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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

Press Conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Monday, June 19, 2017

 [Provisional translation]

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

The ordinary session of the Diet ended yesterday.

Four years ago, at the first ordinary session of the Diet after we retook the reins of government, I called on each political party and political group to hold constructive discussions and deliver results.

That starting point remains unchanged even now.

However, from beginning to end, this Diet session was filled with exchanges of criticisms that were a far cry from those words of constructive discussions. A great amount of time for deliberations was spent on nothing other than discussions entirely unrelated to policy.

I feel this is highly regrettable for the Japanese people.

In spite of myself, I refuted in strong terms the discussions that were akin to image manipulation. That posture I took consequently caused topics other than policy debate to be discussed at length. I regret this deeply.

In addition, regarding the exchanges between ministries and agencies related to National Strategic Special Zones, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) conducted an exhaustive additional inquiry last week and released documents, including some that were newly discovered. In response to this, the Cabinet Office also conducted an investigation, shedding light on relevant documents and other materials.

However, at the stage when the investigation was first undertaken, the Ministry was not able to confirm that these existed. The situation shifted several times and stretched on for quite some time. I must admit frankly that this kind of response led to distrust among the public towards the government.

The government cannot do without the trust of the public.

Should anything be pointed out, I will execute accountability towards each point in a sincere manner.

Last week I attended the Budget Committee’s intensive deliberations after the outcome of the investigation was announced. We will return once more to the starting point I stated four years ago, holding constructive discussions and delivering results. We as the ruling party will fulfill our responsibilities to bring about this kind of politics.

We must go forward building up our efforts to explain each point thoroughly and in a composed manner to earn the public’s trust. I renewed my determination to do so as we concluded this session of the Diet.

Terrorist incidents occurred again this month in the UK, France, and Iran. The horror of terrorism is spreading throughout the world.

For Japan, which is preparing for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games three years from now in such an era, the reinforcement of counterterrorism measures cannot be delayed. In order to thwart terrorism before it occurs, we will conclude the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and strengthen our cooperation with the international community going forward. The Act on Punishment of the Preparation of Acts of Terrorism and Other Organized Crimes that was passed during this Diet session is necessary for that reason.

From now, we will undertake all possible means for the proper application of this law and for protecting the lives and assets of the Japanese people, based firmly on the deliberations in the ordinary Diet session, various points that have been made, and the like.

This session also saw the passage of the Special Measures Law on the Imperial House Law Concerning the Abdication of the Emperor and Other Matters. I would like to express my thanks once again for the cooperation that extended across the lines between the ruling and opposition parties, including notably the presidents and vice-presidents of both the House of Representatives and House of Councillors, with the understanding of the Japanese people.

During this session of the Diet, which convened for 150 days, almost all of the bills submitted by the government -- more than 60 in all -- were passed into law.

Historic revisions not seen in a century were made to both the civil code and criminal law.

With the law to revise electoral districts in the House of Representatives also enacted, we will correct the disparity in the relative weight of one vote and reduce the number of Lower House members by ten, as we had pledged for some time.

Under revisions made to the Act on Special Measures for the Reconstruction and Revitalization of Fukushima, we will further accelerate the recovery of occupations and livelihoods in Fukushima significantly damaged as a result of the nuclear accident.

We amended the Employment Insurance Act bringing about a reduction in insurance rates from April. This will reduce the burden on small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro enterprises. Alongside this, this year we saw wage increases at a high level in the spring labor offensive for the fourth consecutive year, and through a combination of these, we will further increase working people’s take-home pay.

The ratio of job offers to job seekers is now at an extremely high level, surpassing even that seen in the bubble era. This spring, 98 percent of all those newly graduating high school or university successfully found employment and began their lives as working members of society. This is the highest level recorded since this survey began. We will increase employment and increase income. The Abe Cabinet will continue to place the economy as the highest priority in order to make the economic virtuous circle turn even more powerfully.

The key to this hinges on execution of the Growth Strategy and boldly carrying out structural reforms.

In this Diet session, eight laws related to the reform of agricultural policy were all enacted, including the reform of ZEN-NOH (the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations) and the reform of dairy farming. We will transform agriculture into an attractive growth field and bring about increases in farmers’ income. We will carve out a new era for agricultural policy in which young people can entrust their dreams and futures.

