Reforming work culture and low birthrate among Abe's priorities: The Yomiuri Shimbun

In its editorial, the paper assesses Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent address on his priorities for the country and its international relations.

Sumo wrestlers from Onoe stable hold up crying babies during a "Baby-cry Sumo" event at the Yukigaya Hachiman shrine in Tokyo on April 29, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The question facing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is how he can achieve results in the implementation of policies by taking advantage of the stable political footing he gained through his great victory in last year's House of Representatives election.

The prime minister has delivered a policy speech at both the lower house and the House of Councillors.

He described work style reforms as "the first major reform effort in its field in 70 years."

He showed an eagerness to achieve such objectives as legislating upper-limit restrictions on overtime work and realising a policy of equal pay for equal work.

The course of action set in his policy line is reasonable in that it seeks to rectify the practice of working long hours and also to secure various employment patterns while efficiently utilising female and elderly workers. Quick efforts should be made to pass related bills into law.

Regarding the low-birthrate problem, which he regards as a national crisis, the prime minister advocated striving to convert the current social security systems into a type of scheme that benefits all generations and to improve the treatment of nursing-care personnel and childcare workers. It is important to make steady progress in this respect.

It is worrying to see that the prime minister adheres to a policy of making education free of charge. Regarding higher education, he pledged to make education free for "young people truly in need of free education." However, there is no eliminating strong concerns that the plan could end up being a lavish government handout.

It is indispensable to design a system in which targets covered by free education would be limited to students who truly need it by examining various conditions, including their motivation to learn, their capabilities and their parents' income.

The prime minister praised his own economic policy package, saying, "The Japanese economy is making steady headway toward an escape from deflation because of the five-year-old Abenomics."

However, it is very important for him to take appropriate measures by squarely looking at the reality that the goal of ending deflation has not yet been achieved despite his administration having entered its sixth year after his return to power.

The prime minister cannot go on saying his goal is still halfway down the road to completion. It is necessary to shore up his growth strategy through such bold measures as efficiently utilising artificial intelligence.

Regarding the North Korean nuclear problem, he emphasised efforts to "promote resolute diplomacy to make [that country] change its policy."

In preparation for a new provocation by the North, it is essential to enhance the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance. Concurrently with this move, it is necessary to facilitate an environment for cooperation with China and Russia.

The prime minister expressed a desire to improve the Japan-China relationship. Bearing in mind China's "Belt and Road" initiative, by which it seeks to set up an economic zone, he said he would work to "meet growing infrastructure needs in Asia." It is essential to hold the helm of bilateral ties in a delicate manner that will promote reciprocal visits by the two nations' leaders while at the same time conveying Japan's assertions to China regarding the latter's self-righteous conduct.

The policy speech addressed the Japan-South Korea relationship, with the expression, "the most important neighboring country," deleted from its text. The phrase had been included in similar addresses up to last year.

The change is quite reasonable, given the actions taken by the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae In, which has taken a negative stance on the Japan-South Korea agreement over the comfort women issue.

In reference to the Constitution, the prime minster called on each political party to present its own proposal for amendment.

"(The Constitution is essential for) shaping the nation based on a look at the future 50 years and 100 years ahead. The Constitution speaks for the form of the nation and its ideal shape," he said.

With concrete proposals, discussions could be made constructive. It is hoped that both the ruling and opposition parties will move actively on the matter.

The Yomiuri Shimbun is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media.

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