Japan Needs a Leader Who Can Enact Bold Policies

Seiji Fuji

The U.S. has settled on a policy of strategizing to stay out of conflicts around the globe

 On September 2, the Morning Edition of The Nikkei printed an article entitled, “Afghan War Declared Over, United States to Clearly Curtail Involvement Abroad.”

On August 31, American President Joe Biden clearly indicated a policy to curtail American involvement in resolving foreign wars as much as possible. China and Russia are scheming to enlarge their influence in the gaps left by the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. The situation in Afghanistan – which is once again becoming a stage for power games by major players – is presenting grave issues to Japan.
Biden once again declared an end to the war in Afghanistan during his speech on August 31, saying, “It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.” He effectively recognized that the U.S. had failed to build a democratic nation in Afghanistan.
Although the U.S. supported the Afghan government forces, including state-of-the-art equipment and training, Afghanistan remained reliant on the U.S. Armed Forces and was at a loss for how to deal with aggression by the Taliban, an Islamic organization. Biden has stated, “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war […] that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”
He also said, “And there’s nothing China or Russia would rather have, would want more in this competition than the United States to be bogged down another decade in Afghanistan.”
Biden’s statements are imbued with the anxiousness felt by the U.S., which can no longer be complacent about its power struggle with China.
The Biden administration will soon conclude its posture review of the U.S. Armed Forces with an eye on China’s growing prominence.

 Now that the U.S. has settled on a policy of strategizing to stay out of wars across the globe, China and Russia are aiming to increase their influence in the gaps left behind. Just like Japan, Germany is one of the countries defeated in World War II. It has deployed 160,000 soldiers to Afghanistan over the past 20 years or so, and 59 have lost their lives. Not one Japanese soldier has been killed in action since World War II. In Japan, would people accept members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) dying, even if it were for the sake of the international community? Would this be acceptable if they gave their lives to protect Japan?
On August 20, The Oriental Economist posted an article by Stanford University Lecturer Daniel Sneider, entitled “No Sign, yet, of Afghan fallout in Korea and Japan.” It read:

In the U.S., pundits claim that U.S. allies in Europe and Asia are again questioning American resolve and reliability, while China and Russia rush to fill the strategic vacuum.
European angst is clearly visible, not surprisingly since NATO allies committed their own military forces to the war in Afghanistan and had to rush to remove their troops, diplomats and Afghan support staff. But in Korea and Japan, now the largest concentration of U.S. overseas military power — almost 85,000 American naval, air and ground troops – there is not yet the same level of anxiety.
In conversations this writer has had in recent days with senior Korean and Japanese former officials and current advisors, the events in Kabul seem to have actually strengthened the belief in the importance of the alliance with the U.S. Those policy makers in Northeast Asia echo President Joe Biden in pointing to the failure of the Afghan government and military to be willing to fight in their own defense.
“The fall of Kabul may not damage our alliance with the U.S. as much as you may imagine,” Miyake Kuni, a former senior Foreign Ministry official who advises Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide, told me.
“Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his friends did not help the Afghans, and they had to pay the price. For Japan, if we don’t have the will to fight and defend ourselves, we will be like Afghanistan.”

 Japan must learn from this tragedy in Afghanistan. Despite the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, the U.S. will not save Japan unless the Japanese people also have a stance of being willing to fight. As the East Asian balance of power is shifting between China, Russia, and the U.S., Japan should enhance the JSDF’s military power and promptly amend the constitution to become a nation that is capable of independent self-defense – in other words, of protecting our own country by ourselves.

Japan should build a high-standard expressway system with a speed limit of 130 km/h on sunny days

 In the postwar era, Japan profited and achieved economic recovery while the U.S. and Soviet fought the Cold War. Today Japan is once again gaining economic profit from the Sino-American cold war, but this will not last forever – going forward Japan must amass wealth by generating added value. Accordingly, I believe Japan should issue large volumes of long-term national bonds while interest rates remain extremely low, and that it should extensively invest in infrastructure improvement.
 What type of infrastructure should we build? One example is a high-standard expressway system with a speed limit of 130 km/h. In Europe there is the German Autobahn, which has speed-unrestricted zones in which slow cars are given warnings. French expressways have a speed limit of 130 km/h, which is lowered to 110 km/h during rain and other bad weather. On the Autobahn there is a rule that fast cars are given priority in the zones with no speed limits, and slow cars must immediately yield to them. This value system is totally different from Japan, where there is no need to yield to cars that are obeying the speed limit. Vehicle performance has been dramatically improved today, yet speed limits are set at 100 km/h because roads are not designed for higher speeds.
 Although roads should be as straight as possible, Japanese roads employ “clothoids,” gentle curves to prevent drivers from feeling sleepy. These should be made into roads that can be safety traveled at speeds of around 130 km/h. The official speed limit was finally raised in December 2020 to 120 km/h in the 145-kilometer stretch of road between the Gotemba and Hamamatsu-Inasa Junctions on the Shin-Tomei Expressway. This zone was designed with extremely gentle curves with a radius of 3,000 meters, roughly three times more than the highest standard on traditional expressways. This new standard is called “Standard A.” To establish high-standard expressways of this type, like the European Autobahn we should widen traffic lanes and make the roads as straight as possible with no speed limits. This would allow high-speed vehicle travel just like in Europe, which would have tremendous economic benefits.

