TOUGH ROAD AHEAD FOR JAPAN AS IT SEES IN NEW YEAR
On New Year’s Day, I read the editorials of the five major national dailies in an attempt to find out what different messages they had to deliver. Reading the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun first, I was disappointed that it sadly lacked any specific message that might strongly move me, although it touched on a number of pertinent domestic and international issues at great length.
Meanwhile, the liberal Asahi Shimbun engaged in routine criticism of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in its editorial entitled, “Reexamining Where Power Really Lies in Japan.”
One of the editorial’s subheads read: “Time to Rejuvenate Our Powerless Parliament.” I could not agree more. Compared with the US Congress, Japan’s Diet is in a shambles, unable to deliver the goods in terms of earnest deliberations that the public strongly desires.
In the US Congress, Republican and Democratic Parties clash fiercely over quite a number of issues. With America’s national interests in mind, however, they very frequently cooperate closely with each other to take steps to enact bipartisan legislation or seek action from the executive branch (the White House). I am a Japanese citizen, but there are not a few bills introduced or adopted in the US Congress that I wholeheartedly applaud as a reflection of the joint patriotic efforts of American congressional members.
One example is the annual report compiled in October 2018 by the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Committee on China, co-chaired by two Republicans—Senator Mark Rubio and Representative Chris Smith. The report denounced the Chinese government for its “official racial discrimination policy” against the Uyghur Muslims, pointing out that it interned more than 1 million of them at Orwellian “political reeducation camps.”
Together with Democratic Senator Mark Warner, who heads the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, Rubio last week introduced a bipartisan bill to establish the “Office of Critical Technologies and Security” at the White House. This legislation is designed to protect America against high-tech theft by adversaries such as China.
These are issues of great significance to America’s national interests. By contrast, I wonder to what extent Japanese Diet members fulfill their responsibility as lawmakers when it comes to matters of our national interests. What we Japanese witnessed last year was a vast waste of time at the Diet on the so-called “Mori-Kake school scandal,” allegedly involving Abe. Then there was a boycott of deliberations on a constitutional revision by the opposition members, trying to irrationally tie the two issues together. This was a blatant abandonment of their responsibilities.
I have said that I agree with what the Asahi’s editorial subhead—Time to Rejuvenate Our Powerless Diet—proposed in light of the sorry reality of the Japanese Diet. But an even better subhead might be: “Time to Put Our Lazy Lawmakers to Work.”
Needed: Introduction of Bill Proposing Constitutional Revision
Toward its end, the Asahi’s editorial boiled down to a criticism of Abe typical of the liberal daily, which has detested the prime minister since he first came to power in 2006. It claimed: “We must do something about the premier’s right to dissolve the lower house at will, as real power originates with the citizens of Japan, who are the ultimate sovereigns.”
If the Asahi genuinely views the people as the ultimate sovereigns as it claims, I wish to ask its editors why the daily is so stubbornly opposed to an introduction of a constitutional revision bill at the Diet. Citizens have the ultimate right to judge the right and wrong of such a bill. They have the right to render a final judgment on the foundation of the shape of our nation. However, the people of Japan haven’t had one single chance to exercise their sovereignty as regards a constitutional revision in the seven decades since the end of the war.
I am aware that the Asahi has a corporate policy of opposing a revision of the constitution. But if the Asahi really values the “sovereignty of the people,” I expect it to agree to an introduction of a bill on a national referendum enabling the people to exercise their sovereign right in determining if they want the constitution revised. Toward that end, I want the daily to encourage members of the Diet to commit themselves more earnestly to introducing appropriate legislation as a means of realizing the sovereignty of the people.
Meanwhile, the editorial of the nation’s leading economic journal, The Nikkei Shimbun, listed several positive factors in its appraisal of the Japanese economy, first noting that the economy has registered 74 straight months of continued expansion. As regards a projected consumption tax increase in October (from the current 8% to 10%), the editorial predicted that there would be little risk of Japan’s business recovery stalling half-way, as the government is working on extremely prudent measures to alleviate any negative effects of the projected increase. The journal defined Japan’s chronic labor shortage as an opportunity to increase productivity and pointed out that the nation’s social and political stability is outstanding.
