外交・安保 民主党は「給油」の代案を示せ

2009-07-31 10:09:09 | 英字新聞
The Yomiuri Shimbun(Jul. 31, 2009)
DPJ's troubling stand on refueling mission
外交・安保 民主党は「給油」の代案を示せ(7月31日付・読売社説)

How should the nation deal with the threats posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles as well as acts of international terrorism? How can Japan's national interests be protected while this nation works in tandem with international society?

We hope political parties will hold animated discussions on what course Japan's diplomatic and security policies should take, during their campaigns for the upcoming House of Representatives election.

At the moment, the topic on many observers' lips is the Self-Defense Forces' refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.

In a recent moderation of its foreign and security policy, the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan announced a plan to continue, for the time being, the refueling mission, which the party once decried as violating the Constitution.

However, DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama said Wednesday his party would not extend the mission once the new Antiterrorism Law expires in January. We find the party's fickle response to this important mission hard to fathom.

Why did the DPJ decide to continue the operation for the time being if it believes it violates the Constitution? If the party withdraws the Maritime Self-Defense Force from the Indian Ocean, just what does it plan to contribute to the international fight against terrorism? Does it plan to do nothing at all?

The DPJ has a responsibility to provide clear answers to these questions.


Afghanistan proposal weak

In 2007, the party submitted to the Diet a counterproposal to the ruling bloc's antiterrorism bill. The DPJ's alternative plan called for providing humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan after a formal ceasefire has been reached in the war-torn country. The grim reality, however, is that there is absolutely no prospect of such an accord being signed. The upshot is that the DPJ proposal practically means that Japan would sit on its hands and offer nothing to the international fight against terrorism.

Given that, the proposal is unlikely to be warmly supported in foreign capitals.

The DPJ proposed in its manifesto that Japan will share roles with the United States and proactively fulfill its responsibilities to build an "equal Japan-U.S. relationship."

The expression "equal relationship" suggests the DPJ intends to back away from the path trodden by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, which it claims have been content to follow the lead of the United States.

The DPJ manifesto says the party plans to propose to the United States that the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement be revised and the realignment of U.S. forces stationed in Japan be reviewed.

But if the DPJ is serious about bringing these pledges to fruition, it must explain what international responsibilities it plans to fulfill. Failure to do so will sink any hopes the party has of building an "equal relationship" with the United States.


Adapting to the real world

On the other hand, the party offered forward-looking pledges on the antipiracy mission off Somalia and cargo inspections that form part of the international sanctions imposed on North Korea. These steps indicate the DPJ is open to taking a more realistic approach to foreign and security policy matters.

But we have some niggling doubts, not least the party's plan to form a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party, which opposes the dispatch of SDF personnel on overseas missions. Will the DPJ be able to continue the MSDF antipiracy mission despite the SDP's objections?

The right to collective self-defense is another key issue. The LDP plans to incorporate this subject in its election pledges. We welcome this move.

The LDP's election pledge will be based on a proposal by a panel of experts led by former Ambassador to the United States Shunji Yanai. The pledge is expected to state that the government will review its interpretation of the right to collective self-defense, which, according to the government, the nation possesses but is prohibited from exercising under the Constitution.

The threats posed by North Korea amplify the need to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance. Exercising the nation's right to collective self-defense will be an important step to achieving this goal.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 31, 2009)
(2009年7月31日01時21分 読売新聞)

米中戦略対話 どう進む新しい時代の「G2」

2009-07-30 11:28:15 | 英字新聞
The Yomiuri Shimbun(Jul. 30, 2009)
U.S.-China dialogue exposes responsibilities
米中戦略対話 どう進む新しい時代の「G2」(7月30日付・読売社説)

The first round of the ministerial-level U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue ended in Washington on Tuesday with the issuing of a joint statement.

The dialogue was a revamp of the talks between the financial chiefs of the two nations that were initiated by the former administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama's administration has regularized and broadened these discussions to include diplomatic and security dimensions.

Obama said in his opening speech Monday, "The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century." There is weighty meaning behind these words.