Also enacted was the bill to revise the Act on National Strategic Special Zones, which will make a significant breakthrough in regulations and systems that are as firmly entrenched as bedrock. Making use of this system, thus far we have lifted bans on the acquisition of agricultural land by corporations, which had not been allowed for many years, and on publicly built, privately operated schools, which incorporate the wisdom of the private sector into school education. In the city of Narita, Chiba Prefecture, a new medical department was launched, the first in 38 years, with the aim of fostering internationally-oriented medical professionals.

During the final stage of the Diet session, considerable discussions took place with regard to whether or not government administration has been distorted in establishing a department of veterinary medicine within one of the National Strategic Special Zones.

More than 50 years have passed since the last time a department of veterinary medicine was permitted to be established. However, avian influenza, foot-and-mouth disease, and other infectious diseases that may spread between animals and furthermore from animals to humans are now major issues. Fostering experts and securing veterinarians among our civil servants are matters of urgency.

Regulatory reforms that respond to the needs of such an era are not distortions of government administration, but rather, means of correcting distorted government administration. It is truly my will as prime minister to press forward overall with reforms to bedrock-like regulations with a sense of speed.

Naturally, the decision-making process must be fair. Therefore, we are advancing discussions on, and making decisions regarding, the National Strategic Special Zones in advisory councils and in working groups that include experts, both of which include members from the private sector. All proceedings are released to the public.

It is that kind of transparent, fair, and impartial process that will become the major force that eliminates inward-looking discussions and breaks through regulations as entrenched as bedrock that have been tied down by vested interests. That is the National Strategic Special Zones.

As for the establishment of a department of veterinary medicine for the first time in half a century, the private sector members of the council involved in the deliberations have declared that the process was entirely untarnished.

It is truly opening the door to reforming the regulations that have become hard like bedrock.

However, during this Diet session, members of the Democratic Party submitted a bill to halt the system of National Strategic Special Zones itself. This way of thinking, aimed at forcing reforms into retreat, is truly regrettable.

There always exist forces that oppose reforms to bedrock-like regulations.

However, I will not be daunted for any reason. Nor will I ever join hands with vested interests. I as prime minister am fully determined to continue to stand at the fore and serve as the drill bit as we break through every form of bedrock-like regulation.

In this Diet session, a law was also passed to institute a scholarship system under which borrowers do not need to repay the scholarship amount, a system that was unable to be realized for many years. We are already making use of this system for students facing particularly severe economic circumstances, including children raised in children’s homes or by foster parents.

It is children who are Japan’s future. This ordinary Diet session truly became the Diet that unlocked the future. Any child who wishes to can go to high school, vocational school, or university, no matter how poor his or her family may be. This must be a Japan in which any child is able to work hard towards reaching his or her dreams.

And, we must create a Japan in which all citizens are dynamically engaged, where each person feels a reason for living and is able to demonstrate his or her abilities as much as he or she pleases, whether young or old, female or male, a person with a disability or an intractable illness, or someone who has experienced failure.

The crux of that is creating opportunities for all kinds of people.

We will make higher education truly open to all children, regardless of household economic circumstances. We will also dramatically expand recurrent education, ensuring opportunities to relearn and to take on new challenges all throughout people’s lives. If we are to live up to this, then naturally, universities’ roles and functions must also change.

Fostering human resources is the driving force that will carve out the next era.

We will carry out a “human resources development revolution” that does not conform to the uniform thinking we had until now and transform Japan into a country overflowing with opportunities for everyone.

This summer I will inaugurate an eminent persons meeting which will serve as the engine for this. It will be called the “Council to Design Opportunities for All.” We will prepare within July the structure to make this possible.

As we look squarely at this year, the 70th anniversary of the Constitution coming into force, as well as the next 70 years and then the future stretching out beyond that, I would like for us to conceive of a comprehensive and bold strategy for bringing about a “human resources development revolution.”

The G20 summit will be held in Germany two weeks from now. Taking advantage of this opportunity in which the leaders of not only the US and the EU but also China, Russia, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and other leading nations come together, I intend to conduct summit-level diplomacy actively.

I intend to confirm that Japan, the US, and the ROK will form a tight scrum regarding the issue of North Korea, which has been escalating its provocations. I will also begin in earnest the preparations for holding the Japan-China-ROK trilateral summit that will be coming up.

Although there are a great many issues to tackle, I will roll up my sleeves still further and devote all my energy to both domestic and foreign policies. I ask for the understanding and support of the public.

I will end my opening statement here.

Questions and Answers

REPORTER (TAKAYAMA, MAINICHI SHIMBUN): I am Takayama with the Mainichi Shimbun.

