New Year's Press Conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Monday, January 4, 2016
Opening Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Happy New Year to everyone.
Now, at this very moment, as we greet the new year, members of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are undertaking PKO activities on African soil so far away, assisting South Sudan in becoming self-reliant. Other members of the SDF are now in the Gulf of Aden, a major maritime artery, protecting ships from around the world against piracy. I wish to express my sincere respect to them for their strong sense of both mission and responsibility, which sparks a sobering feeling within me.
This is the fourth new year we have celebrated since we emerged victorious in the election that brought about a change in government.
There is a proverb that says “even the coldest rock will warm up if sat upon for three years.”
Over these three years, employment has expanded by more than 1.1 million people. We have also brought about the highest rise in wages in 17 years and the economy is demonstrably on a recovery track. Last year, seven prefectures - Aomori, Akita, Tokushima, Kochi, Fukuoka, Kumamoto, and Okinawa - recorded their highest-ever ratio of job offers to job seekers. The vitalization of local regions is making steady progress.
In Tohoku, the northeastern region of Japan, public housing for disaster victims is being completed in a sustained stream and more and more disaster victims have been moving in. “New buds” of industries are also sprouting and reconstruction is advancing one step at a time.
Both the economic diplomacy and the peaceful diplomacy that I have deployed taking a panoramic perspective of the globe are beginning to bear great fruit. Last year, the Legislation for Peace and Security was passed, building a foundation for handing down a peaceful Japan to the generations of our children and grandchildren. The year 2015 also became a year in which we achieved the first reform of agricultural cooperatives in 60 years as well as reforms to the medical care system and liberalization of the electricity market, thereby carrying out truly the most drastic reforms in the post-war era.
This year is a hinoesaru year [the “fire monkey” year, which comes every 60 years in the Oriental zodiac]. Exactly 60 years ago was also a hinoesaru year. That year, the Economic White Paper, noting that the Japanese economy had finished its “growth due to recovery” from its devastation in the war, said, “We are no longer in the ‘post-war period’.” And, it argued that Japan should “set out towards building a new nation.”
We too have been putting the utmost priority on the economy the last three years. While we have still come only halfway, we have succeeded in bringing about a situation in which Japan is no longer in deflation.
“The end of one challenge marks the beginning of the next.” These are the words of the lead character in the novel “Shitamachi Rocket.” His small local factory transitions from making rocket parts to medical equipment, taking on one new challenge after the other.
It was small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro enterprises such as this that made Japan a major power in manufacturing excellence.
Those who went before us built up a prosperous Japan and handed it down to us. They never gave up as they achieved challenging goals that included the successful holding of the Tokyo Olympics and the period of high economic growth.
Four years from now the Olympic and Paralympic Games will once again be held in Tokyo. We will absolutely make these Games a success. Moreover, I intend to make 2016 a year in which we take on fresh challenges towards building a new nation, with our gaze firmly fixed on the years beyond the Games.
The global economy is now increasingly unpredictable as we begin to see the vitality of emerging economies declining. The world is now searching for a path leading to sustained growth. Working together with other leaders of major nations, I want to make the G7 Ise-Shima Summit in May a major start towards tackling various challenges towards the future of the global economy.
Here in Japan, we will squarely take on the long-standing issue of an aging society with a falling birthrate. Having set three major targets - achieving a 600 trillion yen GDP, Japan’s largest in the post-war era; raising the birthrate to 1.8 children per woman, the level the public has indicated as desirable; and eliminating cases in which people have no choice but to leave their jobs to provide nursing care - I will now fire at them my new “three arrows.” We will launch new efforts to tackle challenges, aiming to bring about “a society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged.”
We will get off to a fast and powerful start right away through a supplementary budget with expenditures at a scale of 3.5 trillion yen. The ordinary Diet session beginning today will truly be “the Diet that takes on challenges towards the future.”
In both domestic affairs and foreign policy, the task before us this year is to take on challenges, time and time again. I am determined to make 2016 a year of resolutely taking on challenges for the future.
In the hinoesaru year 300 years ago, Tokugawa Yoshimune, whom you know as the “bold shogun,” became the eighth shogun. Although Yoshimune was famous as the shogun who took on various reforms, including reconstruction of the shogunate’s finances, he did much more than that.
Yoshimune planted young cherry trees in numerous locations around Edo. It is said that some in the shogunate opposed this. But Yoshimune was convinced that in the future, cherry trees in bloom would cause people to gather even in poor villages, making those villages prosper. He made an investment towards the future based on this belief. It is said that he continued to take on this challenge of planting young cherry trees. Thanks to his efforts, three hundred years later, we too can view the cherry blossoms. When spring arrives, throngs of people converge on famous cherry blossom viewing sites.
Last year when I visited Iwate Prefecture, I encountered young people who were hard at work conducting young cherry tree-planting activities along the coast, which had suffered tsunami damage. Young saplings will not come into bloom anytime soon. But as their efforts go forward, these trees will produce blossoms years from now, with people coming together under cherry trees in full bloom a decade or two from now, and the lessons from the tsunamis will come to be handed down.
