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Updated: March 9, 2011 14:52 IST

Japanese government selects new foreign minister

AP
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State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Takeaki Matsumoto answers a question during the upper house budget committee session in Tokyo on Wednesday. Photo: AP.
State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Takeaki Matsumoto answers a question during the upper house budget committee session in Tokyo on Wednesday. Photo: AP.

Japan’s foreign minister, who suddenly resigned for accepting illegal donations from a foreigner, will be replaced by a senior ministry official, the government said on Wednesday.

State Secretary Takeaki Matsumoto is taking over as foreign minister as Japan faces increased aggression from its Asian neighbours. Tokyo has had diplomatic spats in recent months with both China and Russia over disputed islands in the region, and faces an ongoing threat from nearby North Korea.

Mr. Matsumoto, 51, a veteran lawmaker in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, is a second—ranking official at the ministry. He is seen as pro—U.S. and is unlikely to change the general direction of Japan’s foreign policy.

He is replacing Seiji Maehara, who was Japan’s top diplomat for just six months. Mr. Maehara’s resignation on Sunday over illegal donations was a blow to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who had promised to root out “money politics” after a veteran power broker in his party was caught up in a separate funding scandal.

Mr. Kan’s government is facing public approval ratings below 20 percent as it struggles to pass a budget through a gridlocked parliament.

Mr. Kan is already the country’s fifth leader in four years, and as his popularity erodes, the Democrats may choose to replace him to stay in power.

Mr. Maehara, who had been seen as a top candidate to replace Mr. Kan, acknowledged receiving a total of 250,000 yen ($3,000) in donations over the past several years from a 72—year—old Korean woman who has lived most of her life in Japan. He said they had been friends since his childhood.

Japan’s political funding law prohibits lawmakers from accepting donations from any foreigners, even those born in Japan.

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Koreans, many descended from labourers brought forcibly to Japan during World War II, live in the country legally but without citizenship.

Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Tokyo Foundation think tank, said Mr. Matsumoto’s policy views are pro—American and similar to Mr. Maehara’s. The two men share a “not hawkish, but not dovish” position toward China, Mr. Watanabe said.

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