As someone charged with the responsibility of determining the policies for our nation, I would like to state my views on some of the major issues before us as we open the 145th Session of the National Diet.
This year, 1999, is the final year of this century. It is also the eve of a new millennium which we will welcome next year. In this important period segueing into a new millennium, Japan faces economic difficulties. I would like to begin my remarks today by stating that I intend to commit my all toward realizing a successful government policy in order to overcome the difficulties we face, and to pass on to the next generation a beautiful country peopled by a citizenry with a bold and noble character.
It is of utmost importance that we take a calm and clear look at the situation. However, I believe that the time has come to break out from the pessimism which pervades our society. Excessive pessimism serves only to sap our vitality. The time has come for us to be firm in our resolve and move forward, fortified by a spirit of constructive optimism. When a cup is only half full it is very easy to bemoan the missing half. However, I am certain that what we now must do is to change our perspective so that we can see that indeed a full half still remains.
I vow to you here and now that I am resolved to boldly push through the creation of the bridges which will bring us into the rapidly approaching 21st Century, so that we can create a society fortified by such a disposition, and in so doing I have no doubt that this Japan which we love so dearly will be able to overcome the difficulties before us.
It seems to me that Japan is now experiencing a Third Reform, which follows the great reforms effected during the Meiji Restoration and the Post-War era. In the years following the Meiji Restoration our nation, both government and private sector, made great efforts which gave birth to the foundations upon which a modern state was built. The amazing economic growth achieved by Japan, and the prosperity which we now enjoy, are the fruits of those efforts. However, we are unable to merely idle forward in peace and security using only the morals of our past successes. As our very values diversify and the world undergoes great transformation, the systems and decision-making processes which once allowed us to effectively manage our country are now pulling us down as shackles.
The reforms achieved during the Meiji Restoration and in the period after World War II involved great difficulty, still we must not forget that it was the bravery and resolve of our forefathers which made that possible. Therein lies the difficulties which we must now overcome in realizing reform. As a society, we must change our very consciousness.
We must remember that in addition to removing that which holds us back, we must build new systems to replace them, and at the same time we should make an effort to keep that which is good and wonderful in our society. It must certainly be clear to all that this Third Reform can not be realized only through the will of politicians. Indeed, nothing can succeed unless there is a reform in the consciousness of the people and unless the people participate in the process. That is why I stand here before you to call for the understanding and support of all of the people of our nation, and to seek the cooperation of all of the members of this Diet regardless of party lines.
Of foremost importance is that we create a society which provides each and every one of our people with a safe and affluent lifestyle. There is no way that our nation can be a great nation unless her people are happy. Still, at the same time the time has passed when a society in which the people look to government to provide for them can be considered a sound society. For more than a half century after the War we engaged in a single-minded pursuit of abundance. Although we have certainly met to some degree our target of becoming an abundant nation, no one would deny that we have conversely tended to forget that which is of ultimate importance to us as human beings--fulfillment of our souls.
Since taking the reins of power, on many occasions I have stressed that our nation must be an abundant one with great virtue. Sound capitalism can not be maintained based purely on pursuit of profit. This precept rings clear in the words of the German sociologist Max Weber, as well as philosophers the world over. Unless our nation is a moral one enriched with great aspirations, there is no way that we can continue as an abundant nation and we most certainly will not gain the trust of the world.
I believe that our society should be one in which we are friendly to others, and in which we all naturally see the beauty which surrounds us for what it is, caring about our neighbors, building regional communities in which we can live at ease. From this perspective I will establish as soon as possible a council of learned individuals to seek the path to an ideal nation for the 21st Century, and to indicate the way forward for the next generation. I call upon you, the members of the Diet, to give full consideration and join together as we consider the way ahead.
(The Five Bridges Which Lead to the 21st Century)
I believe that the foundation of our national policy toward the 21st Century should be the following five bridges. We must build first of all a bridge to the world, secondly, a bridge to prosperity, thirdly, a bridge to safety, fourthly, a bridge to security, and fifthly, a bridge to the future. I would now like to outline my basic views along the paths of these five bridges. Please forgive me if I do not provide sufficient detail on specific measures for the policies.
