National / Politics

Technology key to clinching overseas projects, new infrastructure minister says

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

Japan should keep promoting its high technological standards when pushing for infrastructure projects overseas, despite a recent loss to China on bidding for Indonesia’s first high-speed railway, the new land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister said Friday.

Keiichi Ishii, 57, a Lower House member of junior ruling coalition partner Komeito, said Japan should stick to its technological edge when exporting infrastructure, though it will need to fully examine how China won the Indonesian rail project.

Jakarta dropped both country’s proposals last month, citing cost reasons, but subsequently awarded the contract to China, which, unlike Japan, did not require government guarantees. The loss to China is seen as a serious blow.

“The biggest strength of our country (in infrastructure building) is safety and technologies,” Ishii said in an interview with media organizations following his appointment Wednesday. “That’s our unwavering principle. On top of that, we will need to understand where the needs of countries are.”

Infrastructure exports are a key part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to boost economic growth. Japan’s failure to win the Indonesian contract has thrown cold water on that plan.

Ishii, chosen by Komeito to assume the party’s only post in the 19-minister Cabinet, will also oversee tourism policy. The number of visitors arriving in Japan has surged in recent years, and is expected to top 19 million this year, well in line with the goal of 20 million per year by 2020.

Ishii remained cautious on the idea floated by some members of the ruling coalition that the nation revise the goal upward to 30 million per year.

“We first need to be prepared to accept these 20 million people into our country smoothly,” he said. He added that Japan needs to tackle such issues as boosting airport capacity and improving Wi-Fi access before considering higher goals.

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