“The most difficult time in history since the Second World War.”
This was how Prime Minister Fumio Kishida described the times in his press conference on July 14, when he mapped out his government’s policies going forward.
Following the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) win in the Upper House elections on July 10, Kishida’s government has a lot on its plate:
- The continuing war in Ukraine,
- Rising cost of living,
- Weak yen, and
- The aftermath of the assassination of Shinzo Abe on July 8.
On July 14, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida mapped out his government’s policy going forward. We summarize some of the main points below.
Abe’s State Funeral
Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving prime minister of Japan, was fatally shot by an assassin on July 8. It was an event that shocked the nation and the world, and all eyes have been on how Japan was going to mark the statesman’s passing.
“Former Prime Minister Abe, [...] showed outstanding leadership skills over his eight years and eight months in office,” said Kishida, listing some of his achievements. Among them:
- The reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake,
- Economic revitalization,
- Development of diplomacy centered around US-Japan relations.
It was for this reason, Kishida said, that the government will hold a state funeral for Shinzo Abe in the autumn.
“It’s our resolve to show that our country doesn’t give in to violence, and with firm determination, we will defend democracy,” said Kishida.
Abe is the second postwar prime minister to receive a state funeral, after Shigeru Yoshida, who served as prime minister for several terms between 1946 and 1954 through the tumultuous postwar Occupation period when Japan was trying to rebuild democratic institutions. Yoshida passed away in 1967.
Addressing the current threat facing his country, Kishida noted that Japan had hit the level of over 100,000 new infections in a day nationwide for the first time on July 15, with 103,300 new infections reported in what experts are calling “the seventh wave” of COVID-19.
From July 7 to 14, there was almost a doubling of new cases week-on-week (from 47,965 to 97,784). Most cases appear to be traceable to the BA.5 Omicron variant.
Explaining that the level of serious infections was currently low, PM Kishida emphasized the two prongs of his approach: “The key is to maintain the highest level of alert while also restarting the economy.”
Highlighting the importance of protecting those most vulnerable, he pledged to facilitate the vaccination of all those eligible for the fourth dose between July and August.
“In order to protect those who are in the medical system, [...] we will also make the fourth shot available for all medical workers and those employed at facilities for the elderly,” said Kishida.
For those who want to get tested for COVID-19, Kishida pledged more testing: “On top of the already existing 13,000 free testing centers around the country, we will add another 100 COVID-19 testing locations.”
Kishida also encouraged the younger generation to make sure they get their booster shot. The Prime Minister's office data suggests that for those between 10 and 40 years old, the vaccination rate oscillates between 30 and 50 percent, depending on the locality.
On border measures, the prime minister refrained from giving any concrete indication of further tightening or relaxation of entry conditions, stating that the government will “respond to the needs of Japan and countries abroad.”
In the last week of June, due to unseasonably high temperatures, there was an energy crunch which saw the government asking the population to voluntarily curb energy use at times of peak draw on the energy supply to avoid blackouts, but at the same time to use air conditioning to avoid heat stroke.
Given the high level of public and industry concern for Japan’s currently inadequate energy resources, Kishida pledged to restart 10 thermal energy plants to deal with the summer demand for energy.
He continued by noting, however, “This winter, there is a possibility that we will again have a high demand for energy, and we must avoid an energy crunch at all costs.”
Kishida pledged to restart up to nine nuclear plants, capable of “covering 10% of Japan’s total energy consumption, in order to have leeway even in times of peak usage.”
Highlighting the needs of Japan as an “energy resource-poor country,” Kishida nevertheless repeated that “safety is first, in so far as nuclear energy is concerned, and that resolve hasn’t changed.”
Just like the rest of the world, Japan is seeing the cost of living rise sharply caused by the higher prices of raw materials due to the war in Ukraine. Kishida mapped a series of policies to soften the burden on consumers.
Using ￥1 trillion JPY from the funds normally dedicated to regional revitalization, Kishida described how the funds will be used for a variety of cash incentives, including support for struggling families, school meals, and support for companies in paying their energy bills.
Pointing to one concrete example of the government’s plans to step in and mitigate rising costs, Kishida said the government would cover 70% of the increase in the cost of fertilizer in a bid to help the agriculture sector.
A special task force dedicated to finding ways of mitigating the rising costs of living has been set up, said the prime minister, with a budget of ￥5.5 trillion JPY ($ 39.6 billion USD).
Kishida pointed to the government’s negotiations leading to the second highest average wage increase in the last 20 years.
However, stagnant wages are expected to be a recurring problem going forward. Upon a follow-up question, the PM also said that “It’s important to prepare a policy to increase minimum wages to at least 1,000 JPY per hour ( $7.22 USD).”
As previewed on many occasions before the elections, Kishida repeated his party’s resolve to carry on a debate in the National Diet as part of significantly increasing defense spending in the next five years.
“I plan to discuss the content, the budget, and the financial resources dedicated to defense within the year,” he said.
Giving hints of what some of the talking points will be, Kishida listed defense topics previously discussed in the LDP, including:
- The importance of securing munitions,
- Early implementation of advanced technologies with Artificial Intelligence, unmanned aircraft, quantum technology,
- Strengthening of military bases, and
- Securing counterattack capability.
Kishida however refrained from showing a clear commitment to achieving 2% of GDP spending on defense, saying “first of all, we need to ask ourselves what is concretely necessary for the lives of the people of Japan, and we need to make that a reality.”
Foreign Diplomacy Calendar
Kishida previewed some of the commitments on his diplomacy calendar in the coming months, to showcase what the prime minister calls “New Era Realism Diplomacy.”
On August 1, the prime minister will be attending the tenth Nuclear Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, starting on August 1 in New York, and the Eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 8) that Tunisia will host later in the year.
Looking ahead towards the G7 summit in Hiroshima in 2023, the government will begin discussions for organization of the event, said the prime minister.
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Author: Arielle Busetto