Japan Names Defense Minister Linked to neo-Nazi Group

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Japan's Defense Minister Tomomi Inada speaks in Tokyo, Japan, August 3, 2016.
Japan's Defense Minister Tomomi Inada speaks in Tokyo, Japan, August 3, 2016. Credit: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

AP — A woman who has downplayed Japan's wartime actions and is known to have far-right views was named defense minister in a Cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, a move that could unsettle relations with Asian neighbors with bitter memories of World War II-era atrocities.

Tomomi Inada, a former reform minister who most recently held one of the top posts in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, replaced Gen Nakatani as defense minister. She's the second female to fill the post.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe changed more than half of the 19-member Cabinet in a bid to support his economic and security policies, as well as his push for a revision of Japan's postwar constitution.

While keeping the economy as the top priority for the Cabinet, Abe said he would do his "utmost to achieve the revision during his term," which ends in September 2018.

A lawyer-turned-lawmaker, Inada is one of Abe's favorites. She is a regular at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead including convicted war criminals, a gesture seen by neighbors as an endorsement of Japan's militaristic past.

She also has made remarks defending Japan's wartime atrocities, including forcing many Asian women into sexual servitude in military-run brothels, and has led a party committee to re-evaluate the judgment of war tribunal by the Allies.

Her link to a notorious anti-Korea group was acknowledged by a court this year in a defamation case she lost. Inada also was seen posing with the leader of a neo-Nazi group in a 2011 photo that surfaced in the media in 2014.

Inada, 57, is a supporter of Abe's long-cherished hope to revise Japan's postwar constitution. She has said parts of the war-renouncing Article 9 should be scrapped, arguing that they could be interpreted as banning the Self-Defense Forces.

Inada said she would do try to protect peace and safety under the Japan-U.S. alliance, which Tokyo considers a cornerstone of its security and diplomacy. Asked if she planned to visit Yasukuni to mark this year's Aug. 15 war-end anniversary, she refused to comment.

Finance Minister Taro Aso, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga were among key Cabinet members who retained their portfolios, while 10 ministers were replaced in the reshuffle.

Abe, whose key policies include women's advancement, will have two other female Cabinet members, including one who will serve as Olympic minister after being shifted from environment minister. Tokyo is set to host the 2020 Summer Games.

While campaigning for last month's upper house elections, Abe promised to focus on economic revitalization in the short term, and to later seek to revise Japan's pacifist constitution.

Since he took office in late 2012, Abe has sought to boost growth by pumping massive amounts of money into the world's third-biggest economy. But lavish monetary easing and public works spending so far have failed to reignite growth as much as hoped.

The reshuffle was the third since Abe took office, and the first since October.

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