Mr. Abe’s strategy

A s the 150-day ordinary Diet session kicked off Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered his first policy speech since becoming prime minister following the Liberal Democratic Party’s victory in the Dec. 16 Lower House election. He said Japan is facing crises with regard to the economy, damage from the 3/11 disasters, diplomacy and education. He pledged to do his best to resolve these crises.

Conspicuously he avoided mention of his controversial ideas of changing the government’s interpretation of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution so that Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense and revising Article 9 itself.

His policy speech this time departed from the one in 2006 during his first stint as prime minister. At the time, he stressed Japan’s historical, cultural and traditional values and his ambition to revise the Constitution.

His strategy is clear: to improve economic conditions as much as possible until the Upper House election in July so that his LDP will win and thus lay the foundation for changing the constitutional interpretation and the Constitution itself. These changes would totally change the character of the postwar Japanese state, increase tension in East Asia and lead the international community to look at Japan suspiciously. In assessing Mr. Abe’s performance, people should never forget his ultimate goal of changing the Constitution.

In his speech, he noted that of the four crises, he is most concerned with the economy and said that he will focus most on economic revitalization because he believed that prolonged deflation and the appreciation of the yen are rocking “the foundations of trust in society that ‘those who work hard shall be rewarded.’”

But as he went into detail, he mostly repeated economic policy measures his administration has already announced, including an accord with the Bank of Japan, under which the central bank will set an inflation target of 2 percent in an attempt to pull the Japanese economy out of stubborn deflation.

Mr. Abe said he will mobilize “bold monetary policy, flexible fiscal policy and a growth strategy that encourages private sector investment.” He also stressed the importance of “system reform” to encourage innovation. While measures to stimulate investment, including investment for research and development, are important, his economic policy carries the danger of merely fueling inflation and piling on wasteful public works projects while failing to increase workers’ wages and improving employment.

He said that since it is impossible to indefinitely continue fiscal spending, he will pursue a growth strategy to achieve sustainable expansion of private investment and consumption. But he did not provide concrete measures to accomplish the goal. He also said that he will try to achieve a surplus in the primary budget balance — a gauge of sustainability in state finances — “in order to put public finances on a sound footing” over the medium to long term. He again failed to present concrete steps and a timeline to attain the goal.

Mr. Abe called for building a society in which people who have experienced a failure will have the chance to restart and rebuild their lives, small and medium-size enterprises will become active and rich resources of agricultural and fishing villages will sow the seeds of growth. But he didn’t seem to pay attention to the fact that the market fundamentalist economic policy pursued by LDP administrations since Mr. Junichiro Koizumi’s has weakened local communities and caused difficulty to small and medium-size enterprises and ordinary workers.

As expected, there was little reference to issues related to social welfare in Mr. Abe’s policy speech. It is illogical for him not to mention how to strengthen measures to help the socially weak including disabled people, jobless people and pensioners if he wants to build a society in which people have the chance to restart and rebuild their lives.

Touching on the reconstruction of areas devastated by the 3/11 disasters, Mr. Abe said that the Reconstruction Agency will come to handle all the requests from local governments and citizens concerned so that speedy reconstruction will become possible. It is strongly hoped that the central government will completely abolish red tape that stands in the way of the reconstruction.

Referring to the suffering of Tohoku people hit by the 3/11 disasters, Mr. Abe noted that nearly 320,000 people are still forced to live away from their homes. But it is deplorable that he did not mention the plight of Fukushima people who are suffering from the radioactive contamination of their environment caused by the catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. It is not far-fetched to think that he avoided mentioning the Fukushima nuclear accident because he hopes to restart nuclear power plants that are now kept offline.

Mr. Abe carefully avoided referring to China and South Korea in connection with the disputes over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and the Takeshima Islands in the Sea of Japan. He pledged to firmly protect Japan’s territories and air spaces. But he should not forget to seek ways to deepen dialogue with Chinese and South Korean leaders to smooth bilateral relations.

In concluding his policy speech and calling on Japanese to recover their pride and confidence, Mr Abe said: “There is no one else who will create a ‘strong Japan.’ It is none other than we ourselves who will do it.” The phrase “strong Japan” characterizes Mr. Abe’s ideological inclination. Past experience shows that building a strong nation does not necessarily lead to enhancing people’s well-being or happiness. It must be asked whether Mr. Abe is seriously concerned with improving the lives of ordinary citizens languishing under difficult situations at present.