Policy Radar September 2019

Langley Esquire’s initiative to deliver an up-to-date overview on political developments in the Japanese Diet.

Being closed for almost 4 months, the ruling coalition plans to convene an extraordinary Diet session on the 4th of October. Prime Minister Abe is set to deliver a policy speech on the opening day. This is the first time the newly established Cabinet (explored below) has an opportunity to face parliamentary scrutiny. Extraordinary sessions are shorter than ordinary ones, and in this occasion, it is expected that the session lasts until the 10th of December. The Government intends to submit between 15 to 20 bills during this session (more than last year’s record low of 13), including reforms to company laws, ratification of the newly signed U.S trade deal, an amendment to the National Strategic Special Zone Law in order to create “super cities” (scrapped last year due to insufficient coordination between the LDP and Komeito) and, likely, matters concerning the development of Integrated Resorts.

This month’s edition focuses on the lineup of the new Cabinet, policy developments in the data and energy industries, and Japan’s effort to combat climate change. Post a comment to let us know your thoughts!

Cabinet:

The new cabinet was announced on the 12th of September, featuring 13 rookie ministers (out of 19), 4 senior ministers changing their portfolios and 2 remaining in the same position. We present below a short summary of their careers: 

Chief Cabinet Secretary: Suga Yoshihide

One of the staunchest supporters of the Abe administration, being in the post as the longest serving Chief Cabinet Secretary ever. His popularity with the public has been rising since he unveiled the name of the new era (Reiwa) and there are some rumors that he is in a good position to replace the current PM. He is also known for his strength when he intervenes in the appointment of top civil-servants. 

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister: Aso Taro

Another close ally of the PM, being himself one of the tenets of the administration since he took the Finance portfolio in 2012. The Prime Minister often relies on the strategic thinking of the Deputy Prime Minister when taking important decisions like the tax hike or calling for elections. Also, he heads the second largest faction within the LDP, with 55 members (Ministers Kono and Tanaka are also part of this faction). 

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister: Takaichi Sanae

She has previously been in the same ministry from 2014 to 2017, and has changed portfolios as state minister multiple times (Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs, Food Safety, Science and Technology, and Gender Equality and Social Affairs)  during Abe’s first tenure as Prime Minister in 2006-7. Although not a member of any LDP faction, she is widely known for her very conservative views and her calls for the media to remain “politically neutral.” Before her political career, she has lived and worked in the United States. 

Justice Minister: Kawai Katsuyuki

Known for his role as special adviser, aide to the PM and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, he has a deep understanding of the security alliance with the United States. He has been very skeptical about China’s Belt and Road initiative. It is the first time that he is appointed as a Minister. He belongs to no faction, even though he is very close to the PM. 

Foreign Minister: Motegi Toshimitsu

He has held the Ministry of Economic Revitalization and Okinawa and Northern Territories before; he was in charge as a chief negotiator of reaching a quick renegotiation of the trade deal with the new United States administration.  He also played a great role in the negotiations and ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Due to his high-profile in the Foreign Affairs realm, he has been rewarded the Foreign Ministry. He belongs to the Takeshita faction. 

Reconstruction Minister: Tanaka Kazunori

He has held numerous state ministries and prolific positions within the LDP, but it is first time as Cabinet Minister. He belongs to the Aso faction, and was recommended for the role by the Deputy Prime Minister (head of the faction, Aso Taro). 

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister: Hagiuda Koichi

He takes the role of a Cabinet Minister for the first time, after serving as a Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary under Suga. As a LDP Executive Deputy Secretary-General, he has also served under the Prime Minister as a special adviser from 2013 to 2015. He will be responsible for a government bill that aims to revise a law on teachers’ salaries. He is a member of the Nippon Kaigi, holding himself very conservative views of history and society. He is member of the Hosoda faction (the largest in the LDP, headed by the PM himself). 

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister: Kato Katsunobu

Minister Kato returns to the post after spending a year as the PM’s close aide. Last year, he abandoned the head of the ministry to be appointed as the head of the LDP’s decision-making general council, a very prestigious posts only given to senior lawmakers. He belongs to the Takeshita faction and reports claim that he is being considered by PM Abe as a future prime ministerial candidate. 

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister: Eto Taku

Since 2018, Eto has been the PM’s special aide and has a wide experience and expertise in the field of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. It is his first time as a Cabinet Minister. He has staunchly supported his constituents’ (Miyazaki) rural interests, even going as far as opposing Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He is a member of the Nippon Kaigi but is not currently affiliated to any faction within the party. 

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister: Sugawara Isshu

This marks the first ministerial role in the Cabinet for Sugawara, with wide experience in the party’s zoku of economy and industry and fiscal policy. He has been deputy minister twice (Industry and Finance) as well as the Deputy Secretary-General of the LDP. He has a strong interest in social welfare reform, public finance and taxes, as well as energy policy. His position on nuclear policy is quite clear: he opposes any attempts to hinder the operation of nuclear reactors and, more specifically, to end nuclear power dependence by 2030. Also, he favors the development of hydrogen powered systems. He is not affiliated to any faction, yet he is a member of the Nippon Kaigi. 

Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister: Akaba Kazuyoshi

Also a rookie minister, Akaba is the only member of the Cabinet to belong to Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner. He heads the same ministry assigned to members of the party in the Cabinet since the PM Abe took power in 2012. Yet, he has deep policy expertise in the field as he as previously headed the Lower House’s committee on land and transport. The new minister is resolved to bolster disaster management during his term, as well as smoothing the transportation system for the Tokyo Olympics. He is also determined to reach a reconciliation between the Shizuoka Prefectural Government and JR Central over the Maglev train construction. He will be the Minister in charge of Integrated Resorts. 

Environment Minister: Koizumi Shinjiro

For his first Cabinet post, Koizumi will take the Environment Ministry. Determined to make the fight against climate change  “sexy,” he hopes to see Japan taking the global lead in marine and plastic waste reduction. He is firmly opposed to nuclear energy and would like to see the decommissioning of more nuclear reactors. He has headed the LDP’s Health and Labor Committee and is known within the party, and the public, as a very progressive figure to the point of distancing himself from the Abe administration. He is not a member of any LDP faction. 

Defense Minister: Kono Taro

Previously leading the Foreign Ministry, Kono is now reappointed to the Cabinet as Defense Minister. During his tenure as FM, he has visited many countries, relaunched the relationship between the United States and Japan, and has had to manage the diplomatic rift with Korea. He has expertise around many policy fields as a lawmaker in the Japanese Diet and as a state minister. Often named a “maverick,” he is quite open about his policy views and has had no trouble supporting PM Abe’s pledge to reform the constitution back when it was unpopular with the public. He also supports a more flexible immigration system. He belongs to the Aso faction within the LDP. 

National Public Safety Commission Chairman: Takeda Ryota

It is the first time that Takeda obtains a Cabinet post, but not the first time that he will be dealing with public safety issues. He has experience in security issues, having served as Deputy Defense Minister from 2013-2014 and as Chairman of the lower house’s Security Committee. He was also Deputy Secretary-General of the LDP. He has indicated support to legislation aimed to curb hate speech and is part of the parliamentary friendship association with France and South Korea. He is deeply interested in national security, energy and foreign affairs. He belongs to the Nikai faction and is a member of the Nippon Kaigi. 

Minister for Promoting Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens: Eto Seiichi

Another rookie from the Nikai faction, Eto has been a special adviser to Abe on issues as education reform. He is known as being very conservative and promoting patriotic education system reforms, as well as a being a strong supporter of reforming the constitution. Aside from his role as Minister for Promoting Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens, he will be the state minister in charge of Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs. He is interested in agricultural reform and social welfare. He is one of the only two Cabinet Ministers to come from the Upper-House. He is openly affiliated with Nippon Kaigi. 

Science and Technology Minister: Takemoto Naokazu

For his first Cabinet role, Takemoto takes Science and Technology. He was the former Deputy Finance Minister. He is notorious in Osaka for being against Ishin No Kai’s merger plan of Osaka into a metropolis and his opposition to reform the constitution. He openly supports the development of Integrated Resorts and has strongly campaigned against the goal of zero nuclear power by 2030. He has also shown skepticism towards the President of the United States, Donald Trump. He is a member of the Kishida faction and of the conservative Nippon Kaigi. 

Economic Revitalization Minister: Nishimura Yasutoshi

As a close aide to the PM, it is the first time that Nishimura gains his first Cabinet portfolio. A high-career bureaucrat, he has been a state minister of the Cabinet Office and Deputy Chairperson of the LDP’s Policy Research Council. He also contended Tanizaki in the party’s 2009 Presidential Election, but lost. His interests include finance and trade policy, foreign affairs, and energy policy. He is affiliated with the Nippon Kaigi and belongs to the Hosoda faction. 

Regional Revitalization Minister: Kitamura Seigo

This is also Kitamura’s first Cabinet portfolio, after serving as a Deputy Finance Minister back in 2008-9. He also served as Vice-Chairman in the LDP’s decision-making General Council. He has also led the Special Committee on Okinawa and Northern Problems in the Diet. He has a very prolific profile in his home constituency of Nagasaki. He is a member of the Kishida faction. 

Tokyo Olympic and Paralympics Minister: Hashimoto Seiko

Being the other one lawmaker stemming from the Upper-House, this is Hashimoto’s first Cabinet role. Previous to this, she was the Vice-President of the Japanese Olympic Committee and also had a successful career speed skating in the Olympics. She has been a state minister and Chairperson of the General Assembly of Party Members of the House of Councillors. She is a promoter of free childhood education, and has strong interests in health and sports policies. She is a member of the Hosoda Faction. 

