Press Conference by Prime Minister Kishida
[Initial remarks by Prime Minister Kishida]
On January 1, the 2024 Noto Peninsula Earthquake with a maximum intensity of seven on the Japanese scale of zero to seven occurred. First of all, I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to those who lost their lives, as well as my sympathies to all those affected by the disaster.
Giving priority to the response to the earthquake, my visit to Ise Jingu, annually scheduled along with a New Year’s press conference, has been postponed. As the series of my daily press conferences so far, including the one this morning, have addressed the Government’s response to the earthquake and subsequent disaster, this press conference will primarily focus on how we will strive to restore trust in politics, an issue as urgent as the response to the earthquake, in a concise manner.
In light of the challenges facing Japan at home and abroad, restoring trust in politics is the most important issue to which top priority should be given.
At home, we must ensure that all possible measures are taken to respond to the earthquake and subsequent damage. Given that a great number of people have been evacuated and their lives as evacuees are feared to be prolonged, long-standing efforts are needed to steadily support the lives and livelihoods of those affected.
On the international front, the world will face more tension this year. While Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the situation surrounding Israel and Palestine remain major challenges, key national elections that will likely decide the future direction of the world are scheduled this year, including the U.S. presidential election. The international community is looking to Japan for its efforts for stability and diplomatic clout.
This year, 2024, is an extremely important year for the future of Japan. It would not be too much to say that this year will be a decisive factor for the upcoming decade of Japan.
Under such circumstances, the priority should be given to restoring public trust and ensuring political stability. First of all, as the President of the Liberal Democratic Party, First of all, as the President of the Liberal Democratic Party, I would like to express my sincere apologies for the fact that the issue of political funding of each of the policy groups, and by extension, the Liberal Democratic Party, is under intense scrutiny in relation to the political funding parties of the LDP policy groups, causing suspicion from the public.
The LDP will continue to fully cooperate with the ongoing investigation by public prosecutors. At the same time, I will take the lead in reforming the LDP’s character to restore public trust in politics.
Next week, a new organization under direct supervision of the LDP President, tentatively called the “Political Reform Headquarters,” will be set up within the party. The headquarters aims to come up with measures against the repetition of similar issues by acknowledging the cause of the issue in question, with a view to formulating rules regarding how to expand transparency of political funds and the future vision of policy groups in the party, among other things. We will discuss this matter in a highly transparent manner by inviting external experts so that the public’s call for political reform will be reflected. We will compile an interim report before the end of January, which will be reflected in the LDP’s efforts to strengthen its governance, while also seeking to submit a related bill to the Diet if necessary. We will restore public trust and ensure political stability before implementing key policies.
Our top priority is economy.
Japan’s economy is now about to seize an opportunity to shift from a cost-cutting economy that has lasted for 30 years to a new economy based on a virtuous cycle of income increase and growth. The key to seizing this opportunity is to achieve wage increases that exceed commodity price increases.
First of all, we will steadily mobilize a new system aimed at achieving official wage increases comparable to commodity price increases for those working in a wide range of areas in the healthcare and welfare sectors, who account for 14% of all employees in Japan. We will provide full support to achieve wage increases at small and medium-sized enterprises, which hold the key to overall wage increases, by expanding tax systems aimed at urging wage increases even at loss-making companies and by implementing the Fair Trade Commission’s new guidelines for passing on labor costs.
Those measures will be followed by a fixed-amount cut in income and resident taxes on a total scale of mid-three trillion yen in June this year. We will then ensure to create an environment in the summer of this year where growth in national income will exceed commodity price increases by combining wage increases and income tax cuts. At the same time, we will help strengthen the earning power of companies that serves to finance wage increases by introducing unprecedented bold tax cuts to encourage investment and support for small and medium-sized enterprises in investing in labor-saving and energy-saving measures, among other initiatives.
Under the New NISA (Nippon Individual Savings Account), introduced this year to help residents in Japan to save money with tax-exempt benefits, we will make full use of Japan’s financial assets of more than 2,000 trillion yen to achieve growth in national income and generate earning power.
Secondly, we will focus on measures against declining birthrates.
Under the Children’s Future Strategy decided at the end of last year, we plan to significantly expand per-child (family-related) spending to the level comparable to that of Sweden, ranked top among the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, with a view to achieving a more generous child and child-rearing policy. We will also seek to change the mindset of Japanese society so that the entire society and workplace will support households raising children. Following the planned enactment of related budgets and legislation in the next ordinary session of the Diet, we will continue to take on more challenges to ensure the sustainability of future Japanese society.
We will also work on foreign policy.
