By Yuki Nikaido, staff writer
A year has passed since an economic team was created at the National Security Secretariat (NSS) to serve as the government’s top headquarters for economic security. With the aim of protecting Japan’s critical infrastructure, the NSS is currently drafting revisions to relevant laws and hopes to introduce them at next year’s ordinary Diet session. There is talk once again of revising the National Security Strategy to incorporate economic security.
Industry laws governing fields that involve the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as telecommunications business, electricity business, aviation and banking, are being considered for possible revision. “We hope to make changes to provisions that we deem insufficient to respond to the security threats posed by ‘countries of concern,’ such as China,” a government official explained.
A key legislative revision will be made to the patent law to introduce a “secret patent” system that keeps some sensitive technologies concerning national security secret for a certain period of time. Currently, Japan in principle discloses patent applications for advanced technologies, including technologies with potential military applications.
Now that the Biden administration is fully in place, the government also is considering revising the National Security Strategy after the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election later this year. A senior administration official pledged that economic security is certain to be incorporated in the Strategy.
Meanwhile, introduction of a “security clearance” system, where access to advanced technologies is restricted to individuals certified by the government, is expected to face a lengthy discussion.
From the start, the NSS set the secret patent system and security clearance as two key elements in its legislative initiatives and aimed to submit bills to this year’s ordinary Diet session. Work was delayed, however, because the economic team was put in charge of COVID-19 measures at airports amid the pandemic.
Going forward, the NSS will need to coordinate and integrate the policies of different ministries and agencies to enable revisions to the relevant laws. That will present difficulty as some ministries have opposing interests.
The final outcome of the NSS initiatives may be affected by the power balance within the administration, as well. The NSS was launched in 2014 under the Abe administration, with the foreign and defense ministries at its core, and its first head was former Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Shotaro Yachi. Abe later handed the job to his confidant Shigeru Kitamura, who was Director of Cabinet Intelligence at the time and had started his government career at the National Police Agency. Kitamura was the one who established the economic team at the NSS last April and put Toshihiko Fujii, who hails from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, in charge of it.
Kitamura’s influence is said to have declined in relative terms since the start of the Suga administration. Many at the Foreign Ministry hope Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Takeo Akiba will take over as NSS Secretary-General. Some in the government fear that Akiba’s possible ascendance to the helm of the NSS would return the agency to being under the leadership of the foreign and defense ministries, thus decelerating the economic security initiatives even though economic security policy has become a critical factor in Japan’s diplomacy. (Abridged)