As you mentioned just now in your opening statement, during this ordinary Diet session, debates over issues concerning Kake Educational Institution, issues concerning Moritomo Gakuen, and other matters received a great deal of attention. As for the issues concerning Kake Educational Institution, during the final days of the Diet session in particular, through a reinvestigation by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the existence of documents explicitly stating the Prime Minister’s will was confirmed. Meanwhile, the results of an investigation by the Cabinet Office were announced, saying that there had been no such statements made and no such documents, resulting in a discrepancy emerging.

The opposition parties claim that an explanation should be given even though the Diet session has been concluded, and they claim that doubts still linger regarding Moritomo Gakuen as well. With regard to these two issues, is it your understanding that accountability has already been sufficiently executed? Also, you just stated that you will continue to make explanations over time. How will you carry out such explanations?

Furthermore, in the deliberations over the bill to newly establish as crimes the preparation of acts of terrorism and other organized crimes, the ruling parties enacted the bill using the extraordinary method of an interim report, through which committee deliberations were omitted. Not surprisingly, some have made the point that deliberations on the bill were inadequate. How do you intend to continue to carry out explanations going forward to dispel unease among the public?

In public opinion polls taken this weekend by various companies, the support rate for the Cabinet has also suffered nearly a 10 point drop. I would like you to respond to my questions with that situation also in mind.

PRIME MINISTER ABE:  As for the issues you have just pointed out, the government provided multiple explanations at the Diet over time, but unfortunately we have not necessarily been successful in gaining public understanding. I believe we have to admit that candidly.

I consider the Act on Punishment of the Preparation of Acts of Terrorism and Other Organized Crimes to be an indispensable law as we strengthen our international cooperation for counterterrorism, but I am aware that some among the public continue to harbor unease and worry.

However, taking this opportunity, I would like to state clearly once again that general citizens will not be subject to punishment. And, I would like to state clearly to the Japanese people once more that members of the general public will not be the subject of investigations as suspects.

As we put these laws into effect, we will work to ensure their proper application, based on the discussions in the Diet and other considerations. As we thoroughly undertake their proper application, you will be assured that what I said right now, and what we have been saying, is not mistaken.

This is a law to defend the lives and assets of the Japanese people. We intend to take all possible measures in order to defend the public’s lives and assets.

Also, as for the sale of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen, the Board of Audit of Japan has already begun its examination of the matter and the government will provide all-out cooperation on the matter.

As for establishing a department of veterinary medicine within a National Strategic Special Zone, I believe I must reflect candidly on the fact that the response regarding the issue of the documents has shifted several times, leading to distrust among the public towards the government.

Going forward, should anything be pointed out, the government will execute accountability towards each point in a sincere manner. The government will continue to provide easily understood explanations regardless of whether or not the Diet is in session. We intend to keep making efforts in this regard.

Grounded in our reflections upon the debates held in this Diet session, we will explain each point thoroughly in an easy-to-understand and composed manner to earn the public’s trust.

REPORTER (IWATA, TBS): My name is Iwata and I am with TBS.

I would like to ask some questions regarding upcoming domestic affairs.

First of all, with less than two weeks remaining before the Tokyo Assembly election, what are your thoughts as president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) regarding what points you will take up in the campaign and what portion of the assembly seats you aim to capture?

Also, the LDP intends to compile within 2017 a draft proposal regarding constitutional revision. Looking ahead to that, what kind of principles do you envision you will adopt regarding LDP Board members whose terms will expire this summer, and also regarding a Cabinet reshuffle, including in terms of timing?

Moreover, within the LDP there has also arisen the idea of proposing revision to the Constitution during next year’s ordinary Diet session and to hold a national referendum on the matter simultaneously with the next House of Representatives election. I would like to hear your thoughts on this, including regarding the holding of a national referendum concurrently with a national election.

PRIME MINISTER ABE:  The Tokyo Assembly election is ultimately a local election and I expect that various local issues being faced by Tokyo residents right now and topics particular to Tokyo will be the points at issue. Within the LDP, we plan to appeal strongly to Tokyo residents about policies which affect them closely and are deeply rooted in Tokyo itself, led by our branch association in Tokyo, with the aim of winning as many seats as possible.

I think that the topics to be discussed will include how to create a Tokyo that is pleasant to live in, how to create a Tokyo that is safe and easy to raise children in while offering a marvelous natural environment, and how Tokyo Metropolitan policies should be advanced in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

In any case, I think that naturally it will be various issues relevant to the people of Tokyo that will be the points contested in the election.

