I recently enjoyed a visit from Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, giving me the opportunity to speak with him. The prime minister has famously described himself as a loach, setting an image for himself that is in sharp contrast with that of former prime ministers Hatoyama Yukio and Kan Naoto. Noda seems keen to get off to a good start with a modest and cautious approach to dealing with the twisted Diet. During the course of our conversation, I told him that I supported this approach and said that his administration could have staying power if Noda handles government effectively. I’m worried that Japanese politics is at risk of
losing the trust of the international community given its series of short-lived administrations. Government after government has postponed the handling of challenges, leaving only anxiety with no light at the end of the tunnel.
I felt that former prime ministers Hatoyama and Kan had been influenced by the student movements of the 1960s and had adopted liberal thinking. They had only philosophies and ideals, and failed to face reality. As a consequence, they failed to deal with the issue of the military base in Okinawa and did harm to Japan-U.S. relations. One of the tasks Noda faces is to repair and strengthen relations with the United States as soon as possible. Americans attach great value to patriotism and loyalty. I understand that Noda’s father was a defense officer. I hope that the prime minister is proud of his father’s role in ensuring the security of Japan and that he will talk to the Americans with confidence.
When negotiating, Noda focuses on listening attentively. He apparently made a fairly good impression on U.S. President Barack Obama. My experience tells me that trust between leaders leads to trust between nations. The essence of diplomacy is building respectful relationships with leaders around the world.
Noda chose South Korea for his first official trip overseas as prime minister. But it is questionable whether he had any clear purpose. I have heard that he followed my example. I paid an official visit to South Korea immediately after I became prime minister, based on a strategy I had. At the time, negotiations on economic cooperation between Japan and South Korea were at an impasse, and the United States was concerned about the situation in the Far East. The purpose of my visit to Seoul was to improve relations and to visit the United States with the improvement as a gift, which I could use to strengthen Japan-U.S. ties. I made my trip showing respect for South Korea’s culture and pride as a people. I studied the Korean language and learned Korean songs and demonstrated the results at a banquet. I believe that I made Japan’s emphasis on Asia clear as a result of careful preparation and meticulous consideration and contributed to the opening of a new chapter in Japan-South Korea relations and the strengthening of the Japan-U.S. alliance. The point is that a leader needs to have the resolve and courage to take steps based on his thinking, instead of leaving diplomacy to the bureaucrats. The leader has to be prepared to shape the future of the country.
I would have to say that the Democratic Party of Japan is immature when it comes to steering the nation. The leader should make preparations, balance the interests of the stakeholders, and bring the issue to the surface. The Democratic Party of Japan has many eloquent politicians but cannot reach a consensus. They have to remember that the stability of the Liberal Democratic Party was supported by behind-the-scenes maneuvering, including prior attention and consideration. Meanwhile, the leader of a country must communicate with the people. I look for Noda to be prepared to stay constantly on the battlefield, advocate his policies with a sense of tension, seek a means to translate those policies into reality, and have the determination to push them through.
Following the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear accident, Japan is facing its greatest national crisis since World War II. Noda’s mission is to pave the way to resolve urgent issues, including restoration of a normal state after the nuclear accident and earthquake reconstruction. At the same time, though, he needs to address medium- to long-term challenges, which I describe below. Looking back on Japan’s modern times, Japan was transformed within fifteen years between the arrival of the black ships in 1853 and the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Facing national crisis, the Noda administration needs to be determined to transform Japan from a long-term perspective. To cheer on the new administration, I want to recommend certain national strategies, considering the situations both at home and abroad.
The structure of the international community is changing. We could say that we are entering a multipolar age. The world is undergoing a Copernican change from a Western-oriented world order to one dominated by Asia. The G7 system that supported the world has weakened, while a new framework, the G20 has emerged. However, none of the leading emerging countries has grown to take on a dominant role in this new international order. Japan has built good relations with most of the major emerging countries, including India and Brazil, and can play a significant role going forward. Over the past 150 years, Japan has changed from an emerging to an advanced country and is familiar with the perspectives of both positions. It can therefore be a consensus builder, helping to create order in the international community. Among the major emerging countries, China in particular can have a great influence on the world. Japan should do its best to help China develop as a responsible great power that is in harmony with the international community.
New world leaders will be elected in 2012. Key leaders may be replaced in countries and regions very important to Japan: Taiwan, Russia, France, China, the United States, and South Korea. The survival of Japan depends on whether the government will develop and execute long-term national strategies based on clear-headed information analysis, considering Japan’s future role in the world. Japan needs to have a stable, long-term government to carefully consider medium- to long-term changes in international circumstances and secure a firm position in the world.
