Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, whose administration is 4 1/2 months old, opened his policy speech for the coming year with words that bore his colors: “I want to protect people’s lives. This is my wish. . . . I want to protect the lives of those who are born, of those who grow and mature.”
Throughout his 13,600-character speech, which lasted 51 minutes — the longest for a prime minister’s policy statement since 1976 — he used “lives” or “life” 24 times. He even said he wants “to protect the life of the Earth.”
He called his fiscal 2010 budget — which includes an 18.3 percent drop in public works spending, a 9.8 rise in social welfare spending, a 5.2 percent increase in education and science spending, a ¥13,000 monthly child allowance and tuition-free high school education — one “to protect human life.”
Mr. Hatoyama devoted a fairly large part of his speech to his philosophy and ideals. This emphasis in itself is good because it helps people understand what he’s thinking amid the political and economic problems affecting Japan. But at a time when the Japanese economy is in difficult straits, with people worried about their future and more than 30,000 people killing themselves each year, many might have found his speech rather abstract and short of a hoped-for road map to solutions. One sign of people’s anxiety and dissatisfaction is that the percentage of people who do not support the Hatoyama Cabinet now tops the percentage of those who do.
Mr. Hatoyama’s speech Friday coincided with bad economic news. The consumer price index, excluding perishable foods, for 2009 dipped a record 1.3 percent from 2008, indicating severe deflation. The average unemployment rate for 2009 was 5.1 percent, 1.1 points worse than in 2008. The average jobs-to-applicants ratio for 2009 was a record low 0.47, down from the previous low of 0.48 (1999). Mr. Hatoyama did not say how many jobs the government plans to create. Details of the government’s economic growth package won’t be announced until June. Mr. Hatoyama disclosed that the government will write a long-range policy for the nation’s financial reconstruction, but the schedule is not definite. He said only it will be “in the first half of this year.” That could give the impression that the government is slow in taking action.
On the burning issue of politics and money, Mr. Hatoyama apologized for irregularities concerning his political funds, including ¥1.26 billion in donations from his mother. He did not mention the suspected falsification of reports by the political funds management body of Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa.
Despite apparent weakness in elaborating on his economic policies, Mr. Hatoyama’s speech shows that he is keen on resolving the problems faced by Japan and other countries. He said the seven deadly sins that Mahatma Gandhi listed — “politics without principles,” “wealth without work,” “pleasure without conscience,” “knowledge without character,” “commerce without morality,” “science without humanity” and “worship without sacrifice” — accurately describe today’s problems.
In an apparent critique of financial sector-led capitalism and market fundamentalism, he called for creating an economic model in which business enterprises “contribute to local communities as members of society even as they withstand international competition.” He said Japan should perform the challenging task of fostering “the morality of commerce” and restoring “wealth derived from work.” To create such an economy, he called for education that shuns “science without humanity” and nurtures people who contribute to a “larger purpose as members of a regional community, of the Japanese state and of Earth’s community of life.”
Mr. Hatoyama said the government will support what he calls a “new form of the public sector” — activities by citizens and nonprofit organizations in education, child rearing, community development and social welfare services. It is hoped that the government will come up with a clear definition of this concept and concrete measures to support it.
Despite opposition from Japanese industries, he iterated his target of reducing Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels and persuasively said that pursuing the target “will give us the chance to break the mold of the Japanese economy and create new demand.”
As for the diplomatic front, he said the Japan-U.S. security alliance is indispensable not only for Japan’s defense but also for the peace and prosperity of Asia and the world. He called for a multilayered alliance, adding that it is indispensable as a “precondition” for building an East Asia Community, which he said should not become an “exclusive community.”
Mr. Hatoyama has set down his ideals and demonstrated his knowledge of various problems. What he needs to do now is show clearly to people that he shares their sense of crisis about the situation in which Japan finds itself, work out concrete steps to resolve problems and achieve his goals, and move.
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