The newly opened Diet session will bridge the Heisei era and the next era. The government and the ruling and opposition parties must engage in promoting productive debates, with a view to settling unresolved problems facing the nation both at home and abroad.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has delivered policy speeches in both chambers of the Diet, in which he called for tackling the low birthrate and aging population, and turbulent international circumstances, saying, “Let us join hands and open a path toward tomorrow.” It is important for his administration to resolutely grapple with difficult problems — not just working out of routine — as a long-running government that has set its sights on becoming the longest-lived in history.
With a House of Councillors election set for this summer, however, Abe made conspicuous efforts not to attract criticism in stating his policies. It is difficult to say that he has offered prescriptions based on a stern awareness of the problems.
A top-priority task for the Abe Cabinet is to fully end deflation.
In his speeches, the prime minister said the “fruits of growth” would be properly used as benefits to be “shared” among the people. It is essential to realize what is called a “virtuous economic cycle” in which the corporate sector’s favorable business performance is used to raise wages and generate consumption.
The government should shore up its growth strategy, thereby strongly promoting measures to utilize artificial intelligence and encourage technological innovation.
It is also indispensable to implement an increase in the consumption tax rate without fail this autumn, a move that was previously postponed twice. The prime minister asked for sympathetic understanding of the tax hike, saying, “A stable revenue source is absolutely necessary” for providing free education and coping with ballooning social security costs.
Set example at G20
It is vital to prevent a repeat of an economic downturn like that arising from the tax increase in 2014. The government needs to steadily implement various burden-easing measures, including a reduced tax rate for certain basic necessities.
Some have said that the system designed for a planned point-reward program for purchases made with cashless payment methods is too complicated, as there will be some small- and middle-sized shops with a reward rate of 2 percent and others with a rate of 5 percent. It is essential to facilitate an environment for the smooth implementation of the program.
Based on a close look at a situation in which the elderly population peaks in 2040, there is a pressing need to review the social security system. It is important to squarely debate medical and nursing-care system reforms that will require people to assume a greater burden.
The government needs to dispel persistent anxiety felt by people about a new system for foreign workers that will start in April. The central government should closely cooperate with local governments to facilitate arrangements by which foreign workers can adapt themselves to local communities.
As the chair of an upcoming summit meeting of the Group of 20 advanced countries and emerging economies, Japan will be tested over the true value of its diplomacy this year.
With a view to curbing protectionism and expanding free trade, this country must lead an international cooperation system, as described by the prime minister, who expressed his determination to work toward “spreading a free and fair economic bloc across the world.”
The ongoing problem involving improperly collected monthly labor statistics by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has developed into an affair that can shake confidence in government statistics. The prime minister offered an apology, saying he will do his utmost to “prevent a similar incident from occurring.” The issue must be sternly handled.