Press Conference by Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio
December 21, 2021
Yesterday, the supplementary budget for fiscal year 2021 and related bills submitted by the Government were passed by the Diet and the 207th session of the Diet came to a close. I wish to express my sincere appreciation for the cooperation extended to us by everyone involved, including my fellow members of the Diet.
During this Diet session I explained my thinking as much as possible. Listening to the views expressed by people in local governments and by those working out in the field, and grounded in the opinions arising during Diet debates, daringly as politics I changed course in order to be in line with popular sentiment. The important thing is to conscientiously accept the thinking of the public at large. One example is the subsidy being provided to households raising children. As we head towards the difficult end of the year, I believe there must be a great many families that find themselves in challenging circumstances. Providing support in a swift manner is the most important thing of all, in my view. This will place a burden on those who will implement it at the national and local levels during the year-end and New Year’s period, but I ask sincerely for your cooperation, with the thought that it is for the sake of the citizens.
In the COVID-19 crisis, we are in an unprecedented situation whose future remains uncertain. Against that background, the Government will make every effort to enable the citizens to go to work and live their daily lives with at least some peace of mind. Towards that end, first of all, by the end of the calendar year we will deliver to the public a large-scale package of bold economic measures. At the same time, proceeding with extreme caution, we will take measures in advance to address new circumstances such as virus strains. In a little over 40 days since the inauguration of the Second Kishida Cabinet following the general election, the Government and ruling parties have, on the basis of these policies, stood at the fore, placing importance on a sense of speed above all else.
Through yesterday’s passage of the supplementary budget, economic countermeasures for overcoming COVID-19 and pioneering a new era at a scale of 78.9 trillion yen will finally enter the stage of execution. Governments worldwide, medical institutions, and national peoples the world over are compelled to somehow wage a battle against COVID-19, an unknown risk. Within that context, in this fight I am thoroughly setting forth a policy of in-depth explanations and swift action. I intend to face the battle with COVID-19 by efficiently advancing cooperation from relevant parties by conscientiously explaining the overall vision of the Government’s policies and approaches and expeditiously implementing that vision. I will also utilize to the greatest possible extent our high degree of public spirit and our strong solidarity, both of which are strengths of Japanese society. My fellow citizens, acting in cooperation with each of you, I will spare no effort in fully defending the lives and the health of you, the Japanese people.
Responding to COVID-19, an unknown risk, is a sequence of trial and error day after day. The role of the government includes swiftly revising our responses, regardless of the circumstances, when we believe that some option will yield a better outcome for the citizens. In spring last year when COVID-19 infections had only started to spread, many among the public found themselves unable to get any face masks whatsoever and were at a loss over what to do amid the anxiety towards the unknown virus. The Government worked to deliver cloth masks to all citizens nationwide, and after that, the production and distribution of masks recovered and expected targets were achieved, with, for example, worries about a shortage of masks now being entirely swept away. Since then, the Government has maintained a stockpile of more than 500 million high-performance masks, making us able to respond sufficiently in emergency situations. From the standpoint of optimizing public finances, I have given instructions that we will dispose of the Government’s inventory of cloth masks within roughly this fiscal year after distributing them to those who want them and attempting to put them to effective use.
In my December 6 policy speech to the Diet, I laid out in great detail my approach regarding various issues facing my Cabinet, including responses to COVID-19, economic measures, diplomacy, security, and constitutional reform. In today’s press conference, l will briefly explain seven areas where there has been progress in terms of either my administration’s policy position or execution since I delivered that speech.
The first area is border measures. For roughly one month since November 29, we have been taking border measures such as suspending new entries into Japan by foreign nationals. Scientific assessments of the infectious capacity, the risk of symptoms becoming severe, and other aspects of the Omicron strain have not yet been established. For this reason, in the near term, we have decided to extend the border measures as we assess the state of affairs during the year-end and New Year’s holiday period. While making every effort to gather information, we will accelerate preparations under our domestic response system, including the widespread use of a third vaccine dose and orally administered therapeutics.
The second area is a strengthening of our measures to contain infections domestically. We will thoroughly implement early detection by testing all domestic cases for the Omicron strain. Additionally, we will strengthen our measures to contain infections by, for example, asking those who have been in close contact with persons infected with the Omicron strain to stay 14 days in designated accommodations rather than at home.
The third area is comprehensive measures to strengthen prevention, testing, and early treatment. I will mention only the key points. The first pillar of our comprehensive strengthening measures is accelerating the vaccination schedule. We will accelerate the schedule for administering the third dose to roughly 31 million healthcare workers and elderly persons over age 65 who are at a high risk of developing severe symptoms.
