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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

Press Conference by Prime Minister Kishida

June 15, 2022

[Provisional translation]
 

[Opening statement]

1. Opening remarks

The ordinary session of the Diet ended today. This session the Diet took up the main budget, a supplementary budget, 61 bills submitted by the Cabinet, and seven treaties, and we succeeded in passing all of them within the session's original schedule, something we accomplished for the first time in 26 years. I wish to thank everyone in both the ruling and opposition parties for their cooperation in the smooth operation of Diet affairs.

2. Decisions and execution

Responses to COVID-19, Russian aggression against Ukraine, soaring prices in international energy and food markets -- historic crisis situations that occur once every few decades are taking place one after the other and also simultaneously. Against that backdrop, as prime minister, this has been an ongoing series of making decisions and executing them, day after day. I appreciate the understanding and cooperation shown to us by the public.

As I begin my remarks, I will set out the key points of the approaches we are taking in our responses to the COVID-19 situation and the aggression against Ukraine.

(1) Responses to COVID-19
First, with regard to our responses to COVID-19, Japan is holding infections down at an extremely low level compared to Western countries. The efforts Japan has made and the results we have achieved have been commended highly in the various meetings I have had with other national leaders. I express my sincere appreciation for the cooperation given to us by the citizens in working to prevent the spread of infections and for the devoted efforts that have been made by local government workers and by those working on the front lines in medical, welfare, childcare, and other settings.

The Government laid out an overview of its efforts to battle COVID-19 last November, under which we secured hospital beds and promoted the administration of vaccines, among other efforts. The percentage of the public receiving a third vaccination dose already surpasses 60 percent. Among the elderly, some 90 percent have received the third dose. This degree of coverage puts us in the very highest tier, even among the G7 countries.

As a result, we have mitigated the spread of infections while simultaneously maintaining our economic activities, even as we avoided the declaration of a state of emergency. Yet, with reports of new variants appearing around the world, among other issues, we are still not able to let our guard down. Upholding the basic principle of proceeding carefully down the path of transitioning to normal times, we will continue to work hard so that you, the public, can restore your regular everyday lives at the earliest possible time.

(2) Aggression against Ukraine

Next, I will address our responses to the aggression against Ukraine.

Russian aggression that tramples the peaceful world order is absolutely unacceptable, and we will show that actions violating the rules of international law come with a heavy price. Under that thinking, we dramatically changed our policies towards Russia that were in place until now and, in cooperation with the G7 and the international community as a whole, we have imposed stringent sanctions against Russia and are making every possible effort to provide support to Ukraine and others.

As the sole G7 member country in Asia, Japan's diplomatic capacity is now truly being evaluated. My diplomatic engagements include my visits to India and Cambodia in March, the three-day, zero-overnight G7 summit in Brussels, my trip to Asia and Europe during Golden Week, the Japan-U.S. summit meeting and the Japan-Australia-India-U.S. (Quad) Leaders' Meeting held in Tokyo last month, and the Shangri-La Dialogue at the end of last week, as well as the G7 Elmau Summit scheduled for the end of next week. Moreover, I will attend a summit meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as the first Japanese prime minister to do so. There I will make an appeal that the security of Europe and the Indo-Pacific are inseparable from each other, and that unilateral changes to the status quo by force are unacceptable, no matter where in the world they occur.

I will urge the harmonization of the stance of Asian countries and the stance of the G7. Also, we will create a Free and Open Indo-Pacific with like-minded countries while raising the Japan-U.S. Alliance to new heights, including the fundamental reinforcement of our defense capabilities. Furthermore, we will make contributions that only Japan can make towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, climate change, and other global issues.

To defend the peace and stability of the region, I will say to China the things that need to be said and strongly urge China to act responsibly, while at the same time building up our dialogues with China on various outstanding issues and cooperating on matters of common interest. This is the "realism diplomacy for a new era" I have been advocating. Leveraging the relationships of trust I have cultivated over many years with various national leaders, I will continue to do my utmost to safeguard the peace enjoyed by both Japan and the international community.

