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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 December 20 - 2018 January 9  > Behind linear Shinkansen project lies cosy ties between Abe and railway company heavyweight
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2017 December 20 - 2018 January 9 [POLITICS]

Behind linear Shinkansen project lies cosy ties between Abe and railway company heavyweight

January 6, 2018
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, with large development projects as a centerpiece of his "growth strategy", has been consistently pushing for the maglev railway (Linear Chuo Shinkansen) project which is currently rocked by the biggest bid-rigging scandal of the century. In the background of his enthusiastic endorsement lies his sweetheart relationship with Shinkansen operator JR Tokai's head Kasai Yoshiyuki.

Kasai, a core member of the corporate executives' forum surrounding PM Abe called "Shiki no Kai", is often described as a "guardian of Abe". Under the first Abe government (September 2006 - September 2007), Kasai served as a chair on several governmental panels advocating retrogressive amendments to the Basic Act of Education, the strengthening of the Japan-U.S. alliance, and the promotion of nuclear power generation. Abe made a comeback to power in 2012, and their relationship remains unchanged. Last year alone, they met with each other five times.

Kasai resigned as JR Tokai president and chairperson, but he still has tremendous influence over the railroad giant, expressing a strong desire for the commercial use of linear motor cars in Japan and for the export of magnetically-levitated train lines to the United States.

As if responding to Kasai's ambition, PM Abe himself leads JR Tokai's marketing efforts to sell Linear Shinkansen abroad. In April 2014, Abe invited then U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy to a test track in Yamanashi Prefecture and pitched to her, "Please, convey to the White House how comfortable this ride was."

On the occasion of a press conference after the Japan-U.S. summit meeting in February 2017, Abe again appealed to U.S. President Donald Trump to endorse the import of the Linear Shinkansen by saying, "This state-of-the-art linear technology will make it possible to connect Washington, D.C. to New York City in only one hour."

The total project cost is nine trillion yen. JR Tokai was initially planning to construct the train line with its own money. However, in June 2016, PM Abe announced that the government will inject public funds into the project. Then, the government provided three trillion yen in loans with extremely low interest rates. Compared to private loans, JR Tokai can reduce its interest payments by 500 billion yen. On top of that, the Abe regime poured 800 million yen in public funds into a survey of the envisioned Washington, D.C.-Baltimore linear project.

The repayment of the 3-trillion-yen loan will be due in FY 2048. The Japanese Communist Party has been sounding the alarm about possible delinquency in repayment of public funds due to the ongoing ultralow interest rate policy, an increase in construction costs, and the bid-rigging allegation which is currently under investigation.

Past related article:
> JCP Motomura urges gov’t to abandon money-consuming maglev train project [October 5, 2016]
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