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Inada's inconsistent remarks raise questions over qualifications as defense minister

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada drops her eyes as she is questioned by Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the Democratic Party over inconsistencies in her remarks, during a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Sept. 30, 2016. (Mainichi)

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada's inconsistent remarks about Japan's defense policies have cast doubts on her ability to lead the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), as opposition parties grilled her over past comments during debates at the Diet.

    Inada was appointed defense minister in the August reshuffle of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Beginning with Democratic Party legislator Kiyomi Tsujimoto's questions to Inada during a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting on Sept. 30, opposition lawmakers repeatedly opened fire on the rookie minister, quoting her past comments on various issues including the Japan-U.S. security treaty, Japan and nuclear armament, and the Senkaku Islands dispute. In response, Inada kept restating the government's official views on each issue, giving the impression that she was pressed to correct her past remarks.

    A woman in her 50s from the Hokkaido city of Chitose, whose son is in the Ground Self-Defense Force, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I don't think it's just me, but parents who leave their children in the hands of someone like her must be worried."

    "She made all kinds of comments about the SDF and other issues before becoming defense minister, but she's since changed her tone completely. She canceled a trip to South Sudan because she wasn't feeling well, but then rushed to visit there after she was criticized (for cancelling the trip)," the Hokkaido woman went on.

    Military commentator Tetsuo Maeda ripped into Inada, calling her "unqualified" to be the defense minister.

    "She became a minister without qualifications and has been showing her true colors," he said. "A defense minister must be prepared to make sense out of Japan's Constitution and the Japan-U.S. security treaty, and be knowledgeable about them, but Ms. Inada appears to lack the ability to do so. The opposition parties see through that and are attacking her on that basis."

    Kazuya Sakamoto, international politics professor at Osaka University's graduate school, defended Inada, saying, "Ms. Inada's comment on Japan having its own nuclear arms was made before she became minister. I wonder whether making a big deal (out of her past remarks) is appropriate." Sakamoto added, "It hasn't been long since she was appointed minister, and I want her to concentrate on her job first."

    During the Sept. 30 questioning by Tsujimoto, Inada shed tears after the opposition lawmaker pressed Inada over her absence at the national memorial service for the war dead on the 71st anniversary of the end of World War II on Aug. 15. At the time, Inada was visiting Djibouti in Africa, where SDF troops were stationed as part of an ongoing international anti-piracy mission.

    Tsujimoto told reporters after the Diet session, "She appeared to be unable to give an answer after her inconsistencies were pointed out. I wonder how the world sees a defense minister being in a panic. She is harming the national interest."

    Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended Inada at a news conference, saying that she is performing her duty with a strong sense of responsibility.

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