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Japan’s new PM Abe pledges deflation fight

Japan’s newly-appointed Finance Minister Taro Aso, a veteran lawmaker and former premier, arrives at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Tokyo yesterday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has given him a mandate to help push his policies of drastic monetary easing and big spending to beat deflation and tame the strong yen.

Japan’s newly-appointed Finance Minister Taro Aso, a veteran lawmaker and former premier, arrives at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Tokyo yesterday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has given him a mandate to help push his policies of drastic monetary easing and big spending to beat deflation and tame the strong yen.

New Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed yesterday to battle deflation and a strong yen, and bolster ties with the US as he kicked off a second Administration committed to reviving the economy while coping with a rising China.

A hawk on security matters, Abe, 58, has promised aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan and big fiscal spending by the debt-laden government to slay deflation and weaken the yen to make Japanese exports more competitive.

Critics worry, however, that he will pay too little heed to reforms needed to generate growth despite an ageing, shrinking population and reform a creaking social welfare system.

The grandson of a former Prime Minister, Abe has staged a stunning comeback five years after abruptly resigning as premier in the wake of a one-year term troubled partly by scandals in his Cabinet and public outrage over lost pension records.

“With the strength of my entire Cabinet, I will implement bold monetary policy, flexible fiscal policy and a growth strategy that encourages private investment, and with these three policy pillars, achieve results,” Abe told a news conference after Parliament voted him in as Japan’s seventh Prime Minister in six years.

Abe’s long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) surged back to power in this month’s election, three years after a crushing defeat at the hands of the novice Democratic Party of Japan.

Abe appointed a Cabinet of close allies who share his conservative views in key posts, but leavened the line-up with LDP rivals to provide ballast and fend off criticism of cronyism that dogged his first administration.

Former Prime Minister Taro Aso, 72, was named finance minister and also received the financial services portfolio. Ex-Trade and Industry Minister Akira Amari becomes Minister for Economic Revival, heading a new panel tasked with coming up with growth strategies such as deregulation.

Others who share Abe’s agenda to revise the pacifist Constitution and rewrite Japan’s wartime history with a less apologetic tone were also given posts, including conservative lawmaker Hakubun Shimomura as Education Minister.

“These are really LDP right-wingers and close friends of Abe,” said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano. “It really doesn’t look very fresh at all.”

Business leaders welcomed the new Cabinet, but the biggest corporate lobby, Keidanren, urged the Government to take part in the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, Kyodo news agency said. The LDP has been wary of the pact given the political clout of the heavily protected farm sector. The yen has weakened about 9.8 per cent against the dollar since Abe was elected LDP leader in September. Yesterday, it hit a 20-month low of 85.38 yen against the greenback on expectations of aggressive monetary policy easing.

Abe has threatened to revise a law guaranteeing the Bank of Japan‘s (BOJ) independence if it refuses to set a two per cent inflation target.

BOJ minutes released yesterday showed the Central Bank was already pondering policy options in November, concerned about looming risks to the economy. The BOJ stood pat at its November rate review meeting, but eased this month in response to intensifying pressure from Abe.

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