I too wish to be a politician who “plants trees,” as I fix my gaze steadily upon the future of Japan. No matter how much time it may take, and no matter how difficult the challenge may be, I intend to launch efforts to take on the challenge of planting young “saplings” that will grow into “a society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged.” The curtain is now opening on our very first year as a society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged. As I end my opening statement, let me extend my best wishes for 2016 to be a wonderful year for all the Japanese people.
With that, I will conclude my remarks.
REPORTER (HARA, NHK): I am Hara with NHK, one of the coordinators of the press club. I look forward to working with you in the year ahead.
The G7 Ise-Shima Summit will be held this May, and Japan will serve as the chair of the meeting. How do you intend to demonstrate leadership in the face of such issues as international terrorism, climate change, and the unpredictable nature of the global economy? Also, please talk about your views at this stage regarding the summit’s main agenda items and outcomes.
In addition, please discuss the visit of President Putin to Japan, which did not come to fruition last year, and the prospects at the current time for when the Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Summit Meeting might be held.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: This year, Japan assumes the Presidency of the G7 Ise-Shima Summit. In addition, Japan has become a non-permanent member of UN Security Council. We will also hold a TICAD summit in Africa for the first time and serve as the chair of the Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Summit Meeting. In this way, 2016 will be a year in which Japan’s diplomacy will lead the world.
At the Ise-Shima Summit, I intend for us to discuss the various issues facing the world, including the increasingly unpredictable global economy, the fight against terrorism, poverty and development issues, and the situation in Asia and the Pacific. With Japan as the chair of the G7, which is the champion of universal values such as freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and human rights, I intend for Japan to lead the world by looking squarely at the future with a global perspective and laying out the most appropriate roadmap in order to foster peace and prosperity in the region and around the world.
With regard to Russia, President Putin and I share the recognition that it is extraordinary not to have concluded a peace treaty even though more than 70 years have passed since the end of the war. Resolution of the issue of the Northern Territories will not be possible without exchanges between the leaders of our nations. It is important to gain Russia’s constructive engagement on such issues as terrorism, Syria, and Iran as well. I will keep taking opportunities to continue having dialogue with President Putin. Regarding Mr. Putin’s visit to Japan, I intend for us to keep looking for the most appropriate time in such a context.
As for the Japan-China-Republic of Korea Trilateral Summit Meeting, I would like to make this year’s summit a meaningful one that delivers concrete outcomes, based on the complete normalization of the trilateral cooperation process achieved at last year’s summit in Seoul. Regarding the timing of the summit, I will coordinate the matter with China and the ROK, from the standpoint of first holding a trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and then having those outcomes reported to the trilateral summit.
REPORTER (YAMAGUCHI, NISHINIPPON SHIMBUN): I am Yamaguchi with Nishinippon Shimbun, one of the coordinators of the press club. Thank you for taking my question.
My question is about the House of Councillors election. This year, the most important decisive political battle will be the election for the House of Councillors in the summer. At present the LDP holds 115 seats, giving it a majority when combined with the 20 seats held by Komeito. What are your thoughts on the line separating victory from defeat in this summer’s House of Councillors election? Will you aim to hold a majority through LDP-held seats alone, or will you aim at holding two-thirds of the seats among the so-called “constitutional amendment forces” including, for example, the Osaka Restoration Association together with the LDP and Komeito?
And, please explain once more what you consider to be the points at issue in the House of Councillors election.
Also, please discuss the possibility of also holding an election for the House of Representatives on the same day [as the House of Councillors election] through a dissolution of the Lower House.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: First of all, I think it is fair to say that the coalition government between the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito is a robust one that has weathered various storms. I intend for us to continue to squarely take on challenges atop this stable political foundation, never running from any issues, be they domestic or international, including notably the challenge of working towards a “society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged.”
It is a matter of course that in the House of Councillors election, we will aim to have all of our candidates successfully elected, and indeed, I consider that to be the duty of the President of the Liberal Democratic Party. On the assumption that we aim to have all of our candidates elected to office, beyond that, in order to advance stable politics under the LDP-Komeito coalition, I would like the LDP and Komeito together to secure a majority in the House of Councillors election. I will do my utmost to win a victory in that contest.
As for constitutional reform, we will appeal for it strongly during the House of Councillors election campaign, just as we have thus far. At the same time, I would like to deepen public discussion through those appeals we make.
Regarding a dissolution of the House of Representatives, please excuse me for giving the same response over and over again, but I have given absolutely no consideration to dissolving the House. To repeat what I said earlier, while there will be various themes for the House of Councillors election, I would like the public to hand us their judgment concerning the results produced by the Abe administration over the past three years and the “society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged” that we are now promoting.
REPORTER (HARDING, FINANCIAL TIMES): I am Harding, with the Financial Times.
