Bold blueprint in Suga’s 1st policy speech, but hurdles remain

TOKYO, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Monday delivered his first policy speech in parliament since taking office last month.

Analysts believe that while the overall tone of the speech was inherited from his predecessor, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Suga did show his unique approach in terms of digital transformation and greenhouse gas reduction.

However, the Japanese leader made no references to the Science Council of Japan controversy, which may trigger harsh accusations by the opposition camp in the Diet in the coming days, said analysts.

At the beginning of his address, Suga said his immediate focus was the COVID-19 pandemic which has severely impacted the nation’s now recession-hit economy which has worsened to levels not seen since before the war.

The government will make sure that it secures enough vaccines for all people in Japan, once their safety has been confirmed pending clinical trials and regulatory approval, in the first half of next year, he said.

On economic revitalization, Suga pledged to stay course on Abenomics, continuing stimulus measures to deal with the impact of COVID-19 outbreak. He then talked about digitalization, green development, revitalizing local areas, talent mobility, social security, disaster response and other issues.

Regarding his much-talked-about plans for a setting up a digital agency, he said that it was paramount to eliminate administrative sectionalism and push forward the digitalization of government functions. He also pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, saying that proactive measures and a change of mindset was necessary.

Suga, who had positioned himself as the continuity candidate in the race to succeed Abe, relied mainly on the strategies of Abe in the speech, said some analysts. However, he also tried to show the characteristics of the new administration by highlighting digitalization and the goal of carbon neutrality.

The two topics came just after the COVID-19 outbreak and economic revitalization, which means they are high on the agenda of the new administration, said analysts.

Unlike Abe, the address was devoid of the anecdotes and quotes from historical figures, showing a pragmatic and results-oriented style, said observers.

On issues of foreign affairs, Suga described the Japan-U.S. security alliance as the cornerstone of Tokyo’s diplomacy.

In terms of the nation’s closest neighbors, he said that stability looking ahead would be of great importance.

A stable relationship with China, as well as with South Korea, is “very important,” Suga stated. He went on to say that Tokyo would continue to develop ties with Moscow, with the hope of signing a postwar peace treaty and settling a territorial dispute.

The 71-year-old leader also said he will place priority on resolving the the issue of Japanese nationals allegedly abducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the 1970s and 1980s, adding that he is ready to meet with Kim Jong Un, top leader of the DPRK, without any conditions.

Analysts said that Suga’s foreign policies are essentially a continuation of the Abe administration, which still based on the Japan-U.S. alliance. Meanwhile he is also trying to maintain relations with neighboring countries and achieve a balance, hoping to make breakthroughs in some certain areas.

However, the blueprint on Suga’s list was not easy to realize, warned some analysts, as a number of hurdles still remain.

First, the COVID-19 epidemic is still not under control in the country, and there are questions about whether a vaccine will be developed soon and whether Japan will be able to ensure sufficient quantities. Although the government’s economic stimulus has recently begun to take effect, the economic outlook remains bleak.

Second, the continuing dispute over Suga’s rejection to appoint six nominees to the Science Council of Japan is still not resolved.

Some local media have suggested that the controversy could be an attempt by the new government to silence academic voices opposing constitutional amendments, and the backlash could undermine the constitutional agenda of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Though Suga has claimed repeatedly that he made the decision on “comprehensive” grounds, polls showed that the dispute has already dented the popularity of the new cabinet to a certain extent.

Third, the Japanese government’s mulling over releasing radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea has sparked criticism. The issue was not mentioned by Suga in his speech.

Some analysts believe that Suga’s reticence on controversial issues has raised concerns about his tough and opaque political tactics, which could trigger fierce attacks from the opposition camp.

With the Lower House election set to be held within a year, if the disputes continue to escalate, they may affect the election results of the Liberal Democratic Party and even endanger Suga’s political prospects, said analysts.

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