Senior officials of Japan’s leading business lobby, Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), maintain close contact with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Among those who met with Abe frequently in 2017 are: Chairman Sadayuki Sakakibara, Toray Industries, Inc. adviser; former Chairman Fujio Mitarai, Canon Inc. chairman; and Takashi Imai, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. honorary chairman.
Imai is the uncle of Takaya Imai, Abe’s secretary, a former Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) official who is his closest aide.
A METI source revealed, “The prime minister has great confidence in Imai. He even served as the chair of the experts’ panel on the Emperor’s abdication. His nephew Takaya is the Prime Minister’s secretary who drafted the Abe administration’s growth strategy and other key policies. He serves as the liaison between Keidanren and other business leaders and the prime minister.”
Keidanren makes various policy recommendations to the administration. However, the owner of a member company voiced the following complaint:
“The monthly Policy Board meetings used to involve in-depth discussions. However, at present, certain senior officials and the government are the ones deciding the general policy direction. The government’s requests are read out at the meetings and the participants simply listen to reports. Most of the time, no dissenting opinions are voiced and the meetings go off without a hitch. I have a feeling they have become mostly meaningless.”
Keidanren and Abe are currently enjoying an unprecedented “honeymoon.”
After the Democratic Party of Japan administration started, Keidanren stopped calling on its member companies to make political donations in 2010, but it resumed doing so in 2014 after the LDP recaptured political power and Sakakibara assumed the chairmanship. Sakakibara became the first Keidanren chairman to ask member companies to raise wages at the administration’s request.
Recently, Sakakibara also announced on Nov. 30 Keidanren’s acceptance of the Abe administration’s request for the business sector to shoulder the cost of 300 billion yen to eliminate waiting lists for children to enter childcare facilities. Keidanren is now clearly “obeying” the Abe administration.
Meanwhile, Keidanren’s policy recommendations now tend to follow the Abe administration’s direction as well.
An internal document used at the Policy Board meeting on Sept. 19, “Demand for Maintaining and Reinforcing the Defense Production and Technology Base” (draft), took issue with the stagnation of domestic production and development of fighters in recent years and argued that “it is important to promote Japan-led development and procurement programs as much as possible.” The document also hailed the lifting of the ban on arms exports under the Abe administration and called for further promotion of arms exports by “building a joint government-private sector mechanism,” “easing regulations on information disclosure,” and so forth.
As if responding to such views, Abe announced on Dec. 15 that a review of the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG), which serve as basis for defense capability buildup, will start in early 2018.
When inspecting Shikoku Electric Power Company’s Ikata Nuclear Power Plant (in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture) on Dec. 7, Sakakibara also stated: “Nuclear power will continue to be used as an important energy source. Building new nuclear plants should be an option in the future.”
Keidanren’s policies on arms exports, building of new nuclear plants, and so forth seem to fit exactly with the policies the Abe administration is promoting.
The above METI source observed, “While Prime Minister Abe used to have close ties with the neo-liberals, such as the Japan Association of New Economy led by Rakuten Chairman and President Hiroshi Mikitani, he has been keeping his distance from them recently. On the other hand, he is moving closer and closer to Keidanren, which is dominated by the traditional heavy industries. The government and the business sector are joining hands in overseas marketing, resembling the ‘convoy system’ of the old days. The government will guarantee the full amount of the financial institutions’ loans to Hitachi Inc. for its project to export a nuclear plant to the UK. It is very unusual for the government to cover such risks at the request of the business sector. On the other hand, the prime minister is requesting wage increases. This is almost like a socialist country.”
Abe is planning to visit Singapore, the Middle East, and other countries with the officials of dozens of Keidanren member companies in early 2018.
The above source said: “This will be the first visit in a while by such a large delegation. It appears that the prospective projects mostly have to do with oil. This visit will take place before the regular Diet session convenes, at a time when there are no major issues to deal with. As usual, the Prime Minister will make the overseas tour to lay the groundwork for trade talks with foreign governments while the business executives will attend parties and other gatherings to build business connections.” (Slightly abridged)