(A Bridge to the World)
In the world of today no nation can stand alone. We must think first of all of ensuring our national security and our prosperity. Next, our nation must earn the respect of the international community and carry out responsibilities commensurate with its position therein. I will build a bridge to the world as we enter the 21st Century.
In considering our national security we must foremost strengthen even further the relations between Japan and the United States. In that regard, it is of vital importance that the laws related to the Guidelines for Japan-US Defense Cooperation be enacted at the earliest date possible. Furthermore, with the understanding and cooperation of Okinawa Prefecture, I intend to seriously address the various issues faced by Okinawa, an area in which there is a concentration of facilities and areas used by the United States.
Next, it is important that we build stable relations with the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China--nations of regional importance on a par with the United States. In particular, I will continue to do my utmost to deepen relations across the entire spectrum with the Russian Federation, as I seek to conclude a peace treaty by next year based on the Tokyo Declaration and the Moscow Declaration, and achieve full normalization in our bilateral relations. Furthermore, in Japan-People's Republic of China relations, reflecting the fact that we have entered a new phase as a result of last year's visit to Japan by President Jiang Zemin, I intend to develop this bilateral relationship so that we can work toward common goals both together and within the international community.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula exerts a great influence on the national security of Japan. As a result of the discussions with President Kim Dae Jung of the Republic of Korea last autumn, our two countries have settled all past issues and moved forward to become true neighbors both geographically and in spirit.
However, regarding North Korea, I intend to continue to coordinate closely with the United States and the Republic of Korea in order to resolve the international concerns about last year's missile launch, and the suspected secret nuclear facilities, and to resolve the various issues outstanding in Japan's relations with North Korea. Provided that North Korea indicates that it is ready to take a constructive approach, Japan is ready to achieve improvements in its dialogues and exchanges with North Korea.
The prosperity of Japan is premised upon the stability of the world economy. In particular, given that our nation accounts for two thirds of the economy of Asia, it is our own responsibility to actively contribute to stabilizing the currencies and economies of Asia. A single currency, the euro, has been introduced in Europe and the world economic and monetary systems are entering a new age. I reaffirm my conviction that we must fully consider the interdependence between our economy and the world economy as we actively participate in the creation of new frameworks and rules for the global economy, and promote greater internationalization of the yen as a global currency.
Moreover, as our country builds a bridge to the world it is only natural that we continue to appropriately contribute to the international community. I intend to strive to gain the full understanding of the Japanese people for even greater cooperation by Japan in terms of assistance to developing countries and assistance for United Nations peace-keeping operations (PKO), including the lifting of restrictions on involvement in peace-keeping force (PKF) activities.
(A Bridge to Prosperity)
Economic prosperity is made up of the realization of an abundant and comfortable lifestyle for the people, and development of society and the nation. I will focus the very life of this Cabinet on creating a bridge to prosperity.
Since assuming the reins of power as Prime Minister in July 1998, I have focused on the key issue of revitalization of our financial system, with the unceasing cooperation of the Diet. We have promptly taken bold measures through the enactment of the two laws related to financial revitalization and the implementation of measures to provide government guarantees, as well as by taking steps to ease the difficulties of small and medium enterprises facing the credit crunch. Indeed, we have heard from many small and medium enterprises around the country that they have somehow managed to overcome the greatest of the difficulties. Those words are etched deeply in the minds of all who work so hard, and we intend to continue to concentrate all our efforts on resolving the issues that remain.
Furthermore, we are proceeding to seamlessly implement the economic revitalization measures under the third supplemental budget approved at the end of last year, and as well, in the FY1999 budget, in order to continue to allow us to focus our efforts on achieving economic recovery in the interim, we have given top priority consideration to public works measures, measures to assist small and medium enterprises and measures to foster employment. At the same time by promoting the development of science and technology, we have fully incorporated measures which will solidify the foundation from which will stem the future development of our nation.