Data:

Japan Fair Trade Commission steps up to protect use of consumer data 

The Japan Fair Trade Commission, part of the Cabinet office and responsible for the enforcement of the Anti-Monopoly Act, has released a new set of draft guidelines to strengthen consumer data protection. Addressing major criticism from consumers over major companies’ handling of personal data, the agency has set itself to tighten regulations over their “abuse of a superior bargaining position.” The guidelines will apply to major tech companies, like online retailers, social media services, search engines and content distributors, applying for the first time the anti-monopoly law to business practices between digital platforms and consumers so as to protect the latter’s privacy. What is targeted specifically, is the sharing by major e-commerce sites of consumers’ data to a third party without permission. Four violations are drawn out in the potential guidelines: i) not stating why they acquire private data; ii) not protecting data well enough; iii) the use of private date not stipulated by the terms and conditions; and iv) making users give more information as compensation for the service. The draft also gives leeway to the levy of fines and the issuing of corrective measures by the commission when it deems business conducts as “abuse.” The draft guidelines will be introduced by October after the public comment period ends in September 30. Also, the Japanese Government wants to enact a new law ensuring the transparency of major tech companies’ business practices next year. 

Tokyo to place greater scrutiny in foreign purchase of stakes (cont.) 

Following the initial plans to place greater scrutiny on foreign involvement in Japanese high-tech companies (including purchase of shares) through mandatory government review, Tokyo has revealed further details on how it plans to control investment in companies that have a direct impact in national security. Companies having an impact on national security, such as those involving nuclear power and chip-making, will require to undergo a government screening should foreign involvement reach 1% of its total stakes (instead of 10% for other key industries under the current version of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act). The draft, however, stipulates that no company will be subject to government screening if overseas investors already own 1% or more of the stakes— in this case, only if they wished to increase their participation would a mandatory review ensue. Furthermore, Tokyo is also considering government review for foreign investors’ board nominations in these companies. The government has the intention of submitting the draft bill to the Diet in October, while introducing to discussions the amended Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act in the last quarter of 2020.  

Energy:

Atomic Energy Commission drives impetus for decommissioning nuclear plants

The body in charge of Japan’s nuclear policy, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (part of the Cabinet Office), has indicated that Japan is now entering a “nuclear plant decommission” phase. It urged plant operators to learn from overseas decommission efforts so as to lower the costs while improving safety requirements, “a long-term project over several generations.” About 40% of commercial nuclear reactors have been selected for decommissioning, however as the White Paper from the commission indicated, Japan has no experience in decommissioning processes, and even less is there yet any viable policy for nuclear waste reduction and disposal of radioactive waste. The paper also insists on the developing of new technologies and more transparent systems, so as to ensure the support of local communities in a country where nuclear energy’s image remains tarnished. Its case studies point to the success of decommissioning projects in Britain, Germany and specially, France’s integrated management system for radioactive waste. Furthermore, the report also indicates its worries about the loss of impetus in nuclear energy research and development, citing as an example the closure of half of ANE’s research facilities.

Government to reduce barriers to development of geothermal energy

The Japanese Government will reduce the barriers to the difficult and expensive development of geothermal energy (liberating geothermal heat in volcanic areas) by allowing greater investments by the private sector. The government’s agency, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (Jogmec), will be the one conducting test bores (an expensive procedure with low probability of success) from April 2020 for about six years, to allow greater private sector leverage in making development plans. Test bore surveys may last up to two years and were previously led by the private sector, with the help of some state subsidies. A greater involvement by the Government and Jogmec may alleviate the regulatory burden when drilling, as approval processes require synchronizing local governments to central ministries. METI and the Ministry of the Environment have long held back from allowing drilling activities so as to protect Japan’s unique environment and its hot springs. METI, following recommendations from the private sector, is also considering to recommend shortening lengthy environmental assessments conducted by the Environment Ministry. 

Climate:

Japan to lead global effort in plastic reduction 

Shortly after being appointed into the Cabinet, the new Environment Minister, Koizumi Shinjiro revealed his set of goals and ambitions for the ministry. Despite criticism of high-levels of plastic production, he assures that Japan is already leading in many aspects of environmental policy and expects to lead in the management of marine waste and plastic recycling. Before deciding whether to dump or not into the sea filtered, but contaminated, water from Fukushima, the new Minister is expected to visit local fishermen as well as part of the local community so as to build a “relationship of trust.” He also gave his insight on how Japan should scrap its reliance on nuclear energy. He remains committed to his country’s pledge to “decarbonise” the country, also hinting that Japan should have a larger role in the fight against climate change. He has lobbied the local government of Yokohama so that they become a carbonless city by 2050. Yet, the Minister, as well as the Prime Minister, are determined to build more coal-fired thermal power plants while keeping Japan’s carbon targets the same (instead of setting a more ambitious number). 

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