3. Major bills

During this Diet session, several major bills were enacted. One was a new law to promote economic security, a matter that must be dealt with urgently in light of the increasingly severe international situation. Within the discussions on the new National Security Strategy to be drawn up within the calendar year and other matters, we will work to enable more of our efforts take concrete form.

Through the bill to revise the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Act, we established procedures for swiftly granting approval to pharmaceutical affairs during times of crisis. This bill has made it possible to swiftly approve vaccines and pharmaceuticals in cases in which new variants arise or other infectious diseases spread.

Also, the Act to Establish the Children and Families Agency, which will serve as the control tower for child-related policies, was passed today. The number of births in 2021 hit an all-time low last year of 810,000, making responses to the declining birth rate an urgent matter. If we fail to vigorously promote policies taken from the standpoint of children and families with small children and bring about a society in which the interests of children take center stage, we will be unable to sketch out a vision for Japan's future. Fertility treatments became covered by insurance beginning in April. Furthermore, I have taken the decision to increase the Childbirth Lump-Sum Allowance substantially. We will push forward in creating an environment in which everyone can go through pregnancy and childbirth with a sense of security. Rather than wait for the inauguration of the Children and Families Agency next April, we will set up an office right away to prepare for its establishment and, with a staff of 300, work to enhance child-related policies.

4. Future efforts

Next, I will address efforts we will be undertaking from now, explaining the three points of support to help counter price rises and increasing burdens on household finances as a result of soaring energy and food prices; putting a New Form of Capitalism into execution; and efforts to overcome COVID-19 and restore an economy and society that are close to those of normal times.

(1) Sharply rising energy and food prices

The first of these is the problem of sharply rising energy and food prices.

Most of Japan's consumer price increases are upsurges in energy and food prices. But it is not only Japan facing this situation. Higher charges for gasoline and electricity, price increases for various kinds of food, and Russian aggression against Ukraine are hitting citizens all around the world in the pocketbook. Truly, these are Russia-driven price surges -- price spikes set in motion by an emergency.
 
We have put measures in place to curb the dramatic rise in gasoline and diesel fuel prices. Through these measures we have held down the price of gasoline, for example, to a level of roughly 170 yen per liter, which would be 210 yen per liter were the system not in place. The result is that if we look at the extent to which gasoline prices have risen since aggression against Ukraine began, Japan has remained at a level roughly half that seen in Western countries.

As for electricity prices, consumers in Europe, which is highly dependent on supplies from Russia via pipelines, are facing price increases of 30 to 50 percent. For Japan, more than two-thirds of our liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports are under long-term, stable contracts at relatively low prices. Furthermore, for electricity charges for households, we are implementing a system for electricity fees that has the effect of curbing dramatic changes, which includes setting ceilings on charges and ensuring that rates do not increase immediately upon increases in the price of fuel. As a result, we have succeeded in holding down the extent of the rise in charges for household electricity use to roughly two-thirds the increase seen in Europe.

The impacts of the Ukraine crisis are not limited to prices. The crisis also imparts significant impacts on electricity supply and demand during times of peak usage. What is necessary is measures that hold down increases in electricity charges while at the same time ensuring stability in electricity supply and demand. On the supply side, we will move forward with a comprehensive expansion of renewable energy alongside restarting nuclear power plants whose safety has been confirmed and which have the understanding of the local areas. On the other hand, in order to rapidly bring about substantial impacts, we need measures on the demand side, specifically, thoroughly implementing energy conservation and using less electricity. We will press ahead in our preparations so we are able to announce measures towards that end at an early time.

And, with regard to food items, the international price of imported wheat has risen by 20 to 30 percent because of the Ukraine situation, but until September we are leaving the government resale price to domestic milling companies as it is. From October as well, if import prices have risen exceptionally sharply, we will take measures necessary to curb the upswing and rein in sharp price rises in bread, noodles, and the like.

