Press Conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now begin the press conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
We will begin with a statement from the Prime Minister. Mr. Prime Minister, your opening statement, please.
Opening Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Today the ordinary session of the Diet ended. This is my second time to make that statement here, the first being six years ago. We suffered a resounding defeat in the House of Councillors election held immediately afterwards, and after that I came to resign as Prime Minister. I have etched the setback of that time deeply upon my mind. Another House of Councillors election will soon be upon us. To state my feelings frankly, I have a feeling of nervous tension as a challenger hoping to achieve the top spot.
I have invested all my efforts over the past half year in moving quickly beyond various challenges. I would like you to recall the situation half a year ago: prolonged deflation, economic stagnation, a loss of diplomatic capacity, repeated provocations to our sovereignty, bullying and other problems called an educational crisis, and delayed reconstruction. In the face of public sentiment calling for something to be done, we succeeded in taking back the reins of government once more.
As a result of my economic policy of three "arrows," last year's negative rate of growth reversed course dramatically into positive growth this year. Indicators that signal the state of the economy in terms of production, consumption, and employment are all improving. I visit the disaster-stricken areas each month. Step by step, I have been accelerating reconstruction steadily. In addition, I have visited a number of important countries, notably the United States, as well as Southeast Asian nations, Russia, and countries in the Middle East and Europe, advancing Japan's diplomacy through a panoramic perspective of the world map.
So how have we done so far? Six months ago, did we not completely transform the dark and heavy atmosphere that enveloped society? Today marks exactly half a year since this administration was launched. I would like to extend my appreciation to relevant people in the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito Party for supporting the Abe Cabinet through a robust coalition. And more than anything else, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the public for giving me such cordial encouragement and support.
At the G8 Summit in the United Kingdom the other day, great interest in Japan's economic policies was shown from all around the world. This was a summit at which I felt that Japan will come out again on the world's center stage. Without exception, the G8 member countries gave high marks to the three "arrows" of Japan's economic policy. Our economic policy is not mistaken. I am firmly convinced that this is the only path forward. However, I think the honest feeling of the public is that they are still unable to feel our positive turnaround. I would like for everyone in every part of the country to feel the economic recovery for him or herself. The months to come will be the moment of truth for our economic policies as well. The key will be whether or not we can execute them without wavering. I am prepared to fight it out to the end. In light of this, it would not do for us to lose the upcoming House of Councillors election. We must do away with the contorted nature of the divided Diet at all costs. I am firmly determined to achieve this.
We failed to move forward on several important policies during the current Diet session. A number of important bills, including bills to liberalize the electricity market and to promote regenerative medicine, which would support my growth strategy, and a bill to establish a National Security Council, failed to be passed as a result of the divided Diet. This was a truly regrettable outcome.
In particular, the so-called "0 Increase, 5 Reduction" bill [to reduce the number of Diet seats by five], designed to rectify the disparity in the value of votes in different constituencies during elections - a situation ruled to be in a "state of unconstitutionality" by the courts - was at the mercy of this divide in the Diet. The DPJ had joined us in supporting this "0 Increase, 5 Reduction" bill last year. And yet, despite that, this bill revising the zoning of electoral districts was left unaddressed for more than 60 days in the House of Councillors, where the DPJ holds the greatest number of seats. They neither passed nor rejected the bill. They didn't even take a decision on it. Some have expressed the view that it is more important to reduce the number of seats [in the House of Representatives]. However, that does not constitute a valid reason for not endorsing the "0 Increase, 5 Reduction" proposal, which would rectify the "state of unconstitutionality." This is the contorted nature of the divided Diet - politics that can't decide and politics that wanders off course. For that reason, this week, the House of Representatives passed the bill again. I took the decision to do this since the House of Councillors failed to express its will and since there was the compelling reason of rectifying the "state of unconstitutionality."
The ruling parties also presented a proposal on electoral system reform including the reduction of the number of seats [in the House of Representatives] and assertively led the discussions, but we were unable to bring the matter to a conclusion during this Diet session.
As the electoral system is the arena in which democracy plays out, it is important that decisions about it not be made by the major parties alone, but rather that the views of minority parties also be respected. However, discussions did not move forward because of the substantial differences among the viewpoints of each party and parliamentary group. This was the reality facing us.
We must find a way to break out of this kind of deadlock at any cost. I propose that we establish within the Diet a third-party entity in which eminent persons from the private sector hold level-headed and objective discussions on the electoral system. Under this structure, each party and parliamentary group would respect the conclusions it reaches, thereby moving forward with reforms. I have already directed the LDP to present such a proposal to each party and parliamentary group. I intend to deliver results with certainty regarding electoral system reform as well.
