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Thursday, Sep. 15, 2011
Tasks set for Mr. Noda
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in his first policy speech before the Diet on Sept. 13 refrained from talking about eye-catching slogans. Instead he concentrated on listing issues his Cabinet will tackle in earnest — reconstruction from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, putting the Fukushima nuclear crisis under control and overcoming the economic crisis Japan is now facing, among others. This is a reasonable agenda, although it contains almost nothing inspirational.
In his speech, Mr. Noda expressed his determination to tackle the "national crisis" brought by the March 11 disasters with a "sincere spirit and just intent" and with his whole energy. Now that he has made clear his determination, producing effective results without fail is all that counts.
He called the reconstruction from the March 11 disasters the biggest issue to which his Cabinet must give priority and mentioned such things as construction of fabricated houses, removal of debris and support for sufferers from the disasters.
He also said that the government will provide easy-to-use grants to local governments in disaster-hit areas and establish special reconstruction zones.
But he should not forget to provide concrete support to municipal workers in those areas who are directly involved in the reconstruction work.
To carry out these things and ideas included in the government's reconstruction guideline, the Noda administration must have the Diet pass the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 as soon as possible, as he said in his speech.
But the government plans to submit the budget to the Diet in mid-October at the earliest. One wonders whether it does not need to speed up the work to develop the budget.
To secure earlier passage of the budget, getting cooperation from the opposition forces is indispensable. Mr. Noda said that the ruling and opposition parties must try to reach agreement through thorough discussions and dialogue.
He and the leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan should see to it that the party will not repeat the mistake of former DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada — a failure to establish trustworthy relationship with the opposition forces.
Mr. Noda reiterated his policy of carrying out tax raises in the immediate future to raise funds for the reconstruction and to stabilize the social welfare system.
He said that financial burdens for the reconstruction should not be passed on to future generations. He also stressed the importance of beefing up the middle class, which has waned in the past decade.
But he must seriously consider whether immediate tax raises are a wise policy in view of the effects from the 3/11 disasters, the appreciation of the yen and persistent deflation. Before raising taxes, he should vigorously cut wasteful government spending.
After paying higher taxes, people and corporations will be cutting back on other spending, which will weaken the Japanese economy as a whole.
This will lead to contraction of tax bases, thus further delaying the reconstruction of the finances of the state, whose outstanding debts reach nearly ¥1,000 trillion.
In referring to the fiasco at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Mr. Noda said that the government will remove radioactive materials released from the plant, manage the health of affected local residents and improve systems to test agricultural products from affected areas. He should keep his word.
Noting that rebuilding of energy policy is the first step to rebuild the Japanese economy, Mr. Noda said that his administration will restart nuclear power plants that have gone through regular inspections, on the condition that trustworthy relationship is established with local governments concerned.
At the same time, he said that Japan should decrease its dependence on nuclear power to the possible minimum in a middle and long run.
He should realize that unless he works out a concrete road map to phase out nuclear power, a steady decrease in reliance on nuclear power will not happen.
As a means of harvesting global economic growth and preventing hollowing out of Japan's industry, Mr. Noda mentioned the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) and said that the government will decide in a short time whether to take part in TPP talks.
The problem with the TPP is that people are not fully informed about what it is like and what effects it will cause to various sectors of the Japanese economy, including agriculture, financial business, insurance, etc.
The government should realize the simple fact that the United States is pushing the TPP as a means of strengthening its economic presence in the Pacific region, especially in the Japanese market — not to help Japan. The possibility that Japan may not be able to gain a strong position in TPP talks should not be ruled out.
As part of an effort to deepen the alliance between Japan and the U.S., Mr. Noda said that he will push the plan to transfer U.S. Marine Air Station Futenma from the urban city of Ginowan in the central part of Okinawa Island to the less populated Henoko area in the northern part of the island.
But if the Noda administration is preoccupied with the Henoko plan and implements it, Okinawan people's protest movement will become fierce and the Japan-U.S. security setup in Okinawa will be surrounded by strong local resentment, undermining the whole security arrangement. Mr. Noda should pay serious attention to this prospect.