Press Conference by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda
September 25, 2007
[Opening remarks by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda]
PRIME MINISTER YASUO FUKUDA: I am Yasuo Fukuda and I have been appointed as the Prime Minister of Japan. I will head up the coalition government to be established with the New Komeito Party. We are facing a rather severe situation both at home and abroad, and such are the circumstances under which I will take up this heavy responsibility. Nevertheless I have resolved to give my utmost to get us through this difficult period.
These were the circumstances under which the recent election for the President of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) were held and in order to hold the election we were forced to stop the proceedings in the Diet for two weeks despite the fact that the Diet session was in fact underway. When I think of this I feel strong regret that we greatly disturbed the people of Japan and the members of the Diet. That is all the more reason why I have given various considerations as to how I will carry out the heavy responsibility that I bear. No matter what, I believe that I must devote my utmost efforts to clearing away the distrust in politics that has accumulated among the people in recent times.
When I consider that no matter how hard we try to explain the good policies that we intend to implement, unless we clear away this distrust in politics we will not be able to gain the faith of the people. That is why I believe that it is essential that we regain the faith of the people in politics. And among the issues that are related to this, I believe that the pension issue is one of extreme importance. More than simply a matter of the pension system, I believe that this underlines the fact that the people have lost their trust in the Government -- that the people have lost their trust in the nation. For our part, we feel great responsibility for this situation and are determined to devote our fullest efforts to resolving it.
There is no master plan to resolve this situation. Rather, we must steadfastly resolve the issues at hand one by one and thereby create a base on which we regain the trust of the people once more. Although it may take some time, I do intend to devote my fullest efforts to resolving these issues.
We believe that what is crucial is how we explain these issues to the people of Japan. I intend to fully carry out my responsibility to provide a sufficient explanation.
Other issues that we must address are the so-called "politics and money" issues. I believe they were the significant issues that had caused the distrust of the people. My view on this situation is that the financial reports that have been submitted under the current Political Funds Control Law have included quite a significant degree of looseness. I believe that each and every politician must keenly sense the importance of these issues and that we must create a system under which they will be able to verify accurate reports at any given time.
Immediately after assuming my post as President of the LDP I put forward one proposal on how this situation can be improved. My proposal is for a thorough structure under which a complete explanation will be provided on all aspects of revenues and expenses. I intend to hold discussions among the ruling parties on the concrete proposal for this and to engage in consultations with the opposition parties as well.
I believe that we will be facing the possibility of a very difficult situation as we move forward with the Diet deliberations. Naturally this situation stems from the fact that the ruling parties do not hold a majority in the House of Councillors. As such, unless we hold thorough consultations with the opposition parties we will not be able to smoothly operate in the Diet. I am sure that a major question will be how to carry out consultations with the opposition parties.
We believe that it is indeed possible for us to carry out thorough dialogue with the opposition parties and that in fact there is sufficient room for the opposition parties to want to talk with us. I believe that because I know that the members of the opposition parties also are focused on what can be done for the lives of the people and how we can ensure the interests of our nation.
It is from that perspective that I believe that the ruling parties and the opposition parties can come together to discuss various issues. I intend to make even greater efforts than have been made in the past in order to provide the opposition parties with an explanation as clearly as possible on various issues and thereby gain their support.
The current situation includes some extremely difficult challenges. Among the issues that our nation faces is the fact that the situation in our society has been changing; one such change being the arrival of a new age with a decreasing birthrate, an aging society and a declining population. Moreover, we must consider profoundly the serious issue of how these changes will affect our economy.
If we turn our focus to outside of Japan we see the changing international situation. Our neighboring countries are achieving dramatic economic growth. Furthermore we are faced with the medium- to long-term issue of the environment. We must also give sufficient consideration to how we are to address the environmental issues at hand. In other words, we must identify what it is that out nation must do now in order to address such issues that will continue as we go forward into the future. As we aim for a better future, and as we contemplate our goals for the environment in that future, what exactly is it that Japan must do now with that in mind? The age we have entered is one in which we are obliged to consider this. In other words, we are no longer able to simple carry on and think about things as an extension of the way we have done in the past.
Against such circumstances the issues that face us in the political sphere are indeed of a great scale. We must consider many things as we move forward. And in that process we must act in a manner that will allow us all to have confidence in our future. That will lead to hope. We must build our society in a way that will imbue our young people with a sense of hope for their future and so that the working people as well as the elderly people of our country can rest assured in their livelihood. These are not issues that we will only be addressing for the coming time. No, indeed, these must be accomplished over a long time that will extend into the future.
