Discussions on Specific Measures Must Deepen to Solve Issues

Although an eagerness to squarely tackle domestic political challenges and diplomatic issues was conveyed, it must be said that there was a lack of concrete measures to address such matters. It is hoped that in-depth debates on these issues will take place during deliberations in the Diet session.

The ordinary Diet session has opened, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivered a policy speech to both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. In particular, he emphasized the need to strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities and address the declining birth rate.

First, Kishida talked about the revision of the National Security Strategy and two related documents, saying, “In order to confront the most severe and complicated security environment in the postwar period, we have initiated a drastic enhancement of defense capabilities.”

The international situation has been changing drastically, and the security environment around Japan has worsened more than ever. It is reasonable to aim to improve the capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces by possessing counterattack capabilities and enhancing their equipment.

The government plans to earmark defense spending of ¥43 trillion over a five-year period from fiscal 2023. In his speech, the prime minister said the government will secure financial resources through such measures as spending reforms and nontax revenues, and that any shortfall will be “handled by those of us living in the present, not left up to future generations.”

However, with unified local elections coming up in April, some in the Liberal Democratic Party appear to be trying to avoid discussing an increase in financial burdens. Without securing stable financial resources, the idea of enhancing defense capabilities will end up as pie in the sky. The prime minister must first try to persuade his party members to consolidate opinions on the issue.

Kishida said the most important policy item was “children and child-rearing.” “I want to realize measures on an unprecedented scale to deal with the declining birth rate,” he stressed.

The number of births last year is expected to fall below 800,000 for the first time. If the birth rate continues to decrease, national strength will decline, and the sustainability of the social security system will be in jeopardy.

The ruling parties are considering expanding child allowances and promoting work-style reforms. Both of these measures are extensions of existing policies. Effective measures to encourage marriage and childbirth must be considered.

One of the factors behind the declining birth rate is the sluggish economy. The prime minister stated, “I will push for sustainable wage increases.”

Higher prices of goods are hitting household finances hard, and further price hikes for food and other items are scheduled from February.

Kishida has repeatedly called on the business community to raise wages, but this alone will not be enough. The government needs to do its utmost to encourage wage increases through tax and other measures.

The current Diet session is also a test of its standing as the highest organ of state power.

The Reiwa Shinsengumi party announced a plan to fill an upper house seat that was vacated when one of its members resigned, with five years remaining in his term, by having other party members serve in rotation for one year at a time. An NHK Party upper house member has continually been absent from the Diet and remains overseas. Such situations undermine the authority of the Diet. Do the ruling and opposition parties intend to let these matters continue unchecked?

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 24, 2023)