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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

New Year's Press Conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

January 4, 2019

January 4, 2019
[Provisional translation]

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
PRIME MINISTER ABE:  Happy new year, everyone.
Here at the start of the new year, the 31st and final year of the Heisei era, I have just paid a visit to Ise Jingu Shrine, where I prayed for the Imperial Household to flourish and for the peace and development of Japan. As we begin this historic year in which Imperial succession from a living Emperor will take place for the first time in roughly 200 years, I had a more solemn feeling than ever upon encountering the dignified atmosphere of the shrine precincts.

In the Oriental zodiac, this is the Year of the Earth Boar (tsuchi no toi). The previous Earth Boar Year was 60 years ago, in 1959, the year in which negotiations were held on revising the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. Alongside the negotiations that were coming to their final stage between Japan and the U.S., a debate was taking place domestically that truly divided public opinion into two. And yet, our predecessors did not turn awayfrom their task in the slightest. They resolutely carried out their responsibilities with their eyes focused on the future of the nation. Now, 60 years later, the revised Japan-U.S. Security Treaty has become the foundation for Japan’s diplomacy and security policies. We who are alive in the present day must also carry out our responsibilities.

The international situation underwent rapid changes during the 30 years of the Heisei era, which dawned as the Cold War ended. The factors that shaped the post-war world wavered dramatically. We will squarely face these changes and with our eyes firmly fixed on the next 60 years -- the era of our children and grandchildren -- carve out new horizons for Japan’s diplomacy.

Five days ago the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement entered into force. Next month, the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that we concluded with Europe will also come into effect. This year, our negotiations with the United States will begin, and our negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with the ten ASEAN nations, along with China, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand, will also enter their final stage. In a world with rising concerns over protectionism, Japan will be steady in holding the flag of free trade high, and we will lead the international community in creating fair rules for a new era.

The situation surrounding Northeast Asia is also approaching a historic turning point because of the U.S.-North Korea summit meeting in June 2018. I will act resolutely, never failing to seize every opportunity to resolve North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues, as well as the abductions issue, the issue of the utmost importance.

During my visit to China this past autumn, I confirmed with President Xi Jinping three principles that will serve as a guidepost for our countries going forward. This year is the year we will put them into practice in earnest. We will elevate Japan-China relations to a new stage.

With Russia we will resolve the issue of the Northern Territories and conclude a peace treaty. Last year President Putin and I shared at our meeting in Singapore the strong determination to bring to an end these issues, which have remained unresolved for more than 70 years since the war ended, and not leave them to the next generation. If circumstances permit, I intend to visit Russia later this month and advance our peace treaty negotiations.

Now is the time to undertake a total reassessment of Japan’s postwar diplomacy. I intend to make this year one where we make significant progress towards that goal.

In the Year of the Boar 60 years ago, Japan was truly poised to step forward towards fully-fledged rapid economic growth. That year, in anticipation of such changes of the times, our predecessors enacted the National Pension Act and the Minimum Wage Law, building the cornerstone for our social security system that has been passed down to the present age.

Now, 60 years later, Japan’s declining birthrate and aging population are progressing rapidly. We in the present era must squarely face this issue, which should truly be called a national crisis, and press forward with reforms looking towards the future.

Beginning this October, we will make early childhood education free. This is a major reform taking place 70 years since general education, the nine years of education in elementary and junior high school, became free after the war. From April 2020, we will also make higher education free for children for whom such assistance is truly necessary, providing scholarships sufficient to cover living expenses and other such costs, with no repayment required. The Abe Cabinet will boldly invest in the future of children, who will shoulder the next era.

As for raising the consumption tax rate, which will fund these initiatives, we have reflected upon the previous increase. This year, we will take more than sufficient measures at levels that return back to the public all the consumption tax revenue paid in, making the economic recovery trend more certain.

At the same time, towards the era in which people will commonly live for 100 years, we will press forward with further reforms to the employment system on the basis of the work-style reforms implemented thus far. By doing so, we can realize a society in which people can be active throughout their lives, even after age 65, if they wish to work. Moreover, we will start to examine reforms that span the social security system in general, including medical care and pensions. We will reform Japan’s social security system to become one in which all generations, from children to families with small children, the working generation, and the elderly, can enjoy peace of mind. This year is the year in which we will get off to a powerful start in these areas. It is the first year of a social security system oriented to all generations.

This year, we will hold the G20 summit in Japan for the first time, with the heads of the world’s major countries meeting together under one roof. Also scheduled this year are TICAD -- the Tokyo International Conference on African Development -- bringing together the countries of Africa, and, in the autumn, the Rugby World Cup. On May 1, His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince will accede to the Imperial Throne and the era name will be changed. Until now, the names of new eras have been decided and announced publicly upon the change itself taking place, but from the perspective of minimizing the impact on people’s daily lives, this time we intend to announce the name in advance, on April 1. The government is engaged in all possible efforts to make preparations so that everyone in Japan can celebrate the historic Imperial succession.

We will get off to a powerful start together with the Japanese people as we head towards the era that follows Heisei. I want to make 2019 the first year of carving out Japan’s tomorrow.

Regarding boars, there is an expression in Japanese meaning “to dash ahead without hesitation like a boar.” As the expression suggests, boars can reach 50 kph when they break into a run. Many people have an image of boars dashing straight forward, paying no attention to what lies along the way. But in fact boars’ movements are completely agile. If obstacles are in their way, they can dodge left or right and execute skillful turns. Surprisingly, they are said to carry themselves with extreme resilience. This year, I want to run my administration with a sense of speed and resilience, like a boar. Here as we begin the Year of the Boar, I am determined to make that happen.

I ask for the continued understanding and support of the Japanese people.

Finally, I would like to extend my best wishes to all the people of Japan for a splendid year to come.

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