Press Conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after the Closing of the 165th Session of the Diet
December 19, 2006
[Opening remarks by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe]
Today we closed out the current extraordinary Diet session. This was the first time that I attended a Diet session as Prime Minister. At the outset of the session, I put forth my views as Prime Minister in the form of a policy speech through which I expressed my determination to do my best to create "a beautiful country, Japan" together with the people. Moreover, I made it clear that in order to realize this goal, we must reform and rebuild education, which I designated the top priority task for my Cabinet. Accordingly, I declared my intention to pass, as the first step, proposed amendments to the Fundamental Law of Education.
We have managed to pass all the bills that the Government submitted to the Diet during this session, including the bill concerning the Fundamental Law of Education and a bill to promote the decentralization of power from central to local government. We also enacted bills on the transition to the Ministry of Defense. As I explained in my policy speech, such laws will form the foundation of my initiative to make a clean break with the postwar regime and build a new country. In that sense, the stream of new legislation passed during the extraordinary Diet session that closed today marked the first major steps toward realizing my initiative.
It was also during this Diet session that I made the decision on my own responsibility as the President of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to allow those who had left the LDP in the run-up to last year's general election to return to the party. My reason for doing so was that I wanted as many people as possible who were facing in the same direction and who shared my ideas about creating a new country to join me in this nation-building effort. This policy has not changed since the time of the LDP presidential campaign.
As a result, 11 Diet members whose ideas are clearly aligned with my own policies and who demonstrated their intent to continue to support me have returned to the party. I can tell you now and for the record that my determination has not wavered at all in my decision to promote reforms or in my commitment to create a beautiful country as a result of their return to the party. In fact, I believe that new strength has been added to the creation of a new country and a beautiful country, reinforcing the power of that movement. During this extraordinary Diet session debate took place concerning the operation of town meetings over the past five years. In the course of these town meetings there have been some very regrettable practices, such as the Government arranging for questions to be asked in advance. It is also true that there was a degree of wastefulness in their operations.
I have dealt severely with the people concerned, and I myself, Chief Cabinet Secretary at the time that the mismanagement occurred, have accepted political responsibility by choosing to return three months of my salary as a Prime Minister to the national treasury. I will sincerely fulfill my duty to see to it that this kind of thing is never repeated and will ensure that town meetings are genuine fora for two-way dialogue with the public.
Let me speak now as the President of the LDP about the issue of donations made to the party by major banks. These banks were able to clear their books of bad loans after receiving an injection of public funds, and are now declaring large corporate profits. On the one hand, these banks are exempted from paying corporation tax because of their losses brought forward, and on the other hand, as I repeat, they recovered their financial condition through public funds.
This is why, and it is against this backdrop that I, as the President of the LDP, decided that the party would not be able to gain public understanding at such a time as this for receiving political contributions from major banks. Accordingly, I gave the Secretary-General of the LDP instructions a short time ago to refrain from accepting political contributions from major banks.
The revised Fundamental Law of Education was enacted during this extraordinary Diet session. It was the first revision made in 59 years. I myself have long advocated amending the Fundamental Law of Education. The former law undeniably played a significant role, and the revised law carries on its basic philosophy. I was concerned, however, that the previous law did not sufficiently address ideas such as a spirit of public-mindedness and self-discipline, moral values and attachment to and affection for one's own community and the nation. It has always been my conviction that children who are imparted with such a sense of values will grow up to be citizens who have ambitions, and will be cosmopolitan in the true sense of the word. I am confident that the new law is based on these ideas.
I am aware of criticisms that such a law will not necessarily be immediately effective in tackling issues such as bullying, but the Government is now working to encourage the people directly concerned with the education of children to change their mindset in addressing a number of issues, including bullying. For our part, we will construct a system through which children can seek advice and talk about their concerns by telephone on a 24-hour-a-day basis.
We will also develop an After-school Plan for Children nationwide, in order to create places where children can play together and spend time after school hours with people in the community and their family members. We must mount a firm and determined response to the various issues that have arisen over the course of the past 60 years, such as the weakening ability of communities to play a part in the education of children and the ongoing shift from the extended family to the nuclear family.
I will take on the task of rebuilding education, with the amendments to the Fundamental Law of Education as the start line. It is my intention to further revise legislation and take budgetary steps in order to execute concrete policies.
I believe the transition of the Defense Agency to the Ministry of Defense will be highly significant, given the role the Defense Agency plays in ensuring our national security. The transition will undoubtedly provide a boost to the morale of the staff at the Defense Agency and the personnel of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), and I expect that it will enable them to further dedicate themselves to their noble mission of protecting the lives and bodies of the people of Japan, as well as their assets and this beautiful land in which we live. I am certain that it will encourage them to work even harder in their efforts to fulfill their mission.
The enactment at long last of bills on the transition to the Ministry of Defense, which were approved by the Cabinet under former Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda in 1964, demonstrates both domestically and internationally the maturity of Japanese democracy and our confidence in civilian control. It also sends a signal that Japan is prepared to contribute even more to the international community and that it will take on its role responsibly.
As for the reform of the Social Insurance Agency, I have decided to reorganize its operations from scratch as I pledged, dividing them up into six sections. We must create a new organization that will reestablish trust in the public pension system. In so doing, I will aim to achieve greater efficiency and a reduction in personnel numbers.
The FY2007 budget will be the first one formulated under my administration. It is my intention to make plain in the budget my determination to implement fiscal consolidation, aiming to restore the fiscal health of the nation.