Also, in order to take the edge off rising production costs for livestock products caused by soaring feed prices, we will provide compensation to producers from a fund created from both public and private sources, thereby restraining price increases on meat, sausage, and other items. Moreover, as we head into the autumn, there is a danger of rapidly rising prices for the raw materials for fertilizer exacerbating further increases in the prices of many agricultural products. Here too we will take action to keep rising prices in check through lowering production costs by up to 10 percent for various agricultural products that the public buys daily.

At the same time, we have implemented the package of economic measures we compiled in November at a scale of 79 trillion yen, expeditiously executed the original budget, which was at the largest scale ever, taken comprehensive emergency measures we compiled in April at a scale of 13 trillion yen, enacted a supplementary budget, and taken seamless measures. We will put these measures to effective use as we undertake all possible responses.

From the end of May, we have been providing benefits of 50,000 yen to low-income households raising children. This spring, we also provided 100,000 yen in benefits in advance to basic pension recipients and to households in need. We are also strengthening support for business operators likely to be affected by recent high prices. The impacts of high prices vary according to the local region. Through these measures, we secured 1 trillion yen in Extraordinary Regional Revitalization Grant funding. For example in Yamanashi Prefecture which I visited, I heard that one locality will make use of these grants to provide benefits to persons in need without requiring them to apply. Another locality has lowered water rates for water managed by the local authorities and is working to lighten the burden of utility expenses overall. The national government will support these kinds of efforts. We will also ask for cooperation from a diverse range of entities, such as Kodomo Shokudo and non-profit organizations that address loneliness, isolation, and other such issues, to provide well-tailored support to those suffering from the extremely trying COVID-19 situation, high prices, and so on.
 
In addition to various measures to reduce the burden of electricity charges and measures to combat soaring food prices, as I just mentioned, the Kishida administration will respond to both prices and economic conditions with the greatest possible degree of vigilance. Accordingly, we will establish within the Government a Task Force on Prices, Wages, and Daily Living. As seamless responses that will follow upon our comprehensive emergency measures at a total project scale of 13 trillion yen, we will undertake, with myself standing at the fore, swift and comprehensive measures tailored to the circumstances in terms of both prices and economic conditions, including the flexible use of reserve funds of 5.5 trillion yen already set aside under the supplementary budget. I am determined to fully and resolutely defend the daily lives of our citizens.

Sustained wage increases are also imperative. Through this spring's annual wage bargaining negotiations, the rate of increase in wages is at the level of 2.09 percent at present, with the declines in the rate of increase seen over the past few years reversing course all at once to a greater rate of increase. We also have a plan to raise the minimum wage to 1,000 yen without delay and we will work to prepare the environment for that. We will bring about a New Form of Capitalism in order to realize sustained and inclusive economic growth that will enable ongoing wage hikes.

(2) Putting a New Form of Capitalism into execution
Second, I will address putting New Form of Capitalism into execution. By changing various social issues into engines of growth, we will realize growth that is both sustainable and vigorous. That is a New Form of Capitalism. To materialize this, we will need to shift a significant amount of some 320 trillion yen of cash on hand and on deposit lying dormant in private companies, as well as close to 1,100 trillion yen of cash and deposits held by individuals, into distributions and investments.

We will use new kinds of public-private cooperation to advance the four pillars of investments in people, investments in science, technology, and innovation, investments in start-ups, and investments in green transformation and digital transformation. At the same time, we will create an economy and society in which the private sector actively plays a role in resolving social issues, through support for social entrepreneurship and other initiatives.

As for investments in people, we will continue to mobilize our policies to raise wages and intensify distribution. We will also advance our efforts to enhance investment in education and training, including a policy package of 400 billion yen over three years. In addition, regarding the doubling of income from asset investments through reforms to NISA, a tax exemption program for small investments, and to iDeCo, individual defined contribution pensions, we will draw up a comprehensive "Doubling Asset-based Incomes Plan" at the end of the calendar year.