With the United States and China now being called the "G-2," Obama's remark expresses the determination of the two countries to play an important role for peace and stability in the international community, in addition to the world economy.

By placing priority on China, which is getting economically stronger, the United States aims to have China share responsibility within the international community.

Meanwhile, China seems to be exercising influence on the United States by trumpeting the fact that it has become the largest holder of U.S. Treasury securities.


Doing business together

It is true that many tasks cannot be solved unless the United States and China--which are strengthening their economic interdependence--act together. However, there is still much diplomatic and military friction between the two. It will be worth watching how the future U.S.-China relationship will unfold against the backdrop of both cooperation and tension.

The joint statement said, at first in the economic field, that corrections should be made to the trade imbalance, which sees U.S. deficits against China continuing to balloon, and that cooperation should be aimed at achieving steady growth.

In light of the issues besetting the two countries, it is not surprising that among key tasks for future scrutiny are the United States' overconsumption and China's domestic-demand expansion policies that are being spurred by its own increased consumption.

Also included was the issue of U.S. budget deficit reduction, as China would like to see a restoration of fiscal soundness and a stable U.S. dollar. If the United States reduces its budget deficit, this will help the world economy, including Japan, as it attempts to overcome the financial crisis.


Other issues on table

Regarding global warming, the two nations--the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases--agreed to create a framework of dialogue. It is impossible to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gases unless these two nations work to tackle the issue.

Regarding the suspended six-party talks on North Korea's denuclearization, the two nations affirmed that it is important to see a resumption of the talks and agreed to continue working toward denuclearization.

The United States and China emphasized the importance of implementing the U.N. sanctions resolution against North Korea, which aggressively conducted a nuclear test. The United States appeared to be urging the Chinese side to again implement sanctions on North Korea.

The two nations also discussed how to handle antiterrorism measures and strengthen cooperation toward nuclear disarmament.

Although the issue of human rights was taken up, the statement failed to refer to China's ethnic minority issue, including the bloody violence in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, or issues surrounding Taiwan.

Such issues as the financial crisis, global warming and North Korea are important tasks directly linked to Japan's national interests. In addition to cooperating closely with the United States, Japan also needs to continuously call on China to play a responsible role.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 30, 2009)
(2009年7月30日01時16分 読売新聞)

財政再建 先進国最悪の赤字をどうする

2009-07-29 08:24:02 | 英字新聞
The Yomiuri Shimbun(Jul. 29, 2009)
Parties must show how to deal with deficit
財政再建 先進国最悪の赤字をどうする(7月29日付・読売社説)

How can Japan, which has the largest deficit among developed countries, rebuild its finances? This is a vital issue to be contested during the House of Representatives election campaign and a theme neither the ruling nor the opposition parties can avoid.

The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito is already armed with a passable proposed solution. The proposal comprises two fiscal reconstruction goals that were incorporated in the fiscal policy guidelines for 2009 approved by the government in June.

The first goal is for the central and local governments to achieve a surplus in their primary balances by fiscal 2019, which indicates a degree of fiscal soundness. The second is to lower the ratio of outstanding debts owed by central and local governments to the gross domestic product by the early 2020s.

In the past, the government had planned to achieve a surplus in the primary balance by fiscal 2011, but decided to postpone the target year substantially after the initial plan became impossible due to the recent economic downturn.


Govt sticks to goals

However, the government still deserves praise for not abandoning its goal of fiscal reconstruction. The central and local governments' combined outstanding debts are estimated to exceed 800 trillion yen by the end of fiscal 2009. They have already reached 170 percent of GDP. If the debts are left unattended, the nation is likely to face fiscal catastrophe.

One measure to help achieve the two goals is to raise the consumption tax rate. The fiscal policy guidelines informally propose an option of increasing the consumption tax rate by 1 percentage point a year starting from fiscal 2011 until it has been raised by 7 points to 12 percent.