Mr. Prime Minister, [you say] we are entering a situation of “no longer being in deflation,” and yet the inflation rate is close to 0%. Do you have any concerns that an announcement of having pulled out of deflation may be premature? I am wondering if it might be too early to say Japan has extricated itself from deflation.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: I have been saying that we have succeeded in bringing about a situation in which Japan is no longer in deflation. Unfortunately, we are still only halfway there, and it is also true that we have not come to the point where we have fully extricated ourselves from deflation.
However, it is a fact that price trends have reversed thanks to bold monetary easing and there has been a trend towards rising prices the last two and a half years. Employment has also increased by over 1.1 million people and wages have shown large increases for two consecutive years. Recently, capital investment this past July, August, and September was up more than 11% year over year, and an aggressive attitude is springing up in the business community as well.
I believe that we have come to a point where we are very close to breaking away from deflation. It is my recognition that whether or not we will be able to accelerate this transition is dependent on how strongly we can keep the economic virtuous circle turning by means of wage increases and capital investment.
For that reason, the government has decreased the effective corporate tax rate ahead of schedule, taking the decision to lower the rate into the twenties beginning this April, at the start of the new fiscal year. Governor Kuroda of the Bank of Japan also says that he will do everything in his power. I intend for the Government of Japan and the Bank of Japan to act in a united manner in doing our utmost to extricate ourselves from deflation.
REPORTER (NANAO, NICO NICO DOUGA): I am Nanao, with Nico Nico Douga. I look forward to working with you again in the coming year.
There will be 2.40 million new eligible voters beginning with the House of Councillors election this summer, due to the right to vote being granted from age 18. At the same time, during elections the generation gap in voting behavior has become more pronounced. In light of this situation, what are your views regarding the need to communicate what Japan is now doing, as well as the policies Japan is pursuing and the reasons for doing so, to the public more extensively than in years past?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: In the upcoming House of Councillors election, 18- and 19-year-olds will cast ballots for the first time. I think we can say they will cast historic ballots, as it were. I would like for them to go to the polls duly contemplating the importance of what they are doing.
At the same time, it is a fact that voter turnout among young people is currently low, as you pointed out. I intend to make efforts so that young people come to fully understand that young people today and young people’s future will be impacted substantially by what is being discussed in the world of politics, whether it be foreign policy or whether it be domestic affairs, for example, the issues of benefits and who will shoulder the burden, or the issues of medical care and pensions. Our Diet debates also should not be spent merely exchanging criticisms in which we simply point fingers at the other side. Instead I wish to make efforts to engage in constructive discussions in which we bounce counterproposals off each other, so that young people have options and are able to choose which party and which candidates are best.
REPORTER (NISHIGAKI, FUJI TELEVISION NETWORK): I am Nishigaki with the Fuji Television Network. Thank you for taking my question.
Mr. Prime Minister, the words “taking on challenges” appeared in the aspirations for the new year that you spoke about just now. With regard to the new “three arrows,” you mentioned firing arrows towards your targets. This year there will be an election, and while I think it is still too early to reach the stage of pledges, what kinds of targets -- numerical targets that will lead to peace of mind for people in their daily lives -- do you intend to set in concrete terms during the lead-up to the election over the next six months, with the Diet convening from today?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Over the past three years, as a result of pushing ahead with so-called “Abenomics,” there has been for example some 21 trillion yen in increased tax revenue in total at the national and local levels. I think it is fair to say that this is truly the fruit of the “Abenomics” economic policy that we have been advancing. And the question is how we will make use of this ‘fruit’ going forward.
For this reason, we have set forth three new targets: achieving a 600 trillion yen GDP, Japan’s largest in the post-war era; raising the birthrate to 1.8 children per woman, the level the public has indicated as desirable; and eliminating cases in which people have no choice but to leave their jobs to provide nursing care.
We have allocated some of the ‘fruit’ borne out of Abenomics to prepare a budget for assistance for child-rearing in order to make this birthrate of 1.8 children per woman a reality, thereby utilizing this ‘fruit’. Moreover, we have properly prepared a budget for social security in order to eliminate the need for people to leave their jobs in order to provide nursing care for family members. By firing our arrows at these targets, we will be able to grow even more, atop the foundation of social infrastructure in which we can have peace of mind. We will of course also invest the fruit obtained through growth in ways that foster further growth. Hitting the three targets I just mentioned will lead to us gaining still more fruit, and we will utilize such fruit to bring about even greater peace of mind. As it will be used to prepare for our old age in the future and also for child-rearing, we will create a new economic model that truly creates a virtuous circle between growth and the distribution [of the fruit obtained through that growth]. I consider it absolutely imperative for us to take on that challenge.
While this will be no easy task, nothing will be achieved unless we work to tackle such challenges. In taking on challenges, unless we strive to tackle them as early as possible, our efforts will in fact be too late. For that reason, we wish to launch our efforts to tackle these challenges beginning with the current Diet session. We also wish to create a “society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged” in order to make that a reality.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Thank you very much.