In our tax system as well, in order to expand domestic demand and enhance the international competitiveness of Japanese corporations, I have decided to implement permanent tax reductions for both individual income tax and corporate income taxes, bold measures which were not possible in the past. I will also implement strategic tax reductions such as the exemption of interest paid on housing loans from the tax base. In all, this amounts to a tax reduction in excess of nine trillion yen. Furthermore, in order to gain even greater understanding of the people for the consumption tax, I have seen to it that it be clearly stated in the general provisions of the budget that consumption tax revenue be earmarked for use as basic pension funds to support people in their retirement years and for the health care and nursing expenses of the elderly within the welfare budget.
I am confident that with the synergy created by these measures and the serious efforts being taken by the private sector, the Japanese economy in FY1999 will recover to real economic growth of approximately 0.5%. Our nation stands firmly on a foundation which, by international standards, is extremely sound, sustained by great foreign assets and individual savings, a powerful manufacturing sector supported by advanced technologies and a diligent populous. I christen this year as the year of economic revitalization, and intend to do my utmost to ensure the revitalization of our economy.
In order for the Japanese economy to break free of the current recession which hangs over our inherent abundance and to achieve autonomous development, we must further promote economic structural reform and strengthen the nature of the supply side of our economy. Specifically, by creating new businesses, we can achieve the important goals of securing good employment and increasing productivity. Toward that end an Industrial Revitalization Plan will be drafted by the end of January. Furthermore, social capital infrastructure development will focus on leading projects for the 21st century, and optimal use will be made of the dynamism of the private sector to make strategic and focused forward advances in those areas essential for the activation of our economy including telecommunications, urban development, housing, environment, education and welfare. Moreover, the entire government will unite to boldly promote such measures to create employment as the Comprehensive Plan for Employment Activation , through which we will aim to create and maintain approximately one million jobs.
With the outstanding balance of public debt expected to reach 327 trillion yen, Japan faces an extremely difficult fiscal situation. When I think of the next generation, I am keenly aware of the grave responsibility which I bear to effect fiscal structural reform. Once the Japanese economy is soundly on the road to recovery, we must broadly and thoroughly consider, from the medium- to long-term perspective, what we can do to address the various challenges which remain in the fiscal and tax systems. Indeed, it is our duty to show the people the way forward.
At the end of last year I received valuable recommendations from the Strategic Economic Council. I will indeed give serious consideration to those recommendations in policy implementation, and I would hope that the members of the Diet will likewise fully discuss those proposals, including the creation of legislative systems. Moreover, yesterday I entrusted the Economic Council with the consideration of what form our economic society should take in the coming new age and to devise policies with that in mind. I hope to communicate our basic policy directions for the coming decade as soon as possible.
In order for our economic society to be an even more dynamic and attractive one in the 21st Century, it is vital that the citizens and corporations which it comprises build upon their individuality and creativity and that we foster a social environment in which bold, creative advances can be realized in a spirit of embracing challenge.
To do so, we must further promote deregulation and decentralization and reconsider the respective roles of the public and private sectors, and thereby thoroughly review the involvement of government in the lives of the people and the activities of corporations. Indeed, the realization of a smaller, more streamlined government is of utmost importance. In the bills related to the reform of the central ministries and agencies scheduled to be submitted to this session of the Diet, we must provide a clear picture of a structure for our central ministries and agencies which is in line with the needs of the 21st Century. Furthermore, in order to enhance the initiative and independence of local government bodies, related laws to the Plan for the Promotion of Decentralization determined last year, will be submitted to this session of the Diet and I intend to seek even greater decentralization and call upon local government bodies to take an active approach toward structural organization, including merging local municipalities and implementing administrative and fiscal reform. In order to ensure that government is open to the people, I intend to continue to make my utmost efforts to see to the early passage of the Access to Government Information Law in the Diet.
(A Bridge to Safety)
Today many of the people of Japan enjoy that which humanity has sought since ancient times--a long life. However, at the same time many of our people are concerned about how they will support their lifestyles after they retire. Looking ahead to a 21st Century in which we will be an aging society with a diminished population, we must begin now to create a bridge to safety so that we can build a bright and dynamic society for our nation.
