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For success, Japan’s leader must be bolder

Fumio Kishida obtained the position of Prime Minister of JapanIn large part, because those who knew the ruling party saw it as a safe option. To have any chance of success, you will have to surprise them.

Kishida owes his position to senior members of the Liberal Democratic Party who elected him the party’s leader over a more popular rival. He is acting cautiously ahead of the parliamentary elections to be held later this month. He has been cautious with his economic plans and has offered more fiscal stimulus and vague promises to boost wages and redistribute income. This restraint may be what its supporters expect, but it is not what the country needs.

Kishida cannot meet the country’s challenges with handouts and half measures. Japan is at the center of new geopolitical tensions involving China, Taiwan and North Korea. Its population continues to age and shrink at an alarming rate. (The International Monetary Fund has estimated that demographic pressures could reduce GDP by more than 25% over the next 40 years.) Years of fiscal and monetary stimulus have yet to bring inflation to the 2% target for Bank of Japan. Limited structural reforms initiated under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have done little to improve Japan’s weak productivity.

Japanese voters seem to recognize all of this. They backed Abe, the longest-serving prime minister in postwar Japan, less because of specific political proposals than because of his ambition to revitalize the country. Even after some financial mistakes, Abe got credit for raising Japan’s profile. Kishida’s shyness means he is heading into the election with the lowest approval rating for a new Japanese leader since the 2008 financial crisis. He risks becoming another interim prime minister.

Abe’s tenure leaves many issues unfinished. In addition to raising wages, Kishida should push for fundamental labor reforms: narrowing the gap between regular and contract workers, making it easier for women to have satisfying careers and older employees to continue working, and expanding options for foreign workers to go. to Japan. In addition to digitizing an ossified bureaucracy, you should look for new ways to cut red tape and promote new businesses. And you need to accelerate efforts to improve corporate governance. Redistribution will be better if you stimulate faster growth first.

A part of Abe’s legacy is worth preserving and developing: Kishida must embrace Japan’s new posture of trust in his region and beyond. The Quadrilateral Safety Dialogue, also known as the Quad and which is comprised of Japan, the United States, India and Australia, has begun to prevail in areas ranging from vaccine production to infrastructure and supply chain security. Strong Japanese leadership will be required for these and other initiatives to be successful.

Kishida should enhance Japan’s missile capabilities and coordinate closely with the US to deter the Chinese invasion of Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands. It should insist that the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty maintain its high standards in the face of China’s attempt to unite. With its advantages in technology and green finance, a Japan led by Kishida can be a leader on climate change issues, not a laggard.

What you can actually achieve will depend on the performance of the Liberal Democratic Party in future parliamentary elections, but it is not too early to set priorities and announce your ambition. A strong Japan is important to the world, as a defender of open standards and liberal values, as a diplomatic and financial counterweight to China, and as an engine of the global economy. You deserve a leader who accepts this responsibility and can see what it takes to fulfill it.


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