, Abe noted that efforts to find a peaceful solution to the North’s nuclear programme were not working out.
“President Trump and I completely agreed that we must also take further action,” he said. “We will make every possible effort to protect our citizens’ safety against the threat from North Korea.”
But officials say the two leaders stopped short of discussing military action, instead, calling on the international community, including Russia and China, to step up pressure on Pyongyang.
The call came just hours after the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said that Washington was done talking about North Korea and that any new UN resolution was of no value unless pressure on the regime was significantly increased.
Following Friday’s ballistic missile launch, President Trump reportedly took particular aim at China for not doing enough to rein in North Korea.
Beijing’s state media, however, fired back on Monday with an editorial in the Global Times saying the comment does not help the situation and could only have been made by a quote “green-horn US president who knows little about the North Korean nuclear issue”.
Senior officials in South Korea say President Moon Jae-in is also planning to hold a call with Trump, a conversation they say will most likely focus on imposing heavy sanctions on the North.