Interparty efforts needed for fiscal reconstruction
Prime Minister Naoto Kan can be praised for displaying a realistic, down-to-earth approach in his first policy speech to the Diet--unlike his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, whose words were filled with philosophical ideas that ended up going nowhere.
However, Kan's address was short on concrete policy measures, and we have to say it was not enough.
In Friday's speech, Kan said his most important duty was to overcome the setbacks Hatoyama suffered and regain the public's trust.
He listed three key items for the new Cabinet's policy agenda: "an exhaustive cleanup of the postwar government," "reviving the economy, rebuilding public finances and turning the social security system around in an integrated manner," and "a foreign and security policy grounded in a sense of responsibility."
"An exhaustive cleanup"--referring to the administrative style of the postwar era--is a slogan initially coined by Hatoyama and used by Kan to express his intention to continue with such ongoing efforts as budget screening, elimination of wasteful spending and decentralization of power to local governments.
It is not clear, however, exactly what the new administration will do to tackle these issues, or how it will do it.
Seeking a 'third way'
Kan has spoken many times recently of reconstructing the economy, public finances and social security system in an integrated manner. It hardly needs to be said that it is vital to put this nation's economy on a stable recovery track and set a course for fiscal reconstruction.
Kan said he would pursue a "third way" to do so, rather than the "first way" in which the government pours funds into public works projects or the "second way" represented by the drive for structural reforms under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
The so-called third way aims to create new demand and employment by channeling government funds raised through tax increases to social security and other areas, thereby achieving growth.
It will never be easy, however, to realize a strong economy--one that registers nominal annual growth of more than 3 percent--just through such an approach.
Kan's policy address apparently was drawn up hastily. Nevertheless, a speech that does not establish measures to be given priority in different growth areas and map out how to reflect those measures in budgeting and policy implementation cannot be convincing.
Parties should join panel
Kan's proposal to create a suprapartisan panel to discuss how to restore the nation's fiscal health, with an eye to carrying out drastic reform of the tax system, was appropriate.
Raising the consumption tax rate is essential for this country to escape from its chronic budget deficits and secure revenue sources for social security. To tackle such important policy issues, the ruling and opposition parties should have a common understanding and build consensus. The Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition parties should not hesitate to join such an initiative.
In the foreign and security policy arena, Kan called for "pragmatism" and said the Japan-U.S. alliance was the cornerstone of this country's diplomacy. He said he plans to visit Okinawa Prefecture on June 23 and is resolved to make progress on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in the prefecture.
Kan apparently learned from his predecessor's negative example, as Hatoyama sought to put Japan-U.S. relations on "an equal footing" and triggered unnecessary friction and confusion.
But Kan failed to give details about what he would do to deepen the Japan-U.S. alliance and improve relations with China and South Korea.
A summit meeting of Group of Eight major nations is scheduled to be held later this month in Canada. The prime minister must quickly flesh out the specifics of his policy outlines.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2010)