New Year's Press Conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
January 4, 2007
[Opening remarks by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe]
Let me wish a happy New Year to you all. On New Year's Day this year, I had the chance to marvel at Mount Fuji's beautiful profile. I would like to celebrate the start of the New Year together with all my fellow people of Japan.
Approximately 100 days have now passed since my Cabinet was inaugurated in September of last year, and over these 100 days I believe I have been able to establish a foundation for creating a beautiful country.
At last year's extraordinary Diet session, my Cabinet succeeded in passing legislation to revise the Fundamental Law of Education, elevate the Defense Agency to the Ministry of Defense and promote the decentralization of power from central to local government.
We were also able to formulate a budget that demonstrates our determination to advance fiscal consolidation. I would like to make the coming year one in which we achieve major progress based on this foundation.
In this, the year of the boar, I am ready to unfalteringly lead the way ahead toward the creation of a beautiful country.
Rebuilding and reforming education, including public education, is the top-priority task for my Cabinet. Now that the Revised Fundamental Law of Education has been enacted, the Education Rebuilding Council will deepen discussions toward compilation of a concrete plan. I intend to make the necessary legislative revisions at the ordinary Diet session this year.
I will fulfill my responsibility to guarantee everyone the opportunity to acquire a high academic ability and sense of discipline.
Now let me talk about the social security system. I am determined to construct a reliable system. Regrettably, the Social Insurance Agency has lost the people's trust. As I pledged, I will undertake thorough efficiency and rationalization measures to transform the Agency into a reliable system by reorganizing its operations from scratch, dividing them up into six sections. The legislation necessary to realize this goal is being submitted to the upcoming Diet session, and I will work to ensure that it passes.
Next, let me discuss measures to tackle the falling birthrate.
Children are a nation's treasures. Japan should be a country in which the children who will carry on the future of Japan and of the world can grow vigorously, freely and easily. Some people feel insecure and hesitant about getting married and having and raising children. We must ensure that ours is a society and an environment in which people can marry and have children and raise them without fearing for the future.
We also need to rediscover the splendor and value of the family. It is my conviction that we must halt the decline in the birthrate by means of an integrated policy, and I will establish a serious strategy for this endeavor.
I will now move on to the economy.
Economic growth is indispensable for building a Japan whose people can entertain dreams and hopes for the future: that tomorrow will be better than today, that next year will be more prosperous than this one. Economic growth is also vital for reinforcing the base of our important social security system, making it sustainable. We must make 2007 a year in which we steadily promote a growth strategy and widen the economic recovery so that it reaches the household level as well.
I will make this year a year in which people actually feel the effects of economic recovery and the structural reforms.
Together with the people of Japan, I will build a society in which everybody can feel pride, motivation, hope and joy in their work.
Protecting the lives and assets of our people is the basic principle of Japan's security policy. During the coming year I will promote a proactive diplomacy on a full scale, while holding fast to this basic principle and taking an international frame of reference and a strategic viewpoint.
Next week I will visit a number of EU member states as well as the headquarters of both the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). If we are to make a contribution in tackling international issues such as maintaining peace, fighting poverty, settling regional conflicts and solving environmental problems, it will be vitally important to strengthen our cooperation with European countries, with which we share the universal values such as freedom, democracy and basic human rights.
Deepening this cooperation will be significant in achieving resolution in the international arena to the North Korea issues, including the abduction issue, the nuclear issue and the missile issue. It will also help Japan earn greater international trust, which I believe is a step toward permanent membership on the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council.
Japan's security environment has changed greatly. With the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missiles, the Fight against Terrorism and a slew of ongoing regional conflicts, we must further strengthen the Japan-US alliance in order to protect our nation's peace, independence, freedom and democracy, and also to safeguard the lives of the Japanese people. Moreover, we have to reconstruct a legal basis for security that befits the times in which we live, aiming to make a greater contribution to peace in the international community. I will continue to examine and study on the basis of the typified, individual, specific cases how to organize the relationship between our security policy and the Constitution, including the issue of the right of collective self-defense.
I designate the coming year the first year for creation of a beautiful country. It will be a year in which we renew our awareness of the good qualities, splendors and beauty that Japan possesses.
With the election for House of Councillors scheduled this year, I am determined to act fairly and to do my best to leave behind a steadily-growing record of actual achievements. I would like to conclude by asking for your support in these endeavors.
That is all from me.