If we look around our society we see many instances in which the systems and practices created in an age in which life expectancy was 50, still remain without having been reformed to meet current life expectancies of 80 years. As the lifestyles of the Japanese people change we must change the structures of our society, and the ways in which our people think, by promoting employment opportunities for the elderly and creating an environment in which the elderly can live active lives, so that all of our people can enjoy lifelong good health and fulfillment. Moreover, the arrival of an aged society will create a class of abundant consumers with diverse needs, which will inherently offer new business opportunities for economic development.
As we review the overall structures of our society, it is imperative that we forcefully promote structural reform of those systems which make up the social safety net, including the pension, health, and nursing systems, so that stable administration can be guaranteed into the future. In order to ensure the necessary provision of those services while considering the burden to be born by future generations, and at the same time maintain the dynamism in our society and our economy, we must achieve a balance between provision and burden ratios while at the same time expanding the choices of users, including introducing private sector service providers as we increase the efficiency and rationality of our systems. In particular, regarding pension and health care, I will focus on tax reform so that we can establish trustworthy and stable systems which can respond to changes in the environment.
The rapidly decreasing population of our country has a great influence on our economic society. I recently received a proposal from the panel of eminent persons to consider responses to the falling birth rate that our entire society must be united in addressing the need to create an environment in which our people can hold dear the dream of raising children and of having a family. I intend to do my utmost to take a broad-based approach encompassing all people by establishing a Citizen's Council composed of representatives of all sectors, in order to appropriately address this challenge. The Fundamental Law Designed to Promote a Gender-Equal Society will be submitted to this session of the Diet, and I am certain that it will provide great momentum toward achieving these goals.
(A Bridge to Security)
Preserving life and ensuring a safe way of life, which can otherwise be spoken of as ensuring human security, is one more important duty which we bear. I am committed to building a bridge to security until we are able to guarantee the security of every one of our citizens, and to preserve the environment of our climate.
A society of mass production and mass consumption generates massive waste and places a great burden on the global environment. One of our most weighty responsibilities is to pass on to our children, and to their children, a beautiful and stable environment by creating a renewable economic society. In order to carry out this responsibility I intend to address global environment issues, to promote increased energy efficiency and further develop nuclear energy utilization and new sources of energy and promote their use and to strive for the creation of recycling systems which can process specific needs. Furthermore, I will see to the creation of a new legislative framework to preserve the environment by addressing the problem of so-called "environmental hormones" by reducing emissions of dioxin and promoting the control of chemical substances. Japan will lead the way in creating a society which respects nature and preserves natural resources in order to defend our irreplaceable earth.
The creation of social capital and providing a state in which the people can live at ease is an issue which the government must continue to address. Learning from the lessons of the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake and the damage from the repeated torrential rains last year, I will do my utmost to expand disaster prevention measures and crisis management capacity. Furthermore, the development of a nation is supported by a good social order and I will deal resolutely with malicious high-tech crime which makes use of advanced telecommunication technologies, and the criminal use of poisons to threaten the lives and safety of the people, as well as organized crime and the increasingly serious transnational problem of narcotics.
Furthermore, in order to ensure the security of our nation in the international environment which surrounds us, I will take measures beginning with the introduction of information-gathering satellites in order to collect, analyze, and transmit information which can be of use in ensuring our national security and in managing crises.
(A Bridge to the Future)
If we think about our society in the 21st Century, it is clear that there are many issues which must be addressed, and that we must build a bridge to the future.
In the coming century there will be even more scientific and technological development and it is clear that the use of information and technology will expand rapidly. Science and technology and the use of information technologies will provide the driving force for economic development and improvement in the lifestyle of our people in the future. In order to maintain a leading edge in global technology, government and the private sector must unite in order to promote science and technology and to realize an advanced telecommunications society. At the same time we must address the Y2K problem, and take other appropriate measures such as preventing improper access to computer networks.
