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Japan to focus on greener society, digital for pandemic recovery

In this May 1, 2019 file photo, the prime minister's official residence, left, is seen next to the prime minister's office in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's Cabinet approved Friday its annual economic policy guideline with the focus on promoting a greener society and digitalization to be the driving forces of a sustained post-coronavirus economic recovery.

    With the first policy blueprint under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who took office in September, the government will "intensively promote investment" in four priority areas that also cover child-related issues and regional revitalization, while continuing to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

    To achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, the government adopted the principle of making it a "top priority" to promote as much renewable energy as possible, while trying to minimize the burden on people caused by such efforts.

    Through measures such as Japan's 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) fund to support green technology development and carbon pricing, the government will encourage the private sector to run innovative projects, and try to attract from across the world "environment investments" estimated to be worth 3,000 trillion yen.

    On the digitalization front, the government vowed to build up "public and private infrastructure in the digital era in the next five years" through such steps as offering administrative services online and providing more opportunities for workers and students to acquire IT expertise.

    Among other envisaged plans is to set up a new administrative organization to comprehensively deal with challenges surrounding children such as child poverty, abuse and bullying, although the plan lacks a specific timing for its launch.

    By arranging a better environment for children and their parents through the new agency, the government expects more women taking care of families to enter the labor market. It also aims to curb a decline in the country's birthrate, which could further exacerbate a serious labor shortage amid the graying of the population.

    As for steps against the pandemic, the guideline referred to the goal of completing the vaccination against COVID-19 of all eligible people in Japan who wish to receive shots in October or November.

    The goal is vital for Suga, who will be looking to win public support ahead of a general election that must be held by November, as he has faced criticism over the nation's slow vaccine rollout.

    In preparation for another virus outbreak in the future, the government pledged to take legislative measures so that it could secure enough beds and health care staff for patients and that procedures to approve new drugs and vaccines could progress more smoothly.

    The government will reflect the policy blueprint in drafting the state budget for fiscal 2022, for which Japan's ministries and agencies are set to submit their requests by the end of August.

    The guideline says the government "sticks" to its target of bringing its primary balance -- tax revenue minus expenses other than debt-servicing costs -- into the black by fiscal 2025.

    But it suggests that the target year for achieving a surplus could be delayed, as the government will "examine" the fallout from the pandemic on Japan's economy and finances within fiscal 2021 through March, and "reaffirm" the goal based on the review.

    The guideline also mentioned the government's pledge to host the Tokyo Olympics starting July 23 and the subsequent Paralympics in a "safe and secure" manner.

    The move follows support expressed Sunday by leaders of Group of Seven industrialized nations for Japan to hold the major sporting event at their summit in Cornwall, southwestern England.

    In a separate growth strategy, also approved by the Cabinet on Friday, the government said it aims to enhance domestic development and production of cutting-edge semiconductors amid a global chip crunch, in an effort to reduce the country's dependence on foreign manufacturers and to ensure a steady supply.

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