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2014年9月 5日 (金)

社説:改造内閣発足 中韓と関係構築を急げ

September 04, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Reshuffled Abe Cabinet should improve Japan's ties with neighbors
社説:改造内閣発足 中韓と関係構築を急げ

The reshuffled second Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and new leadership for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) were launched on Sept. 3. While retaining most key Cabinet ministers, Abe appointed former Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, his predecessor as LDP president, as party secretary-general.

While Abe named five women as members of his Cabinet, equal to the previous record and seen as a move to garner public attention, the overall line-up shows that the prime minister places priority on policy continuation. The time has come for the Abe Cabinet to review the way it has run the government in a high-handed manner since the LDP-led ruling coalition regained a majority in the House of Councillors, and to solve problems arising from its policies. In particular, it is an urgent task for the Abe government to improve Japan's strained relations with its neighbors and take countermeasures against the population decline.


Twelve of the Cabinet ministers were replaced in Abe's first Cabinet reshuffle since he came to power again in late 2012. Among the newly established posts for which particular attention was focused on personnel selection, former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba was named to take up the post of minister in charge of vitalizing local economies, while Akinori Eto was appointed as minister in charge of security legislation to open the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

Many key Cabinet ministers stayed on, such as the chief Cabinet secretary, finance minister, foreign minister and the minister in charge of economic revitalization. Therefore, it is apparent that the latest reshuffle was aimed primarily at ending the double-headed party leadership by Abe and Ishiba, who clashed head-on with each other in the LDP's presidential election two years ago.

Ishiba has been widely viewed as the most hopeful candidate to succeed Abe as LDP leader, and there is a possibility that these two will battle in the next LDP presidential election in autumn next year. Abe decided to replace the secretary-general after an LDP-backed candidate lost the Shiga gubernatorial election earlier this year and to appoint former LDP President Tanigaki to the post in an apparent bid to achieve intraparty reconciliation. Expectations will be placed on a sense of balance from Tanigaki, who is known as moderate toward China and places emphasis on rehabilitating debt-ridden state finances.

However, questions have been raised over the process of Ishiba declining Abe's request that he take up the post of minister in charge of security legislation because of his differences over security policy with the prime minister and assuming another Cabinet position. Ishiba, who has insisted that a basic law on national security be enacted at an early date to allow Japan to broadly exercise the right to collective self-defense, is reportedly at odds with the prime minister who is hesitant to enact such legislation. If he is to remain at odds with the prime minister over basic policy, Ishiba should not have joined the Cabinet and instead chosen to have debate on the issue in the next party leadership race.

Critics have pointed out that Abe appointed Ishiba as minister in charge of vitalizing local economies because the prime minister feared that an intraparty conflict could intensify if Ishiba were removed from his Cabinet and Ishiba compromised with the prime minister for fear that he would otherwise be isolated within the governing party. If so, that would mean both Abe and Ishiba made light of the newly created post of minister for vitalizing local economies. Under the circumstances, it is highly doubtful if lively intraparty policy debate will be held.

Abe's proactive appointments of women with disregard for seniority and a balance between intraparty factions should be appreciated. Abe named Yuko Obuchi, former minister in charge of measures for the declining birth rate, as economy, trade and industry minister and upper house member Haruko Arimura as minister in charge of promoting women's active participation. However, questions remain as to whether some of the newly appointed Cabinet ministers empathize with old-fashioned family values. The Abe administration's attitude toward promoting women's participation in society as part of its growth strategy as well as its efforts to ensure true gender equality is being tested.

The new Cabinet is required to assess problems arising from policy measures being implemented by the LDP-led administration. Since the LDP scored a landslide victory in the upper house election in 2013, the Abe government has taken advantage of its majority in both chambers to run the government in a high-handed manner, such as changing the interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution through a Cabinet decision to open the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. It also appears as if Japan's energy policy has returned to the pre-Fukushima nuclear disaster policy.
Work to enact legislation aimed at allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense will be postponed until next year's regular Diet session to show consideration to the LDP's coalition partner New Komeito. One cannot help but wonder why the Abe government hastily reinterpreted the Constitution despite a perception gap between the prime minister and Ishiba. The ability of Eto, who serves as a Cabinet member for the first time, still remains to be seen. Whether legislation needs to be enacted to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense will be called into question again.


The most sticking diplomatic issue is improving Japan's ties with China and South Korea that have been chilled over territorial issues and historical perceptions. The prime minister has kept China in check as the core of his diplomatic and national security policy. Still, it is abnormal that Japan has been unable to hold summit meetings individually with China and South Korea since Abe took power.

The prime minister also attaches importance to Japan's relations with Russia and India in addition to strengthening the Japan-U.S. security arrangement. Furthermore, North Korea's re-investigation into the safety and whereabouts of missing Japanese abduction victims will enter a crucial phase. However, the government cannot effectively conduct its diplomatic policies as long as Japan's relations with its two neighbors remain strained.

Both Japan and its neighbors should launch efforts to resume dialogue and rebuild their mutual relations such as by holding Japan-China and Japan-South Korea summit talks on the occasion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum's summit conference in Beijing in November.

Regarding economic and domestic policy, the growth strategy, which the government describe as the "third arrow" in "Abenomics," the economic policy mix promoted by the Abe administration, is coming to a deadlock. It is understandable that the prime minister is beginning to express enthusiasm about rectifying the population decline and the excessive concentration of the population and industry in Tokyo, even with disregard for the LDP's efforts to win votes in next year's nationwide local elections. To achieve this goal, it is an urgent task to create a system in which local governments and businesses can use their ingenuity and creativity to vitalize local economies.

On the other hand, it is extremely difficult for the government to achieve its goal of maintaining Japan's population at over 100 million for at least the next 50 years. The government continues to be required to create a social security system that can respond to the ultra-aging population and declining birthrate despite the critical fiscal situation. Japan is scheduled to raise the consumption tax again to 10 percent in October next year. After launching his reshuffled Cabinet, Prime Minister Abe told a news conference that he will decide by the end of this year whether to go ahead with the consumption tax hike as scheduled. The government should quickly consider introducing lower tax rates for daily necessities such as foodstuffs to help lessen the financial burden on taxpayers.

There is speculation among both ruling and opposition parties that the prime minister is exploring the possibility of dissolving the House of Representatives to call a general election at an early date. However, now is not the time for the prime minister to seek voter response to his policies. The reshuffled Cabinet should pursue steady policy achievements. Opposition parties also should be fully prepared to hold thorough and in-depth policy debate in the upcoming extraordinary Diet session.

毎日新聞 2014年09月04日 02時30分


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