By Miki Rieko
Minister for Economic Security Takaichi Sanae led discussions on economic security within the Liberal Democratic Party when she chaired its policy affairs council. She advocates strengthening the protection of critical technologies. The introduction of a “security clearance” system to restrict those qualified to handle classified information will be the next focus of economic security.
Prime Minister Kishida Fumio created the post of minister in charge of economic security in October 2021 at the start of his government, and he identified economic security as an important policy agenda item. In light of rising tensions between the United States and China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the economy and national security are increasingly inseparable. The government will accelerate efforts to address economic security issues with the appointment of Takaichi, who has long stressed the importance of such matters.
The economic security promotion act was enacted in May. It has four pillars, including the strengthening of supply chains for semiconductors and other critical goods and materials and the promotion of research and development (R&D) by the public and private sectors on cutting-edge technologies.
On Aug. 1, the office of economic security promotion was launched at the Cabinet Office to oversee the enforcement of the economic security promotion act. In September, the cabinet will endorse basic guidelines on goods and technologies that the government must secure from a strategic viewpoint.
At an Aug. 10 press conference, Takaichi noted that “security clearance is of great significance and this must be included [in the basic guidelines].” After citing a supplementary resolution to the economic security promotion act that says “[the government will] take steps tp build a certification system with an eye on the promotion of international joint research,” she pledged to accelerate efforts to create a security clearance system.
Japan currently has no security clearance mechanism. If an individual has security clearance, it means the individual has been certified as eligible to handle classified information related to national security. Many countries have such a mechanism to prevent intelligence leaks.
Some have pointed out that not having a security clearance system blocks Japan from engaging in joint international R&D. The government initially aimed to include the system in the economic security promotion act, but it shelved the idea as business circles and the Komeito were wary of introducing a law that would allow the government to screen private citizens, their families, and acquaintances as well as their assets.
The government is considering submitting a revised bill to the next ordinary Diet session in 2023. The economic security promotion office will spearhead discussions on the items and persons subject to screening for security clearance. The idea is now being floated to have applicants screened by a public-private consultation body on cutting-edge technology research, which will be set up within fiscal 2022.
In addition to the security clearance system, there are other issues to be addressed in the area of economic security.
Japan will be at risk if civilian technologies that can be used in the development of weapons, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, are leaked to China. The U.S. and other countries are tightening their controls on the export of cutting-edge technologies.
Cybersecurity is another important issue. To prevent attacks on critical infrastructure, the economic security promotion act includes requiring the government to conduct an advance screening of equipment used in critical infrastructure. It will also be necessary to bolster defenses against cyberattacks at smaller firms.