Regarding the quantum, artificial intelligence (AI), bio, and medical treatment fields, we will set forth a national strategy and national goals and, with the public and private sectors working in cooperation, undertake a fundamental expansion of investments in science and technology. Positioning this year as the first year for founding startups, we will compile a five-year plan by the end of 2022 and increase the number of startups, the key to innovation, to ten times the current number over five years. In order to bring about 150 trillion yen of investments into green transformation over the next decade, from this summer we will establish the GX (Green Transformation) Implementation Council and give concrete shape to measures that promote investment by regulating in a way that is integrated with providing support. We will advance the steady execution of Japan's digitalization through digital infrastructure development and through 40,000 reforms to digitalization-related regulations. Beginning this autumn, we will supervise and direct the progress of the Action Plan for a New Form of Capitalism under the auspices of the Council of New Form of Capitalism Realization.

(3) Measures to restore an economy and society that are close to those of normal times
Finally, I will speak about two points from the perspective of overcoming COVID-19 and restoring an economy and society that are close to those of normal times.
 
The first point is creating domestic demand for tourism. As the impacts of COVID-19 become prolonged, since April we have been implementing measures to boost tourism demand, targeting regional blocks in turn. While there is a trend towards a decreasing number of new cases of infection in Japan as a whole, there are differences in the state of infections among local areas, with some areas still maintaining a high degree of vigilance. In terms of border measures, we expanded the number of entrants to Japan beginning June 1, and we restarted entry to Japan for tourism purposes from the 10th, and we need to assess the state of infections during the month of June, including the effects of these changes. If, based on that assessment, improvements in the state of infections can be confirmed, then from early July in order to support local tourism even more vigorously, with regard to support for local tourism businesses, we will implement measures to precipitate tourism demand, with the entire country covered by these measures.

The second point is strengthening our preparations against an infectious disease crisis. Taking to heart the report submitted at today's experts' meeting, and as I pledged during last year's election campaign to become head of the LDP, we will amend legislation so that the national and local governments have stronger authority to line up medical resources and conduct other operations.

We will further strengthen our medical systems by providing legal grounds regarding the structure for concluding agreements in advance with medical institutions that was introduced in the "Overview of Efforts" compiled in November. We will ensure that the necessary medical systems are fully in place when no crisis exists, such as by obligating key hospitals within local areas to conclude agreements, thereby ensuring that in times of emergency the system will assuredly operate as planned. We will also strengthen our public health centers, our screening structures, our securing of vaccines and medical supplies, and other key areas.

Moreover, in order to swiftly and vigorously implement this framework, we will strengthen the control tower functions.

First, we will newly establish the Cabinet Infectious Diseases Crisis Management Agency within the Cabinet Secretariat and strengthen and unify our planning and overall coordination functions. We will also reinforce the ability of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) to respond to infectious diseases from normal, non-crisis times. We will consolidate the offices in charge of infectious disease responses and crisis management that span across various bureaus and newly establish an infectious diseases response department. Alongside this, we will review the organization of environmental health-related bureaucratic functions and place increased emphasis on medical administration.

Furthermore, we will centralize the organization of experts that forms the foundation for scientific knowledge. We will integrate the National Institute of Infectious Diseases and the National Center for Global Health and Medicine to found under the MHLW what can be called a Japanese version of the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The infectious diseases response department, the Japanese version of the CDC, and relevant local authorities will cultivate a relationship that is integrated and cooperative from normal, non-crisis times.

In this way, having strengthened these functions during normal times, in an emergency, we will place the staff of various ministries and agencies engaged in the procurement of supplies, public relations, and so on, including the infectious diseases response department of the MHLW, under the direction of the Cabinet Infectious Diseases Crisis Management Agency, and undertake measures to counter infectious diseases in a unified manner, under the leadership of the prime minister. Based on this direction, we will move forward in our final coordination and I intend to take a formal decision at the meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters the day after tomorrow.

6. Conclusion

As we face this crisis, I will work to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people as well as employment and the economy while also working to carve out the future of this country. That is the thinking I have held consistently since taking office as prime minister and I regard it as a pledge I have made to the public. I will continue to carry out my mission as prime minister in order to fulfill this pledge.

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