During election campaigns and on other occasions, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says, "This is the only way," and that such-and-such a policy "is still halfway through." These phrases sound dubious. There should apparently be "other ways" than "this way," and "halfway through" sounds like an excuse for being unable to achieve his goals.
The route Abe is taking is extremely different from the one Japan has traversed since the end of World War II. Policies that the Abe government is pursuing rely heavily on others and are highly risky. The July 10 House of Councillors election should be a good opportunity to reverse "this way."
The Abe government's diplomatic and security policies are good examples. Japan experienced drastic changes in its diplomatic and security environment twice in the postwar period. Each time, Japan selected a moderate and ultimately appropriate path.
During the Cold War that split the world into eastern and western blocs, Japan joined the U.S.-led bloc and, through the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, concentrated its resources on economic development. Japan has developed itself into a major economic power without claiming the life of a single person in war.
Japan chose to maintain this basic policy line following the dramatic upheaval of the end of the Cold War in 1989. However, Tokyo decided to participate in U.N. peacekeeping operations to respond to regional conflicts that sprang up as a result of the Cold War's end. To do so, the government opened the way for the deployment of Self-Defense Forces (SDF) personnel overseas within a rigid framework -- acting under U.N. command and strictly limiting operations to non-military purposes.
The world is now undergoing major changes for the third time, defined primarily by the rise of China and a decrease in U.S. influence.
The Abe administration has chosen to increase military deterrent force through the Japan-U.S. alliance. Specifically, Japan strengthened military information sharing with the U.S. through the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, and is attempting to establish a U.S.-led alliance in the Asia-Pacific region to counter China through lifting a self-imposed ban on arms exports.
Moreover, the government has beefed up the SDF's role of supporting the United States by enacting new security-related legislation and revising existing laws, which has opened the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. The SDF can now provide ammunition to U.S. and other forces as part of logistical support. Moreover, the SDF can extend logistical assistant to foreign military forces all over the world, although such activities had previously been limited to Northeast Asia.
By doing so, the government did not only weaken regulations on the use of force provided by Article 9 by reinterpreting the clause. The Abe administration has failed to show its willingness to walk in the footsteps of forerunners who improved Japan's relations with China by restoring bilateral diplomatic relations and signing a peace treaty. Rather, the government tries to rely solely on U.S. military capabilities. Refueling and supply missions that the SDF will carry out in return for relying on U.S. military might be highly risky because Japan can now dispatch SDF troops anywhere in the world effectively under the command of the United States.
"This way" in terms of economic and fiscal policy -- namely the "Abenomics" economic policy mix -- is beginning to smell a bit fishy.
First of all, the monetary policy has failed. Japan began an ultra-easy-money policy in April 2013. Under the policy, the government set an annual inflation goal of 2 percent, to be reached within two years. However, there is still no sign that Japan can achieve this. The target was delayed by three years to the end of March 2018, and it is widely doubted if it can be achieved at all. It's not even "halfway" there. It is time for the prime minister to admit that policy has failed.
Secondly, Abe has violated a public pledge. The Abe government once again postponed a consumption tax hike from the current 8 percent to 10 percent, even though he had pledged to go ahead with the increase. Policy measures that the government had planned from a medium- and long-term perspective, such as social security and tax reform, have been abandoned for a short-term reason: fear that the planned tax hike could pour cold water on economic recovery. What is more, agreement on the integrated reform of the social security and tax systems, which was reached in 2012 between the then largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party, its ally Komeito and the then ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), was also abandoned.
It appears as if good political assets have fallen victim to senseless policy measures.
The third problem is the exaggeration of the fruits of policy measures, and the accompanying cover-up of risks.
Prime Minister Abe emphasized that Japan's tax revenue has increased by 21 trillion yen, and that the employment situation has improved. However, the tax revenue increase is exaggerated. The figure is compared with fiscal 2012 tax revenues, which had plummeted as a result of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
The current figure is almost equal to fiscal 2007, when Abe was previously in power. The figure is not something that the prime minister should be proud of. Improvements in the employment situation are welcome but only natural, stemming as they do from a labor shortage.
Abe's biggest problem is that he never talks about risks associated with his policies. The Bank of Japan currently holds 330 trillion yen in government bonds as part of its ultra-easy-money policy, and has thus lost policy flexibility. It's high time the government explained to the public about how to end the easy money policy and what problems winding it up could cause.
Problems have surfaced involving many aspects of "this way" the Abe government is pursuing. And "this way" is built on his government's actions that deviate from basic policies Japan has taken in the postwar period (sticking to an exclusively self-defensive policy and rehabilitating Japan's state finances) and rely thoroughly on others (the U.S. for diplomatic and defense policies, and Japan's future generations for finances).
An upper house election does not lead to a change of government. However, simply casting a ballot to express support or opposition to Abe's "this way or no way" policies is worthwhile. I hope that the brakes can be applied on "this way" and that ruling and opposition parties will hold active debate on alternatives. In the next House of Representatives election, such discussions should be held on specific policy measures, and the public asked whether they support the measures discussed. (By Atsuro Kurashige, Expert Senior Writer and Editorial Writer)