The consumption tax is significant also as a stable resource to finance social security expenses that are ballooning as the nation's population is aging and the declining birthrate indicates the funding from pension contributions will drop. It is reasonable to start preparations now so that the consumption tax rate can be raised as soon as the economy stabilizes.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan has not discussed fiscal reconstruction in concrete terms in its manifesto for the lower house election. On the contrary, the opposition party has listed in it a set of policy measures that would require large expenditures.


Expensive promises

They include a child allowance, free public high school education, income guarantees for farming families and elimination of highway tolls. These measures may look like they would lead to a reduction of the public financial burden, but they do not--taxpayers will eventually have to bear the costs.

The DPJ says that the party would be able to secure financial resources totaling nearly 17 trillion yen by trimming the fat in the budget and using the "buried treasure" that includes investment returns in the Fiscal Investment and Loan Program Special Account and the Foreign Exchange Fund Special Account, but we do not think it possible to find such a huge amount of money through such measures.

The DPJ said that it would not raise the consumption tax rate for the next four years if the party takes office. DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama once said that his party would not even discuss the issue, but he has lifted such a ban--apparently due to pressure from DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada.

If he really means it, as DPJ leader, Hatoyama has a responsibility to thoroughly discuss the possibility of a consumption tax hike during the election campaign and to show voters how his party would handle the consumption tax in the future.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 29, 2009)
(2009年7月29日01時19分 読売新聞)

民主党政権公約 現実路線化がまだ不十分だ

2009-07-28 08:01:15 | 英字新聞
The Yomiuri Shimbun(Jul. 28, 2009)
DPJ's newfound realism fails to convince
民主党政権公約 現実路線化がまだ不十分だ(7月28日付・読売社説)

The Democratic Party of Japan on Monday announced its manifesto for the Aug. 30 House of Representatives election. Though it is commendable that the DPJ has adopted a pragmatic stance in its domestic and foreign policies--obviously with an eye to taking over the reins of government--the policy platform it has unveiled is flawed.

As domestic pledges, the manifesto sets out an array of direct-benefit policies closely connected with people's daily lives, including a child allowance, free high school education and the abolition of the provisional higher gasoline tax rate.

But it is impossible to weigh the merits of a policy, no matter how attractive it is, unless its costs and concrete measures to fund it are discussed as part and parcel of the policy in question.

The manifesto presents a time line that has the DPJ implementing the policies in stages over the four years after it comes to power and calculates the total cost necessary to carry out these measures at 16.8 trillion yen annually.

To fund these policies, the DPJ says it would secure 9.1 trillion yen by cutting public works projects, personnel expenses and government subsidies; 5 trillion yen by using surplus funds in special accounts, dubbed "buried treasure"; and 2.7 trillion yen by reviewing special taxation measures such as the spousal tax deduction.


Manifesto sums don't add up

The latest DPJ manifesto is an improvement on the last one, which was prepared for the 2007 House of Councillors election, as the party has fixed the schedule for the implementation of its stated policies and describes in more detail how it will fund them. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether it is really possible to secure the massive sums required to carry out the DPJ's policies simply by streamlining the overall national budget, which currently stands at about 207 trillion yen, as the DPJ asserts.

For example, the manifesto says 1.1 trillion yen will be secured by curtailing about 20 percent of the 5.3 trillion yen in personnel expenses for central government employees. As one method to cut personnel expenses, the DPJ says it will transfer central government employees to local governments as part of decentralization.

But if central government employees are transferred to local governments, it is only logical that the central government transfers the financial resources to pay their salaries. The DPJ's envisaged method can never be considered cost-saving. After all, the party must achieve a net reduction of 20 percent in the number of central government employees and in their payrolls and allowances. Can the DPJ push this through in defiance of assumed resistance from the labor unions that support the party?

Furthermore, there is a great risk in making permanent use of the "buried treasure," currently totaling 4.3 trillion yen, which includes investment returns in the Fiscal Investment and Loan Program Special Account and the Foreign Exchange Fund Special Account. This is because the investment returns are affected by government bond rates and exchange rate fluctuations.