In addition, constitutional revision has been among the fundamental thinking underlying the policies of the LDP ever since the party was founded. The other day, I laid out my way of thinking as president of the LDP. In response to that, discussions have already begun within the LDP’s Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution on a concrete proposal for revision to be submitted to the Commissions on the Constitution of Japan in both houses of the Diet. In light of that, we are now at a stage in which the LDP proposal has not yet been submitted to the Diet’s Commissions on the Constitution of Japan, so as of this moment, I do not consider us to be at a stage where I can comment on the subsequent proposal to come before the Diet or other such matters.

Gaining a two-thirds approval in both houses of the Diet is in itself not so easy to begin with, and not achieved without difficulty. First of all, I want to prioritize consideration of the contents so that the LDP proposal becomes one regarding which we can hold constructive discussions that transcend the lines between the ruling and opposition parties.

Moreover, in various important policies including the further strengthening of Abenomics, work style reform, and the “human resources development revolution,” in order to attain a substantial propulsive force, it will be necessary to actively appoint appropriate people and create well-formed structures within both the party and the government. Grounded in that viewpoint, I intend to give thorough consideration to the matters of party officers and a Cabinet reshuffle.

REPORTER (SIEG, REUTERS): My name is Sieg and I am with Reuters.

I would like to ask about diplomacy. President Trump of the United States has forged favorable relations with China that have exceeded initial expectations. Are you concerned that close relations between the US and China will impact Japan negatively?

PRIME MINISTER ABE:  It is often pointed out that progress in US-China relations could cause some difficulties for Japan, but I do not view it that way at all. The leaders of the US and China building a relationship of trust and acting in close cooperation is positive for the world and also positive for Japan.

We need to tackle the various issues facing the international community together with the major powers of China and the US. This is true in the case of the climate change issue, for example. The international community is now required to join hands with each other in tackling various issues.

One example is the response to the North Korea issue. China is the country with the greatest leverage towards North Korea. For that reason, it is necessary to advance Japan-US, Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK), and Japan-US-ROK cooperation, as well as close cooperation with China. To achieve this, Japan is also urging China on this matter. It is necessary for the US and China to unify their understanding, so to speak, that this North Korea issue is a global threat, and to move forward in the same direction, in our endeavor to resolve this issue.

With regard to our approach to China, the other day when State Councilor Dr. Yang Jiechi visited Japan, I myself also urge him on this matter, and I consider it beneficial for Japan as well for the US to act in cooperation with China at various levels to apply pressure on North Korea.

In any case, the Japan-US alliance is the foundation of Japanese diplomacy and security. I think it is also important for us to maintain close contact at the summit level, the ministerial level, and indeed at all levels and forge a relationship that harbors no surprises. I feel that now we have such a relationship.

Going forward, I intend to engage with such issues under the recognition that developing the US-China relationship and the Japan-China relationship is positive for both Japan and the US.

REPORTER (HARA, NHK): My name is Hara, with NHK.

I would like to return to the Kake Educational Institution issue and the Moritomo Gakuen issue.

The handling of official documents became an issue at the Diet, and Nippon Ishin no Kai submitted a bill to expand the scope of official documents whose preservation is mandatory, while the Democratic Party and others on the opposition party side also submitted a bill having the same aim.

In light of this issue, what are your thoughts regarding amending the Public Records Management Act, or regarding how official documents should be managed? Do you have any intention of undertaking legal revisions?

PRIME MINISTER ABE:  The management of public records hands down the history and culture of the nation from the past to the present and into the future, while also implementing the proper and efficient operation of government administration, and I believe we can call it important infrastructure in executing accountability towards the Japanese people of both the present day and the future.

The deliberations held during this Diet session included various discussions regarding official documents. Against that backdrop, I reconfirmed the importance of this issue. Given that importance, I intend for the government to move forward properly in its continuous efforts in order to raise the quality of public document management at each government institution.

REPORTER (SHIMADA, NIKKEI SHIMBUN): I am Shimada with the Nikkei Shimbun.

I would like to ask about the Growth Strategy. Quite a few voices have pointed out that structural reform is not proceeding at the speed that had been expected. Within that context, in order to accelerate structural reform by means of the “human resources development revolution” that you mentioned just now as a key word, some have pointed out that it will be necessary to go beyond setting up a council structure and appoint a minister in charge of the matter. Are you thinking along those lines?

Moreover, from the viewpoint of the Growth Strategy, expectations towards changes in the trade environment, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement and so on, are also being voiced. In the negotiations on the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) currently underway, do you have any intention of reaching agreement in principle by roughly the timing of the G20 summit meeting in July?

