Press Conference by Prime Minister Naoto Kan
Opening Statement by Prime Minister Naoto Kan
With the House of Councillors election now over, the extraordinary Diet session began today. On this occasion, I would very much like the Japanese public to hear my thoughts on the direction forward regarding what the Kan administration intends to achieve, as I reflect on the outcome of the recent House of Councillors election and the roughly one year since the historic change of government. I scheduled this press conference with these thoughts in mind.
First of all, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the many people who supported us in the recent House of Councillors election. The outcome of the House of Councillors election was for the DPJ quite a somber one. I regret that my remarks on the consumption tax, which were regarded as being abrupt, materially impacted the election.
However, at the same time, the issue of rebuilding government finances is a major one that cannot be avoided, regardless of who is Prime Minister or what party holds the reins of government. Consequently I intend to continue tackling fiscal reconstruction squarely in the future. I hereby state my determination on that matter once more.
Approximately a year has passed since the historic change of government. Politics in Japan has changed substantially in this single year. For example, in the Cabinet around the time I served as Minister of Health and Welfare 14 years ago, virtually all remarks were prepared in writing in advance, and it was customary for Cabinet meetings and the round-table conference of ministers to end in roughly 30 minutes, with each minister merely reading these statements aloud. However, in the Cabinet currently, ministers frequently engage in quite heated debates with each other and it is not at all uncommon for these meetings to continue for more than an hour. It is through that process that the substantive policies of the Cabinet are decided.
The state of affairs at government ministries and agencies has also changed dramatically. In the past, each minister was encircled by a large number of bureaucrats from the administrative vice minister level down, who would make all the necessary arrangements to set the stage for decision making and then ask the minister to make a final judgment. Ministries and agencies now have a team of the three political-level appointees - not only the minister but also the senior vice minister and parliamentary secretary - asserting leadership over the operations of the ministries. On that basis, what could be termed a cooperative relationship with public servants possessing specialist knowledge and expertise is also gradually becoming established at each ministry and agency.
In addition, once my administration assumed office, I reactivated the [DPJ] Policy Research Committee and brought into the Cabinet as a minister of state Mr. [Koichiro] Gemba, whom I had asked to take on the role of [DPJ] Policy Research Committee Chair. This is an arrangement that I had envisioned for some time. Through this format, he will coordinate policy between the party and the Cabinet, bringing to the table the views of a party that listens directly to the voices of the public, in contrast to the policies of a vertically-segmented public administration. We are now in the very earliest stages of having the Policy Research Committee Chair conduct policy coordination between the party and the Cabinet.
In this way, the Chief Cabinet Secretary coordinates policy within the Cabinet, the Policy Research Committee Chair coordinates policy between the party and the Cabinet, and beyond that, according to how I position myself, I on my own responsibility undertake the final policy decision as Prime Minister. This is the structure that is already being put into practice.
I have also reinforced the function of the National Policy Unit as a think tank providing views directly to the Prime Minister. This is because when government ministries and agencies furnish various views and information to the Prime Minister, the information invariably is limited to that which falls in line with what that office is hoping to do. Information at cross purposes to that goal is not typically proffered so readily. To counter this, I am having the National Policy Unit, from a standpoint distinct from that of the vertically-segmented public administration, thoroughly accumulate and then convey to the Prime Minister points that the Prime Minister must know and take into consideration. In my view, I am thus having the National Policy Unit perform a more weighty task.
We are at long last about to begin the season for formulating a full-scale budget. Last year the change of government occurred in September and formulation of the budget took place in December, making for very stringent time constraints. In that regard I think it is fair to say that for the DPJ this is our first time to formulate a full-scale budget.
In formulating this budget, the first thing that must be done is to slash waste and implement it. Recently, the review of government programs performed under the close monitoring of the public resulted in significant outcomes, and I intend to undertake a further thorough review of government programs that includes special-purpose budget accounts.
Additionally, it will be necessary for Diet members to put themselves on the line. In accordance with our policy proposal of reducing the number of seats in the House of Representatives by 80 and those in the House of Councillors by 40, I look forward to the DPJ reaching agreement on this matter internally within August and I hope to forge agreement between the ruling parties and the opposition parties by December. This morning I gave those instructions to [DPJ] Secretary General [Yukio] Edano and chairman of the [DPJ's] House of Councillors caucus [Azuma] Koshiishi.
