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Japan’s Hata Forms Minority Cabinet

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bracing himself for what he called “many extremely difficult problems,” Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata on Thursday appointed Japan’s first minority Cabinet in 39 years to run what was widely expected to be a short-lived government.

Hata, 58, vowed to resolve economic frictions with the United States by June, including fixing an outline for a major revision of Japan’s tax system. Part of that reform will be needed to meet U.S. requests to extend a single-year income tax cut over several years to stimulate Japan’s stagnant economy and pull in imports.

“If economic issues between Japan and the United States aren’t handled smoothly, frustrations will build up among the two peoples, such as (mutual) feelings of dislike that occurred before,” Hata said.

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Not once during a nationally televised news conference did the usually cheerful Hata smile. And when asked about a statement he once made describing himself as “an actor” to “scenarios” written by Ichiro Ozawa, his chief strategist, he scowled.

“An actor himself chooses his scripts and sometimes orders them rewritten,” he said.

Deserted by the Socialists in the middle of the night earlier this week, Hata’s coalition holds only 37% of the seats in the lower house of Parliament and 24% in the upper chamber. But Hata insisted that the Socialists and the Liberal Democratic Party agree with many of the coalition’s policies and said he will appeal to them, bill by bill, for support in reform legislation.

“I haven’t given up” on the Socialists returning to the Cabinet, he added.

In separate news conferences, all of Hata’s new ministers said they will work to see to it that the Cabinet will not be short-lived. But Megumu Sato, National Land Agency director, slipped from the script, saying, “I don’t know how long I will be serving.”

Most bets were on late June, when Parliament is finally expected to enact the long-delayed 1994 budget, or after the July 8-10 summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations in Naples, Italy, which Japan’s prime minister is obliged to attend.

Socialists promised to cooperate to pass the budget, which they helped compile--but nothing else. Although parliamentary deliberations on the budget normally begin earlier, the process is now scheduled to get under way May 17.

The Hata Cabinet, including eight ex-LDP members from the prime minister’s Renewal Party and six from the long-established, Buddhist-backed Clean Government Party, “looks like a poor man’s LDP government,” said Tomiichi Murayama, the Socialists’ chairman.

Morihiro Hosokawa, the former prime minister who announced his resignation 20 days ago, won the nation’s top political job last August just after his first-ever election to the lower house.

Hata moved Hiroshi Kumagai from head of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, where he had acted as a major opponent of U.S. demands for “measurable progress” in market-opening, to the position of chief Cabinet secretary, in which he will coordinate Cabinet actions and serve as chief government spokesman.

Eijiro Hata traded his job at the Agriculture Ministry for the MITI post. Hirohisa Fujii, a tight-fisted budget-balancer, was retained as finance minister. And Koji Kakizawa, who defected from the LDP eight days ago, was picked as foreign minister. Earlier, he had served as vice foreign minister.

Both Kumagai and Fujii led the bureaucracy in fruitless, often hostile trade negotiations with the United States.

Utilizing “Golden Week,” a chain of holidays starting today and running through May 8, both Hata and Kakizawa immediately announced plans for trips abroad.

Hata will visit Italy, France, Germany and Belgium on May 2-7; the new foreign minister will tour Egypt, Israel, the Israeli-occupied territories, Jordan and Syria on May 2-8.


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