The issuance of new government bonds has been reduced in the FY2007 budget by a greater amount than ever before achieved. We have been able to improve fiscal health by 6.3 trillion yen, when taking into consideration the reduction of debt in the special account for local allocation tax. We have also been successful in slashing the deficit in the primary balance to half its FY2006 level. With these achievements, I believe we have demonstrated to people both in Japan and overseas our determination to resolutely ensure fiscal discipline.
The number of civil servants will be reduced in FY2007 by more than 2,000, a significantly larger reduction than achieved this fiscal year. We tackled the largest reform of tax revenues earmarked for road projects in 52 years, since 1954, the year in which I was born. The system under which specific tax revenues were automatically and exclusively allocated to road development has now been reformed. Amounts in excess of the actual figure required for road development, including gasoline taxes, will now be channeled into the general revenue account. In other words, these funds will be fundamentally changed into general revenue. Clearly we need to continue building roads where they are needed, but surplus budget will now be allocated as general revenue after a stringent examination.
I pledge that reform of the legislation for this systemic change will be advanced in the ordinary Diet session in 2008.
The reform has already resulted in more than a 300 billion yen reduction in the issuance of government bonds in the FY2007 budget.
I will strive to maintain confidence in the Japanese economy both domestically and internationally by demonstrating our will to not leave the burden to the next generation. Even under these constraints, I seek to formulate a budget with clearly prioritized items.
I recently visited an elementary school in Tokyo. The children's eyes were sparkling as they shared with me their dreams for the future. I want to be sure to provide budgetary provisions for the next generation. To that end, I will focus my efforts in a prioritized manner for the education budget and budget for measures to tackle the declining birthrate.
Three months have passed since I assumed the office of Prime Minister. Right after taking office, I visited China (People's Republic of China) and South Korea (Republic of Korea) as part of Japan's East Asia diplomacy, and the leaders of those two countries and I did strengthen our bonds of trust by opening our hearts to one another. I am going to promote the dynamic and proactive diplomacy based on such relations of trust.
The Six-Party Talks are currently underway. On our part, Japan will cooperate with other countries around the table and make every effort so that North Korea will take concrete steps to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
At the same time, we must emphasize the importance of the abduction issue. We will continue to claim what we should in this matter in order to see that it is never marginalized in the Six-Party Talks.
The Abe Cabinet has only just begun its work. Nevertheless, I would like to offer my gratitude to those in the ruling parties and the Diet members for their cooperation in the enactment of various bills at the extraordinary Diet session. Above all, I would like to express my appreciation for the understanding and support of the people of Japan.
I will listen humbly to criticisms leveled at me and my Cabinet and seek to further gain the trust of the people of Japan by producing results. Moving forward in my work, I am firmly determined to continue to make every effort toward the creation of a beautiful country.
QUESTION 1: I have a question concerning the content of and schedule for the amendments to the Constitution. Firstly, do you intend to consider second draft amendments to the Constitution by the LDP, including revision of the Preamble and Article 9?
Secondly, you have indicated your intention to enact a bill to implement a national referendum on the issue at an early date and amend the Constitution within five to six years. Can you tell us if you have a more specific schedule in mind?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: I have already spoken on previous occasions about why the Constitution needs to be amended. When I served the Secretary-General of the LDP, the party pledged to compile draft amendments to the Constitution by the 50th anniversary of the formation of the party. In fact we did so when I was the Deputy Secretary-General.
They were compiled on the basis of various discussions within the LDP. As the person responsible for the compilation, I presented to the nation the LDP's best draft amendments, which had been drawn up through a consensus-based process involving various debates. However, constitutional amendment requires approval by a two-thirds majority in the Diet. As such, I will endeavor to finalize the draft amendments by working with both the ruling and opposition parties.
The LDP is not considering compiling second draft amendments at this point in time. The draft to amend the Constitution will be determined through negotiations among the ruling parties and with the opposition parties. I would also like to incorporate national debate into the process. While heeding the concerns of the people, the draft amendments must be finalized through inter-party talks.
As for the schedule, constitutional amendment is a work of historical importance, and I will make every effort to see that it is enacted during my term of office.
I aim to enact the bill for a national referendum, which is part of the procedure for constitutional amendment, at the ordinary Diet session next year.
QUESTION 2: You have mentioned that you would study individual, specific cases concerning the interpretation of the constitution regarding the right of collective self-defense. Please tell us of the number of such cases that have been studied and whether any conclusions have been reached. If a conclusion has yet to be reached, then could you tell us the timeframe of future study? Also, please tell us in what format you will announce the results to the public.
Regarding the way in which the study should proceed, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki has stated that "It would be reasonable to establish some kind of study forum under the auspices of the Prime Minister," after which he changed his tone to say that "there are no immediate plans for such a forum." Do you intend to establish an organization such as an advisory council for such a study?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Japan's security environment has undergone great change over the course of the past 60 years. We are now faced with issues such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the fight against terrorism and regional conflicts. The international community is calling for Japan to make further contributions to world peace and stability. Against this backdrop, I, as the leader who bears the weighty responsibility of protecting the lives, physical being and assets of the people of Japan, must consider the best security policy to certainly protect the nation and the people. I have stated that we will study individual, specific cases when considering the security policy to identify what kind of case falls under the exercise of the right of collective self-defense which is forbidden under the Constitution, taking into account how to sort out the relation with and the interpretation of the constitution.
In principle, I am not considering establishing an advisory council. The study should be advanced within the government, and it is ultimately I, as Prime Minister, who has the responsibility for making the final judgment.
Concerning the individual cases, it is a matter of course that we must study each individual case, but at the same time security issues need to be considered in the context of relations with other parties. We must thoroughly examine and study a variety of cases. We are currently engaged in this study, and not yet at a stage where we can disclose the typified individual, specific cases.