Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a policy speech in the Diet on Feb. 28 and touched upon his plans for the future of Japan.
Out of expectations for his economic policy dubbed Abenomics, the yen continued to depreciate, helping to promote Japanese exports, and stock prices rose after the start of Abe’s administration in late December. As a result, public approval ratings for his Cabinet have risen. Abe held a summit with U.S. President Barack Obama on Feb. 22 and also passed a supplementary budget through the Diet on Feb. 26. The prime minister is likely to succeed in other important issues, such as the appointment of the Bank of Japan governor and Japan’s participation in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.
By and large, the Abe administration got off to a good start. Apparently reflecting this favorable mood, the message of Abe’s policy speech was clear: Let’s move forward on many pending issues and create a “strong Japan” on our own.
But his speech was not much more than “a table of contents.” What is important is how to come up with concrete solutions for the individual problems.
The prime minister said he will strengthen agriculture to give farmers hope for the future. He also said that reinforcing infrastructure to protect lives and assets from natural and other disasters is an urgent task. In addition, he said he aims to restore the health of the government’s fiscal condition.
We have no objections to any of those ideas.
However, we cannot help but raise questions about Abe’s plans.
If the government increases the agricultural budget due to participation in the TPP negotiations or raises spending to reinforce infrastructure, the government’s fiscal condition will deteriorate further. It is extremely difficult to achieve everything.
The outcome of Italy’s general elections on Feb. 24 and 25 directly led to a stronger yen and lower stock prices in Japan. We must not forget that under a globalized economy, economic policies of a single country have their limits.
The prime minister said the government will make a responsible decision on whether to participate in TPP negotiations. In addition to holding talks with related countries, Abe must iron out differences with concerned domestic parties, such as agricultural organizations, that have vested interests. His abilities will certainly be put to the test.
“We will reduce the reliance on nuclear power generation as much as possible,” Abe said. If so, how will he secure alternative energy sources and reform the electric power generation and distribution system? Moreover, how will he advance the decommissioning of nuclear reactors and the final disposal of radioactive waste? These problems cannot be put off forever.
The same thing can be said of security policy. The prime minister stressed the need to constantly strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance. He also said the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, must not be made a permanent fixture. We agree. But how will he resolve the problem amid strong opposition from Okinawa residents against the plan to relocate the base to the Henoko district of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture?
Each one of these difficult problems could decide Japan’s future course. They are also problems that cannot be avoided regardless of who holds the prime minister’s post. The Abe administration has yet to enter a crucial phase.
Opposition parties do not have the answers, either. That is why their criticism of the administration lacks punch. The only option is to seek better solutions through Diet deliberations.
Both ruling and opposition parties must work hard in this endeavor.
--The Asahi Shimbun, March 1
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