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Nineteen men and one woman Shinzo Abe
The new government of Japan has to solve difficult problems.
October 2 in Tokyo, the inauguration of the new government of Japan, formed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after his convincing victory in the election of the chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) 20 September. The victory allowed Abe to extend his tenure as party leader and, accordingly, in the chair of the head of the cabinet for a third three-year term - up to 2021, which is a record in the history of the country.
Valery Kistanov Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
Seven of the new ministers are veteran politicians who have won elections to the House of Representatives of the country's parliament seven or more times. This fact means that the Prime Minister tried to attract as many people as possible from the "waiting list" of potential cabinet members who previously could not join the government.
However, with respect to the "newcomers" there are concerns that the lack of administrative experience will not allow them to effectively fulfill their duties. Their ability to adequately answer sharp questions in parliament is also being questioned. In addition, for many of them stretches a train of unsuccessful political statements and scandalous acts. This makes them vulnerable targets for criticism from opposition forces.
One of these figures is Satsuki Katayama, a lady who holds the post of minister unparalleled in other countries, responsible for the social and economic revival of the backward regions of the country. She was criticized for her tweet on social networks, perceived as a lunge against a child from a poor family. Katayama was also forced to apologize for being late for parliamentary hearings when she headed the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Chamber of Counsel.
The new Minister for the Environment, Yoshiaki Harada, had previously resigned as Minister of Education because he falsified the history of his education. He also became famous for demanding a revision of the official position of the government regarding the "Nanking Massacre" - the mass and brutal murder of the Chinese civilian population, perpetrated by the Imperial Army of Japan during its aggression on the mainland.
Yoshitaka Sakurada became the minister responsible for organizing the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 year. He noted his odious statement that the so-called "women for comfort and reassurance" - Korean women and residents of other countries occupied by the Japanese, who were forced to provide sexual services to the Japanese military during the Second World War - did so, allegedly, in order "to earn ". In general, in their worldview, many of the new ministers are far-right politicians who support Prime Minister Abe.
In addition, during internal party shifts, Shinzo Abe appointed Akira Amari as the head of his election headquarters. This functionary resigned in 2016 year from the post of Minister of Economic Revival due to accusations of trading in influence, for which he received cash in his own office. Amari is a close friend of the Prime Minister. The new administration now has many politicians who belong to Abe’s inner circle. Japanese political scientists are trying to understand what the Prime Minister wants to achieve during the upcoming three-year term as chairman of the LDP and the Prime Minister with the ambiguous recruitment he made this time.
Preservation of Abe in the new government of several key figures from the former cabinet of ministers suggests that the main directions of the domestic and foreign policy of the country will remain the same. Such figures include the Deputy Prime Minister and co-chairman of the Minister of Finance Taro Aso, Secretary General of the Cabinet of Ministers Yoshihide Suga, Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono and others.
On the economic front, as is obvious, the course called the “Abenomika” will be continued. Its main goal is to end deflation, which has pressed the country's economy over the past decades and put it on the path of sustainable development. The main instruments of Abenomics are an aggressive policy of monetary easing and massive public spending. To implement it, the Abe government, in particular, plans to raise the consumption tax from the current 8% to 10% in October 2019. In the past, it has twice postponed this painful step for the population. During the campaign for elections to the House of Representatives in October 2017, the Prime Minister, among other measures, promised to spend around 2 trillion. yen from income earned by raising the consumption tax, to make schooling free. The prevailing opinion in the government is that the Prime Minister is unlikely to delay the tax increase for the third time. Finance Minister Taro Aso noted that the economy continues to grow and said that the conditions under which such an increase is possible exist.
The government intends to include large-scale economic incentives in the state budget for the 2019 fiscal year (begins on April 1) in order to prevent the negative impact of the tax increase on the economy. At the same time, concerns remain that, if a huge amount of taxpayers' money is spent on such measures, the government will have to postpone achieving its goal of improving the country's finances. The fact that Japan’s national debt currently accounts for about 250% of its GDP is evidence of problems in this area.
