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2013年1月 1日 (火)


The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 1, 2013)
Regain national strength through political stability
政治の安定で国力を取り戻せ (1月1日付・読売社説)


Japan stands at a crossroads of whether it can maintain its national strength and retain its status as a major power.

National strength is the total power of a country, comprising such elements as economic and military might, and technological prowess. The primary task of the administration led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is to maintain and enhance Japan's strength through political stability.

Boosting national strength will lead to improved social security systems, including pension and health care programs, and reinforce national security policy. That will also shore up disaster management measures and solidify social infrastructure, while accelerating reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Political stability is also important for Japan to regain its voice and presence in the international community.

As former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama created strains in the Japan-U.S. alliance while he was in office, Japan's relations with China, South Korea and Russia also deteriorated. Reorganizing the nation's diplomatic strategy is a matter of urgency.


Upper house poll a key moment

The Abe administration's biggest political objective this year is for the Liberal Democratic Party he leads and its coalition partner, New Komeito, to win a majority in the House of Councillors election scheduled for this summer, thereby bringing an end to the divided Diet.

Depending on the outcome of the election, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party might join the ruling coalition. But this will be premised on the assumption that it will add stability to the administration.

If Abe's administration retains a majority in the upper house, the nation's political arena will enter a "stable phase," as there will be up to three years before the next national election is to be held, and more than two years before the next LDP presidential election.

This will make it possible for the administration to tackle its major political agenda and pending policy issues without being tripped up by resorting to populism.

For instance, the administration will be able to propose the enactment of a "Basic Law on National Security" that would enable the nation to exercise its right to collective self-defense, although the LDP will need to coordinate views with Komeito on this issue.

It is crucial for the government to approve the use of the right to collective self-defense and to reinforce the Japan-U.S. alliance so it can deal better with the nuclear and missile development of North Korea, and tensions that have emerged with China since the government nationalized some of the Senkaku Islands last year.

We hope ruling and opposition parties hold thorough discussions and reach a common understanding on the issue.


Manage administration moderately

In last month's House of Representatives election, the LDP and Komeito together won more than two-thirds of the seats in the lower house. This will enable the coalition to have bills voted down in the upper house enacted by a second vote in the lower chamber.

The fact of the matter is that voters opted for stable politics and politics that can move forward, under the administration of the LDP and Komeito, both of which have extensive experience in managing the government.

Further political dithering can be averted now that the DPJ has been kicked out of power. In addition, it may be said that political instability that could have arisen if a strong third political party had joined a coalition government has been prevented.

The Democratic Party of Japan was demoted to an opposition party after suffering a crushing defeat in the general election, but it still has the second-largest number of seats in the lower house and remains a party with a plurality in the upper house. For the time being, the LDP-Komeito coalition government will need to obtain cooperation from the DPJ while exploring ways of forming a partial coalition involving third political forces.

The DPJ is expected to step up its confrontational stance toward the Abe administration in a bid to regain ground in the upper house election set for this summer.

In the 2007 upper house poll, the Abe-led LDP suffered a bitter defeat, handing the opposition camp control of the upper chamber and creating a divided Diet. Recent years have seen repeated cases of the party that won big in the lower house suffering a setback in the next upper house poll due to a swing in public support.

Abe must maintain disciplined management of his administration by diligently seeking to build consensus.

First and foremost, he must tackle the tasks of resuscitating Japan's economy and restoring economic growth.


3 core policy initiatives

With price increases being held to almost zero, the nominal growth domestic product that reflects more closely sentiment felt by households and businesses has declined by 40 trillion yen compared with five years ago. Consequently, the nation's economic size is stuck at about the same level as it was two decades ago.

All possible policies must be carried out to correct the super-strong yen and defeat deflation so the nation can achieve stable growth.

Abe said he will try to lift the country out of deflation by implementing three core policies--credit easing, fiscal stimulus and a growth strategy. His thinking is reasonable.

The yen has recently weakened against the dollar and stock prices have risen.

Setting a 2 percent inflation target, the prime minister has called for concluding a policy agreement between the government and the Bank of Japan to carry out drastic monetary easing. The central bank plans to set an inflation target this month. Stronger cooperation between the government and the central bank will be called for.

Masaaki Shirakawa's term as central bank governor will expire in April. Abe has expressed his intention to appoint as Shirakawa's successor a person who shares his policy of setting a 2 percent inflation target.

Appointment of the central bank governor requires Diet approval. Under the divided Diet, if Abe's appointee is rejected by the opposition-controlled upper house, the post could be left vacant. We urge the ruling and opposition parties to work together to avoid this possibility.

