TOKYO (AFP) -- Japan's Shinzo Abe Wednesday appointed new foreign and defense ministers and promoted a popular rising political star, in a cabinet reshuffle that fuelled speculation over the prime minister's successor.
The spectacular appointment as environment minister of the telegenic Shinjiro Koizumi, the 38-year-old son of much-loved former PM Junichiro, set tongues wagging in Tokyo political classes as the Abe era draws to a close.
"Abe intends to start an open race to pick the next prime minister or even the one after that," said SMBC Nikko Securities chief market economist Yoshimasa Maruyama.
A darling of the Japanese media, Koizumi is the third-youngest minister appointed to the cabinet in Japan since the end of World War II, in a country where seniority is prized in politics and many other walks of life.
Despite intense media spotlight, he has been coy on expressing his view on the issues of the day and there will be close scrutiny over his policies on nuclear power, particularly on whether he will break with his father's anti-nuclear stance.
"I hope Mr Shinjiro Koizumi will tackle global issues such as ocean plastics and climate change not with worn-out approaches but with the new ideas of the young generation," Abe said.
Abe is set to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister in November but is expected to step down at the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership election in 2021 and the jostling for position is already beginning.
He reiterated his long-cherished ambition of amending Japan's post-war constitution to change the status of the country's Self Defense Forces.
The Abe government is poised to hike its consumption tax from eight percent to 10 percent on October 1, amid fears this could act as a brake on the world's third-largest economy.
Japan's new foreign minister is Toshimitsu Motegi, who was promoted as a reward for his work in negotiating a trade deal with the United States, which he will continue.
Outgoing foreign minister Taro Kono was shifted to the defense portfolio, in a move seen as reinforcing Tokyo's hard line towards South Korea at a time of worsening ties between the two neighbors.
Kono, who has amused commentators by interacting with people on social media -- even offering relationship advice at times -- struck a hard line during the recent spat with Seoul that has infected their trade and security ties.