Overcoming deflation is also still a serious problem. The downward trend in consumer prices was able to stop. However, Japan could not reach the annual rate of inflation in 2%, set as a target by the Bank of Japan. The ultra cheap money policy of the Bank aimed at achieving this indicator has entered its sixth year. During the debate during the election campaign for the chairman of the ruling LDP in September, Prime Minister Abe stressed that he would like this abnormal monetary policy to end while he was in power.
In addition to these, there are other pressing issues for the Abe administration. The Prime Minister announced his intention to reform the social security system that covers all generations, since the future life expectancy of the Japanese people is expected to increase to 100 years. However, it is expected that the government will not announce an increase in the financial burden on society through measures such as increasing contributions to health insurance and patient care programs until the next election to the Chamber of Advisers to Parliament in 2019.
As a concrete measure to reform the social security system, Prime Minister Abe proposed that employers continue to hire workers up to 70 years of age instead of current 65 years. He also suggested allowing people to start receiving pensions from 70 years at will. The government intends to submit relevant bills during the regular session of parliament in 2020.
The Abe Administration intends to encourage healthy older people to work longer to reduce social welfare costs. However, such measures that would increase the costs of companies for personnel may meet with resistance from the business. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Security estimates that Japan’s social security spending will skyrocket from the current 68 trillion yen to about 190 trillion yen to the 2040 financial year. The government is also considering reducing mobile phone fees. Secretary General of the Cabinet of Ministers Yoshihide Suga noted in his speech in August of this year that tariffs in this area can be reduced by about 40%.
On the diplomatic front, the focus will be on Japan’s trade negotiations with the government of US President Donald Trump. Abe and Trump agreed in September to begin negotiations on a bilateral trade agreement, according to which Tokyo and Washington will mutually reduce tariffs on imports of agricultural and industrial goods. In addition, the Japanese government intends to participate in the negotiations to conclude an agreement on a Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership in East Asia between 16 countries, including Japan, China and ASEAN member countries. These negotiations are entering a crucial phase with the aim of reaching this agreement by the end of this year.
In the sphere of foreign policy, the Prime Minister also intends to resolve the issue of the abduction by North Korea of Japanese citizens in the 70-80-s of the last century to teach North Korean spies the Japanese language. The government wants to return home survivors of abducted compatriots and clarify the fate of the rest. Tokyo is closely connected with the issue of the “nuclear missile threat” by Pyongyang. Earlier, when the DPRK continued its development programs for nuclear weapons and missiles, Japan refused to engage in dialogue with this country and advocated putting all possible pressure on it.
However, since the United States and North Korea began direct communication at the highest level earlier this year, Prime Minister Abe has also shown a desire to have a dialogue with Pyongyang to solve the problem of abducted persons and normalize bilateral diplomatic relations. “We need to put an end to mutual distrust and meet face-to-face with Chairman Kim Jong-un from the Workers' Party of Korea,” the Prime Minister told reporters at the September 26 press conference.
An important task in the international arena for Abe is to improve relations with China, which have become aggravated due to the territorial dispute around the small group of uninhabited Senkaku islands (in Chinese, Diaoyudao) in the East China Sea. In addition, Tokyo opposes Beijing’s offensive maritime strategy in the South China Sea, for which the PRC pretends for most of its waters. Abe also plans to visit Beijing on an official visit in late October on the occasion of the 40 anniversary of the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China. Tokyo is also seeking a return visit by President Xi Jinping to Japan next year.
One of Shinzo Abe’s foreign policy priorities for the next three years of his rule will remain the resolution of the territorial problem in relations with Russia and the conclusion of a peace treaty with it. Russian President Vladimir Putin, unexpectedly for the Japanese side at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September, would have Tokyo and Moscow sign a peace treaty within a year without preliminary conditions. This offer met a very negative reaction in Japan. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Abe intends to continue to meet with Putin at various international venues in order to clarify the true intentions of the Russian leader. And in June, 2019, the official visit of the Russian president to Japan, timed to coincide with the G20 Summit (G 20) in Osaka, will probably take place. The Japanese hope that it is there that some progress in the territorial issue will be achieved. In any case, being at the head of the Japanese government, Shinzo Abe will try to do everything in his power so that in tandem with Putin in the next three years to cut the territorial Gordian knot in bilateral relations. Thus, the Prime Minister hopes to enter the history of Japan as a politician who has solved a foreign policy problem that has not been solved for more than 70 years.