No mention of MSDF mission

As for foreign and national security policies, the manifesto makes no mention of the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, which the DPJ opposed. The party has in fact said it would allow the mission to continue for the time being. Also, the language in the latest manifesto is milder with regard to revising the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement and reviewing the cost of hosting U.S. bases in the country.

The DPJ is right to attach importance to the continuity of Japan's foreign policy and the Japan-U.S. relationship, but its policy shift is too abrupt.

Former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa insisted that the MSDF's refueling mission--an issue that throws the DPJ's policy about-face into relief--is "unconstitutional" and waged an all-out battle against the government and ruling parties over the matter, forcing the suspension of the mission for nearly four months. Given this, the DPJ's new stance on the matter can only be regarded as expedient.

The DPJ should fully explain to the public its position--whether it opposes the refueling mission or conditionally approves it. An equivocal attitude regarding such a fundamental foreign policy issue is unacceptable.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 28, 2009)
(2009年7月28日01時19分 読売新聞)

社会保障 与野党は「負担」を率直に説け

2009-07-27 06:44:09 | 英字新聞
The Yomiuri Shimbun(Jul. 27, 2009)
Frank talks over burdens needed to sustain welfare
社会保障 与野党は「負担」を率直に説け(7月27日付・読売社説)

The nation's social security system surely cannot be sustained if things remain as they are. Such a sense of crisis likely is shared by many voters.

The number of elderly people, who form the top layer of the demographic pyramid, is expected to grow rapidly, while the layer comprising the working generations that support elderly people will get steadily thinner due to the declining birthrate. Although social security spending continues to grow at a pace of 1 trillion yen per year, it appears that it will be difficult to secure the fiscal resources necessary to meet this cost. This is the situation we are facing.

Whichever party takes power after the upcoming House of Representatives election, the population "body" that is growing increasingly obese will cause the social security "outfit" to rip apart unless the system is fixed as soon as possible.


Parties must cooperate

Among a number of related issues to be tackled, a particularly urgent task is securing adequate medical services. As medicine is directly linked to people's lives and health, this issue has been a source of anxiety felt by people in connection with the nation's social security system as a whole.

To solve the problem of the shortage of doctors, both the ruling and opposition parties have proposed that the number of medical school students enrolled be increased. But increasing the number alone will not solve the problem.

The Yomiuri Shimbun last year put forward a comprehensive reform blueprint that includes a systematic allocation of doctors in a carefully planned manner. Using this proposal as a basis for discussion, we hope that parties will compete to hammer out their own medical reform plans--not mere lists of measures, but comprehensive programs.

The nation cannot afford any further delay in pension system reform, either. The government and ruling parties have proposed that the current systems be improved with an enhanced minimum safeguard function.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan also has offered a reform plan to allow, under a unified basic system, pensioners to receive benefits in proportion to their income levels during their working years, with minimum guarantee pension benefits added on.

The ruling and opposition parties differ on this issue, but it is still possible for them to search for common ground for discussions.

Rather than merely finding fault with each other's policies, both sides should try to find basic points of agreement on social security policy that they can build on in a suprapartisan manner.


Sales tax hike inevitable

For policies to be implemented, it is indispensable to have a revenue source. The ruling and opposition parties have mounted different arguments to try to persuade the public of the need to shoulder more burdens.

The DPJ has said it will not raise the consumption tax rate for four years while suggesting that revenues equivalent to those raised from the current 5 percent consumption tax, irrespective of any future increase in the rate, be used for pension system reform at some stage in the future. Regarding revenue sources for other welfare measures, the DPJ said it would manage to raise the necessary funds by cutting wasteful budget spending and other means.

The Liberal Democratic Party, meanwhile, indicated that it will consider raising the consumption tax rate in three years if the economy recovers. But this proposal has been deemphasized ahead of the general election.

If lawmakers avoid discussions on the consumption tax, which is the only stable source to finance the social security system, all policy pledges on this issue--no matter how appealing they may sound--likely will be end up being mere slogans.

The extent to which they can honestly and frankly explain to voters the need to assume increased burdens will be a barometer for judging which party or which candidate is responsible.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 27, 2009)
(2009年7月27日01時37分 読売新聞)