What kind of nation should Japan be in this new world? What action should Japan take?
The greatest change after the end of the Cold War is that military strength and ideological confrontation have ceased to be the biggest factors in diplomacy or the biggest source of influence. The key tool for negotiations now is the ability to make rules. This also applies to negotiations on the much-discussed Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP). International relations in the world today are a strategic game in which each country chooses its friends and foes for individual issues and strives to build international systems and frameworks that will be in its favor, even if only slightly, by combining all relevant factors, including its economic strength, resources, and media strategies.
In this game each country needs to define its most important national interest and take strategic action. Politicians should set out their vision for Japan and should make responsible decisions on what compromises can be made. If they show a new vision, that will involve domestic changes. It will be difficult for all sectors and all people to gain the same advantages at the same time as a result of the changes. Political decisions to break away from approval of the status quo and false egalitarianism will be needed.
It is important for Japan to secure its influence in negotiations where countries argue for their national interests. Influence stems not only from economic power and military strength. Another important factor is how seriously a country addresses the challenges of the entire international community and the extent to which it makes an effort and uses its ingenuity. For this reason, the government should not overlook contributions in addressing global challenges, including peacekeeping operations, poverty, infectious disease, nuclear safety, and the environment, and in developing science and technology.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake, Japan received compassionate support from over 160 countries, including developing countries. I believe this is because of Japan’s past international contributions. If Japan continues to address global issues seriously and earn trust and respect from other countries, that will greatly help Japan not only retain its pride but also strengthen its bargaining power and stabilize and promote its relations with other countries and regions.
Large interstate conflicts are not likely in the twenty-first century. However, situations that can be called legacies of the Cold War linger in Asia. There are unpredictable situations, including China’s arms buildup and maritime expansion and the unstable situation on the Korean Peninsula. Japan needs to establish a basic policy to respond to changes in the international situation surrounding it.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, as shown in Operation Tomodachi, collaborative work based on the Japan-U.S. alliance worked very well in the early stages of the response. Considering the unstable situation in the East China Sea, Japan needs to resolve issues relating to the realignment of U.S. forces in Okinawa and strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance. Cooperation with countries concerned about China’s advance into the South China Sea is very important for the stability of East Asia.
In Japan’s defense policy, there is a move towards the first positive step since my own administration in a review of the three principles of arms exports. However, in addition to that, Japan has to improve the quality of the Self-Defense Forces, namely the capabilities of its technology and equipment, and increase the level of the Japan-U.S. alliance. Specifically, Japan needs to authorize the use of the right to collective self-defense. It also needs to review the criteria for dispatching SDF troops overseas and relax the standards on the use of arms in peacekeeping operations to make greater contributions to international peace and stability.
Japan acted strategically during the Meiji period in the tense international situation in the era of imperialism. After World War II, Japan took less strategic action partly due to the aftereffects of the defeat. In the twenty-first century, however, when a geopolitical transformation is occurring, a comprehensive national strategy based on accurate trend analysis needs to be developed, rather than emergency measures to overcome difficult phases. For accurate trend analysis, Japan should set up an intelligence agency to report directly to the prime minister, like one directly connected to a president or prime minister in other major countries. Japan should also create a Japanese version of the National Security Council, consisting of crisis management and security experts. The council would advise the government to help it make decisions in peacetime and would take the lead in dealing with national crises in emergency situations. These systems are essential for developing national strategies.
The most important thing in the medium to long terms is political stability. The Diet has been twisted since a House of Councilors election held in 2007, when Abe Shinzo was prime minister. The twisted Diet caused political paralysis under the Liberal Democratic Party government and the Democratic Party of Japan government. As a result, an unprecedented phenomenon occurred: Five successive prime ministers faltered and resigned around one year after taking office. The election of the prime minister has come to involve the dynamics of a party and a power struggle. The Diet has become a place for opposition parties to corner and depose the prime minister, instead of a forum for policy debate. The prime minister is very vulnerable. The media, which help create the vulnerability, is part of the problem.
At times of crisis and turmoil like this, the prime minister’s leadership is needed more than ever. Considering the responsibility of the prime minister, I believe that political stability is indispensable. A range of ideas must be generated to solve the problem of the twisted Diet, which has led to a political vacuum. The Institute for International Policy Studies, which I chair, is putting together a recommendation. I believe that improvements in Diet management, including a review of the Conference Committee of Both Houses system, are needed. In addition, the single-seat constituency system for the House of Representatives needs to be reviewed. It is also necessary to consider a fundamental review, or a transformation, of the parliamentary government system to ensure the superiority of the House of Representatives, which is the spirit of the system, taking a constitutional revision into consideration.
