While the new U.S. administration led by President Donald Trump has a lot of problems on its plate, Japan and the United States should cooperate and explore ways in earnest for both countries to benefit.
Representatives of the ruling and opposition parties in the House of Representatives have started questioning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about his key policy speech.
Yoshihiko Noda, secretary general of the major opposition Democratic Party, asked Abe how he plans to face up to Trump’s “America first” policy. Noda also asked how Abe will respond to the official announcement made by Trump of the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
Abe said: “I hope that Japan and the United States can further strengthen the bonds of an unwavering alliance. I will assert what I should assert [to him].” Abe also said, “I believe President Trump as well understands the importance of free trade, so I’d like to resolutely pursue his understanding on the significance of the TPP trade pact.”
Trump’s trade policy ignores the benefits of the global economy and is shortsighted. Such high-handed methods as criticizing private companies via Twitter and having them accede to his requests is unacceptable.
It would be difficult to have the self-centered Trump retract the announced U.S. withdrawal from the TPP accord. Even so, it is still important for Japan, in cooperation with countries such as Canada and Australia, to convince the United States of the significance of free trade and tenaciously persuade Washington to compromise.
Abe is arranging his schedule to make a visit to the United States sometime in the first half of next month. The important thing is not to let the differences in the standpoints of both countries look too obvious. While trying to have the two countries share a perception of the political and economic situations in Asia, a cooperative alliance should be stubbornly pursued.
Review fiscal discipline
With regard to the issue of putting the fiscal house in order, Noda said that “It has become impossible [for the administration] to achieve” the target of bringing the combined primary balances of the central and local governments into the black by fiscal 2020, a target that Noda said was set “on the basis of overly optimistic economic projections.”
Abe emphasized his stance of adhering to the target, saying that under his administration, tax revenues have increased by ¥22 trillion.
It cannot be denied that it has become difficult to achieve the target of bringing the primary balances into the black, due to such factors as the postponement of the planned hike of the consumption tax rate. It may be time to rewrite the road map to realizing fiscal reconstruction as a more realistic one, while steadily promoting the growth strategy of easing regulations and implementing structural reforms.
What is questionable is Noda’s call for the government to retract the TPP-related budgets on the grounds that there is no longer a chance of the TPP coming into effect. However, agricultural reforms and measures to boost exports need to be advanced, regardless of whether the trade accord takes effect.
Regarding cases of “amakudari” involving the education ministry, in which former bureaucrats land jobs at organizations they used to oversee at the ministry, Hiroshi Ogushi, the DP’s policy research committee chairman, said that “the character of the ministry as a whole is called into question,” trying to pin the blame on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hirokazu Matsuno and other officials.
While acknowledging that the cases are “ones that would shake public trust,” Abe also said that the government’s Reemployment Surveillance Commission’s “strict monitoring has functioned.”
It was found recently that there is a loophole in the National Public Service Law, as the education ministry has taken such measures as having a retired official serve as an intermediary in the amakudari practice. In preventing similar scandals from occurring in the future, it is necessary to close the loophole in the law, in addition to thoroughly unraveling the real state of affairs.