Upper House Budget Committee: Take This Opportunity to Deepen Policy Debates

If the House of Councillors simply repeats the same deliberations as the House of Representatives, it may leave behind the need to address domestic and foreign issues. The upper house should make every effort to engage in policy debates to live up to its name as the “chamber of wisdom.”

The upper house Budget Committee has begun basic questioning regarding the fiscal 2024 budget proposal with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and all of the Cabinet ministers in attendance.

Regarding the export of next-generation fighter jets to be jointly developed by Japan, the United Kingdom and Italy, the prime minister said, “Exports to third countries are important for creating a favorable security environment for Japan.”

The current Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology and their implementation guidelines do not permit the export to third countries of finished defense products jointly developed with other countries, and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito are currently discussing a review of the principles and the guidelines.

During a committee session, Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) questioned whether Japan had already promised the United Kingdom to review the three principles. Tsujimoto cited as grounds for her question that the British defense secretary told the House of Commons last year that Japan needs to change the three principles in order for the joint development to succeed.

The prime minister denied any prior commitment, saying that the U.K. secretary was expressing the expectations of the U.K. side.

Both the United Kingdom and Italy have a policy of actively exporting the developed fighters to third countries. If only Japan bans itself from doing so, it would end up that Japan merely provides technology to the project. Japan would be seen by the international community as a country with many restrictions, which would possibly hinder various forms of security cooperation.

The prime minister should take this opportunity to clearly explain the necessity of exports to third countries and make efforts to gain public understanding.

Discussions on measures to address the low birth rate should also deepened.

The prime minister emphasized that even if support funds for measures against the declining birth rate are collected on top of health insurance premiums, “The burden will not increase on average per capita due to spending reforms and increased incomes.”

However, if expenditure reforms are implemented, social security services such as medical care and nursing care may decline. In addition, it is difficult to foresee to what extent wages will be raised and incomes will be improved at small and midsize companies, although it may be possible for large enterprises.

While the burden of support funds is certain, the increase in income is hypothetical. The prime minister’s attitude of explaining the two matters as if they have the same weight may give the impression of a lack of honesty.

The government explains that the average monthly cost of support funds is “less than ¥500” per person but, in reality, depending on the insurance coverage a person has, some people may have to pay more than ¥1,000 per month.

The prime minister has said that he will present the detailed amount of the burden before the start of deliberations on related bills. It is important to explain the importance of measures to deal with the low birth rate and appropriately ask for sharing of the financial burden.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 5, 2024)