Infrastructure building funded by long-term national bonds would bring huge returns

 Railway development is also picking up speed. On August 30, Yahoo! News ran an article entitled “What Will Happen When the Hokuriku Shinkansen is Extended to Tsuruga.” It was written by Professor Tomohiko Nakamura of Kobe International University’s Faculty of Economics. He said that, when the extension to Tsuruga is opened in 2024, all limited express trains bound for Fukui and Kanazawa Stations from Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagoya will stop at Tsuruga, and that passengers will have to transfer to the Hokuriku Shinkansen. Until the extension to Osaka is opened in 2046, people traveling to Hokuriku from the Kansai and Chubu regions will face great inconveniences over the next 22 years. The Hokuriku Shinkansen concept goes all the way back to 1965, when it was supposed to be a bullet train to the northern part of Japan to supplement transportation between Tokyo and Osaka when the Tokaido Shinkansen is unavailable due to natural disasters and other reasons. If so, the plan should be switched to prioritize extending the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Maibara and having passengers transfer there to the Tokaido Shinkansen. I also think the route to Osaka should be opened at an early stage. Progress is being made on the Linear Chuo Shinkansen plan, which should promptly be expanded to connect Sapporo to Kagoshima, allowing for high-speed rail transportation throughout Japan. Low-interest, long-term national bonds should be issued to enhance our expressway system, extend the Hokuriku Shinkansen, and build a Linear Shinkansen network spanning Japan. I think the faster travel speeds enabled by this infrastructure development would result in economic benefits equivalent to trillions of yen, bringing returns many times greater that our investment.

Japan needs a long-term government that can get things done

 Looking back, numerous infrastructure projects were completed for the 1964 Summer Olympics, mainly in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The Shuto Expressway was opened from Kyobashi to Shibaura in 1962, followed by the opening of routes No. 1, No. 2, No. 4, and part of No. 3 by September 1964. The Tokaido Shinkansen linking Tokyo to Osaka in just four hours was opened on October 1, 1964. Many regular roads were also built in the metropolitan area, including National Route 246, which links the National Stadium with Komazawa Park (where the opening ceremony was held), as well as Loop 7 to Boat Race Toda, where boat racing events were held. This was accomplished all at once 57 years ago, but no exciting infrastructure was constructed for Tokyo 2020. However, large-scale infrastructure investment would cause ripple effects, which would revive Japan’s economy all at once.
 Some people criticize national bonds as bills that are passed down to our children and grandchildren, but Japanese national bonds are incredibly healthy, and most are bought by domestic customers. For instance, most Greek national bonds were purchased by banks in other countries. If that were the case, any problems that occurred would bring about a financial crisis involving other nations as well, just like the Greek debt crisis. This would not occur in Japan, and I think new national bonds would be mostly used for building infrastructure with domestically procured funds. Now that the Japanese economy is suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, it cannot draw on its latent power and citizens cannot enjoy prosperity. A pressing issue is the need to enact bold economic policy, like the time of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Today we need courageous politicians who can specifically calculate and plan for this, and who can shut down any opposing arguments.
 Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has declared that he will not run in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election on September 29, when Japan will choose a new leader. I do think that Suga achieved many things, but he will not be in office for more than one year. While the results will be clear when this essay comes out, my hope is that the LDP selects a talented, appealing leader to avoid a situation in which we have a similar prime minister each year who ends up doing nothing before leaving office. My wish is that the new prime minister will be a leader with solid views of history, the world, and nations. Based on these, I truly hope he will have a strong will to make Japan into a country that is capable of independent self-defense, and that he is bold enough to extensively invest in infrastructure.

September 15 (Wednesday), 11:00 a.m.