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2016年1月 1日 (金)


The Yomiuri Shimbun
2016: Japan must fulfill its duties to ensure world stability


How do we restore stability to the international order? The world is now facing a critical challenge.

The indiscriminate terrorist attacks in Paris by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) extremist group caused great distress to international community. In reaction to the wave of terrorism and the huge influx of refugees from the Middle East, exclusionary moves are gaining momentum in Europe and in the United States.

Attempts to change the status quo by force are rampant as Russia’s annexation of Crimea continues and China continues to build military strongholds on artificial islands in the South China Sea.

The world looks as if it is going to fall apart as freedom, equality, rule of law and other values that should be deemed as common falter. If the international order collapses, Japan’s security also will be threatened. We need to be more aware of impending crises and confront the threats squarely.

A presidential election will be held in the United States this year. The country’s leadership will be on the wane. Japan, under such circumstances, will host the Group of Seven summit (Ise-Shima summit) and also become a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Responsibilities heavier than ever before will be thrust upon Japan to help unite international community and coordinate varying interests.

Domestically, it has the urgent task of boosting economic growth as the population dwindles. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, along with its initiative to promote “a society that enables the dynamic engagement of all citizens,” will face the judgment of voters in the House of Councillors election in summer. A plan to further ensure economic recovery should be initiated.

To brighten the future of Japan in a tumultuous world, we hope this will be a year of progress.

‘Antiterrorism’ unity urgent

Young people and others who sympathize with the extremist ideas of ISIL are wounding and killing defenseless people around them. Terrorist acts have spread around the world. Fear is inducing actions to eliminate anything that is foreign.

Within the boundaries of the European Union, border inspections are being reinstalled one after another — contrary to the Schengen Agreement, which in principle states that such inspections are unnecessary. The idea of free movement of persons, a cornerstone of European integration, is wavering.

Even in the United States, a nation of immigrants, an undercurrent of refusing the entry of refugees and Muslims has gained strength.

If the movement of people, goods and capital across borders is threatened, this could indeed become a destabilizing factor for the world economy.

The world does not have a future unless we are victorious in the “war on terror” to eliminate the threat posed by ISIL and contain acts of violence.

The Syrian civil war is the epicenter of all this. The United States, European nations, Russia, Turkey and other countries involved should coordinate efforts swiftly with regard to military operations and transition of power.

ISIL has declared that Japan is also a terrorism target.

With the upcoming summit in mind, antiterrorist measures within Japan’s boundaries are inadequate. If information-gathering on extremist groups and steps taken to prevent terrorism based on such information are inadequate, Japan will end up as the weakest link in international efforts to fight terrorism.

The legal system should be inspected for any flaws and revamped to fulfill Japan’s political responsibilities.

China’s maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea are baseless under international law. However, they are aiming to make these claims a fait accompli. Actions that threaten the safety of the sea line of communication are contrary to the interests of international community.

To rein in such moves, the United States has sent warships to areas surrounding the artificial islands and engaged in other operations.

It is necessary for Japan, Australia, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to further strengthen cooperation and use every opportunity including international forums to demand that China restrain itself.

In order to counter Chinese pressure in areas surrounding the Senkaku Islands, the security-related laws must be implemented properly to enhance the deterrent powers of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Make good use of security laws

China, the world’s second-largest economic power, is currently experiencing a worsening business slowdown.

The state of affairs could disturb the world due to such factors as a drop in resource prices. Developed nations — including Britain and Germany, both of which are becoming closer to China in economic terms — should make concerted efforts to cope with the situation. In pursuit of that goal, these countries should urge China to trim excessive production capacity and promote other structural reforms.

In addressing issues such as those related to North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles and the Ukraine situation, Japan should also strive to form a consensus among pertinent nations at the summit meeting and U.N. conferences.

Three years have passed since the inauguration of the second administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Despite corporations’ improved business performance and higher stock prices, the sentiment that the economy has improved has not prevailed. As circumstances stand now, little headway is being made in efforts to achieve economic revitalization through the Abenomics economic policy.

The root of this situation is clear. The government’s growth strategy has not yet fully worked to fight a decline in the nation’s potential growth rate due to a population decrease.

The prime minister has unveiled a fresh set of policy targets dubbed the “new three arrows,” the first of which will seek to raise our nation’s gross domestic product to ¥600 trillion in nominal terms. Reinforcing the growth policy is the only way to achieve that goal.

Required measures include promoting deregulation in the fields of medical and nursing care services, agriculture and others. Efforts should be made to ensure that technological advancement in such fields as information technology and robotics lead to further industrial development. It is also necessary to make the most of a broad agreement reached in multilateral talks over the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact last year.

The measures hammered out up to now should be reinforced to ensure that their purposes are better served.