While formulating the budget I intend to place emphasis on employment and growth. The other day I visited a nursery school being operated in-house by a business establishment in Tokyo. What I heard from the mothers included such comments as, "Working parents are extremely thankful when nurseries right next to our workplaces are able to look after our children. But to be honest, what would be truly ideal is having nurseries near where we live that would look after our children until we can go pick them up, even if we stay late at work."
I also heard the view from some working as childcare providers that many [in the childcare field] would be interested in working just a few hours, similar to part-time workers, and that the number of available workers decreases when employment opportunities are invariably for long hours only.
If we were to take these needs firmly into account and institutionalize these ideas, even working mothers would be able to raise two or three children and employment opportunities would expand for a large number of licensed childcare providers now unable to work. In other words, this would increase employment and contribute to economic growth while simultaneously leading to more richly developed child-raising and social security in a broad sense.
We will at the same time pursue the expansion of employment for young people as well as innovations in the fields of nursing care and medicine. We face environmental issues as well. I believe that we can find a sizable amount of employment opportunities in such fields as these. Furthermore, I intend to make all-out policy efforts to link the growth of Asian nations, now developing rapidly, to Japan's own growth, including through assistance in the construction of infrastructure and other areas.
Much has been said about the matter of Japan's "battered regions." By revitalizing the forestry industry I hope to increase employment in the regions. Over the past few years I have visited a large number of lumber industry worksites. Even though 70% of Japan's national land is mountainous, as much as 80% of the lumber we use in Japan is imported from overseas. I suspect that this fact is not very widely known. How did this situation come to arise? It is because the efficiency of the Japanese lumber industry reaches a mere one-tenth to one-twentieth the efficiency of the German lumber industry that I have seen, due to Japan's lack of access roads for transporting machines called harvesters into the mountains. Building access roads in such areas will help in shifting business away from public works projects, which have been decreasing in the regions. Moreover, revitalizing the lumber industry will not only increase direct employment but also spawn other jobs such as processing the lumber harvested there, thereby creating employment in local areas in the regions.
Against such a backdrop, within the formulation of this budget I have decided to establish special reserves for revitalizing Japan. At the same time I have decided to hold a policy contest, in which policies with various proposals are presented to the people to ask which of these are the most desirable in the public's view. I would like to try making policy decisions and budget allocations in a way open to the people by using such a format.
As for the Diet session that began today at long last, through a reversal of the standings between the governing and opposition parties in the House of Councillors, we have begun this session as a divided Diet. I myself do not regard a divided legislature to be exclusively bad. Insofar as bills will not pass and policies cannot be executed without the agreement of the opposition parties, conversely I would like to take this in a positive light, namely that policies to which the opposition parties give their assent will be able to be executed, even should those policies pose significant challenges.
In 1998 the Liberal Democratic Party lost its majority in the House of Councillors, resulting in a divided legislature. Because of its timing just before the bankruptcies of the Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan and the Nippon Credit Bank, that Diet session was known as the "financial Diet." In response to this situation, the DPJ, an opposition party at the time, proposed the Act on Emergency Measures for the Revitalization of the Financial Functions, which included provisions for the temporary nationalization of banks. Then-Prime Minister Obuchi accepted it in its entirety and enacted the bill as is, thereby succeeding in halting Japan's first banking crisis. I was the president of the DPJ at the time. During such a national crisis we have to place emphasis on the lives of the Japanese people rather than on the political situation. With that in mind, I took action, firmly focused not on emphasizing political positioning, but instead on avoiding that national crisis.
I ask this same thing of the members of the opposition parties. Japan is now in a state that can be properly termed a serious national crisis, with the long-term economic slump in which Japan finds itself, an enormous budget deficit, and a worrisome state of social security all rivaling or surpassing that financial crisis. Regarding those policies that are beneficial to the public, we intend to listen sincerely to members of opposition parties as well, listen humbly to their views, and move forward resolutely in areas in which we will be able to reach agreements.
In closing, in the press conference I held immediately after assuming the post of Prime Minister, I spoke of a society in which unhappiness is minimized and said it is there that politics' role is to be found. That is to say, happiness takes many forms that vary with each individual, and it is not for politics to impose a certain form as the source of anyone's happiness. I said however that politics does have a role to play in protecting people from causes of unhappiness, such as poverty or violence.
In recent years, many people have experienced a weakening of ties with their families or communities or in some cases their coworkers, becoming isolated and unable to feel happiness in their lives. We must not become a society in which only such people are liberated.
