Science and security
The author is the economic news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has become the 100th prime minister of Japan, commanding the world’s third largest economy. His cabinet lineup suggests subtle changes amid stability in governance. He has kept several members of the Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga cabinets led by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) while bringing on board 13 new faces, or more than half of 20 cabinet members.
Takayuki Kobayashi is a new face with a new title of economic security minister. The 46-year-old minister is one of two forty-something members of the Kishida cabinet. At first glance, economics and security look like an awkward mix. But here, semiconductors are the linchpin. According to his platform during the race for the LDP leadership, Kishida made it clear that chips will be addressed in the context of national security. He vowed to seek international collaboration and investment in Japan to ensure a stable supply of advanced semiconductors and strengthen national economic security.
Although he has not mentioned China directly, the new Japanese leader takes into account the “Made-in-China 2025” agenda focused on developing the semiconductor sector. That’s in line with U.S. President Joe Biden, who regards semiconductors as more than a commodity but as a key strategic resource for national security. Japan too has come to prioritize competitiveness in high tech amid an intensifying power struggle between the U.S. and China.
In June, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry laid out a “strategy for semiconductors and digital industry,” naming “securing a joint development of advanced chipmaking technology and manufacturing capacity” as the first task. The Japanese government has now a chip-prioritized industrial strategy no matter who comes to govern the country.
Kishida also vowed to enact an “economic security guarantee law” to prevent leakage and theft of chips and other technologies. The campaign will be spearheaded by Kobayashi, the minister in charge of economic security.
To back his policy, Kishida has proposed to set up a 10 trillion yen ($90.7 billion) university fund to promote R&D in science and renewable energy. The government will shoulder 4.5 trillion yen and draw the rest from the private sector.
The fund will allocate 300 billion yen to strengthen research capabilities of universities and groom new R&D brain power. The life of the fund was set at 50 years, which means long-term promotion of R&D. The new prime minister also promised to offer radical tax incentives to spur innovation and R&D investment. Science and tech experts will be recruited to advise government offices and projects.
To meet carbon reduction goals, Kishida promises to shift to clean renewable energy while maintaining nuclear reactors. He differs with Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is bent on achieving carbon neutrality goal without using nuclear energy.
The new prime minister proposes “Japanese-style capitalism” for a benign cycle of growth and distribution and divorce from neoliberalism. With a priority on balancing growth and distribution, Kishida’s economic policy could diverge from growth-oriented Abenomics.
To realize his vision, the LDP must win the general election to pick members of the House of Representatives on Oct. 31. If the ruling party loses the lower-house election, his cabinet cannot last long. If he wins a majority, Kishida can push his policy aggressively.
In South Korea where a presidential primaries have begun in the ruling and opposition parties, none of the candidates from the rival parties presents a vision on science and technology. They could still be preparing policy packages — or maybe they’re not interested in the field. The next five years will be pivotal for the country due to its rapidly aging and shrinking population. We hope to see our presidential candidates debate some form of science and tech policy.