It was I myself that brought about this divided Diet situation to begin with. [Under my leadership, the LDP] suffered defeat in the House of Councillors election six years ago. That defeat was the start of it all. Politics has been wandering, with the Prime Minister changing to one person and then another year after year - myself included - and Japan's national strength came to wane substantially. I view this as extremely regrettable. For the sake of Japan, we must put an end to this contorted situation. I am fully aware that the responsibility to do so lies with me.
Through last year's general election, we assumed the reins of government once again and the atmosphere in society transformed completely. The real economy is clearly changing for the better. I say to the Japanese people that it has been your power that brought change to politics. It has been your power that brought change to the economy. And, society too will change as we go forward. The power to do so lies with the people. Let us put an end to these contortions through the upcoming House of Councillors election and then carve out the future for a new Japan together under stable political conditions. Let us together build Japan as a country that has pride in itself. With that concluding request, I will end my opening statement upon the close of the Diet session. That is all.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now move on to the Q&A session. When you are called on, please first state your name and affiliation before asking your question. Mr. Takada, please.
REPORTER: I am Takada, with the Fuji Television Network.
As you mentioned just now, today marks exactly one half year since the second Abe Cabinet was launched, and it is also the day on which the ordinary Diet session ended. Looking back on this half year, is anything that you are particularly proud of as a success? If so, what would that be? Likewise, if there is anything that you expect to remain an issue into the future, what would that be?
Also, today a censure motion was passed against you in the House of Councillors. How do you regard that situation? You also mentioned resolving the contortions of the divided Diet. I would like to ask you once more what target you have set for the number of seats you hope to win in the House of Councillors election.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: [The LDP's] appeal to the public during last year's general election was that we would cast off deflation and make Japan's economy grow within the context of prolonged deflation and economic stagnation. At the same time, Japan's diplomatic capacity had waned considerably as a result of diplomatic setbacks. In the midst of this, there were attempts to threaten Japan's territory and territorial waters and also our sovereignty itself. Education was said to be in crisis and reconstruction was making hardly any progress. In light of this situation, the people wanted something to be done. In response, we said that we would take it upon ourselves to push forward and tackle these issues. This was how we came to take the reins of government once again.
The economy grew at a[n annualized] rate of minus 3.6 percent in July, August, and September last year, meaning we experienced negative growth, quite simply. Far from growing, the wealth of Japan and of the Japanese people was in fact dropping. I succeeded in changing this "minus" to a "plus," achieving [annualized] positive 4.1 percent growth across January, February, and March this year through my newly-devised three "arrows" of economic revival and through my policies that are of a nature altogether different from what has come before. In addition, in April, we succeeded in bringing the ratio of job offers to job seekers back to the level it was before the Lehman Shock. In a sense, it can be said that we successfully achieved over the short period of half a year what could not be achieved in three years under the DPJ-led administrations. That is to say, although people had lost confidence that Japan would be able to grow again, we are now on the brink of restoring people's confidence that from now, we might be able to make Japan a country that will truly play an active part once again on the world's center stage. I believe that that is how far we have come.
Despite this, it is also true that there are still people unable to feel this turnaround for themselves. I will restore the economy solidly in truly every corner of the country. I will devote all my energy to enabling people to feel for themselves that, "for Japan, next year is going to be better than this year," and "my own local area is also going to improve as we go forward."
Today a censure motion [against me] was passed. I consider this to be truly emblematic of the divided Diet situation. As a result of this censure motion, regrettably, the bill to reform the electric power system and other important bills came to be rejected. Japan is now truly fighting a battle of global competition in order to revive its economy. It will be necessary for Japan to have a sense of speed in order to emerge from this competition as a winner. I will accelerate the revival of the economy in order to restore to us this sense of speed. Eliminating the contorted Diet situation will be imperative in order to accelerate reconstruction as well. I have renewed my determination on those matters.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I'll take the next question now. Mr. Hayashi, please go ahead.
REPORTER: I am Hayashi, with the Hokkaido Shimbun.
I have a question regarding the House of Councillors election. Mr. Prime Minister, just now you stated that your goal is to put an end to the contortions found in the divided Diet. Unless you dissolve the House of Representatives somewhere along the way, the ruling party will be able to lead decision-making on various policies for at least three years after the election, until the next House of Councillors election. My understanding is that your objective is to create that kind of political environment.
If that is the type of goal you have set, then going beyond short-term issues, in order to create a Japan in which the Japanese people can be proud, as you mentioned a little earlier, what kinds of policies do you currently intend to set as the pillars of your political administration over the medium to long term? That is my first question. Also, related to that, in light of the image of the nation that you will set out, which articles and which clauses of the current Constitution do you currently consider it important to revise, or to pave the way for revising, over the next three years? The LDP has already announced a draft plan of revisions to the Constitution, but bearing that in mind, please tell us your own personal views.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: First of all, Japan will not recover its national power unless we restore political stability by eliminating the contorted nature of the divided Diet through the upcoming House of Councillors election. I think there is no doubt about that. I will make all-out efforts towards that end, and the responsibility for that lies with me. With that, we will put an end to the contortions of the divided Diet through the upcoming House of Councillors election. This is to say that the ruling parties will seek a majority in that chamber.