In light of this, I seek to create a society in which all people have a place where they belong and a role to play.
In order to break out of the stagnation in Japan, including in its economy, that has now spanned 20 years and the sense of being fenced in, I intend to bring to bear all my capabilities and make my very best efforts towards the building of a new Japan. I will close my opening remarks at this press conference by sincerely asking the public for their understanding and support.
Thank you for your attention.
CABINET SECRETARY FOR PUBLIC RELATIONS: I would like to move now to the question and answer session. I will designate who will ask the questions. If you are selected, please first state your media affiliation and name before posing your question. Please make your questions concise.
Please raise your hand if you have a question. Mr. Fujita, go ahead.
REPORTER: I'm Fujita, with the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. At the joint plenary meeting of DPJ members of both Houses yesterday, you indicated your intention to declare your candidacy in the election of the DPJ President slated for September. I would like to ask you once more about your motivation in seeking reelection.
In that election, what message will you focus on to appeal to the public and to party members for your reelection? Please also tell us if you have any intention to undertake a Cabinet reshuffle and changes in party executives should you be reelected.
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: In order to execute what I stated in my opening remarks that I wish my Cabinet to achieve, if I am able to obtain the support of the party members in September as well, then as party president or as Prime Minister I intend to engage in what I put forth today.
As for personnel matters, the Diet session has now only just begun. I intend first of all to make full-out efforts during this Diet session, concentrating on conveying to the Japanese people what we should do and then garnering their understanding.
REPORTER: I'm Matsuyama with the Jiji Press. I have a question regarding your response to the Diet. Earlier this evening, you said that [even] in a divided legislature it is possible to carry out policies if you can attain agreement between the ruling and the opposition parties. How, in concrete terms, do you intend to move forward in order to secure the cooperation of opposition parties?
Also, you recently said that there might be some possibility of dissolving the House of Representatives to seek a mandate with regard to raising the consumption tax rate. In order to carry out this type of important policy, do you envision a situation in which you would dissolve the House of Representatives, or put yourself on the line as Prime Minister should the Diet become deadlocked?
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: As for how I will respond to a divided Diet, first of all, as I stated earlier, the major premise is that Diet considerations and deliberations should be carefully conducted. Within that context, should the opposition party members object to everything, then naturally bills will fail to pass. Yet as I mentioned before, I believe that legislators from the opposition parties also act considering the good of the people. Consequently I feel that areas on which we can agree will certainly emerge. I have no intention whatsoever of dissolving the Lower House.
REPORTER: I'm Yamaguchi of NHK. I would like to ask about how you will respond to the divided Diet.
I can understand how you could work together with the LDP or other parties regarding the major issues the country is facing, such as the rebuilding of public finances, but how do you intend to respond regarding controversial legislation resisted by the opposition parties, such as the child allowance or individual household income support for families engaged in agriculture?
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: Fundamentally, it would be the same as what I just said. For the child allowance, we would have to debate the way in which we would add on to the [existing] 13,000 yen allowance in the future. For example, during its enactment, that bill also received the backing of New Komeito Party legislators. Based on that background, we would consider within the context of the opposition party members what format would enable us to derive what could be called a positive conclusion and gain agreement. We intend to carefully explain each individual proposal and then enter into discussions.
REPORTER: I'm Nanao, with Nico Nico Douga.
Mr. Prime Minister, I have a request for you. We received a question from someone in the public. Would it be possible for you to answer that?
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN:
Yes. Use that as your question.
I will read the question on the author's behalf.
For the first time, US Ambassador to Japan [John] Roos is expected to attend the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony on August 6, and officials in the British government are expected to attend, the ceremony held in Nagasaki on the 9th. Taking advantage of these opportunities, do you, Mr. Prime Minister, have any intention to send out to the world a message in line with a world without nuclear weapons?
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: I myself also plan to attend the ceremonies in Hiroshima on the 6th and Nagasaki on the 9th. I welcome the attendance of US Ambassador Roos. I consider this an excellent opportunity to impress upon the Ambassador the Japanese people's view that nuclear weapons must never again be allowed to inflict harm.
I will also on that occasion have the opportunity to make a speech, and at that time I very much wish to include the essence of similar to what you said just now.
REPORTER: I am Nishiyama with the Asahi Shimbun. Thank you for taking my question.