The second pillar of our comprehensive measures is the start of supplying orally administered therapeutics. Once pharmaceutical approval is received, before the end of the calendar year, we will start to deliver to medical facilities 1.6 million doses we secured of therapeutics by Merck. We will also move forward in our preparations so that we are able to deliver to medical facilities 2.0 million doses of therapeutics by Pfizer early in the new year. During the wave of infections this past summer, a cumulative total of approximately 900,000 newly positive patients emerged, and among them, some 200,000 were deemed by experts to be patients at high risk of developing severe symptoms. The 1.6 million doses of the Merck therapeutics are an amount sufficient to treat all those at high risk of developing severe symptoms, including patients with mild symptoms, even if the infectivity is double that of the summer and the spread of infections continues over the medium term.
The third pillar is a dramatic strengthening of the free testing system. First, for those unable to be vaccinated, every prefecture will within December launch testing that is free of charge with no reservation required. As we head into the year-end and New Year’s holiday period, the opportunities for interacting with others are expected to increase. I ask once again for cooperation in carrying out the basic precautionary measures of avoiding the three Cs [of closed spaces, crowded spaces, and close-contact settings], wearing masks, and washing your hands. Some experts overseas believe that as a measure to counter the Omicron strain, we should call on those who appear to have the initial symptoms of a cold to refrain to the very best of their ability from going out in public. Although Japan is not facing a situation in which community-acquired infections are cropping up, I ask everyone to be extremely cautious in how they respond.
The fourth area where there has been progress since I made my policy speech is support for those who are having a hard time because of COVID-19. To respond to the voices of those who are struggling in their daily lives as they head into the end of the year and are worried about making their way into the New Year, I have instructed the relevant ministers to execute the supplementary budget at an early time. We will provide support in a multi-layered manner, with benefits of 100,000 yen provided to university students facing economic difficulties, benefits of 100,000 yen provided to households exempted from paying residence taxes, and so on. In this way, we will, in order, broadly provide support for people facing hard times because of COVID-19, beginning within the calendar year.
On December 28, we will compile our Priority Plan for Measures to Combat Loneliness and Isolation. Public and private sector entities and non-profit organizations (NPOs) will cooperate in supporting people in need, preventing suicides, and taking on child poverty and other issues. People with worries should not keep those problems bottled up inside, but instead get in touch with consultation services provided by the national or local governments or by NPOs.
Besides the direct impacts caused by COVID-19, people’s lives have been significantly impacted by soaring gasoline prices, damage from pumice stones and red tides, a drop in the price of rice, and more. The Government will also mount well-tailored responses to problems such as these. Currently, reduced demand for raw milk is becoming a major problem. I would like to ask the cooperation of the public in drinking one glass of milk more than you usually do, or using dairy products in your cooking, particularly in the year-end and New Year’s holiday period, when demand drops in particular, so as to avoid having to discard raw milk on a large scale.
The fifth area where we’ve seen progress is working out a new form of capitalism. Taking “digital” and “carbon” as key words, in this dramatically changing economy and society, we will redouble our investment in people, who are the key to producing new value. The technique used so far is to provide support through the government alone creating a menu of options, but this is clearly reaching its limits. We will incorporate the ideas of the public from the policy formulation stage. We will provide support for about one million people including non-regular employees to take a step forward in their careers through capacity building, reemployment, or career changes. When doing so, we will take on the challenge of instituting a new way of proceeding by which we design the system after listening to the voices of many citizens, including non-managerial employees and those engaged in corporate management, among others. We will start seeking opinions on this from you in the public in the near future. I hope you actively submit proposals to us.
A significant characteristic of a new form of capitalism is positioning distribution squarely in the center, as a course heading to growth. Carrying out distribution creates new demand that will support growth, leading to the next round of growth.
One important pillar of distribution policy is wage increases initiated by companies. It is critical that we take a full range of steps to foster an atmosphere in which companies are inclined to raise wages. Towards that end, the Government will take the initiative by raising public prices. We will raise the salaries of people working in settings providing nursing care, childcare services, preschool education, and the like by three percent on a permanent basis beginning next February. We will raise the salaries of medical nurses by one percent from February and by three percent on a permanent basis from October. In addition, for cases in which small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have enacted wage hikes, I will request broadly that industrial circles cooperate so that those increases can be appropriately passed through into prices; moreover, on December 27 I will compile a policy package towards that end. We will set January through March of 2022 as the period for intensively engaging in this, and the entire Government will undertake this, working as one.
The Fair Trade Commission and the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency will act in cooperation with the government office having jurisdiction over the business and create a system for grasping on a broad basis precedents that are problematic. To address industries with a large number of problems, we will conduct on-site investigations or make requests for on-site investigations and make it easier to pass price increases through to clients. As for the sharp rises in raw material costs and energy costs now confronting a large number of SMEs, we will press forward in the same way with measures for passing higher prices through to clients. Distribution through higher wages is not a cost but rather an investment in the future. Paying proper wages is the foundation for sustained value creation for a company. It is also necessary for shareholders of a company to understand this point. During fiscal 2022, we will draw up rules to put non-financial information into a form that can be readily appraised, so that the value of human resources is easily identifiable within corporate disclosures.
