Myriad issues face Kishida even as he tackles pandemic / Parties should engage in constructive talks

To contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and revive the economy, it is essential to make proper policy decisions and have the capability to implement necessary measures. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida must be resolute in tackling pending issues to resolve them.

The nation is facing another surge in the number of new COVID-19 cases. Community-acquired infections with the omicron variant have been confirmed in many parts of the country.

“By making sufficient preparations, I hope we will overcome this situation with cooperation from every member of the public, without worrying too much about omicron,” Kishida said at his New Year’s press conference. This is a crucial moment for averting a sixth wave of infections.

Address vulnerabilities

The pandemic that has raged since two years ago has highlighted how vulnerable Japan’s politics, economy and society are.

In the fifth wave of infections last summer, the nation found it difficult to deal with a surge in the number of cases, even though it was supposed to have enough time to prepare a response to such a situation. As a result, a number of patients could not be admitted to hospitals. It turned out that the central and prefectural governments lacked sufficient authority to deal with the situation, and it became apparent that their cooperation with medical institutions was weak.

The government has repeatedly declared — and extended — states of emergency. However, its key measures against infections only focused on asking dining establishments to shorten their business hours and the public to exercise self-restraint. This approach dealt a serious blow to economic and social activities. There was no progress in expanding testing capacity or utilizing vaccination records.

For a sixth wave, the government said it has improved its preparedness so that it can deal with an increase of as much as 30% in the number of patients who need to be hospitalized compared to the level at the peak of the fifth wave. The government also plans to move forward the schedule for administering the third round of vaccinations.

In order to implement these measures as planned, it is essential for Kishida to exercise his leadership skills, as well as for the central and local governments to cooperate closely with those in the medical field and other entities concerned. It is hoped that the infection situation will be accurately analyzed and flexible responses will be made.

When it comes to strengthening the authority of the central and local governments to deal with emergencies, it will be necessary to revise the Infectious Diseases Law and other relevant legislation. Structural issues should be highlighted to overcome society’s vulnerability to infectious diseases.

Kishida has advocated “a new form of capitalism,” but the vision’s concrete ideas and ways to realize them remain unclear.

It is a common issue among developed countries that wealth has become concentrated in such entities as tech giants, thus widening economic disparities and deepening social divisions.

Will the public be able to reap the fruits of the new form of capitalism realized through various measures? The answer will likely determine the fate of Kishida’s administration.

Maintaining intl order

It is hoped that Kishida will stabilize the foundation of his administration and tackle a number of long-pending issues, such as boosting the low birth rate, reforming the social security system, rectifying the overconcentration of population in Tokyo and digitizing the public and private sectors. The prime minister also must make progress in reducing Okinawa Prefecture’s burden of hosting U.S. bases, as this year marks the 50th anniversary since its return to Japanese sovereignty.

In foreign policy, it is important to look squarely at the ongoing issues when dealing with them.

With China becoming a major military power, Japan, based on its strong alliance with the United States, is expected to strengthen its ties with Europe, India, Australia and Southeast Asian countries, among others, as well as to strive to maintain a free and open international order.

Japan should proactively engage in diplomacy to ensure that universal values are never ignored, such as freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

Kishida needs to closely coordinate with the United States regarding relations with China, including economic security.

The Beijing Winter Olympics will be held in February, and September will mark the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. However, it is difficult to realize a state visit to Japan by Chinese President Xi Jinping at a time when his country has been repeatedly intruding into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands and has failed to improve its human rights situation.

It is Japan’s responsibility to urge China to respect universal values and abide by international rules.

In light of the deteriorating security environment, Kishida has expressed his intention to consider possessing the capability to attack enemy bases.

As other countries have accelerated improvements to their missile technology, it has become difficult for Japan to protect its territory with only its current interception capability. If Japan could launch a counterattack to destroy missile launch sites and other targets in the event of an attack, it would probably serve as a deterrent against an enemy taking such action.

It is important for the prime minister to gain public understanding by carefully explaining that possessing such capability is aimed solely at self-defense.

Discuss Constitution

In the House of Representatives election last autumn, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) and the Democratic Party for the People, both of which focus on realistic policies, increased their number of seats. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan got new leadership headed by Kenta Izumi after it suffered a crushing defeat in the election. These circumstances present a good opportunity for the ruling and opposition parties to break away from their rigid stance of confrontation and make the Diet a place to hold constructive discussions on various political issues.

The points of contention for constitutional revision have already been presented, such as stipulating the legal grounds for the existence of the Self-Defense Forces, adding a state of emergency clause and making more years of education free. In the run-up to the House of Councillors election to be held this summer, political parties should hold weekly meetings of the Commission on the Constitution of both the lower and upper houses to deepen discussions.

How will each party work on the Constitution, the fundamental law of the nation? Their attitudes on this issue will be judged in the upcoming upper house election.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 5, 2022.