Fiscal action also is important. The government has been compiling a supplementary budget for fiscal 2012 in parallel with the fiscal 2013 budget.

The government will decide in autumn whether to raise the consumption tax rate from the current 5 percent to 8 percent in April 2014, in line with integrated reform of the social security and tax systems.

One factor to be taken into account in making this decision will be GDP growth for the April-June quarter. Abe indicated the tax hike could be put off, depending on the GDP figure.

For the tax increase to be surely implemented, we hope the government takes all possible measures to defeat deflation and shore up the economy, by compiling a large supplementary budget worth about 10 trillion yen.

In the ordinary Diet session, the fiscal 2013 budget likely will be passed as late as sometime after the Golden Week holiday period in May. It will be inevitable to compile a stopgap budget. To ensure budgets can be seamlessly implemented, it is essential to create an environment in which ruling and opposition parties can cooperate.


Power rate hikes serious issue

To promote a growth strategy, the government needs a "control tower" with strong authority and coordination capabilities. We highly regard the prime minister's reinstatement of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy and plan to integrate its functions with the newly established "headquarters for Japan's economic revitalization."

We want productivity in the private sector to be increased through deregulation in various fields and investment in such growth areas as the environment and medical and nursing care services.

Securing electricity cheaply and stably also is essential for growth.

Due to the DPJ's policy direction of weaning the nation off nuclear power, reactors at nuclear power plants, whose output accounted for 30 percent of the nation's power generation, were shut down one after another. Of the 50 commercial reactors in Japan, only two at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi plant are operating.

Thermal power generation has been ramped up to cover the severe electricity shortage. Imports of liquefied natural gas and other sources have surged, causing national wealth totaling about 3 trillion yen per year to flow out to countries that produce these energy sources. Many electricity utilities, including KEPCO, have fallen into the red and filed for approval to increase their rates.

The steel industry has estimated it would face additional burdens of more than 90 billion yen if electricity bills were raised by KEPCO and others. This would accelerate the hollowing out of Japan's industries and inevitably affect the people's daily lives, including employment.

We consider it necessary to restart idled nuclear reactors after their safety is confirmed under new safety guidelines to be established by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

In the latest lower house election, the LDP, which criticized the "zero-nuclear policy" as irresponsible, scored a landslide victory. Now, the Abe administration will be required to work out the best mix of power sources--including nuclear power--as soon as possible.

Excluding hydropower, renewable energy, such as solar power and wind power, currently accounts for only a little more than 1 percent of Japan's entire power generation. It is still premature to expect renewable energy can be immediately used as a main power source that can replace nuclear power.

More than 100 trillion yen will need to be invested on steps to save energy and expand renewable energy. In reality, the public will be forced to shoulder this cost in the form of higher power bills and taxes.

The world will continue using nuclear power and building more reactors. China, in particular, has put more than 10 nuclear reactors into operation and plans to build at least 50 more.

It will be necessary for Japan to firmly maintain its nuclear technology, which is among the best in the world. Abe has expressed determination to build safe nuclear power plants. To secure and nurture talented human resources in this field, the nation should not exclude the option of building next-generation nuclear reactors.

From the standpoint of the country's growth, it will be desirable to promote exports of nuclear infrastructure.


TPP key to economic growth

Japan's nuclear power policy also will affect its defense capability, which centers on the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Under the Japan-U.S. nuclear power cooperation agreement, Japan is allowed to possess plutonium, which can be converted to nuclear weapons. But the principle to end the use of nuclear power, which was decided under the administration led by former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, would mean that Japan will lose not only this privilege but also its status as a U.S. partner for promoting the peaceful use of nuclear power and nuclear nonproliferation.

The Abe administration has good reasons to review the country's nuclear and energy policy.

Generating sustainable growth will require harnessing demand from overseas nations such as those in Asia. As such, participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership multinational free trade framework has been a pending issue since the DPJ-led government was in power.

Member nations of the TPP, which aims to promote free trade under U.S. initiatives, plan to conclude their negotiations by the end of this year. Japan must get involved in the process of drawing up rules on eliminating and reducing tariffs as well as trade and investment to reflect its national interests. We urge the prime minister to announce Japan will take a seat at the TPP talks as soon as possible.

By steadily working on these policy agendas for regaining Japan's national strength, the new administration will gradually be able to restore public trust in politics.

We hope this year will see Japan solidify its footing and become more assertive.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 1, 2013)
(2013年1月1日01時12分  読売新聞)


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