Kishida confident in moving boldly against the coronavirus

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Kishida steps forward to make his policy speech at the House of Representatives plenary session on Monday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida showed in his policy speech Monday his commitment to containing the spread of novel coronavirus infections and stressed his achievements in the first two months of his term, including his proactive moves to strengthen border control measures.

Yet he still faces a test of his ability to realize his policy of “a virtuous cycle of growth and distribution” through the government’s economic stimulus package, which has been criticized by some for pork-barrel spending.

“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” Kishida said in his policy speech, quoting U.S. President John F. Kennedy to ask for understanding regarding strict measures the government has taken while the infection situation is in a lull.

Learning lessons from previous cabinets led by former prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, which fell behind in coping with the pandemic, the Kishida Cabinet has made clear its stance of going on the offensive. In the wake of the outbreak of the new omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, the government decided quickly to stop the entry of nonresident foreigners from all over the world even before any domestic infection had been confirmed.

Although there was an overeager request by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry that airlines stop accepting new bookings on international flights to Japan — abruptly retracted after three days — 89% of the public supported the government’s border control measures against the variant, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun opinion poll, which may have buoyed Kishida ahead of his policy speech.

Kishida said in the speech he was ready to take on all criticism.

“I have a mandate from the people to do my job with such commitment,” he said, referring to his victory in October’s House of Representatives election.

Prioritizing economy

During Diet deliberations on what is set to be the largest supplementary budget in history, Kishida is expected to emphasize the need for bold fiscal stimulus measures amid the pandemic.

In his speech, he gave a list of support measures, such as providing benefits to children aged 18 and younger as well as to small and medium-size businesses.

“I’m strongly determined to support the lives of people in need amid the COVID-19 pandemic and protect business continuity and employment,” Kishida said.

The outstanding amount of national bonds is expected to exceed ¥1 quadrillion at the end of fiscal 2021 ending in March. Kishida has usually been inclined to put emphasis on financial discipline, but at this time, he showed his policy of postponing addressing fiscal health by saying, “We will rebuild the economy before working toward fiscal soundness.”

Putting priority on reviving the economy is partly due to growing calls for stimulus measures within his Liberal Democratic Party ahead of the House of Councillors election next summer.

However, there are contrasting views. “Debt continues to swell, which shouldn’t be put off indefinitely,” a former cabinet minister said.