Another case in point is how to make efficient use of such resources as household financial assets totaling a hefty ¥1.7 quadrillion and internal reserves worth ¥350 trillion kept at corporations. The question is whether there are any ways to better use these resources for the pursuit of growth. It is necessary to exercise wisdom in devising bold new policy measures.

It has been about 25 years since the collapse of the bubble economy. Under protracted deflation, households and corporations became strongly negative about spending money, a state of mind that is firmly entrenched among them. Few households are willing to increase consumption, despite expanded employment and higher wages. Meanwhile, corporations remain cautious about investment, notwithstanding their success in generating profits at record high levels.

Dispel fear of spending

To lay such a deflationary mind-set to rest and elicit positive behavior, it is necessary to implement measures aimed at dispelling the anxieties felt by households and corporations.

Nonregular employees account for a considerable 40 percent of the total labor force. Lower wages and unstable employment status leave such workers apprehensive about their future. Therefore, nonregular employees are reluctant to increase consumption despite hikes in their wages.

The second arrow to be released as part of Abe’s new policy package is to achieve the hopeful fertility rate target of 1.8 — a numerical goal that would be accomplished if women had babies as they wished. The third one is to attain the goal of making sure no one must quit his or her job to provide nursing care for relatives.

We believe the government is on the right track as it seeks to dispel the anxiety felt by people about raising their children and nursing their relatives, combined with efforts to increase the workforce, including women. However, such efforts alone will not be enough to achieve the intended goals.

Further efforts are needed to help nonregular workers, who tend to be younger employees, to become regular workers. Companies should reform work methods, such as by reducing long working hours and helping employees develop their skills and abilities, to give people in the workforce a brighter future.

Corporate anxiety originates from the view that Japan’s shrinking population will cause domestic markets to shrink, which will make turning a profit impossible even if a company makes investments. It is important to push ahead with ongoing efforts to widely lift the aspirations of businesses, such as by easing regulations in an effort to create new markets.

Discussions between the public and private sectors, namely between the government and the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) and other entities, resulted in the effective corporate tax rate being trimmed ahead of schedule. We hope both sides will continue to productively use forums in which they can exchange opinions.

In industrial circles, there are demands for a reduction in electricity charges, which have remained at a high level, to help cut operating costs. To achieve this, it will be necessary to restart nuclear power plants that have been confirmed safe to operate, and to steadily construct new plants.

To eliminate people’s unease about the future, it will be essential to restore the health of the central government’s finances, which are in a critical state, and to maintain a stable social security system.

The government has set a target of achieving a surplus in the primary balance in fiscal 2020. To reach this goal, the government should continue to seek ways to spend its money more efficiently, and not rely too much on recent efforts to increase tax revenue.

In April 2017, the consumption tax rate will be hiked to 10 percent. This tax is a source of funds for social security. The rate increase must be implemented smoothly, alongside the introduction of a reduced tax rate.

Political stability is crucial for dealing with the pile of domestic and international problems facing Japan. A long-term administration that can smoothly communicate with leaders of other nations has major advantages when it comes to enabling Japan to play its role, especially on the international political stage.

Abe govt’s footing depends on poll

This summer’s upper house election will portend whether Abe can maintain a stable administration for an even longer period.

If the LDP wins a majority in the upper house on its own, it would be the first time in 27 years. However, the LDP’s recovery in recent years has been strongly supported by the cooperation of its coalition partner, Komeito, in elections. Even if the LDP emerges victorious in this election, it will not be in a position to be completely optimistic about the future.

A major focus of this election will be whether forces positive about revising the Constitution — including the LDP, Komeito, Osaka Ishin no Kai and the Party for Japanese Kokoro — will be able to gain more than two-thirds of the seats.

Opinion is widely split over whether the Constitution should be revised. Before getting into a confrontation over the merits or otherwise of revising the top law, precisely what the nation wants from the Constitution needs to be debated in detail. Serious consideration should be given to including an emergency-related article that defines preparations to be made to better cope with major disasters.

The planned transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to Henoko, Okinawa Prefecture, has been dragged into the courts as a case between the prefectural and central governments. We think shifting the base from its current location in Ginowan in the prefecture to Henoko is the most realistic option for maintaining the deterrent of U.S. forces stationed in Japan while simultaneously easing Okinawa’s burden of hosting U.S. military bases.

The central government needs to steadily move ahead with this plan while continuing efforts to win the understanding of Okinawa residents and authorities.

Opposition parties and other groups have reacted angrily to the base transfer to Henoko and to last year’s passage of security-related bills. It is vital to debate the specifics of where the problems reside and attempt to form a consensus. This is especially so for issues requiring a long-term perspective, such as constitutional revision.

During last year’s deliberations on the security bills, opposition parties constantly resorted to emotional objections. Using such tactics again would be troublesome. The public demands fruitful policy debates conducted with a sense of urgency.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 1, 2016)


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