In preparation for a wide-spread, aging society with a diminishing population we must create a social infrastructure upon which each and every one of our people can dream for the future, and can feel assured that they will be able to live the rest of their lives at ease. With this in mind, I will aim to complete by the end of this month the Strategic Plan for Doubling Space for Life which I have long-since proposed, in order to ensure the availability of large and comfortable living space and provide housing which is designed with the needs of the elderly in mind. Specifically, looking out with a five-year time frame, I will advance investment in our tomorrow and promote concentrated investments in our safety through such measures as ensuring barrier-free access. Furthermore, we must build attractive communities differentiated by their respective strengths and merits, by taking bold steps such as implementing the Regional Strategic Plan for Doubling Space for Life and the New Comprehensive National Development Plan, as well as addressing the issue of moving the capital functions outside of Tokyo.
The agriculture, forestry and fishery industries, and the agricultural, mountain and fishing villages which support them, ensure the supply of foodstuffs and play a broad role in preserving the national land and the environment and in ensuring continuity of regional cultures. Focusing squarely on such roles as our society changes and the process of internationalization advances, we must effect reform of agricultural policy in order to ensure the stable supply of food based on domestic production, and guarantee sound and stable development in these industries by taking concrete policy actions including the compilation of the Agricultural Basic Law. I intend to do my utmost actualize it.
It is clear to all that the future will be born by the younger generation. What we as adults can do for the younger generation who will bear our society forward in the future, is no less than to do our very utmost to build various bridges to the 21st Century, while at the same time, as novelist Ryotaro Shiba once said, we must foster an environment in which the bearers of the future will be of jovial spirit, stern with themselves and thoughtful of others.
I believe that the foundations of education are in fostering life force, a cooperative and helping spirit and a heart which respects our natural environment.
Firmly bearing these points in mind, cultivating a broad perspective, living a life which respects individuality and participating in volunteer activities are of great significance in making contributions to our communities and to our society. Similarly, remembering that there are many paths which people may follow and that we must respect each other's choices are ways in which we can promote education of the heart. I also intend to continue to focus efforts on educational reform which will allow diversification and choice in our school systems, and will foster the creation of unique schools in which a spirit of individuality and autonomy is respected. We must also continue to effect reform of our educational systems, including sweeping reform of our universities in order to bring them up to the international standards for universities.
The morals which have been formed over many years in our homes, in our communities and at our places of work, and the spirit of warm and friendly relations among people, as well as our excellent culture and traditions, are precious assets which must be handed down and continued on into the future by the next generation. Moreover, we must realize a society where the human rights of each individual are respected and build a judicial system which the people feel a part of.
In the distance we can hear the 21st Century as it approaches. In order to make it a century rich in hope and vitality, we must first settle the issues of this century before it draws to a close. Foremost of all I will focus all of my effort on putting our economy back on the track of autonomous recovery. Next, I will create an environment in which individuals and corporations can act with hope and pride, and thereby build a noble nation. Japan must, of its own volition, make contributions to the international community commensurate with its stature. At the same time we must find a way to also ensure our security as a nation. I am certain that if we combine our wisdom and squarely face the difficulties before us, we can build a nation meritorious of the world's respect.
With domestic and foreign issues mounting before us, we must be swift in taking decisions, that is why, focusing on the importance of creating a stable political foundation, I recently forged a coalition government with the Liberal Party. Of course, I intend to continue as before to hold consultations with other parties based on our existing relations of trust.
Politics, as it is charged with the vital duty of determining the will of the nation, is being tested. We must assume a perspective which looks far beyond the interests of any one cabinet or any one political party. In consultations with the Liberal Party, agreement was reached to introduce a vice-ministerial system and repeal the government member of committee member system, because I believe that this will increase the authority of the Diet, the supreme authority of our nation, and effect a transition to a form of politics more directly linked to the people and thereby make it more feasible to take swift policy decisions.
Standing at the helm of national policy in this period of great transition, I will devote my utmost to achieving responsible politics.
In this I humbly ask for the support and cooperation of the people of Japan and the members of the Diet.