Japan’s finance minister to become new PM

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Japan’s premier-designate Yoshihiko Noda on Monday vowed a safe pair of hands in rebuilding the country from its tsunami-nuclear disasters after he was elected the ruling party chief. The low-key, business-friendly finance minister is set to be confirmed as prime minister on Tuesday by parliament, replacing the unpopular Naoto Kan to become the debt-laden nation’s sixth new leader in five years.
Known as a fiscal hawk, 54-year-old Noda has described himself as an ordinary man and pledged a moderate “middle-of-the-road” politics, while also promising to unite his divided Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Likening himself to a modest marine creature rather than a charismatic political star, Noda said in a final campaign appeal to DPJ lawmakers on Monday: “I am a loach. I can’t be a goldfish.” His election may cause ripples among Japan’s neighbours following his recent comments on the country’s World War II history. Noda sparked a strong response from South Korea weeks ago when he said on the anniversary of Japan’s 1945 surrender that Class-A war criminals convicted by an Allied tribunal were in fact not war criminals.
In Japan, the focus is on the pressing tasks of rebuilding after the March 11 calamity, ending the Fukushima nuclear crisis, revitalising a stagnant economy and addressing the industrialised world’s largest public debt.
The country is still struggling to resolve the Fukushima disaster after reactor meltdowns forced more than 80,000 people from their homes and contaminated wide stretches of farmland, causing national food scares.
On the economic front, years of pump-priming have left Japan saddled with a public debt that is more than twice the size of the economy and set to balloon further as a fast-ageing population increases welfare costs.
Last week, ratings agency Moody’s cut Japan’s credit rating, citing the huge public debt and the country’s revolving-door politics that have delayed essential reforms needed to alleviate it.
Noda has advocated raising taxes rather than borrowing more money to pay for quake reconstruction and to bring down the debt, a position that has made him the favourite of financial markets, which ticked up Monday.
Noda on Monday noted that the debt and economic woes of the United States and Europe pose a threat for Japan, which has been overtaken as the world’s second-biggest economy by China. “In this global current, the question is who will be able to navigate this ship called Japan without losing its course, and say what Japan should say in the arena of international negotiations,” he told the DPJ lawmakers.
On the question of nuclear power, which his predecessor Kan wanted to phase out following the Fukushima disaster, Noda has said that currently shut-down reactors should be restarted once they are deemed safe.