Shinzo Abe

Japan is back and thriving economically with ambitious plans

Shinzo Abe says Japan will open its economy further with partnerships with other countries and do more to empower women, while remaining a proactive contributor to peace

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 3:47am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 3:47am

US President Barack Obama is visiting Tokyo at a unique moment in my country's history, with Japan's economy moving onto a stable new growth path that will take full advantage of its location. Japan no longer considers itself the "Far" East; rather, we are at the very centre of the Pacific Rim and a neighbour to the world's growth centre stretching from Southeast Asia to India.

There can be little doubt that this growth centre will continue to propel Japan's economy for the foreseeable future. Japanese direct investment is expanding in Vietnam and India, for example, which will boost demand for Japanese machine tools and capital goods.

But, to maximise its opportunities, Japan must open its economy further and become a country that actively incorporates capital, human resources and wisdom from abroad. Japan must be a country capable of growing by channelling the vitality of a growing Asia.

To this end, we have sharply accelerated the pace of negotiations on economic partnership agreements with various partners around the world. Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and I reached agreement in principle on a Japan-Australia economic partnership agreement.

Next in line is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would unite 12 countries in the world's largest trading area.

Both Japan and the United States attach great importance to rules, uphold the principles of freedom and democracy and possess the most advanced technologies and industries. We intend to overcome our differences and together forge, in the form of the TPP, a 21st-century economic order for Asia and the Pacific that will serve as an unshakable foundation for economic growth.

My government is also pushing hard to realise an economic partnership agreement with the European Union. Given that the US and the EU are already engaged in trade talks, a partnership agreement between Japan and the EU, coupled with the TPP, will give rise to a truly immense market - a single enormous growth engine that will benefit the global economy.

But Japan's economic frontiers extend well beyond Asia and the Pacific to Latin America and Africa, which gives us more reason to abandon our long-held inward-looking perspective.

A large number of highly motivated and ambitious young people have already come to Japan from around the world, especially from neighbouring Asian countries, to study or work. Japan must remain their hope. We must not be disrespectful of them, and our arms must always be wide open towards them. Japan, I believe, is that kind of country.

In the near future, we will designate six National Strategic Economic Growth Areas - Tokyo, Kansai, Okinawa prefecture and the cities of Niigata, Yabu and Fukuoka - to serve as models for the rest of the country. In health care, education, agriculture and employment practices, we are identifying policies and practices that have fallen out of step with today's needs, and we will move quickly to reform them. The National Strategic Economic Growth Areas will lead the long-needed reform of our nation's regulatory system.

Another habit that we Japanese must change is our pervasive male-oriented thinking. We have already resolved to ensure that at least 30 per cent of all personnel hired by the national government are women. I am also now urging publicly traded companies to add at least one woman as a board member.

Once we reach the point at which it is no longer news to have a woman or a non-Japanese serving as a CEO, Japan will have reinvented itself and recovered its true spirit of risk-taking and innovation.

"Womenomics" tells us that a society in which women are dynamically engaged will also have a higher birth rate. My government intends to address, urgently, the need to expand facilities for day care and other such infrastructure as the foundation for a society that benefits from all of its members' skills and talents.

We are fully capable of change; indeed, we relish it, as the world will see in the months and years to come.

But some things about Japan are unchanging, and some must not be changed.

One of these is our track record, which supports our ambition to be a "proactive contributor to peace". Japan has made more than its fair share of financial contributions to the United Nations and its organisations. And our embrace of our global responsibilities extends to Japan's Self-Defence Forces.

Members of the Self-Defence Forces displayed exemplary co-operation with the US and Australian armed forces in the wake of the 2011 earthquake in the Japanese northeast and they have earned deep appreciation and respect everywhere they have been deployed, including Haiti, Indonesia and, most recently, the Philippines.

To make a proactive contribution to peace means that Japan will bear its own share of responsibility for assuring the security that supports global prosperity and stability.

Working alongside countries with which we share common values and interests, we will safeguard and cultivate international public goods, ranging from space and cyberspace to the skies and the seas.

As the world will see during Obama's visit, Japan is back and thriving.

Shinzo Abe is the prime minister of Japan. Copyright: Project Syndicate