Happy New Year to you all. I hope that everyone had a good beginning to this new year.
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the accession of His Majesty the Emperor, and the Golden Anniversary of the marriage of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress. Together with the Japanese people I would like to extend my most sincere congratulations.
A Japan in which people can live with anshin (peace of mind) and a Japan of katsuryoku (vitality)-I am embodying these wishes in my characters, the traditional first calligraphy of the New Year.
[The Prime Minister writes the characters for anshin and katsuryoku and shows the calligraphy to the audience. The calligraphy is then displayed on a stand.]
Here are "peace of mind" and "vitality". Here at the start of the year, I have renewed my determination towards building a new nation. The goals towards which I am striving will remain unchanged. With firm resolve I am determined squarely to face the present difficult circumstances and meet the expectations of you, the Japanese people. I am prepared to follow through to the end in order to defend the daily lives of the people.
"Pessimism comes from our passions; optimism from the will." I am fond of these words from a certain philosopher. The future is something we create. The future is bright. Strongly believing thus, I will take action. It is precisely this kind of will that becomes significant power which opens the way to the future. I strongly wish to create a bright Japan together with you, the Japanese people.
This concludes my statement.
QUESTION: Happy New Year, Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: Happy New Year.
QUESTION: First of all, I should like to ask you about the ordinary session of the Diet, which will be convened tomorrow. You stated just now that you will follow through to the end in order to defend the daily lives of the people. Also at the press conference held at the end of last year, you stated that at the forthcoming session the Diet's ability to take decisions will be put to the test, and that the question the public will put to the Diet is whether or not the Diet can defend their daily lives amidst this economic crisis. However, I think prospects for Diet deliberations remain unclear, insofar as the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is calling for the separation of the fixed-sum stipend proposal from the second supplementary budget.
I should like to hear your views on whether your basic stance is to have some sort of talks with the DPJ in order to implement the countermeasures for the economy at an early date, or whether you will stick to the position that the government's plan is the best possible proposal and are determined to pursue a frontal breakthrough, on the assumption of an overriding vote.
PRIME MINISTER: The Diet is fundamentally a place for debate. Therefore, if an appropriate proposal has been submitted, it is only fitting for it to be debated. However, once we have completed such debates, a conclusion must be reached. Many bills--on countermeasures for business activity, those addressing the financial situation and those on for the economy--have been included within the budget proposals and elsewhere to defend people's daily lives, and deliberations on these must take place and conclusions must be reached. The budgets are the best thing possible to boost economic activity, and the earlier conclusions on them are reached the better. I therefore submit that it is of the essence for the Diet to proceed without losing sight of the basic need to deliberate and deliver a conclusion.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Aso, just now you wrote the words anshin (peace of mind) and katsuryoku (vitality) as your first calligraphy of the New Year. I think that in order to create a Japan of both anshin and katsuryoku, first of all countermeasures for the economy will become important. Related to that, I should like to ask you a question that touches on dissolving [the House of Representatives] and calling a general election. You often talk about reviving the economy through a "three-stage rocket" approach, namely passing the second supplementary budget proposal [of fiscal 2008] and the regular budget proposal for the new fiscal year, to be used in conjunction with the first supplementary budget [of fiscal 2008].
In other words does this mean a general election upon dissolution [of the House of Representatives] will not be held until the budget for the new fiscal year and the related bills are passed? Also, I should like to ask once more, in the event of an impasse in the conduct of Diet affairs, would there be any possibility of negotiating with the opposition parties a dissolution in order to ensure passage of the budgets?
PRIME MINISTER: It is clear that we need to make haste with the economic countermeasures. It is important first of all to pass expeditiously the budgets and their related bills. Until that takes place I am not thinking of a dissolution. Furthermore, at this moment I am not considering negotiating a dissolution should the Diet reach an impasse.
QUESTION: You have often stated that you alone would decide the timing of a dissolution. Yet, amidst the significant decline in your approval ratings, voices are getting stronger within the ruling coalition that a general election cannot be fought with you, Prime Minister Aso, as leader. Despite this, is it correct to assume that you yourself will absolutely be the one to dissolve the Lower House? And if that assumption is correct, what issues do you intend to raise when fighting this election?
PRIME MINISTER: First of all, on the person who ultimately decides a dissolution, that is the Prime Minister. Therefore it will be Taro Aso who takes that decision.
Next, as for issues to be raised, aren't they already clear? We are confident that it is the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as the governing party that can quickly bring about such things as effective countermeasures for the economy and for people's daily lives as well as stability in the daily lives of the Japanese people.
