“Defeatism about Japan is now defeated,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphatically declared in a special address at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, before expounding upon how the Asian power has been reinvigorated and transformed – infused with a fresh sense of hope.
With its rapidly ageing population, five years ago Japan was once seen as a “wall of despair”, acknowledged Abe, but the country’s focus on “womenomics” and new legislation to allow more foreign workers are among several innovative policy changes that have enabled Japan’s metamorphosis.
“Hope is the most important factor for growth. A country ageing can still grow as a ‘hope-driven’ economy,” Abe announced. “We are not widening the gap, we are narrowing it.”
Japan’s new policies are bearing positive economic fruit. The country’s push to increase the number of women entering the workforce – “womenomics” – has driven participation rates up to a record high of 67%, surpassing that of the US, and boosting the number of women in the labour force by 2 million.
To address the decline in its working population, Japan has recently approved measures to increase the number of foreign workers – as many as 340,000 skilled workers will be invited to Japan from abroad – drawn up plans to expand its free education programme and introduced policies to empower elderly workers.
Under Abe’s government, Japan’s GDP has grown by 10.9%, and now the country can proudly say that, out of every 100 college graduates, 98 find employment, while child poverty rates have plummeted – both new records for Japan.
“A long-awaited positive feedback cycle is taking root, with growth in employment and income generating greater demand and even more employment,” explained the Japanese leader, “In order to make our growth long-lasting, we are encouraging investment, which will enhance productivity.”
Alongside the important economic shifts taking place, Abe told the Davos meeting that, for the first time in 200 years, the Japanese emperor will abdicate this year, with a new emperor to take the throne in 2019.
Together with a revitalized economy, Abe hailed what he described as “the new dawn of a new era” for Japan.
Elucidating his vision for “Society 5.0”, the Japanese leader stressed the importance of a society driven by borderless data and worldwide data governance to leverage future growth. Every day, he noted, more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data come into being, which, according to one estimate is as much as 250 times the printed material in the US Library of Congress.
“In Society 5.0, it is no longer capital but data that connects and drives everything, helping to fill the gap between the rich and the less privileged. Services of medicine and education, from elementary to tertiary, will reach small villages in the sub-Saharan region,” he explained, “Our task is obvious. We must make data the great gap buster.”
At the Annual Meeting, where this week celebrated British naturalist Sir David Attenborough sounded a distress signal on climate change, warning the “Garden of Eden is no more,” Japan’s leader concurred. Pledging to nurture a facilitating environment for innovation, science and technological evolution, Abe said that investing in a green Earth and blue ocean could generate growth and that “decarbonization and profit-making can happen in tandem.”
The prime minister reiterated Japan’s commitment to a free, open and rules-based international order, acknowledging two important recent trade deals, the 11-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP11), which came into effect on 30 December 2018, and the EU-Japan Economic Partnership, effective as of 1 February this year.