*Note: This is a provisional translation for reference purposes only.
Friday, April 15, 2022
Press Conference Room, METI
Q: I would like to ask about the procurement of LNG.
With regard to this issue, you said at yesterday's joint discussion meeting on the Green Innovation Strategy that you would reduce Japan's dependence on Russia for energy by strengthening government involvement. Does this mean that you are now examining some concrete measures?
A: Upstream investment in LNG and natural gas has been declining significantly, partly due to the recent international trend toward decarbonization. On the other hand, demand has been increasing especially in Asia, and the balance between supply and demand was getting tighter even before the issues with Russia. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has further intensified competition for procurement of LNG with concerns over securing a stable supply growing.
In the joint statement issued in the Ad-hoc Meeting of G7 Energy Ministers on March 10, the participants all acknowledged that investing in LNG was important for ensuring energy security. I have also been emphasizing this from the outset. When it comes to LNG, Japan has smaller companies compared to other countries' state-run entities or oil majors in the United States and Europe. So, I do not think it fair to just leave this issue to private companies. I therefore believe that it is required for the government to come to the fore, and that the public and private sectors need to work together to ensure a stable supply.
The government will support increasing upstream investment and Japanese companies' expansion of LNG offtake. An example of how it will do so is to fund risky projects through JOGMEC, focusing on those that will enable additional LNG to be produced with a comparatively short preparation period by expanding existing LNG projects.
In addition to these efforts, we will promptly consider what kinds of other new measures will be necessary, taking into account the current situation regarding the electricity and gas markets and businesses' procurement of LNG.
Q: I would like to ask two questions about leading-edge technology.
The government meeting of experts called the Quantum Technology Innovation Council compiled the Quantum Future Society Vision on the 12th, and a formal decision on it will be made later this month. The vision includes increasing the production value by quantum technology to 50 trillion yen by 2030, and encouraging the development of made-in-Japan quantum computers.
I think METI also will play an important role in terms of promoting the industrialization of quantum technology by calling for private-sector investment. I would therefore like to ask about your views on the matter and directions of METI's support.
A: Quantum technology is an innovative technology that could revolutionize the industries and society of the future. On the 12th, the Cabinet Office's Quantum Technology Innovation Council announced and discussed a government proposal for a new strategy on quantum technology, called the Quantum Future Society Vision.
METI also places importance on the industrialization and social implementation of technologies such as quantum computers. Therefore, in addition to R&D toward the core technologies, we are also examining measures such as establishing a global-level base in AIST for collaboration between industry, academia, and government, including support toward developing human resources and applications.
Under the new strategy to be formulated, METI will also continue to work closely with the relevant ministries and agencies to drive the industrialization and social implementation of technologies such as quantum computers.
Q: My second question is related to the first. Besides quantum technology, AI and other advanced digital technologies are also directly linked not only to domestic industries and international competitiveness, but also to economic security, an aspect which the invasion of Ukraine has once again highlighted.
Against this background, I would like to ask you again about your views on these issues and what kinds of discussions and measures will be necessary to ensure that Japan does not fall behind in the technology race with countries such as the United States and China.
A: Advanced technologies such as quantum technology and AI could form the basis for creating new industries, improving productivity, and ensuring safety and security. The major countries are therefore racing each other to research, develop, and usefully implement them. In leading-edge technological fields like these, I think it is important to identify a path to victory that looks ahead all the way to the implementation stage, and to implement the technologies in society as quickly as possible.
Looking back, until two years ago, the common view in Japan was that quantum computers were still far off in the future. I was the MEXT Minister at the time, and I thought that we would end up with the same failure as we had experienced before if the government did not get involved and left everything to private-sector competition. The government took steps toward utilizing quantum computers and other quantum technologies under both the Abe and Suga administrations. As a result, I believe we are in a sense part of the vanguard now, but as you pointed out, other countries are supporting the technology and implementing it in society as an all-out endeavor by the nation. Japan will also need to keep pace and work on it competitively, and to that end, we will put together a support system using the AIST and other agencies as I mentioned earlier.
In important areas such as green and digital technology and economic security, it will be necessary to broadly strengthen support for R&D, and to work toward steadily implementing the outcomes in society and ensuring they lead to new innovations. For this purpose, we intend to use supplementary budgets. The policy up to now has been that government support has gone as far as R&D, and everything after that has been left to the private sector. However, I want to pursue a different policy from now on, whereby the government assumes a more prominent role and encourages private-sector investment in R&D by securing a proper budget, then the public and private sectors work together toward innovation and social implementation.