In addition to demonstrating close cooperation between Japan and the United States through my planned official visit to the U.S., we will also strengthen cooperation with partner countries through summit diplomacy in such forms as Japan-U.S.-ROK and Japan-U.S.-Australia-India frameworks. We will build a constructive and stable relationship with China through repeated dialogues, including those between the leaders of Japan and China. In addition, against the backdrop of the increasing presence of Global South countries, we will pursue strategic and detailed summit diplomacy throughout the year by taking advantage of Japan’s position through the Pacific Islands Summit that Japan will host this year, the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-related summits in Laos, the G20 (Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy) in Brazil and other occasions.
Furthermore, we cannot lose any time in strengthening our defense capabilities, shifting our energy policy and working on economic security, among other challenges. We will also work on security clearance and strengthening cybersecurity.
It is also necessary to make maximum efforts toward the realization of constitutional revision. As the LDP President, I would say that my desire to achieve the revision during my term as President remains the same, and I will do my best to advance the discussion. This year, we will work to flesh out draft articles and accelerate cross-party discussions.
Since the launch of the Kishida administration two year ago, I have provided answers one by one to issues that cannot be postponed. I will do everything in my power so that our accumulated achievements will be felt by the people in a more concrete and visible manner this year.
(Yomiuri Shimbun, Ashikaga)
As you mentioned earlier today, you have expressed your recognition that the international situation will be tense this year, citing key elections in major countries and regions such as the U.S. presidential election. While the aggression against Ukraine and the conflict in Gaza continue, some believe that the U.S. will become more inward-looking. How can Japan strengthen its cooperation with the U.S.? Could you also tell us how you plan to advance Japan’s relationship with China, which is becoming increasingly hegemonic in the East and South China Seas?
Furthermore, there are many issues that need to be addressed not only in foreign policy but also in domestic politics, such as the response to the Noto Peninsula earthquake. Under such circumstances, are you considering seeking re-election in the LDP presidential election this autumn in order to continue to lead the country?
(Prime Minister Kishida)
First, regarding the relationship with the U.S., as I mentioned earlier, I feel that the importance of the Japan-U.S. relationship will continue to grow as we enter this year with heightened tensions in the international community. I refrain from commenting on the U.S. election or its internal situation, but I believe that there is a shared recognition across party lines about the importance of the Japan-U.S. relationship in the U.S. as well. Furthermore, given the increasingly severe security environment surrounding Japan, I believe that the importance of strengthening cooperation between our two countries will further increase. Under such circumstances, I received an invitation for an official visit to the U.S. I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to further deepen our close collaboration.
Regarding your second question about China, there are many issues and matters of concern with regard to Japan-China relations, including the situation in the East and South China Seas. In this context, we will say to China the things that need to be said and hold dialogues with China while urging China to act responsibly as a member of the international community. In the meantime, we will work together with China regarding issues that require cooperation, including environment. The Kishida administration’s consistent principle is to build such constructive and stable Japan-China relations through efforts on both sides. At the Japan-China Summit Meeting last November, I directly conveyed this basic position to President Xi and we confirmed the overall direction. We will continue to communicate at all levels and strive to build a constructive and stable Japan-China relationship.
Your third question was about the LDP presidential election. Regarding this, as I said earlier, I believe that we must first make our utmost effort to restore trust in politics before fully devoting ourselves to addressing issues that cannot be postponed, such as countermeasures against soaring prices and other economic measures. Currently, I am not thinking about anything beyond that, and this is the actual situation.
(Sankei Shimbun, Chiba)
I understand that there have been offers of assistance from various countries in response to the recent earthquake, but there are also reports that Taiwan has lifted a standby command for dispatching rescue teams because there were no such needs on the Japanese side. Could you tell us about your policy regarding how to respond to offers of assistance from other countries, including whether there is a need in the first place and whether it is possible to accept them?
(Prime Minister Kishida)
Regarding offers of assistance from various countries, since immediately after the earthquake to date, we have received numerous messages of sympathy from dozens of countries, regions, organizations and individuals around the world, including the U.S., and others, China and Taiwan. First of all, I would like to express my sincere gratitude for such offers.
Currently, the Japanese Government as a whole is making every effort to save lives and provide assistance to the affected area, and in response to offers of assistance from other countries and regions, we are not accepting any kind of human assistance or assistance supplies as of now, taking into account the work and systems required to set up a system to accept them, as well as other local situations.
However, we would be grateful to accept any kind of assistance that does not require the on-site systems or burdens that I just mentioned. For example, it has been announced that 60 million yen will be donated to Japan from Taiwan. We are currently coordinating related matters among related organizations. Based on the policy I have just mentioned, we will respond to offers of assistance from each country.