The Japanese economy has been good under the Abe administration. But the economy is significantly affected by how people feel about the nation’s state of affairs. Our economy is bound to deteriorate and our problems will become harder to resolve if one views everything about Japan as negatively as the Asahi. And yet, there is no reason we should not be genuinely concerned about our staggering national debt exceeding \1,000 trillion yen (US$9.26 trillion). I would urge the journal to propose a bold and effective solution.
With these thoughts in mind, I finally turned to the editorial of the conservative Sankei Shimbun with this rather startling opening: “The Heisei era has been an era of setbacks for Japan.” The daily’s chief editorial writer, Masato Inui, explained the setbacks by listing a series of numbers. For instance, Japan boasted the world’s second largest GDP in the first year of Heisei, 1989, accounting for 15% of the world’s GDP, against 28% for America. But our GDP has since dwindled to 6%, third in the world after the US (25%) and China (16%).
By the same token, Japanese corporations have deteriorated in the international arena over the past three decades, noted the Sankei. While there were 32 Japanese corporations once listed among the world’s 50 top corporations, Toyota is the only Japanese company listed today. The magnificent achievements of Japanese corporations of 30 years ago clearly are a thing of the past now. The Sankei points to the harsh realities of Japan today, noting that the only thing Japan has gained in the Heisei era is increasing debt in the guise of Japanese government bonds.
The Sankei attributed the “Heisei setbacks” to three factors: 1) general self-conceit over Japan’s phenomenal postwar economic recovery, 2) political instability and chaos, and 3) large-scale economic assistance to China.
The editorial defines 3) as the most serious of the setbacks on Japan’s part. China took advantage of the generous economic assistance from Japan to build its military and economic power, which now threatens Japan’s security. Thanks largely to the lenient China policy pushed forward by Japan, China was readmitted into the international community in 1990, managing to break loose from the international net of sanctions resulting from the Tiananmen Square incident the year before.
Japan’s Abnormal Domestic Situation
The Sankei hit the nail on the head. But what should Japan do now? The daily urged its readers to pull out of the “brain freeze” in which many Japanese feel their country’s future is “secure so long as there is the US-Japan Security Treaty protecting us.” I don’t disagree with that, but want to emphasize that, in order to rectify this failure to think critically, one must first awaken to the harsh realities Japan faces. The people must be made aware how deplorable our realities really are.
Let’s take the circumstances surrounding the Imperial Household for instance. In less than a decade, many female members of the Imperial Family are expected to renounce their membership due to marriage, creating the possibility that the imperial household may eventually be reduced to the empress, Prince Akishino, who will be made Crown Prince come May, and his wife Kiko, and their son Prince Hisahito. Should Prince Hisahito, now 12, be entrusted with carrying on the nearly 2,700 years of Imperial lineage all by himself? This is a concern for everyone today. And yet, no realistic measures have yet been worked out.
If the people are clever, the future of a nation or a race is secure, but is our education so designed as to nurture clever Japanese? Nearly half of our universities are seriously short of students today and are forced to desperately scramble for foreign students, including many Chinese, without questioning their quality just to meet the quota. Can such an educational environment nurture clever students?
Land is the first prerequisite to a nation. But land in Japan is almost unlimitedly offered for sale to non-Japanese buyers. To make matters worse, our land has been bought up predominantly by Chinese who were brought up under the anti-Japan education curriculum of the Chinese Communist Party. For the last ten years, thinking Japanese have, to no avail, questioned the wisdom of selling land to foreigners. Why can’t our Diet restrict land purchases by foreigners?
A key economic component is a stable energy supply. Even Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest petroleum producing country, is eagerly introducing atomic power generation. Over the next two years, China will be building a total of 143 nuclear power plants of 200,000 kilowatts each. It has additional plans to construct 200 nuclear power plants of 2 million kilowatts each.
Why is Japan alone in shying away from nuclear power generation and leaning towards thermal power when the general carbon-neutral trend in the international community is overwhelmingly for nuclear power generation?
I would bring up many more pertinent issues had I more space. Change will happen to this country only when people come to grips with how abnormal our domestic political situation is here compared with elsewhere in the world. Frankly, there are times when I feel almost overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems Japan is confronting, but I keep reminding myself that I must face up to these challenges as positively as possible. Understanding that I have my work cut out for me as a journalist, I pledge to do my best again this year in tackling these critical issues.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 835 in the January 17, 2019 issue of the Weekly Shincho)