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An unfamiliar term, economic security

April 3, 2023

I recently read “Abe Shinzo: Kaikoroku (Memoirs)”, which is a hot topic in Japan these days. Speaking of former Prime Minister Abe, I happened to see on TV about 10 years ago that he loved an ice cream called “PARM” made by Morinaga Milk Industry and always kept it in his freezer. Since then, I’ve been a fan of him. The book itself is quite good to read, with a lot of “That’s right, something like that happened” and “I didn’t know that”. Especially the stories about diplomacy and national security are very interesting. Many of the national leaders mentioned in the book, including Abe, are very human. While there is no way to know how effective the bargaining that each of them showed at the summits or other occasions were, it is interesting to look at them in the context of the information that later came to light and the current world situation that is the result of those political bargaining. It is clear that national security is a matter of relative positioning and not simply a matter of ” what Japan wants to do”.

In general, international security after modern era is based on the idea of “the low of parity”. That is to say, peace is assumed to be maintained when the opposing forces are militarily balanced. In addition, since the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, attention has been focused on the phenomenon known as the “stability-instability paradox”. The paradox refers to the fact that direct confrontation between countries with nuclear weapons is avoided, while violence without nuclear weapons is more likely to occur in local. What is working between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is “stability” and what is happening in Ukraine with the confused fighting with conventional weapons is “instability”. This happened countless times during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the form of a so-called proxy war.

In the last few years, the term “economic security” has become increasingly common. At first, it sounded a bit strange to me, but soon, unfortunately, it became familiar. Today, neoliberalism, which was based on the idea of globalization and small government, is no longer playing its role, and an economic bloc is gradually formed around the two superpowers, the U.S. and China, as if we were back in the 1930s after the Great Depression.

The factory automation industry is no exception. The “Economic Security Promotion Bill” passed in Japan last year designates machine tools and industrial robots as “specified critical commodities”. Specified critical commodities are those designated by the Japanese government as requiring a stable supply for people’s lives and the economy. Looking at the picture of Japan, the U.S., Europe, and China, the U.S. and Europe have not yet designated machine tools and industrial robots as specified critical commodities, but China is promoting their development as a national policy. In short, Japan must lead the countries that share the values of “freedom” and “democracy” to do our best in these fields.

The technological push from the Chinese economic zone will be quite intense in the future. In a few years, such industries  could even share a certain part of the Chinese economy to earn the foreign currencies. At the very least, if the current confrontational structure continues, sooner or later, we are bound to approach parity. I do not think that Chinese machine tools and robots will easily catch up or overtake us, but it will come very close. And probably at a very rapid pace. Because that is the nature of national security. Personally, my hope is that the industry will develop only to enrich the lives of more people, but we may have entered an era where we can no longer say that.

Shu Yasumi, Editor-in-Chief

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