QUESTION 1: Concerning this summer's election for the House of Councillors, which you mentioned in your opening remarks, the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) considers the measure of victory or defeat to be whether the ruling coalition, including New Komeito, can maintain its majority. Hypothetically speaking, in the event that the ruling coalition were to lose its majority, would you take political responsibility as the Prime Minister and the President of the LDP? Also, some in the LDP suggest that you are considering holding elections for the House of Councillors and House of Representatives on the same day. Is it definite that there will not be a joint election, or have you not yet eliminated that possibility? Please comment on these two points.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: As the President of the LDP and the leader of the Cabinet, I must always face elections with a spirit of determination to win. As the Cabinet member with the highest responsibility, I work everyday with a constant sense of this duty.
At present, I am not even considering holding joint elections. In any event, I will do my best to achieve results in our efforts to create a beautiful country. I am resolved to wholeheartedly devote myself at all times to achieving victory.
QUESTION 2: Prime Minister, you summarized the year 2006 by saying you believed you had been able to establish a foundation for creating a beautiful country. Toward the end of last year, however, a succession of controversies cropped up one after another, including your decision to allow a group of LDP members who had rebelled against the privatization of the postal services to rejoin the party, as well as the resignations of Mr. Masaaki Honma, Chair of the Government Tax Commission, and of Mr. Genichiro Sata, Minister of State for Regulatory Reform. Against this backdrop, the Cabinet's approval rating has continued to slide.
The Prime Minister and the Chief Cabinet Secretary have been saying that now is a time of preparation and that the Abe Cabinet will live up to the people's expectations by producing results. At the start of this new year, I would like to ask you to please indicate to us concretely how the Abe Cabinet will advance its policies and in which areas.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: I think that the important thing is to present to the people our policies for creating a beautiful country and the vision of a country we are aiming for. It is also important that we achieve satisfactory results and take action to achieve our goal of creating a beautiful county.
First and foremost is education rebuilding.
The Revised Fundamental Law of Education has now been enacted, and discussions have started based on the new law. I myself will take responsibility for overseeing the compilation of a concrete plan by the Education Rebuilding Council. Any necessary legislative revision will indeed be submitted to the upcoming Diet session.
As for those issues that require an immediate response, such as bullying, the Cabinet and the Government will further strengthen the efforts underway to tackle them.
I am aware of people's concerns about the social security system. Above all, the people's trust is indispensable to making the system sustainable. The benefit comes only after the burden. As long as people can feel a sense of assurance and make their contribution with a clear understanding of the burden that they bear today and what benefits they will receive in the future, the public pension system will gain the people's trust and continue to function in a stable manner.
For this reason, I will restructure the Social Insurance Agency, which has lost the public's trust, into organizations on which people can rely. The necessary bill for the reorganization will be submitted to the upcoming Diet session, where I will seek its enactment.
In terms of the economy, I will carry out a policy so that this year people will truly be able to recognize that the structural reforms are producing results and that the Japanese economy is indeed recovering.
Under a comprehensive plan to support people's efforts to challenge again, I will create a society filled with opportunity, in which all working people can feel a purpose for living and have dreams for the future. I will ensure that people can actually feel the vitality and growth of economy.
QUESTION 3: Do you have a concrete growth strategy, apart from the comprehensive plan that you have just mentioned, to let the people actually feel the economic recovery?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: I have made it clear that we will improve productivity with openness and innovation as the pillar of the growth strategy. Under this strategy, Japan will be able to attain further growth despite the shrinking population. The strong and growing economy that I aim to realize can be achieved if we further open up society and the economy based on the idea of openness and innovation and improve Japan's productivity and competitiveness by investing in innovation.
I will set out a policy under which people can actually feel the robustness of the economy and realize that it is bringing benefits to their daily lives.
QUESTION 4: I believe that the North Korean nuclear and abduction issues are important agenda of your administration, but the last round of Six-Party Talks ended without yielding results. How will you break the current deadlock and achieve satisfactory results under the policy of dialogue and pressure?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Regrettably, last year's Six-Party Talks were adjourned without producing results. It is my hope that another round of talks will resume early this year, and in fact Japan will make efforts for the resumption. More than anything else, North Korea must clearly understand that it needs to respond to the concerns of the international community in the Six-Party Talks, and we need to put pressure on it to do so.
It is also important that the international community implement the relevant U.N. resolutions on this issue. In fact, I have been appealing to countries around the world to carry out the U.N. resolutions, a tactic which I can say is working effectively.
The same is true with respect to the abduction issue. The sanctions Japan is currently imposing on North Korea are not only related to the missile launching and nuclear issues. One of the reasons why Japan has imposed sanctions is that North Korea has not made a sincere response on the abduction issue. There has been no change in my policy of demanding the return of all abductees, nor has there been any change at all in my basic stance that there can be no normalization of relations between Japan and North Korea unless the abduction issue is resolved.
