OYAMA, Shizuoka Pref. — Business leaders must lead the nation in soul-searching debate on Japan’s security, diplomacy and constitutional issues, Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), said Thursday.

By ignoring massive changes brought on by the end of the Cold War, an aging society and an information technology revolution, Japan remains “laps behind” other nations in its policies, Okuda said in a speech kicking off a two-day annual Nippon Keidanren forum.

“We have discussed taboos like raising the consumption tax, opening our doors to immigrants and euthanasia,” Okuda said. “It is to be hoped that our talks will kick off further debate in the business world about what this nation stands for.”

Okuda’s comments reflect concerns within the business world about a bureaucracy that is seen as inflexible and slow to meet sudden geopolitical changes.

Bureaucrats, especially those in the Foreign Ministry, have been criticized for looking to the United States as the sole guide in policymaking.

“There has been a clear shift (by businesses) away from the United States, toward the rest of Asia,” Sony Corp. Chairman Nobuyuki Idei said. “That’s not to say we should just swallow our neighboring nations’ terms when negotiating trade issues. Japan needs to lay down rules on its own terms, especially on issues like immigration.”

“What are our national interests? What are our priorities? These questions, which are fundamental for normal nations, need to be examined,” said Shigemitsu Miki, chairman of Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group Inc.

Nippon Keidanren, the country’s largest business lobby, recently proposed easing a decades-long ban on arms exports, saying the ban means a languishing domestic defense industry, constitutes a threat to security and blocks companies from developing technologies.

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