The global economic outlook is grim. Japan has already experienced a lost decade and may well end up experiencing two lost decades. In the circumstances, the declining population is sapping the nation’s vigor, and pessimism is everywhere. In this context, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011. We should regard the disaster as an opportunity for recovery, and should aim to revitalize Japan, while reconstructing the Tohoku region. We must use demand for reconstruction, especially infrastructure building, to create temporary jobs. In addition, we need to develop overall plans for the medium to long terms, namely, twenty years, thirty years, and fifty years, considering changes in public values following the earthquake, the world’s population, which has exceeded 7 billion, and globalization.
Power shortages following the earthquake have raised public awareness of natural energy and the environment sharply. The government’s Energy and Environment Council recently announced measures to be taken for the time being in relation to electric power supply and demand. Apart from that, I believe that the government should set targets for the development of natural energy and should create a roadmap, medium- to long-term strategies, and use bold engagement to achieve the targets. The government needs to focus resources on the development of natural energy, form new environmental and energy industries, and seek to create businesses and jobs.
We should consider the process of breaking with nuclear power generation. I understand that after this massive accident there are negative and pessimistic views about nuclear power stations. However, natural energy can meet only 9% of demand. Leaving out hydropower generation, that figure is just 1%. Given this, we have to use nuclear power, while making it safe, reliable, and free of unexpected problems, until future energy is developed. Continuously cultivating engineers to help develop natural energy sources is therefore of vital importance.
As a trading nation, Japan must enhance its international competitiveness. As the population is declining, it will be difficult for Japan to grow if it depends solely on domestic demand. Japan needs to change its mindset and seek markets abroad, considering external demand to be internal demand. The Institute for International Policy Studies has already presented its recommendation on the TPP. We welcome the prime minister’s announcement of his intention to participate in negotiations. The prime minister should take steps to dispel domestic concerns and should set up a unit to coordinate negotiations within the government. He should also provide information appropriately. Noda should consider rebuilding the economy through exports to growing countries and regions. In addition to exporting automobiles, electric appliances, infrastructure equipment, and technologies, Japan, with its advanced technologies, will be able to address pollution, environmental, and energy problems that those countries and regions face in the course of development. Japan will thereby be able to use its experience to enhance international cooperation and obtain sustainable demand.
To develop advanced technologies, Japan needs to restore vitality to its economy, primarily through deregulation, and enhance international competitiveness. To encourage entrepreneurship, the public and private sectors need to cooperate with each other to build systems to promote reductions in corporate tax, encourage mergers and demergers, and support venture businesses and new industries. These initiatives mean getting back to the basics and enhancing the competitiveness of Japan as an industry and science-oriented nation. To receive orders for infrastructure, especially transportation infrastructure and the construction of environmentally friendly cities, the government will need to give support based on a national policy.
A shift to a direct election system for prime minister is desirable. Under the system, the people would directly elect a prime minister and would authorize him or her to serve for a certain term of office. Both the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party have experienced a twisted Diet as a ruling party and know that it constrains the progress of the nation. I expect politicians to act sensibly and energetically. The problems that I described above are all related to the basis of the nation’s governing system. Ultimately, a constitutional revision cannot be avoided.
These initiatives must be linked to job creation initiatives associated with measures to address the declining birthrate and the aging population, the revitalization of agriculture, and the avoidance of the hollowing out of industry. The government needs to create an environment in which domestic companies can raise the value of domestic production and foreign companies can set up a presence in Japan easily through policies to enhance corporate competitiveness and create and develop new industry. By doing so, the government needs to secure and expand domestic employment, especially for young people. The government should focus on revitalizing young people and expanding employment for them to restore the vitality of the economy through every possible measure, including education, which I describe below. It should keep in mind that vitality and ambitious policy will help change the status quo and ensure that the revitalization of Japan remains a dynamic process.
Japan is an aging society with a birthrate that has fallen faster than in any other advanced country. The government needs to create new demand and develop new technologies to turn this challenge into business opportunities, while devising measures to counter the falling birthrate, including support for families raising children and the improvement of the working environment for women.
Meanwhile, the government should revitalize agriculture as a strategic industry, considering food security, nature conservation, and national land preservation. Bearing in mind that agriculture is the base of the nation, the government needs to take steps to secure a range of farm producers, encouraging talented people to start to engage in agriculture and helping businesses to enter the industry. It needs also to take every step to improve productivity using technology. The traditional vertically divided administration cannot solve the problems that face agriculture. The government needs to employ all policy measures. Politicians should take the lead in coordinating the policies. They must push through associated measures.
