I n his first Diet policy speech, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized opening the economy further, building a healthy, safe and “energized” society, carrying out financial reconstruction decisively, “resuscitating education” and switching to an assertive diplomacy.
The goals may give the impression that they represent a comprehensive, nonpartisan agenda. But the keynote of Mr. Abe’s presentation clearly indicated a conservative ideology characterized by nationalism and hawkishness in security matters.
His main theme of creating “a beautiful country” referred to a Japan that values culture, tradition, nature and history, and is free but disciplined, full of energy for future growth and blessed with leadership that is trusted, respected and loved by the international community.
To help realize this “beautiful Japan,” Mr. Abe called for an early revision of the Fundamental Law of Education so that children are nurtured to cherish their family, community, country and life itself as they develop into humane, creative and disciplined adults. Fine words, but he forgets the danger of such a revision: It could result in feeding children only a state-endorsed view of the country and its history.
To promote children’s scholastic ability, Mr. Abe proposed introducing school evaluations and mandatory renewal of teaching licenses — measures likely to strengthen unnecessarily the state’s control over education.
Mr. Abe spoke a lot about programs aimed at giving people who have failed in business or other endeavors a second chance at a career. Yet he failed to acknowledge that children from low-income families are very likely, from the start, to be deprived of the kind of education that would enable them to successfully compete with their peers in any number of career fields. He needs to try to tackle this basic issue in education, as it is closely linked with the direction of the government’s overall economic and social policies.
Mr. Abe said, “Without shrinking back, I will continue to burn the torch of reform.” Other than that, the word “reform” scarcely appeared in his speech. Instead, he sloganized — “without growth, (there would be) no financial reconstruction” — and gave priority to “minimizing people’s financial burden” and to making government spending cuts. He proposed “Innovation 25,” a two-decade-long program to promote innovation in fields such as medicine, engineering and information technology. The substance of that program has yet to be revealed.
Mr. Abe did not offer a concrete road map to a sustainable social security system, including pensions — a priority issue for people. Nor did he commit to a possible raise in the consumption tax, which may become necessary to maintain social security, saying only, “I will not run away from or into it.”
On the diplomatic front, the new prime minister rightly said that strengthening trust with China and South Korea is “extremely important” to Asia and all of the international community, adding that all parties must make efforts to speak with each other frankly. But he did not disclose his view of Japan’s wars in the 1930s and 1940s — the sticky point in Japan’s relations with China and South Korea. Nor did he mention his predecessor Mr. Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which had led to the deterioration in relations.
Mr. Abe reiterated his grand idea that a new Constitution is needed for a “new Japan,” expressing hope that the Diet will quickly pass legislation spelling out constitutional revision procedures. “It was drafted while Japan was under occupation and nearly 60 years have already passed,” he said.
In his argument for revision, Mr. Abe conspicuously refrains from saying what is wrong with the current Constitution. Without specific criticisms, blanket talk of constitutional revision seems irresponsible. Mr. Abe has evaded making an assessment of the fact that the Japanese people, including politicians and bureaucrats, have worked and lived nearly 60 years under the current Constitution, as they resurrected the nation from the devastation of World War II.
Mr. Abe stressed the importance of security arrangements between Japan and the United State that work effectively in maintaining peace. He said he will “study which specific cases would come within the purview of exercising the right to collective self-defense, now prohibited under the Constitution.” This was a roundabout way of expressing his hope of exercising the right without having to amend the Constitution. This would be a departure from the nation’s long-standing defense policy based on the right to individual self-defense — to be exercised only if Japan faces imminent attack. Utmost caution is needed in considering whether to widen the scope of permissible Japanese military action to include the right of collective self-defense.
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