Japan is planning to renew support for hitech sector. The Economy, Trade, and Industry Ministry will set up new sections to individually oversee and support advanced technologies such as semiconductors and flying cars as early as before the end of July, it has been learned.
By creating such specialized sections, the ministry is revealing its stance to take up the issue as a matter of key policy.
An envisaged next-generation sky mobility policy section, to be set up in the Manufacturing Industries Bureau, will oversee flying cars, drones, and other similar technologies. It will handle the setting of laws and rules concerning corporate and other use of these technologies, and provide policy support to develop them as an industry.
In addition, within the Commerce and Information Policy Bureau, the ministry will create a device and semiconductor strategy section to oversee semiconductor-related technologies, and a sophisticated information communications technology industry strategy section to supervise next-generation telecommunications networks, or 5G, featuring ultra-high-speed and a massive amount of connections.
When it comes to highly advanced technologies such as semiconductors, 5G and drones, Chinese and other overseas companies have secured a large share of the market, making these technologies increasingly important in terms of national security.
The ministry plans to boost support for Japanese companies that lag behind in terms of technological capacity and manufacturing capability, with an eye on pressing forward on technology for the Internet of Things, which connects things and services to the internet.
Two decades after Japan rolled out an ambitious plan to go digital, the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the government’s deeply rooted technological shortcomings as ministries remain stuck in a paper-driven culture that experts say is hurting productivity.
While Tokyo has made “digital transformation” its main policy plank this year, the switch may not prove so easy as bureaucrats from different ministries still aren’t able to hold teleconferences together and little of their administrative work can be done online.
Analysts say the lack of government digitalization could reduce the incentive for the private sector to go digital in a blow to Japan’s efforts to boost productivity.
“Lack of digital investment by the government has hampered productivity and efficiency at the private sector,” said Takuya Hoshino, senior economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
In its mid-year policy strategy, the government vowed to accelerate the digitalization of its outdated administration, which has delayed delivery of cash payouts to help citizens weather the pandemic.
Much of the problem stems from Japan’s preference for paper documents and seals for approval at government offices.
“Paper documents and seals are still prevalent. Politicians whom I deal with also prefer face-to-face meetings,” a government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Adding to its digital woes is Japan’s vertically structured bureaucracy: each ministry as well as local governments, for instance, have developed their own computer systems that aren’t compatible with each other.
Currently, each ministry has developed own its LAN network with various vendors, making it difficult to hold a teleconference with each other because of differences in their on-line security policy, a Cabinet Office official in charge of IT strategy, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
In Japan, less than 12% of administrative work is transacted online, according to the Japan Research Institute.
Overall, it could cost the government 323 million working hours per year if it doesn’t go digital, translating into personnel costs of nearly $8 billion, a government regulatory reform panel estimated in a report released in July last year.
The digital drawbacks give the lie to Japan’s image as one of the world’s leading high-tech nations – in fact, the world’s third-biggest economy ranked 23rd among 63 countries, lagging behind some Asian nations like Singapore, South Korea, and China in a survey by Swiss think tank IMD on digital competitiveness.
The last OECD Digital Economy Outlook put Japan at the lowest rank among 31 countries in online procedures, with just 5.4% of citizens utilizing digital applications at public offices, way below Denmark, Estonia, and Iceland at around 70%.
Seiji Kihara, a former Ministry of Finance official who now serves as the ruling party’s deputy policy chief, said young bureaucrats were running around with a pile of documents seeking bosses’ seal for approval when he was there 20 years ago.
“They are doing pretty much the same now.”