I have a question concerning former [DPJ] Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa. Mr. Prime Minister, yesterday at the joint plenary meeting of party members of both Houses, you said that you would use teamwork to press forward to bring about policies that reflect the voices of the Japanese people. Does this include some sort of cooperation during the selection of the party president, including by Mr. Ozawa, who wields significant influence within the party, on a premise such as that he would serve among the party executives? Also, in the past, you said that you would like Mr. Ozawa to stay out of the limelight for a while. Is that still the case? Or are you hoping to have him cooperate in a more visible way in the near future? Those are my questions.
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: As I said earlier, the Diet session just began today, so in my view the first thing that I need to do is use this Diet session to convey clearly to the Japanese people the issues that we as the government will be pursuing. Acting in solid cohesion within the party is a given and not particular to this situation. But insofar as we have a party presidential election scheduled for September, I consider it a bit too early to be talking at this stage about wanting to do this or that in the time to follow.
REPORTER: Leo Lewis with The Times. Mr. Prime Minister, in the past you have spoken of trying to rebuild [the Japanese economy through] what is sometimes called "Japan Cool," with the government supporting the sale of nuclear power [facilities], high-speed railways, and other such technologies overseas. In your view, with what types of projects is Japan likely to succeed overseas in the future? In addition, please list the three countries that you emphasize the most and are hoping to visit.
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: Japan has for a great many years had advanced technologies in the areas of energy conservation and clean energies. At the same time, countries now undergoing rapid development, for example India or Viet Nam and, in some respects, China, are still lagging compared to Japan in the development of their infrastructure. Japan has companies with superior capabilities in developing such infrastructure. In that sense, I believe that providing technologies in such areas as eco-friendly environment[al technologies] and infrastructure for an eco-friendly society, and also of course including such things as nuclear power facilities and shinkansen bullet trains, will also lead in some sense to economic growth in Japan.
You mentioned countries that I am focused on in particular. There are in fact many countries, and while China is very much in the spotlight, I regard such countries as India and Viet Nam and others like them to have truly enormous potential.
Mr. Hirata, please.
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: As I said earlier, the first thing to do is to have our party come together in its way of thinking. I intend to have the [party’s] Policy Research Committee serve as the core in achieving this, and then on that basis consider whether or not it would be possible to have such kinds of discussions that transcend party lines.
In the middle section in the back. Mr. Sato?
REPORTER: I'm Sato, with the Shukan Asahi. At yesterday's joint plenary meeting of members of both Houses, you stated that you considered it in some sense proper and your role to hand over the reins of government in the not-so-distant future to the next group of lawmakers, centered on young people of excellence. Roughly what timing are you referring to in saying "the not-so-distant future"? If we consider as the topmost priority not allowing national politics to come to a standstill, I should think that it would be possible to have as one option stepping aside immediately, rather than in the not-so-distant future, so that a fresh start can be realized under a new leader. What's more, if you had done so then I also believe you would not have been subjected to such severe criticism as you are now. Until you pass the baton on, ...
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: ...severe what?
REPORTER (SATO): I think you would not have faced such severe criticism as you do now. I would like to ask you to state once more what you view as your political mission, in particular by when and how you will set out a path forward as well as regarding what issues, until you as a Prime Minister who has chosen an unforgiving road ahead consign the baton to your successor.
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: I believe that somewhere right around my remarks from yesterday that you just mentioned, I said that my political dream for the 30 years since my first successful election bid, or indeed the 34 years since I initially ran for office, has been to first create an opposition party that was capable of bringing about a change of government and then take the reins of government after achieving a change of government through an election. I said that in that sense, my dream as a politician has been achieved through the realization of the historic change of government last year.
I also said that on that basis I had cooperated to the greatest extent possible, although ultimately insufficiently, in the hope that the Hatoyama administration would continue in a stable manner for four or five years. Against that backdrop former Prime Minister Hatoyama resigning and myself being appointed the next Prime Minister at this timing in that way was a situation beyond anything I had envisioned. These are the remarks I made.
In other words, I look upon the next generation as rapidly coming into its own, but - and this is something that I myself have considered extensively - seeing as the DPJ-led government is still only in its ninth month, I thought that naturally it is necessary when handing over such responsibilities to think about whether or not it is really possible for the next generation to take charge of the government.
In that sense as well, I did indeed foresee facing substantial criticism on this point. But I said that I would like to see the legislators of the next generation take over during that next stage, after maintaining a steady handling of the government for at least some years first.
