The 2017 regular Diet session has kicked off. Among the key points of contention during the session will be the fiscal 2017 state budget draft, development of legislation based on Emperor Akihito's wish to abdicate and the debate on establishing "conspiracy" charges.
This regular session will be a venue where the overall policies of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be scrutinized as the administration has entered its fifth year.
At the same time, the session is being held amid drastic changes in the international environment, such as the inauguration of the U.S. administration led by President Donald Trump and Britain's decision to break away from the EU. Both the ruling and opposition parties should hold policy debate that can respond quickly to the changes of the times.
At the outset of the session, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a policy speech keeping Trump's inauguration fully in mind. At the beginning of his speech, the prime minister emphasized that the position of the Japan-U.S. alliance as the linchpin of Japanese foreign policy and security is an "unchanging principle." He said he will use a summit meeting with Trump, which the Japanese government hopes to hold in the near future, to strengthen the bilateral alliance.
Abe also pointed out that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact, from which Trump announced that the United States will withdraw, is the foundation for Tokyo's future economic alliance with Washington. His remark apparently reflects his awareness that the new U.S. administration's moves could be the most destabilizing factor.
Changes in the international situation could largely affect not only diplomatic but also economic policies to which the prime minister attaches particular importance.
In his policy speech, Prime Minister Abe emphasized achievements his government has made so far in various categories, from "growth and distribution of wealth," "revitalization of local economies," and "the dynamic engagement of all citizens" to "working style reform," and expressed enthusiasm about continuing efforts to meet those goals, suggesting that he views the beginning of the fifth year in office as a milestone for his administration. However, the economic environment including exchange rates could drastically change depending on the Trump administration's decisions, possibly shaking up the foundations for employment and other economic factors.
The Abe government is being forced to change its strategy based on a review of the achievements that the administration made over the past four years.
Abe stressed that Japan's nominal GDP increased by 44 trillion yen over the past four years, but the country's real-term GDP is far from the level he has publicly pledged to attain. Policy measures incorporated in the third supplementary budget draft for fiscal 2016 submitted to the ongoing Diet session would be covered with deficit-covering bonds.
The government's postponement of the consumption tax increase from the current 8 percent to 10 percent on two occasions has shaken the plan for the integrated reform of the tax and social security systems. Under such circumstances, Abe should have proposed in his speech that legislators from both ruling and opposition parties hold discussions towards pension and medical system reform.
The prime minister also underscored the need for new nation-building efforts as 70 years have passed since the postwar Constitution came into force, and urged the legislature to hold specific discussions aimed at drawing up draft amendments to the supreme law. Regardless, there is still no need to make haste in coordinating views between ruling and opposition parties on the issue.
Both ruling and opposition parties are required to hold more constructive discussions than ever on overall government policies. Nevertheless, Abe rather provoked opposition parties in his policy speech, saying, "You cannot be productive by just criticizing others or holding placards in the Diet." His remarks raised questions as to whether the prime minister attaches much value to the role that the Diet is playing.
To respond to changes in the international environment, the Diet should break away from its bad habit -- in which the prime minister won't listen to opposition parties' opinions and opposition parties devote its time to slamming the government.