Kishida to respect expert panel talks on imperial succession, new top government spokesman says

New Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has said in an interview that the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is ready to keep intact an experts’ panel on stable imperial succession launched under the previous administration, and will respect the results of the panel’s discussions.

Asked when the experts’ panel will reach its conclusion, Matsuno noted that the panel, set up under the administration of former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, “has had full-fledged discussions carefully” on issues including stable imperial succession, which were included in an additional resolution that the Diet passed when it enacted in 2017 a special law allowing the abdication of former Emperor Akihito.

How to proceed with future discussions, including a timeline, will be decided by the panel, Matsuno said, adding that the government will continue paying attention to its debates. The government will consider the appropriate timing for reporting the outcomes of the panel’s discussions to the Diet, he also said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno | KYODO
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno | KYODO

On North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals decades ago, the top government spokesman noted that 19 years have passed since five abductees returned to Japan from the reclusive country in October 2002.

“Since then, however, no abduction victim has been brought back home,” Matsuno said. “It is very regrettable that many abduction victims are still trapped in North Korea.”

Noting that the abduction issue tops the agenda for the Kishida administration, Matsuno said: “I, as chief Cabinet secretary and minister in charge of the abduction issue, aim to do comprehensive coordination work within the government. I will also work to let people both at home and abroad become aware of the need to resolve the issue, especially young people.”

The five abductees’ return home came a month after then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il held a historic bilateral summit in Pyongyang in September 2002.

Regarding the issue of U.S. bases in Okinawa Prefecture, Matsuno stressed that there is no change in the government’s plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma air station, now in a congested area in the city of Ginowan, to the Henoko coastal district in the city of Nago.

“I believe that relocating the Futenma base to Henoko is the only viable solution in light of the needs to maintain the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance and eliminate the danger posed by the base,” he said.

He said he visits Okinawa once or twice a year on official duties or private trips.

“As a fan of Okinawa and minister responsible for reducing its burden of hosting the bulk of U.S. bases in Japan, I’m ready to fully work on tackling issues facing the prefecture,” Matsuno said.

Matsuno took office Oct. 4 under the Kishida Cabinet, which was launched the same day.

Asked if he has any role model as chief Cabinet secretary, Matsuno said, “Rather than learning from a specific person, I want to fully study what my predecessors did and do my job in my own way.”

“I think that my job is to create an environment that allows Prime Minister Kishida and other Cabinet ministers to perform their duties smoothly,” Matsuno said.

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