The Japanese government recently withdrew a request calling for alcohol wholesalers to halt trade with restaurants that continue to serve drinks amid the fourth COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo. The withdrawal came after fierce opposition within the liquor wholesale industry regarding the government's method of trying to push forward coronavirus countermeasures by pressuring the private sector.
Why did no one put a stop to the forbidden tactics announced by the government? Following recent events, we cannot help but be concerned over the dysfunctional state of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's Cabinet.
Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura had just last week called on financial institutions to pressure their clients in the restaurant industry not to sell alcohol, before the policy was retracted.
Both policies surfaced following Nishimura's remarks, but they had been presented within the government in advance.
When the national government makes requests with no legal basis to businesses within the industry via regulatory bodies including the National Tax Agency and Financial Services Agency, it could effectively be considered coercion.
As for the tactic of using financial institutions to pressure the restaurant industry, it was asking for criticism that it takes advantage of the weaknesses of eateries that are struggling to finance their businesses. This was a strategy resembling a threat, as was the case with the request to liquor retailers.
Nishimura, who is also the minister in charge of the coronavirus response, shoulders great responsibility. However, Prime Minister Suga had been informed of the plans by secretariat staff at a Cabinet meeting with related ministers the day before Nishimura's announcement.
The prime minister had initially said that he was unaware of Nishimura's statement on the plan. When asked again on July 14, he explained that he "had not discussed the specific nature of the requests," but isn't he just dodging responsibility?
Suga is not the only irresponsible one. Upon receiving a report on Nishimura's announcement of the policy, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso only told his secretary to "leave it alone." Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama also made no effort to restrain Nishimura despite commenting that he felt a "strong sense of discomfort."
It is also unfathomable that bureaucrats, who should be well-informed about laws, did not stop the government's rash behavior.
This is a problem involving the Suga administration as a whole.
States of emergency have been repeatedly issued throughout Japan, and there has been a sense of deadlock and feelings of frustration within the government. The Suga administration has been noted for its authoritarian nature. It may be that its members have become numb, thinking that anything goes as long as they are done on the pretext of enforcing coronavirus measures.
Tokyo saw 1,149 new COVID-19 cases on July 14, topping the peak of the fourth wave this past spring. The fact the government has lost the public's trust, which is indispensable for tackling coronavirus infections, is a serious matter. Although the prime minister apologized, if he truly regrets these actions, he must provide an explanation on the background events, including who came up with the policies.