Being in Opposition Alone Does Not Deepen Diet Debates

If the largest opposition party simply opposes the government’s policies, it will not deepen Diet debates. It should present realistic counterproposals and take on policy debates.

Question time with representatives from the ruling and opposition parties responding to the recent policy speech by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has started at the plenary session of the House of Representatives.

Kenta Izumi, the leader of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, criticized the government’s plan for future tax hikes to increase defense spending, saying: “The government should choose measures through expenditure reforms. It’s wrong to resort to tax hikes.” He pressed for dissolving the lower house if tax hikes are to be implemented.

Kishida, who is also the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, stated, “Financial resources are essential to stably support the drastic reinforcement of defense capabilities.”

The government intends to increase total defense spending for the five years from fiscal 2023 to ¥43 trillion, more than 1½ times the current five-year plan. Financial resources will be raised through such measures as expenditure reforms and surplus funds in relation to account settlement. If funds are insufficient even with these measures, any shortfall will be covered by tax increases, according to the government.

It is reasonable to increase defense spending in light of the worsening security environment around Japan. Defense spending is a permanent expense, and the prime minister’s stance of ensuring financial resources for that purpose is noteworthy.

If Izumi opposes raising taxes, what specifically does he think should be done about the scale of defense spending and the equipment systems necessary to protect Japan’s security?

The pillar of strengthening the nation’s defense capabilities is the possession of counterattack capabilities. Regarding the government’s view that a counterattack is possible at the point of the opponent initiating an attack, Izumi stated, “This would inevitably become a preemptive strike in violation of international law, so we take the opposite standpoint.”

The government has taken the position that it is possible for Japan to use force when steps are taken to begin an armed attack, such as when fuel is injected into missiles. The use of counterattack capabilities is also based on this conventional position.

Excessive restraints on the requirements for counterattack capabilities would reduce the deterrent effect. If Izumi opposes because the possession of counterattack capabilities could lead to a preemptive strike, he should present his view on how to deal with armed attacks from another country.

Nuclear energy policy will also be a major point of contention in the current Diet session. The government intends to extend the operating periods of nuclear reactors and promote their replacement with next-generation nuclear reactors.

Izumi called for the expansion of power generation with renewable energy, saying, “It is possible to realize a society that does not depend on nuclear power.”

While the use of renewable energy is important, this alone is insufficient to immediately meet the entire nation’s electricity demand. How does the CDPJ intend to overcome such a challenge?

It is difficult to say that public understanding of the tax hikes and the use of nuclear power is widespread. The opposition camp should stop the stereotypical opposition, while the government should stop giving formulaic answers. It is hoped both sides will present effective ways to resolve challenges and discuss them constructively.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 26, 2023)