Beyond that, Japan has had a deflationary economy for 15 years. In order to wrest Japan from this deflation, we are now implementing policies that are of a nature altogether different than what has come before. However, it is a major undertaking indeed for a country to pull itself out of deflation when it has been in that state for 15 years. This can even be called a historic major undertaking. I am resolved to take this on, fully aware that it is no simple matter. Since it is not something that will be achieved right off, for these first three years - these three years in which we will have attained political stability - we will essentially concentrate our efforts on this issue of breaking away from deflation. By that, I mean a county that has lost its economic power is unable to maintain its national power overall, and thus it is also unable to demonstrate its strength in the areas of diplomacy or security. In order to secure firmly our national strength and our national pride, it will be necessary for us to achieve robust economic strength. I would like to concentrate my efforts fundamentally on that area first of all, although I believe it will not be such a simple thing to achieve.
At the same time, the matter you mentioned of revising the Constitution in order to craft the shape of the nation has been a principle of the LDP ever since the party was founded. Naturally we will also work towards this amending of the Constitution.
In terms of revising the Constitution, in the most recent House of Representatives election, I stated that I wanted to begin with revisions to Article 96. In doing so, I created the format under which we will lead discussions on the Constitution. Amending the Constitution used to be a rather unrealistic topic for discussion. But now for the first time it has come to be viable as a topic for discussion, and by degrees in fact it has become salient as a political issue. Insofar as the public has also come to recognize this, I believe that we have successfully achieved our first-stage goal.
Beyond this, the next step would address the law on national referenda [on constitutional revisions], which was passed by the Diet during my first administration. There is the issue of developing the legal provisions to make it possible to lower the voting age to 18 when conducting such national referenda. We must debate how we view various matters, including how this matter relates to the rights and obligations found in Civil Law. We must also discuss whether or not the things put to national referenda will be limited to just item-by-item Constitutional amendment proposals. Another matter is regulating the conduct of national civil servants. These are the three still-unresolved areas that remain as our "homework." Unless these areas are resolved, a national referendum cannot be held, so naturally I believe there is a need to address these areas.
Moreover, for ordinary laws, approval in the Diet by one half of its members is sufficient for passage. When amending the Constitution, our proposal for revision would make this the same, but unless half of the public agrees - that is, half of all votes cast, meaning a majority - then the Constitution would not be amended. In other words, it is the Japanese people who would make the decision. This means that while ordinary laws would be fundamentally concluded in the Diet, there would also be areas where the Diet proposes something and the people take a decision on it directly. The critical issue will be how broadly and deeply discussions are conducted among the people and the degree to which people share a common orientation for changes going forward.
Based on a careful examination of such matters, I believe it will be necessary for us to carefully and thoroughly debate how we would revise the text of the Constitution to be consistent with the intentions of the Japanese people, and which articles would come under consideration.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We are already past our scheduled time, so the next question will be the final question. Mr. Takenaka, please.
REPORTER: I am Takenaka, with Reuters.
I would like to ask you about nuclear policy. Recent public opinion polls indicate that roughly half of the Japanese people are against a restart of nuclear power plants, a number that exceeds the percent of people supporting a restart. There are also a large number of voters who want Japan to move away from nuclear power in the future and who also oppose the export of nuclear power plants. It seems that there is somewhat of a gap between the direction in which the public wants to go and the direction in which the government is heading. What are your views on that?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: As we advance our policies on nuclear power in the months and years to come, we must not forget that even now there are many people forced to take shelter as evacuees as a result of that terrible accident. I bear it uppermost in my mind that we must advance our policies by always taking into consideration the feelings of those people.
It goes without saying that for nuclear power plants, the fundamental principle is "safety first." In terms of safety, operations at nuclear power plants will not be restarted unless the plants conform to the new regulatory standards, as determined through the decision of the experts at the Nuclear Regulation Authority. This is our fundamental position.
As for the export of nuclear power plants, Japan will contribute to improving the safety of nuclear power around the world by sharing with the world the experiences and the lessons learned through the accident at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. I believe that Japan has a responsibility to do this. During my recent visits to the Middle East and Eastern Europe as well, in fact each country held Japan's nuclear technologies in high regard. When exporting nuclear power plants, I intend to provide Japan's technologies based on the wishes and the circumstances of these countries.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: With that, I would like to bring the Prime Minister's press conference to a close. Thank you all very much.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Thank you very much.