After seven years and eight months, the Shinzo Abe administration — the longest serving government in Japan’s parliamentary history — ended abruptly in late August due to Abe’s health problems. The merits and demerits of the Abe administration will be the subject of much debate, but at least on global health it achieved a great deal.
Newly-elected Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has announced that he will continue the policies of his predecessor Shinzo Abe. Hopefully this will not include Abe’s approach to the COVID-19 crisis.
Since the late 1990s, Japan has urged the United States be tougher on China. Perhaps the United States’ own history shaped its expectation that China would eventually transform itself into a liberal democracy. Japan has never shared this optimism. Because it understood that it would be difficult to impose democratic values on China, Japan has long recognised that it needs to tame the dragon rather than isolate it.
Australia and Japan have been among the global front runners in managing the COVID-19 health crisis and are positioned to lead the lifting of economic restrictions and economic global recovery, if they are able to contain second wave outbreaks of the pandemic.
Despite its ‘high-tech’ image, Japan is in many ways relatively ‘low-tech’. While companies and governments in many countries shifted to ‘telework’ or ‘work from home’ to cope with the spread of COVID-19, many Japanese companies and government offices have been unable to adapt.
Japan’s economy has experienced three consecutive shocks over the past year-and-a-half. The first shock struck Japan in early 2019 when the US–China trade war and slowing economic growth adversely affected Japan’s manufacturing sector. This economic effect was exacerbated by a second demand shock caused by the consumption tax hike from 8 to 10 per cent on 1 October 2019. Just as Japan’s economy was recovering, a third shock caused by COVID-19 dealt the most severe blow, plunging Japan into a full-blown recession.
On 22 March, despite the outbreak of COVID-19 in Japan, Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park was crowded with people eating, drinking and playing under the cherry blossoms, a tradition known as hanami (flower viewing). The Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association carried a half-hearted message on its webpage asking visitors to show jishuku (self-restraint) by avoiding large gatherings and sharing food. But the message did not get through.
Japan’s decision to build 22 new coal-fired power plants makes it an outlier among G7 nations who are moving away from coal. Japan’s coal power plants will exacerbate climate change, which is already predicted to severely impact Japan.