Mr. Abe’s plan for Japan

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday delivered his second policy speech during the current Diet session. He started his speech with the phrase “a strong Japan.” He seems to have strong attachment to the word “strong.” At the outset of his speech, he said a strong Japan is “for us, not somebody else” to build. In other parts of his speech, he used such phrases as “strong agriculture,” “a strong economy,” “the only way to leave a great country, a strong country, to the next generation Japanese,” and “Let’s aim to become No. 1 in the world.”

But the prime minister should not forget the possibility that as the county pursues policies aimed at making Japan “strong,” such policies could result in ignoring the needs of the weak in Japanese society. As Mr. Abe said in his speech, many people are still suffering from the effects of the 3/11 disasters. Also many people have anxiety about their future lives because of poor economic conditions. The prime minister should not forget paying enough attention to the conditions of the weak and working out detailed policies aimed at them. Unless policies aimed at alleviating the anxieties of those least well-off in society are vigorously pursued, the country as a whole will be socially and economically fragile.

Mr. Abe’s policy speech showed that he leans toward market fundamentalism. Declaring that “I aim to build a country where enterprises are the most free in the world to do business,” he will push “regulation reform without sacred cows” and remove obstacles to enterprises’ activities one by one.

What appears to be lacking in his thinking is the idea of reforming regulations for the sake of strengthening the rights of people and workers, and enhancing the safety of products and services. Experience has shown that deregulation often puts workers into a weaker position. Deregulation not underpinned by strong social policy could make conditions for workers miserable.

Stressing the importance of creating a sustainable social security system as the country faces a low birthrate and a graying population, Mr. Abe said that he will build a system in which people’s financial benefits and burdens are balanced. Without going into detail, he left this matter to be discussed by a government panel on the reform of the social security system.

At the outset of his speech, Mr. Abe also said, “We cannot open up our future unless we discard the attitude of relying on others and have the will to forge our own destiny.” Disclosing his idea about social security, he said that self-help and self-reliance must come first and then he will combine mutual assistance and public assistance to help the weak.

There is nothing wrong in stressing the importance of self-help and self-reliance. But Mr. Abe seems to have forgotten that many people’s lives have become difficult because of conditions outside their control, and that they need outside assistance to recover. It sounds thoughtless to mention self-help and self-reliance in the same breath as social security. The prime minister should remember that it is the government’s duty to assist such people.

Mr. Abe should wake up to the grave statistics that illustrate the country’s dire socio-economic straits: As of November, more than 2.14 million people were receiving public livelihood assistance — a new record. In December the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent, the first rise in eight months. And in 2012, nearly 28,000 people committed suicide.

The prime minister said, “It is the responsibility of our generation to build a strong Japanese economy so that young people can believe that their future is bright.” He also said that he will build a society in which people who have failed socially or economically can take on new challenges to start anew. But he failed to present concrete measures for building such a society, and he failed to acknowledge the difficulties that many young people face in finding jobs.

Although Mr. Abe pointed out that people in Fukushima Prefecture are still suffering from the effects of the nuclear catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, he made it clear that he will nonetheless restart nuclear power plants once the Nuclear Regulation Authority confirm their safety.

Given Japan’s vulnerability to earthquakes and the absence of technology to safely and permanently store high-level nuclear waste, it is regrettable that he did not commit to a policy of ending nuclear power generation at some point. He said only that he will lower the country’s dependence on nuclear power as much as possible through energy savings and the “maximum introduction” of renewable energy sources.

The prime minister also made it clear that Japan will join the talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade zone by saying that Japan should become a country that makes TPP-related rules. He said that he confirmed through his recent meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama that “complete abolition of tariffs without exceptions” is not the prerequisite for joining the TPP talks.

But in a nutshell, Mr. Obama merely described the procedure for the TPP talks and said that everything will be determined in the course of the talks. Mr. Abe’s statement about Mr. Obama’s guarantee appears to be sophistry aimed at misleading both lawmakers and ordinary citizens.

With regard to the dispute with China over which country owns the Senkaku Islands, the prime minister stressed the importance of rule of the law in the sea and said that “my door for dialogue (on this issue) is always open.” It is hoped that he will pursue this course in earnest.

With regard to revising the Constitution, he only called for “promoting discussions in the Commissions on the Constitution (in both chambers of the Diet) and for deepening discussions among people for a constitutional revision.”

It is regrettable that the prime minister did not say clearly what he is trying to do with the Constitution since it is widely known that he plans to revise its war-renouncing Article 9. It is not appropriate for the country’s leader to hide his true intentions about an extremely important matter when addressing the Diet and the people.