I believe that the task that we have now been given is to take now that first step forward in the direction of accomplishing our goals.
That is what I will bear in mind as my Cabinet boldly takes up the challenge of resolving the issues that we face. I consider all of these issues to be matters that require reform. We must breakthrough the current situation and build a new future for ourselves. Such is the task that I have been charged with and I intend to accomplish it. That is my hope. I ask for the cooperation of everyone as I move forward in these endeavors. With this I will close out the opening remarks of this, my first greeting to you as Prime Minister.
QUESTION 1: I would like to ask you about how you formed your Cabinet. Most of the members of your Cabinet have been carried over from the previous Cabinet into the same posts or were shuffled from one post in the former Cabinet to a new post in your Cabinet. What was the basis for the decisions you made on selecting personnel? Furthermore, what kind of position in the Cabinet did you offer to former LDP Secretary-General Taro Aso? Also, do you intend to reshuffle your Cabinet sometime before the start of the next Diet session in order to make your Cabinet more representative of the Fukuda policies?
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: My approach in forming my Cabinet was to continue, in principle, with the members of the previous Cabinet. I did give various considerations in this regard but it is a fact that right now the Diet is in session. In addition, I considered that the more I extended the spectrum of change in the Cabinet the greater would be the possibility of disorder resulting from that. Reflecting on that I decided that I would keep change to the lowest possible level. I believe that this will be extremely important for ensuring smooth deliberations in the Diet. Still, I did bring in some new members and there were some people whom I shifted to different posts, and I believe that in each of those cases I have assigned the right people in the right posts. I believe that I have achieved my original objective.
It was my hope that Mr. Aso would also extend his cooperation but Mr. Aso also has his own considerations to make and in the end he did not join my Cabinet. Still, I firmly believe that only by all of the members of the LDP combining their power together can we overcome the current difficulties that we face and that Mr. Aso shares this belief and will extend his cooperation to our endeavors.
At the same time you have also stressed that you intend to make efforts to gain the support of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Do you intend to strive to enact a new law even if it will require an extension of the period for deliberations under the extraordinary Diet session, or even if it will require a revote to get more than two thirds of the Diet members' approval? Or do you intend to place greater emphasis on discussions with the DPJ, and are you open to the possibility of aiming for enactment of the law in the ordinary session of the Diet? Please share your thoughts on this with us.
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: We believe that the operations that you spoke of are of extremely high benefit to the international community and that in fact the international community has expectations for Japan, and therefore, we intend to carry forward with these operations.
Your question touches on how then are we to continue these operations. The creation of a new law would indeed be one way to move ahead with this. At the current time we are steadily moving more in that direction. Once that direction is set, we will conduct thorough consultations with the opposition parties as well. It may be necessary for us to provide a preliminary explanation of the content and gain their understanding in that regard. Depending on the way things develop we may need to provide various explanations during the course of debate in the Diet so that they can deepen their understanding. In any event, I do intend to make efforts so that a decision can be made at the earliest possible date to continue these operations.
Under the administration of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the Prime Minister himself acted against the backdrop of a high level of support from the people of Japan, and as a result the Prime Minister's Office held an extremely powerful position. Furthermore, under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister expanded the special advisors system and established various councils as part of his aim to ensure that the Prime Minister's Office led the way.
You yourself are seen as someone who places great emphasis on coordination with the coalition partners in the ruling government, and with the bureaucracy. Do you intend to display powerful leadership as Prime Minister, or are you aiming for a style that would be more akin to that adopted by then Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, in which decisions were left for each administrative entity? Which of these are you aiming for?
I have one more question regarding the "politics and money" issues. Former Prime Minister Abe stated that any Cabinet members who were unable to provide a sufficient explanation in the event that any suspicions arise regarding the "politics and money" issues would be asked to resign from the Cabinet. Will this policy be carried over into the Fukuda Cabinet?
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: First allow me to respond to your question about the leadership of the Prime Minister's Office. In January 2001, a change was brought about to the systems that had prevailed until then, resulting in a revised organization and a structure that allowed a Prime Minister's Office to easily take leadership. For that reason, the Prime Minister's Office itself is different than it was during the time of the Takeshita Cabinet. These structures can be made full use of going forward. That is why I too intend to make full use of these structures.