Discussions on a vision for a digital garden city nation are also moving forward at a brisk pace. Digital Extraordinary Administrative Advisory Committee established digital principles that should by observed in government administration and we will conduct a bulk review of some 40,000 laws, ministerial ordinances, notifications, and so on to ensure they are consistent with these principles. Next spring, we will compile a plan for bulk revisions to our systems and institutions. For example, through institutional reform, we will streamline our regulations covering the maintenance of infrastructure such as roads and plants, the periodic inspections of automobiles, the regulations on human resources allocation in nursing care facilities, and so on.
By next March, we will set forth a plan for improving our digital infrastructure. In order to make high speed, large capacity digital services such as autonomous driving usable anywhere in Japan with low delay and low latency, we will, over approximately the next five years, set up more than a dozen regional data center hubs. We will increase 5G coverage, currently at about 30 percent of the population, to reach 90 percent by fiscal 2023. We will at the same time work to achieve optical fiber coverage for 99.9 percent of all households by 2030. We will work to bring about a society in which everyone can enjoy the benefits of digital transformation, without leaving anyone behind. In order to support the elderly and others who are unaccustomed to doing things digitally, we will expand the number of Digital Promotion Committee members to more than 10,000, to be found in every corner of the country. The other day I visited Aizu as part of the sit-down talks I have with people. There, the local government, companies, residents, and universities were acting in cooperation to advance community building for the new era in a way that can truly be called a digital garden city. We will expand management personnel into 100 communities nationwide. They will serve as hubs for advancing the implementation of a digital society and promoting community building for the new era, through cooperation with local residents.
With regard to the problem of climate change, we will of course adhere to the targets of a 46 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by fiscal 2030 and of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. I consider the problem of climate change to be one situated at the very heart of a new form of capitalism. Rather than only set targets from a supply side perspective as we do in the Basic Energy Policy, it is imperative that we painstakingly indicate the path forward for how Japan will accomplish reforms facing our economy and soceity and our industries as a whole that come around only once every several generations, alongside an overarching vision for economic and social reforms. I intend to indicate in early January how we will have discussions by the Council for New Form of Capitalism Realization move forward in coordination with discussions on the problem of climate change.
Our sixth area of progress is in diplomacy and security. I want to make next year a year of actively promoting diplomacy at the leaders’ level. Recently I participated in the Summit for Democracy, which was held in a virtual format. Like-minded countries will unite in a single voice to counter actions that undermine fundamental values we cherish such as freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
Although the dates are still being coordinated, I will hold talks with President Biden at an early time to further reinforce the deterrence and the response capabilities of the Japan-U.S. Alliance and to raise to a new level our cooperation towards realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific.
With regard to economic matters, I will explain the thinking behind the new form of capitalism I am advocating for, deepen my cooperation with President Biden, who champions Build Back Better, and lead global discussions.
The Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will convene in New York right after New Year’s, from January 4, convening for the first time in seven years. The NPT can be called the cornerstone of a world free of nuclear weapons, which I promote. Japan will exert every effort to make this extraordinarily important conference a success.
Based on our recent experiences in Afghanistan, I have given instructions to examine improvements to the Self-Defense Forces Act in order to take all possible preparations for transporting Japanese nationals who come under threat overseas.
Our seventh area of progress has been in amending the Constitution. During this Diet session, the Deliberative Councils on the Constitution convened for the first time since I became prime minister. I welcome the fact that discussions on constitutional reform have begun in the Diet. I have whole-hearted expectations for discussions to deepen further during the ordinary Diet session. Alongside this, as the president of the Liberal Democratic Party, I will advance reforms within the party. From the beginning of the year, I will accelerate discussions further while listening to the opinions from the regional areas.
During this Diet session various issues have been pointed out regarding the reliability of government statistics and how official documents should be kept. I consider each of these to be absolutely critical for earning the public’s trust towards politics. If we are to restore the public’s trust, it will be essential to, with regard to the problem of statistical double-counting, engage in strict and fair fact-finding with the participation of legal experts, and, with regard to official documents, undertake a neutral, sincere, and thoroughgoing response that is consistent with judiciary proceedings. I will strictly oversee the matter and give instructions so that the relevant ministries and agencies rigorously carry out these responses.
The year 2021 is almost through, with only 10 days remaining. To ensure that the budget is formulated before the end of the calendar year, we will continue to engage in various efforts without letting up in our intensity. The ordinary Diet session begins soon after we ring in the new year. I will work to the very best of my ability to bring about the early passage of the budget for fiscal year 2022 and the bills related to the tax system as well as ensure the passage of important bills for responding to COVID-19, realizing a new form of capitalism, and more. I will continue to take on challenges next year as well, in order to build a Japan where next year is better than this year and people can have hopes for the future. I ask sincerely for the cooperation of my fellow citizens.