REPORTER: I'm Igarashi, with the Yomiuri Shimbun. I would like to follow up a bit on the consumption tax.
Mr. Prime Minister, in your opening statement, you said that "the issue of rebuilding government finances is a major one that cannot be avoided." You also indicated your intention to raise this issue again once the view of the party has been coordinated internally. Do you intend to bring up fundamental reform of the tax system, including that of the consumption tax, again as you seek reelection in the upcoming September party presidential election?
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: As I mentioned earlier, I consider the issue of rebuilding government finances to be one that simply cannot be avoided in today’s Japan, regardless of who holds the reins of government. However, I regret that my comments addressing it in terms of the consumption tax were viewed as abrupt.
For that reason, I have no intention of making any pledges or the like about this matter as such during the party presidential election.
Mr. Uesugi, in the middle section.
REPORTER: I'm Uesugi, a freelance journalist. Mr. Prime Minister, earlier you mentioned the "financial Diet" of 1998, and I do remember that at that time, as you say, then-Prime Minister Obuchi and you as DPJ president took on the national crisis through the "financial Diet" and by working throughout what would have been the summer recess. Now as we face a similar kind of crisis, not only are you not bypassing the summer recess, but also you are ending the Diet session after an extremely short time in session. First, why are you ending the Diet session so quickly at such a time as this? Moreover, I would like to know if the governing and opposition parties will do anything jointly during the summer recess, even if it may be only informal consultations between the governing and opposition parties.
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: The situation in 1998 is something that I think you know very well, Mr. Uesugi, but Messrs. [Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito] Sengoku and [Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Motohisa] Furukawa who are here today and many others studied various case examples from other countries to compile the bill for submission. That time was truly a financial crisis, and, in that context of really not knowing when a bank would go bankrupt, we too had that sense of crisis and so everyone made their best efforts in various roles.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, we can say that in a broad sense under the current state of affairs Japan is also very much in a crisis-like situation. However, I find the nature of the situation to be somewhat different, in that we are not focused on the next one day or several days, as is the case in a financial crisis.
Consequently, while I intend to tackle this issue rigorously, as for the arrangements to be taken in that sense, particularly in light of the [party's] Policy Research Committee being reinstated, I am having those people consider the situation first.
REPORTER: Yuri Akimoto of Fuji Television. I would like to inquire about the White Paper on Defense.
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: The what?
REPORTER (AKIMOTO): The White Paper on Defense [including the] Takeshima [issue]. Yes. It has been reported that the release of the Cabinet report has been postponed in deference to the Republic of Korea, because the report includes mention of Takeshima. Even if this report is released after September, is there any point to such a delay if it will still have the same entry on Takeshima included?
One further question is that there have been reports that you are now considering issuing a Prime Ministerial statement in light of the one hundredth anniversary of Japan's annexation of the Korean peninsula. What sort of statement would that be, in specific terms?
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: First of all, regarding the White Paper, recently some very important cases have occurred in the area of security, including the sinking of the ROK naval patrol vessel, the various discussions surrounding this matter at the G7, which I attended, the UN [Security Council] Presidential Statement, and more. I stated that I wanted those matters thoroughly incorporated into the White Paper. As a result, the release has come to be delayed slightly, but the reason for that is as I just explained to you.
In addition, this year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the annexation of the Korean peninsula by Japan, and you asked how I will respond to that. Every year on August 15 within the events to mark the anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific, various related issues are touched upon, and I intend to give very deliberate consideration to this matter.
REPORTER: I am Araki, with the Chugoku Shimbun. I have a question regarding the choices facing the Kan Cabinet. Mr. Prime Minister, before the House of Councillors election you showed great enthusiasm for reforming the tax system, but after the substantial defeat in the election I think it has become difficult to see what you will make as your centerpiece. I think there is an expression "one Cabinet, one theme." What are your thoughts on the policy or policies that as the Kan Cabinet you absolutely want to succeed in bringing about?
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN: I believe I already addressed that within my opening statement. To put it in somewhat general terms, I want to overcome the state of feeling fenced in that Japan has endured the past 20 years. In terms of concrete policies, I want to develop policies that place emphasis on employment and economic growth. By doing so we will be able to break out of these 20 years of feeling obstructed. This is true in an economic sense, but at the same time I also want to cast off this situation in which people are isolated and are unable to feel happiness. These are the things I intend to bring about.