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News Navigator: What does Japan PM Kishida's 'national economic security' mean?

Shelves at a drugstore in the city of Otsu in west Japan are seen bare of masks at the start of the coronavirus crisis, in this partially altered February 2020 file photo. (Mainichi/Yusuke Konishi)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's oft-cited "national economic security," and what it might mean for people both in and outside Japan.

    Question: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida often talks about "economic safety guarantees," but what does this mean?

    Answer: Recent years have seen economics weaponized between different countries, like in U.S.-China conflict. National economic security refers to avoiding threats posed on national security by foreign powers controlling companies and technology that support a country's crucial infrastructure such as nuclear power and key industries. When forming his Cabinet, Kishida created a new ministerial post in charge of economic security, and made related issues one of his flagship policies.

    Q: What might his administration do?

    A: One method is to limit investments by foreign investors and companies in Japanese firms. There have been problematic cases of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications overlooking violations of a Japanese regulation on foreign investment in domestic broadcasters. But there are limits on the ratio of shares in domestic businesses in public speech, news reporting, advanced technology and other fields that a foreign player can own. These businesses also have a duty to report in advance any foreign investments in their stock. In June, a law was passed limiting the use of land in areas around nuclear power stations, Japan Self-Defense Forces bases and elsewhere. This, too, is aimed at reducing inappropriate land acquisitions by foreign nationals.

    Q: Apart from broadcasters, what other kinds of industries are subject to the controls?

    A: There are more than 20, including nuclear power, space, electricity and gas. If the fixed investment ratio is exceeded, the national government can order a stop on investments.

    Q: Doesn't this go against free trade ideals?

    A: Free trade is indispensable for world economic growth. But if we become overly dependent on other countries' supply networks for raw materials, parts and other goods, we'll face crises like the mask shortage during the early days of the coronavirus crisis. Improvements in economic security are sought while avoiding falling into an excessively protectionist approach.

    (Japanese original by Akira Murao, Business News Department)

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