Defense Minister Kishi (left) and Prime Minister Kishida (right) attend a plenary session of the House of RepresentativesThe June 17 announcement of the appointment of vice-ministers has sent shockwaves through Nagatacho.“Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (64) led the Prime Minister’s Office in a “purge of the Abe faction”. The decision was made to have Kazuhisa Shimada, 60, the vice minister of the Ministry of Defense, who is a close ally of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (67), step down from his post. Mr. Shimada served as Prime Minister Abe’s secretary for six and a half years from December 2012, and after becoming vice minister, he became the leader of the Ministry’s effort to increase defense spending by 2% of GDP over the next five years, making him the “sharpest man in the Ministry”. In particular, this year’s election to the House of Councillors will be a point of contention, and the Ministry had to finalize discussions on the revision of the three strategic documents by the end of the year in order to drastically strengthen the defense capability. However, the personnel announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office included the name of Atsuo Suzuki, 61, Director General of the Defense Equipment Agency, who had already been promoted to a “higher post” as his successor. It is unusual for a vice minister-level director-general of the Defense Equipment Agency to be replaced by someone of that rank, and Mr. Suzuki himself could not hide his surprise at the appointment,” said a Defense Ministry official.
Defense Ministry officials, including Nobuo Kishi, 63, former Prime Minister Abe’s younger brother and Minister of Defense, said in response to the Prime Minister’s Office’s announcement that Shimada would be stepping down, “In light of the current severe security environment, the revision of the three strategic documents is of the utmost importance.” However, the Prime Minister’s Office did not change its mind.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shunichi Kuryu (63) coldly dismissed the matter with a single phone call, saying, “It is customary for the vice minister to be replaced after two years in office,” and, “It has been decided. The personnel changes were led by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kuryu, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara, and the Ministry of Finance. To begin with, former Prime Minister Abe insisted on a large increase in defense spending in this year’s “Kotta-no Shintaku” (policy for economic and fiscal management). In the draft, he included “2% of GDP” in the main text and specified “within 5 years” as the time frame for achieving the required amount. The key figure behind this was former Prime Minister Abe’s confidant, Vice-Minister Shimada. The Ministry of Finance, which was bitterly disappointed with this move, wanted to exclude Mr. Shimada from the discussion. In response to former Prime Minister Abe’s comments on the “bone and bones” issue, the Ministry of Finance was forced to revise the wording.” Prime Minister Kishida has been bitterly criticized by those around him after he was forced to revise the wording of the bill in response to former Prime Minister Abe’s comments regarding the framework for the new government.
Prime Minister Abe immediately reacted to the Prime Minister’s Office’s treachery. He called Prime Minister Kishida to his office in the Diet Members’ Building and asked him directly to allow Shimada to continue as vice minister.
Kishida’s reply was, “It seems that the decision has already been made,” as if he were talking about someone else. When Deputy Director Kihara heard about this, he laughed in triumph, saying, “Prime Minister Abe does that a lot, doesn’t he?” Some members of the national defense community said, “This is an impossible decision,” and some ruling party officials said, “This incident shows that Prime Minister Kishida is not at all interested in national security.” Originally, Kishida has no ‘vision,’ and when asked on a TV program in 2019 what he would most like to do if he becomes prime minister, he replied, “Personnel affairs”.
According to a veteran LDP secretary, Deputy Director-General Kuryu, who was in charge of personnel matters, “I was working in accordance with Prime Minister Kishida’s desire to purge the Abe faction anyway” from the time he took office.
“Defense Minister Kishi is former Prime Minister Abe’s younger brother, so he is a locus standi. In explaining this personnel change to Shimada, Deputy Director Kuryu said, ‘I asked Prime Minister Kishida three times to allow Shimada to stay on as Vice Minister, but he did not change his mind. I am sorry, but I hope you will accept his resignation.” When he heard that former Prime Minister Abe had asked Prime Minister Kishida directly, Kuryu called Shimada and told him, “If you want to continue working in this area, don’t do anything unnecessary.” Defense Minister Kishi tried to retain Shimada as his advisor, but this too would have been squashed by the Kuryu/Kihara duo.
When the reporters in charge of the Defense Ministry for the newspapers, who are familiar with the work of Vice Minister Shimada, all published articles about the incomprehensible appointments by the Prime Minister’s Office, Prime Minister Kishida, in an interview with Kyodo News on June 20, placed the blame on Defense Minister Kishi, saying, “The appointment of [Vice Minister Shimada] has been approved by the minister in charge.”
A member of the defense community is outraged.
“Everyone in the Ministry of Defense knows that Mr. Kishi was opposed to this appointment. But the fact that they still dared to put the blame on Mr. Kishi suggests that they intend to cut him off at the next cabinet meeting, which will be held after the Upper House election. Since early spring, there have been rumors that Mr. Kishi is in poor health, and it is said that this too may have originated from the Kantei. I hear that there is a plan to take the post at the Ministry of Defense from the Seiwa-kai (Seiwa Policy Research Association, an Abe faction) and replace it with Minoru Terada, (64) a member of the Koike-kai, to which he belongs. I understand their excitement over the appointment, but the members of the Koike-kai are generally doves, and many of them are amateurs when it comes to national security policy. It is unacceptable to ignore the national interest.”
Who will be cut next? The Kishida administration is about to hold the House of Councillors election in the middle of the summer, and there is a sense of disquiet in the Kasumigaseki district. Once the summer is over, the political battle without honor or humanity will begin.