Regarding TPP11 as well, do you consider it possible to reach swift agreement, for example within 2017? Also, do you believe there is a high likelihood that the US will return to the TPP framework in the future?

PRIME MINISTER ABE:  When the Abe Cabinet presses forward with policies concerning important national issues that span across various ministries and agencies, for example, vitalizing local economies, creating a society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged, or work style reform, we initiate eminent persons’ meetings while a minister responsible for the matter exercises leadership over it. The government also sends out information to the public in ways that are easy to understand. As a result, we have succeeded in pressing forward with policies. Therefore, I want to consider that for the new “Council to Design Opportunities for All” and also as we move forward with human capacity development.

In addition, regarding trade strategy, Japan achieved rapid economic growth through free trade. One can say that the exchange of goods and people over national borders has led to various kinds of knowledge and experience being exchanged and new wisdom arising, while technology has progressed amidst competition in the context of the rough seas of international society. I think it is truly this dynamism that is the cornerstone of global prosperity and peace.

And, as a fundamental way of thinking, I believe trade must be open to anyone as well as fair. Japan-EU EPA negotiations are truly work that will create free and fair rules appropriate for the 21st century. Negotiations to work out details are currently taking place in Tokyo and I would like to reach an agreement on fundamental elements of the agreement as early as possible.

Regarding the TPP Agreement, the negotiating countries spent countless hours discussing in earnest over what would be the rules that are necessary for the Asia-Pacific region to develop, finally culminating in the TPP agreement. The 11 countries reached agreement to move the TPP forward.

Next month, at a meeting at the senior officials level to be hosted by Japan, we will begin a full-scale examination of measures to enable the TPP Agreement’s early entry into force. As the chair, Japan intends to work in close cooperation with each of the other countries, advancing discussions leading up to the November APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting with a sense of speed, and for that reason, Japan must demonstrate leadership. I also feel a sense of responsibility in that regard.

We have launched a new economic dialogue between Japan and the United States. We intend to create a rules-oriented framework between Japan and the US that will serve as a model for Asia and the Pacific. Japan will use all means to ensure the global expansion of free and fair markets based on rules. We are committed to taking a leadership role as a flag-bearer of free trade.

REPORTER (NISHIGAKI, FUJI TELEVISION NETWORK): I am Nishigaki with the Fuji Television Network.

I would like to ask about the issue of the Northern Territories, and about negotiations on the conclusion of a peace treaty. Half a year has passed since the summit talks you held with President Putin of Russia in Yamaguchi Prefecture and in Tokyo. The first visit by former island residents to their ancestors’ graves by airplane, which was announced   at the time, has been canceled due to poor weather conditions yesterday and today, so there may be portions where procedures are moving forward.

On the other hand, as for the joint economic activities on the four Northern Islands, proceedings for activities in concrete terms such as on-site surveys on the four Northern Islands appear to be stalled. I would like to ask about the current situation as well as means for, and prospects for, advancing this from now on through summit meetings.

PRIME MINISTER ABE: I think that the matters agreed with President Putin at the Japan-Russia summit held in Nagato this past December are one after another currently moving forward towards realization.

Now there is the special grave visits by former residents of the Northern Territories by airplane, as you asked about. The former island residents are now elderly and they felt strongly that it would be good if they could make the visit by air, and the Russian side agreed to this. The plan had been for the visit to be realized either yesterday or today, but regrettably, the visit has been postponed because of dense fog making it impossible for airplanes to land at the airport on Kunashiri island. In the future, I would like to realize the visit as soon as possible, as the weather allows, through consultations with the former island residents.

In addition, regarding joint economic activities, last month a joint public-private research team visited Sakhalin. And, preparations have been moving forward, such as detailed consultations between the research team and relevant people, notably the governor of Sakhalin. At the end of June a public-private research team is scheduled to visit the Northern Territories and conduct on-site surveys. The previous on-site survey was of Sakhalin, and this time it will be of the four Northern Islands. We intend to conduct meaningful on-site surveys so that projects can take concrete shape in areas such as the fishing industry and tourism, which are of great interest in both Japan and Russia.

President Putin and I have agreed to hold summit talks on the sidelines of the G20 summit at the beginning of July. Based on the progress made until now, I intend to engage in frank exchanges of views with President Putin and advance our discussions in light of the relationship of trust we have built up so far. I intend to provide momentum for realizing the special grave visits and joint economic activities and advance the process towards the conclusion of a peace treaty.

PRIME MINISTER ABE:  Thank you very much.

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