What's more, I believe that taking responsibility on the future of our country is also of great importance. If Japan is to have an intermediate level of social welfare it is critically important for us also to take on an intermediate level of burden-sharing. Thus, I have now requested that once the economy recovers we increase the consumption tax rate. We simply cannot act irresponsibly. It is this point I wish to emphasise the most-- the LDP as the governing party takes such an approach.
QUESTION: I will ask about diplomacy. First of all, what do you think about the operations of Israeli ground forces in the Gaza Strip? And what message is the Japanese government going to send on this?
In addition, on what do you, Prime Minister, place emphasis as far as diplomacy for this year is concerned? In particular, the Obama administration will take office on 20 January; what about diplomacy vis-a-vis the US? The US is said to be shifting its attention to Afghanistan from Iraq. How do you intend to respond should the US call for a further contribution from Japan [concerning Afghanistan]?
PRIME MINISTER: Firstly, before the advance of Israeli forces into the Gaza Strip, Palestine, I had a telephone conversation with [Prime Minister] Olmert at the end of last year, and with [President Mahmoud] Abbas yesterday or the day before yesterday. I called on both sides to show restraint and we discussed various matters, including the humanitarian assistance Japan is offering, and the need to avoid the medical and other supplies being sent being blocked by Israeli forces. However, my view that a ceasefire is unlikely to be reached easily is similar to those held by many knowledgeable figures around the world.
There has been a long sequence of events, beginning with rockets launched [from the Gaza Strip], and reprisals [by the Israeli side]. Given the origin [of the current situation], an agreement [on a ceasefire] appears rather difficult to achieve. Ground troops are now being deployed, and I am greatly concerned that this will result in a further aggravation of the situation.
As for your reference to President[-elect] Obama, he will take office on 20 January. Any discussion on when [to meet him] is a matter to be coordinated after this date.
Undoubtedly the most pressing issue in world diplomacy this year is international finance, since it is clear that a financial contraction is taking place. And on this matter of international finance, Japan has offered to lend ten trillion yen to the International Monetary Fund, which has responsibilities in this area. Japan is the only country to have made such an offer. It has offered this considerable sum early on, from last year. I believe that Japan needs to discharge its responsibility as a major world power by providing an apposite response through such measures. We must build a new international financial order. At one time the market economy, or market fundamentalism, was all the rage, but it is clear that its deficiencies have now come to light. At the G20 summit in Washington, D.C. last year Japan advocated international monitoring of [economic activity based on] such ideas, and this view was adopted without change by all the participants. We believe that the whole world needs to check whether appropriate responses are being taken since that meeting, including on this point. This is what I now believe to be important.
As for Afghanistan, we are fighting against terrorism, not against the country of Afghanistan. All possible efforts should be made to prevent acts of terrorism. There is no change in Japan's position that, as a matter of course, it needs to continue international cooperation wherever possible for this end.
QUESTION: I should like to ask you about the right of collective self-defence. When you attended the United Nations General Assembly last year, you mentioned that you would amend the current interpretation of the Constitution so as to make it possible to exercise the right of collective self-defence. Please give us your views on the approximate timing and the kind of procedures to be taken in changing this interpretation.
PRIME MINISTER: I think that my stance has been consistent. Over the years the government has taken the interpretation that the exercise of the right of collective self-defence is unconstitutional. This stance remains unchanged at present.
Yet at the same time, this is an extremely important issue. Based on the various discussions so far, a considerable amount of further debate will need to take place. The need for this has come to take concrete form for reasons including the issue of piracy off the Somali coast. Unless we consider our response with such issues in mind, a situation may arise where personnel of the Self-Defence Forces, or Maritime Self-Defence Forces, are dispatched but are completely ineffective or face grave danger. I believe that in such cases as these, it would be senseless to send personnel in the first place. An advisory panel has submitted a report on this matter, and it requires continued study based on this report and other elements.
QUESTION: Do you mean this would be done before dispatching anyone to the Somali coast?
PRIME MINISTER: Consideration is already underway in various forms. It is difficult to comment further on this.
QUESTION: Concerning the deliberations on the draft budget in the upcoming ordinary Diet session, rumours are circulating within the LDP about the possibility of rebellion in the event of an overriding vote on bills related to the budget, and there are voices from the DPJ side anticipating such an outcome. If such anti-party acts were to occur, various responses could be taken, for example pressuring those concerned to withdraw from the party or withholding party endorsement of them during the next general election. As the President of the LDP, what policy would you take?
PRIME MINISTER: I do not anticipate such a situation. I understand your thinking behind this question, but the fact is that I do not anticipate such a situation.