This issue needs to be resolved tenaciously through application of appropriate pressure, but also through dialogue by seizing on opportunities that arise.
It is my conviction that the international community's understanding of the abduction issue has deepened. I take every opportunity to explain the issue to world leaders who visit Japan. The number of nations voting in favor of the Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights in North Korea is increasing. Raising this kind of international pressure is making a contribution to solving the issue. We must aim at a resolution of the issue under these circumstances.
Compared with three or four years ago, the international community's understanding of the issue has developed substantially, and the pressure from the international community has grown correspondingly greater. North Korea must recognize that unless it tackles sincerely and resolves this issue, it will not be able to solve many issues it is facing at present, including economic issues and the problems of food shortages and famine.
QUESTION 5: How will you work on the bill to implement a national referendum stipulating procedure for constitutional amendment at the upcoming ordinary Diet session? Also, does the LDP intend to make the constitutional amendment a point of contention in this summer's election for the House of Councillors?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: This year marks the 60th anniversary of the enactment of the Constitution. I firmly believe that now is the time to make clear our will to create a constitution suitable for this new era. The LDP's draft amendments to the Constitution have already been completed and are ready for discussion among political parties.
Firstly, I hope to have deepening discussion on the bill concerning the procedure for revising the Constitution of Japan within the ruling coalition and also between the ruling and opposition parties, and that the bill will be submitted to the ordinary Diet session this year. It is my expectation that the ruling and opposition parties will hold active discussion, and the bill will be presented to the Diet.
As I said a little earlier, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Constitution. Naturally, during the election campaign for the House of Councillors I will also be stressing the goal of revising the Constitution during my tenure.
QUESTION 6: Prime Minister, you emphasized the establishment of a sustainable social security system in your opening remarks. You also said that you would present a bill to reorganize the Social Insurance Agency at the upcoming Diet session. Speaking of a sustainable system, the public is concerned about the financial resources.
Discussions have been ongoing for quite a long time on the possibility of raising the consumption tax rate and using that revenue as a financial resource for the social security system. You have said that the matter will be discussed starting this autumn in the course of revising the taxation system. If you leave this matter until the autumn, will there be enough time? Don't you have any intention of starting the discussions before the election for House of Councillors to seek public opinion at the election?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: The ratio of state contributions to the basic pension will be raised from the present one-third to one-half. The deadline for implementing this change is drawing close. I have stated that we need discussion this autumn on fundamental revisions to the taxation system, including the issues of financial resources, tax type and expenses for measures to tackle the declining birthrate, while taking into account the relationship between the central and local governments and the expansion of tax resources in the central government.
The result of the audit will be known by around July, by which time the results of the medical care system reform will also be clear. I say we will need to carry out thorough discussions with these as background, and this is why the discussions will be conducted in the autumn. I will provide a thorough explanation of the timeframe during the election campaign. At the same time, I will certainly make a detailed explanation of methods for reinforcing the social security system's financial resources, whether we opt for a taxation-based method, an insurance charge method, a benefit adjustment method, or a mixture of these methods.
At any event, the basic issue with regard to financial resources is trust. I believe that the most important thing in the public social security system is to build trust in the system. For that reason too, it is important to reorganize the Social Insurance Agency, which has lost public trust, into reliable organizations as a first step. I will seek to win public trust in the social security system by demonstrating to the people that we are doing what we should do and that we can force through even difficult measures.
QUESTION 7: It has become clear that a certain internal document was compiled regarding the application for official nonprofit organization status by an entity affiliated with a company that Fukuoka Prefectural Police had raided. This document stated that a secretary to Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Toshikatsu Matsuoka referred to investigation of the situation in a communication to the Cabinet Office in which he said "I trust this to your discretion." Minister Matsuoka has denied the fact in writing, but failed to affirm or deny the validity of the key point concerning whether his secretary did in fact inquire with the Cabinet Office and say "I trust this to your discretion."
Prime Minister, what is your understanding of this matter, and do you recognize it as being a problem? Do you have any thoughts about investigating this matter?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: I received a report from Minister Matsuoka that there is no substance to the assertion that his secretary made any such request to or approach to the Cabinet Office. I also received a report from the Cabinet Office bearing this out. I understand that the Cabinet Office strictly inspected the relevant application and decided not to authorize it.
If you would like further details on this particular case, please ask the Minster directly.