EDITORIAL: Abe’s optimistic policy speech failed to address key concerns

January 25, 2014

This year's regular Diet session was convened Jan. 24. This is the second regular session since Shinzo Abe became prime minister for the second time in December 2012.

During this session, the Diet needs to tackle a long list of weighty policy issues that directly affect Japan's future.

The consumption tax rate is set to be raised during the session, which runs to June 22. Lawmakers will also have to debate some complicated and controversial questions, such as whether idled nuclear reactors should be restarted and whether Japan should be allowed to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

Geared up for heated policy debate, Abe opened the session by delivering a policy speech that was designed to send out a hopeful and uplifting message.

The prime minister repeated the phrase "we can do it" four times. He used it while discussing his intention to ensure that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be an opportunity to reinvent Japan's future and again while promising to build new housing for victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami as soon as possible.

It is probably not surprising that Abe, whose Liberal Democratic Party has ended a period of political gridlock by securing a majority control of both houses, is now exhibiting this buoyant, can-do spirit.

A political leader should talk about a bright future for his country. But while Abe's speech was filled with optimism, it is hard not to feel that something important was missing from it.

As for his high-priority efforts to revitalize Japan's economic growth, Abe claimed that the "three arrows" of his reflationary policy, known as Abenomics, are working to restore the confidence in the economy that vanished during the prolonged period of deflation.

Asking for public support for his policy, he said, "Let us make sure that people in every corner of the country will feel the actual effects of economic recovery."

We really hope that will happen. But many Japanese are currently worried about the impact of the looming consumption tax hike on their livelihoods.

Many households and businesses are racking their brains for ideas to cut spending and prevent a negative impact on their sales.

On the other hand, it is unclear whether the tax increase will really lead to substantial improvement in the quality of health and nursing care and increased policy support for families with young children. This is a question with huge implications for households with elderly members or small children.

In discussing policy efforts to cushion the impacts of the tax raise, Abe pledged to take steps to ensure sustained economic growth, such as the 5.5 trillion yen ($53.7 billion) supplementary budget and other economic measures.

But the extra budget formulated by the government is simply a plan for massive spending focused on public works projects. Can such an old-fashioned government spending package really help secure a balance between benefits and burdens in social security? So many questions about his economic policy remain unanswered.

While discussing concrete plans to reform the education system and expand and upgrade the role of women in society, Abe avoided delving into the politically delicate issues of nuclear power generation and Japan's right to collective self-defense.

With regard to atomic energy, for instance, Abe only reiterated what he has said many times. Offline reactors will not be brought back online unless they meet the tough safety standards set by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, he said.

If he is adopting a "let sleeping dogs lie" strategy by trying to eschew this hot-button issue until the upcoming Tokyo gubernatorial election, he should be called out for acting insincerely.

The topics on which Abe didn't spend much time in his speech are the issues that demand long and informed debate. The Diet cannot perform its core function if it dances around these vital issues.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 25

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Prime Minster Shinzo Abe delivers his policy speech to the Lower House on Jan. 24. (Satoru Semba)

Prime Minster Shinzo Abe delivers his policy speech to the Lower House on Jan. 24. (Satoru Semba)

  • Prime Minster Shinzo Abe delivers his policy speech to the Lower House on Jan. 24. (Satoru Semba)

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