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New defense chief vows to restore public trust after scandal

New Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera vowed Thursday to restore
public trust in his ministry following a data coverup scandal and
said one of his main tasks is to review Japan's defense program
guidelines last made in 2013 amid the severe security situation in
the region.

"We will make sure the same problem will not happen again and
make utmost efforts to revive public confidence," Onodera said at a
press conference after he assumed the ministerial post, referring to
the scandal which has thrown the Defense Ministry into disarray and
led his predecessor Tomomi Inada to resign last week.

Serving in the defense minister's post for the second time, the
57-year-old lawmaker also said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told him to
"re-examine" the 2013 defense guidelines that have set the target of
defense capabilities Japan should achieve over the next decade.

The move comes as tensions run high in the region over North
Korea's missile threats, with the reclusive country test-firing two
intercontinental ballistic missiles in July in an apparent bid to
develop the capability to strike the U.S. mainland with a nuclear

As a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Onodera has
recently led efforts to draw up a sensitive proposal that would pave
the way for the government to consider acquiring the ability to
strike foreign bases to defend Japan against the North Korean threat.

But he was unclear whether he will aggressively pursue the
proposal as defense chief, only saying at the news conference, "I
believe our current missile defense system will properly work, but it
is important to make necessary and sufficient preparations in case
North Korea improves its technology."

His predecessor resigned Friday following a one-year stint
marred by gaffes and missteps. The ministry's coverup of logs kept by
Japan's ground force troops during their U.N. peacekeeping mission in
South Sudan proved the impetus for her departure.

The logs described particularly tense situations in the
fledgling African country and their disclosure last year could have
adversely affected the government's push to continue the troop
deployment and assign new, and possibly riskier, security
responsibilities during the U.N. mission.

The scandal emerged earlier this year and deepened as leaks to
the media alleged Inada had a role in the coverup. Inada denied the
allegations but still faced questions about her loss of control over
the Self-Defense Forces.

Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, the top uniformed officer of the SDF,
said at press conference Thursday he will work to revive public
confidence shaken during the scandal.

He also pledged to support the new defense minister, praising
Onodera as "well-versed in defense policy" and a person of "noble
character." Kawano was chief of staff of the Maritime Self-Defense
Force during Onodera's previous time in the role.

The Ground Self-Defense Force's Chief of Staff Toshiya Okabe,
who will stand down next Tuesday, apologized over the scandal in a
separate press conference. Okabe reaffirmed the findings of an
internal probe that the GSDF had inappropriately responded to
information disclosure requests for the peacekeepers' daily activity

Okabe expressed the opinion that Onodera is a person who tries
to "listen to the voices of people in the field" and said he expects
the new defense chief to give "precise instructions" in the
increasingly difficult security environment. (Aug. 3)

New Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera attends an
interview with Japanese media on Aug. 4, 2017, and
said he looks positively on the possibility of Japan's
Self-Defense Forces acquiring the ability to strike overseas
targets to defend the country. (Kyodo)