One often hears people speaking about, "leadership of the Prime Minister's Office amounts to the leadership of politics." However, the Japanese parliamentary Cabinet system was formerly structured in a way that did not easily allow that to happen. As I am sure all of you are very well aware, the previous system was one in which matters were raised up from the lower echelons and submitted to the Cabinet for a decision. However, nowadays under the leadership of the Prime Minister, it is the Prime Minister who is now able to give instructions from the top. That is why various councils are established with the Prime Minister's Office playing a central role. Indeed, the number of councils has increased. I assume there are 50 to 60 council meetings to which the Prime Minister attends, and the number is even higher, 70 to 80, for the Chief Cabinet Secretary. Indeed, there has been a rather high increase in the number of such meetings.
The reason why that has come about is that there is after all a need to craft various policies that can flexibly and boldly respond to situations as they arise, and because there are a very large number of issues that affect more than one ministry or agency, and to that end the functions of the Prime Minister's Office are performing at a high level.
Still there is a limit to what can possibly be handled by the Prime Minister's Office. It would not be good for there to be too many matters handled there. That is why I do believe that those matters that are truly important and that truly must be handled by the Prime Minister's Office should indeed be effectively handled there. In my view, this is what is most required nowadays. Considering this, we must strengthen the functions of the Prime Minister's Office and as we continue to strengthen those functions we should respond flexibly as much as possible to the needs of our times.
Furthermore, many of the matters that I outlined above involve aspects with impact on more than one central ministry or agency. That is why I believe there are many instances in which the Prime Minister's Office must take leadership. I do not think that this is something that will change in the future.
And the "politics and money" issues, right?
REPORTER: Former Prime Minister Abe stated that any Cabinet members who were unable to provide a sufficient explanation in the event that any suspicions arise would be asked to resign from the Cabinet. My question was, do you intend to carry over this policy?
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: Regarding these issues, I do believe that all of our nation's politicians by now have a thorough understanding of the significance of this matter. Until now, perhaps the importance of these issues was not recognized, or perhaps it was looked upon rather lightly. However, now everyone recognizes the extreme importance of this matter and I believe that everyone is making an effort to make their report appropriately.
My approach is that in the event such a situation were to arise in the future, I would consider the circumstances under which it happened and respond appropriately. Intentional misconduct is wrong. However, for conduct involving overlook or misunderstanding, decisions need to be made according to the extent of such misbehavior, as the rules are not entirely clear on certain aspects. In that respect perhaps there is a need for us to further clarify those rules. The important thing is, I believe, to make a case-by-case judgment based on the situation as it arises.
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: During my campaign for the presidential election of the LDP, I stated my strong intention to resolve this issue. I have not received a report of the fine details of the ongoing negotiations. That is why only once I have gained a thorough understanding of the situation, do I intend on carefully considering what methods there may be for responding.
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: Do you mean how do I position my Cabinet?
REPORTER: I said how you name your Cabinet.
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: I fully intend to engage in consultations with the opposition parties, in particular with the DPJ, the leading opposition party. I consider it essential to discuss various important issues, including the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law, although whether or not this particular issue should fall into the spectrum of security is a separate matter to think about; there is room for consideration regarding whether the issue should be categorized in security or discussed from the perspective of international cooperation for peace.
Furthermore, I intend to engage in consultations with the DPJ on important matters which have a direct bearing on the lives of the people, and those which are relevant to a large portion of our people, such as the pension system and the overall social security system.
As for how I describe my Cabinet, I have jokingly referred to it as the, "Cabinet with its back to the wall," with the implication being that our Cabinet is one in which there is the possibility that all it would take would be for us to make one wrong step and the LDP would lose its hold on the Government. That is all the more reason why we must maintain a high level of tension and go about our business each day fully aware of the situation we face.
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: I do not believe that now is the appropriate time for me to be speaking about when will be the appropriate time for a dissolution of the Diet. You have said that we have now seen two prime ministers succeeding without seeking for the approval of the people. However, I believe that the House of Councillors election that was held under the Abe Cabinet was indeed one significant opportunity to ask the public its views. Now that I have formed a new government, the next general election will certainly be held sometime in the next two years. Right now I am not in a position to tell you when exactly that will happen during the coming two years. We are in the midst of the Diet session, and therefore, we should be focusing on our efforts to ensure the smooth proceedings of the Diet. I hope you will understand that I would like to refrain from speaking about the timing for a dissolution of the Diet.
If I were to give you one basic issue, I would state that I must not allow anything to happen that would exert a negative influence on the lives of the people. Moreover, there are various circumstances to consider, such as the trends in the economy. Right now, we cannot assume anything when it comes to considering what type of circumstances may arise. I believe that we will carry forward in considering the appropriate timing for a dissolution of the Diet, while thinking about these matters.