Opposition parties took aim Wednesday at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies, only to give the Liberal Democratic Party chief another chance to play up his administration’s “achievements” over the last six months.
“We will rectify the ‘twisted’ Diet to bring political stability. We will also achieve tangible economic benefits,” Abe said at a debate hosted by the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo a day before campaigning for the July 21 Upper House election officially kicks off.
Despite having plenty of issues to choose from, the opposition leaders spent a lot of their time criticizing “Abenomics” and his “three arrows” to shore up the economy — unorthodox monetary easing, aggressive fiscal spending and growth strategies.
Abe fired back by emphasizing how past policies failed to bring any changes to the decade-long economic slump.
When Ichiro Ozawa, head of Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party), said Abe’s drive to introduce more flexible employment styles would increase the number of people forced into unstable nonregular employment, he replied that Japan added 600,000 more jobs in May compared with a year before and that the job-opening ratio has recovered to where it was before the so-called Lehman shock or subprime mortgage crisis of 2008.
Even though two of Abe’s “arrows” have brought some cosmetic benefits by pushing up stock prices and weakening the yen, it remains unclear whether he can push forward with regulatory reforms, the main pillar of his third “arrow.”
Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe criticized the LDP for its history of cozy relations with vested interest groups, preventing deregulation and other kinds of reform. Abe countered that he is sufficiently serious about reform, saying the Cabinet Office has just launched a headquarters on reforming the bureaucracy.
Even though Abe’s party appears strong on the economic front, his stance over historical issue could be an Achilles’ heel.
Asked about Japan’s wartime conduct in China and the Korean Peninsula, Abe dodged the question by repeating his stance that politicians shouldn’t make any interpretation of historical issues as it will be jumped on by opponents or become a diplomatic beeef.
“I have been saying that interpretations of such issues should be handled by historians. As prime minister, I should be humble enough not to say, ‘this is what it means,’ ” he said.
Yet Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in May that Abe’s Cabinet has inherited the position of past Cabinets, including the 1995 apology issued by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama that Japan waged a war of aggression.
On a possible visit Aug. 15 — the date Japan surrendered in World War II — to Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines Japan’s war dead as well as class-A war criminals, Abe demurred by saying such talk could develop into a foreign relations squabble.
In April, a record 168 lawmakers visited the shrine during its spring festival, resulting in the cancellation of a visit by South Korea’s foreign minister.