Let me touch on consistency with fiscal soundness based on the lessons of sovereign risks in Europe. The reconstruction of the Tohoku region is a challenge that we all need to work to overcome. However, the government has to take care not to erode fiscal discipline. In that context, the government must achieve fiscal soundness through tax and social security reform and other measures. Although tax is a difficult issue for politicians to deal with, leaders must persuade the people based on their beliefs and visions. It is a key task of politicians to present a clear vision of the future of the nation and to offer possibility and diversity in ways of life based on that vision.
Globalization is the dominant trend in the twenty-first century. Japan cannot avoid it. Based on this recognition, Japan should return to the basics of education, namely the cultivation of confidence and pride, and rebuild it from the ground up. Basically, the government should focus on cultivating people who can succeed on the world stage.
Education is a far-sighted national policy. After World War II, the occupation forces rejected Japan’s history, tradition, and culture completely, and education in Japan shifted to a system that emphasized individuals. The Ad Hoc Council on Education in my cabinet worked on the most significant education reform since the end of the war, but many of its recommendations were not realized. Lack of education policy thereafter caused children’s academic achievements, physical strength, and social nature to decline. This critical situation is worsening.
The basis of elementary education is to foster views of the state and a sense of nationhood that will cultivate, most of all, confidence and pride. Children should understand the basics of Japan’s history, tradition, and culture. In addition, they should read biographies of Japanese people and have images of the kind of Japanese people they want to become during this compulsory education stage.
It is essential for children to recite Japanese classics from early childhood and acquire proper Japanese. To this end, the number of school hours spent reading and writing should increase. There should be a system to encourage students to participate in social service activities (in the fields of agriculture, forestry, and fishing, nursing care, and welfare) and to gain experience abroad, for example, by participating in assistance activities before coming of age to see how they can contribute to their community through participation in everyday activities. Participation in these activities should be evaluated when students graduate from high school and go to university. By increasing opportunities to see Japan from a comparative perspective through cross-cultural exchange and encounters, the government should raise students’ awareness of being Japanese.
In advanced education, it is necessary, first of all, to enhance the competitiveness of universities to cultivate people who can succeed on the world stage. The government should tighten rules for certifying graduation and credits, changing the system so that students will study energetically. It is necessary to increase the number of entrance examination subjects, but universities should be given more authority for the timing of examinations and methods of selection. As I described earlier, a system should be introduced to enable students to take a gap year before or after going to university, instead of the unilinear system where students go to university immediately after graduating from high school. A system encouraging students to have a stronger awareness of problems will probably produce a greater variety of people.
With regard to curricula, liberal arts education for freshmen and sophomores should be brought back and bolstered. Meanwhile, postgraduate education should conform to global standards in terms of education systems and diploma recognition. At universities, more lectures should be in English so that students can acquire the skills to discuss and give presentations in that language. In addition, opportunities for cross-cultural experience should increase. For example, making it obligatory to study abroad before graduation should be considered. The government must rapidly implement bold education reform to produce young people who can be active in the global arena.
Lastly, I repeat that Japan is at a major crossroads. The country is overshadowed by a sense of stagnation caused by worsening diplomatic relations, a declining birthrate, and an aging population, the government’s huge accumulated debt, the earthquake, and the nuclear accident. Politics have not been able to make the public feel secure by convincing them that Japan has great potential and the strategies to overcome the stagnation and achieve that potential.
In this essay I have offered my views. Noda, who has the weighty responsibility of being prime minister, needs to clearly show his position, based on his understanding of history and philosophy and his policies from a systematic, long-term perspective. He then needs to seek the opinions of others. Judging from his articles and speeches, Noda appears to be going about this seriously. He has expressed his determination not to fall back on superficial solutions. I applaud the integrity of his attitude.
However, his success will depend on whether he can demonstrate the same integrity in terms of his responsibility. I look for Noda to use all of his skills to create opportunities to explain his vision for Japan and his strategies to the Japanese people in more detail.
Translated from “Nihon ni sekai ga manabu jidai: Noda sori yo, jozai senjo no kakugo wo tsuranuke. — mizukara no kokka-zo to senryaku wo kataru-toki wo, kokumin wa kubi wo nagakushite matteiru (Time for Japan to Show the World How to Overcome Challenges: Prime Minister Noda, be prepared to always stay on the battlefield. — The Japanese people are eagerly waiting for you to describe your vision for Japan and your strategies for achieving that vision.),” Voice, January 2012, pp. 90-99. (Courtesy of PHP Kenkyusho)