Hosokawa plays safe with cabinet: Japanese PM chooses conservative team committed to continuity in economic and foreign policy

THE Japanese Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, announced his new cabinet yesterday, ushering in the first government not controlled by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for 38 years. The new government is committed to promoting political and electoral reform, but in other areas the conservative tilt of the cabinet shows there will be little immediate change to economic and foreign policies.

To overcome the suspicions of the powerful and potentially obstructionist bureaucracy, the new cabinet members quickly broadcast aloud their conservative credentials in a series of press interviews. There would be no change in the ban on rice imports, no deficit spending and no other impetuous initiatives to upset the mandarins of Japan's ministries, for whom change, however slight, is viewed with horror.

The government hopes that by securing its back against bureaucratic interference, it will be free to pursue its main goal: to alter the electoral system which up to now has been heavily biased in favour of the LDP. Indeed the main thing holding the seven- party coalition of socialists, Buddhists and conservatives together is opposition to the LDP. Japanese journalists refer simply to the grouping as the hijimin, or 'non-LDP' government.

Mr Hosokawa's cabinet contains no members from his own newly established and relatively inexperienced Japan New Party, and shows clearly that the Shinsei (Renewal) party, controlled by Ichiro Ozawa, is the real force behind the new government. The Shinsei party, which split off from the LDP in June, captured control of all the most important ministries: finance, international trade and industry, agriculture, defence and foreign affairs.

After last month's election, Mr Ozawa worked hard behind the scenes to form a coalition to unseat the LDP. He pushed Mr Hosokawa into the prime minister's seat while refusing to take a cabinet post for himself, preferring the relative freedom of manoeuvre of backroom politics. His main ally, Tsutomu Hata, who is the chairman of the Shinsei party, was made Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

The other ministries have been shared out among the partners in the seven-party coalition. The Socialists, who for 38 years had institutionalised themselves as the permanent opposition party, received six cabinet posts, including a new portfolio for political reform, taken up by the party leader, Sadao Yamahana. There are three women in the cabinet, the largest number ever. Two key ministries, justice and education, were given to non- politicians in an attempt to give the government a reform-oriented face.

'I take pride in having built what I think is an excellent cabinet,' said Mr Hosokawa yesterday, showing no embarrassment at his party's eclipse and the predominance of Shinsei party members in important portfolios. They were there because they were the right people for the right positions, he explained.

The new Finance Minister, Hirohisa Fujii, said he would not introduce deficit spending, the scourge of the Finance Ministry. Nor would he push for an increase in the consumption tax, Japan's equivalent of value added tax. His colleague Eijiro Hata in the Ministry of Agriculture duly announced there would be no relaxation of Japan's ban on imported rice. Hiroshi Kumagai, Minister of International Trade and Industry, said Japan should avoid managed trade agreements with the US, although he said Washington's unhappiness over Japan's huge trade surplus was 'understandable'.

One area which has so far been fraught with political taboos, but which Mr Ozawa is determined to bring out into the open, is Japan's defence policy. Mr Ozawa was the main force behind the sending of Japanese troops to Cambodia to serve with the UN peace-keepers last year, despite fierce opposition from pacifist groups.

He ensured that Keisuke Nakanishi, a Shinsei party member, got the defence porfolio in the current cabinet. Mr Nakanishi said yesterday that he would expand Japanese military participation in UN peace-keeping missions, and also hinted at a more assertive defence policy for a country that still feels inhibited by its wartime record.


Prime Minister: Morihiro Hosokawa (J); Foreign Minister and Deputy Premier: Tsutomu Hata (R); Special Minister for Political Reform: Sadao Yamahana (S); Justice: Akira Mikazuki (N); Finance: Hirohisa Fujii (R); Education: Ryoko Akamatsu (N); Health and Welfare: Keigo Ouchi (D); Agriculture: Eijiro Hata (R); International Trade and Industry: Hiroshi Kumagai (R); Transport: Shigeru Ito (S); Posts and Telecommunications: Takenori Kanzaki (K); Labour: Chikara Sakaguchi (K); Construction: Kozo Igarashi (S); Home Affairs: Kanju Sato (S); Chief Cabinet Secretary: Masayoshi Takemura (H); Management and Co-ordination: Koshiro Ishida (K); Defence: Keisuke Nakanishi (R); Economic Planning: Manae Kubota (S); Science and Technology: Satsuki Eda (F); Environment: Wakako Hironaka (K); Land Development: Kosuke Uehara (S).

(Key to the parties: S = Socialist; J = Japan New; R = Japan Renewal; H = Harbinger New; K = Komeito; D = Democratic Socialist; F = Social Democratic Federation; N = Non-political)