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Japanese leader Shinzo Abe's message of hope in veiled attack on populist surge

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. Photo: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe offered a message of hope in a speech to the world’s elite at Davos, in a veiled attack on the populist surge sweeping the globe.

The leader said his country had overcome the popular idea “Japan was doomed,” reeling off a range of successes achieved during his six years in power.

He said in a special address at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland:  “Despair was wiped out by renewed hope. Hope is the most important factor for growth.

“A country ageing can still grow as a hope-driven economy. May I now solemnly declare  defeatism about Japan is now defeated.”

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He said the upcoming G20 summit in Japan should be a chance to “regain optimism for the future.”

Abe’s rallying cry for hope and internationalism also appeared to be a thinly veiled rebuke to the growing tide of more aggressive nationalism and protectionism across the globe.

His message comes at a time of growing uncertainty on global stock markets amid the US-China trade war and bleaker forecasts for world growth.

He told the assembled political and business leaders: “It is the dawn of a new era. Japan, now reinvigorated and revitalised with your embrace, will continue to be one of the foremost open, democratic and law-abiding contributors to peace and growth in the world.”

Calling for reforms of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on data, which he said would drive economic growth in future, he added: “we must enable free flow of medical, industrial and other useful, non-personal, anonymous data to see no borders. Repeatno borders.”

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He also pressed for business solutions to help tackle climate change, telling the audience: “We must invite more disruptive innovations before it’s too late. Spending money for a green earth and blue ocean was deemed costly. It’s now a growth generator.

“Decarbonation and profit-making can happen in tandem. We policymakers must be held responsible to make it happen.”

He said Japan’s economy had grown by 10.9% in his six years in power, securing higher employment, rising wages, a fall in relative poverty and a growing need for skilled migrant workers.

Not everyone in the audience will be entirely convinced by the “Abenomics” recipe for growth, including super-loose monetary policy and huge public spending.

A poll last year suggested analysts believed Abe was doing ‘modestly well’, with growth often viewed as weak or inconsistent, according to Reuters.