New Year's Press Conference
[Opening remarks by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda]
Happy New Year to you all. I ask for your continued goodwill in the year ahead.
Last September, in this room, I gave my inaugural address as Prime Minister. Precisely 100 days have now passed since that day. On that occasion, I said that we must break through the current situation and build a new future for ourselves. When I look back on these 100 days, frankly speaking, not everything has gone as smoothly as I would have wanted it to, partially because of the contorted situation at the Diet, in which the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has a majority in the House of Representatives while the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has a majority in the House of Councillors.
Nevertheless, what we must break through has become very clear during the last 100 days, that is, the very way that our politics and the administration have been conducted up to now. We have become a society with a declining population. What is more, the arrival of the full-scale aging society is not far off. Given such circumstances, if we are to create a safe, secure and sustainable society filled with energy and hope, then those in politics and the administration must drastically change their mindsets and the conventional ways that things have been carried out, and instead stand in the shoes of the people and the consumers. My wish is to make 2008 the starting year of Japan's shift toward becoming "a society in which the people and the consumers play leading roles."
At present, the government is undertaking a comprehensive review of all laws and systems to see whether or not they take into account the people's point of view. In this Cabinet, we will address squarely those issues that are compelling and of direct concern to people in their everyday lives, ranging from the issue of incorrect food labeling to the social security issue, and we will steadily resolve them, one by one. We have caused the people a good deal of concern with regard to pensions, which play an important role in maintaining a secure society. It is precisely because the administration has not been based on the people's point of view that the current pension problems have arisen.
Those in politics who supervise the administration also bear extremely large responsibility for the problems. As a politician, I offer my candid apologies.
The current problems surrounding the nation's pension records have been caused by various problems that have piled up over a period of 40 years. Frankly, there is no silver bullet that would solve these problems. At present, the government is using the Pension Special Notification Service to inform individuals of their payment history and ask them to verify the details described therein. Together with the ongoing effort to identify the pension contribution records for which the contributors are not currently determined, we will do our very best to deal steadily and resolutely with each and every task ahead of us.
In addition to the people's cooperation, we also request the cooperation of local governments and business entities involved in the collection and allocation of pension contributions. In order not to nullify this cooperation, we will invest sufficient human resources and use every conceivable means to address these problems. I will grapple with these problems until the very end of my tenure so that my Cabinet can pave the way toward righting the failures that have compounded over the past 40 years. Once again, I ask for your understanding and for your cooperation in our endeavors.
We will establish a pension system with an unprecedented level of security by basing it firmly on the viewpoints of the pension recipients and subscribers. To that end, we will conduct a fundamental review of the current pension system, which has major defects. Accordingly, I have decided to establish a national commission to discuss the modality of social security with its first meeting to convene this month, with the purpose of creating dependable and well-thought-out systems that play important roles in people's daily lives, including the pensions system, the medical care and nursing care systems, as well as a system for implementing measures to reverse the falling birthrate. With the participation of representatives from every sector and every layer of society, including corporate managers, workers, consumers, and women, the commission will deliberate, from a broad perspective, on systems that would gain broad acceptance among the general public.
The G8 Summit will be held in Toyako in July of this year. We will be unveiling the logo mark of the Summit immediately following this press conference. In addition to the G8 Summit, several international summit meetings are planned this year, and global environmental issues will be among the major subjects on the agenda at all of these meetings. Global warming is an issue on which we cannot afford any further delay. It is urgent that we construct a framework in which all major greenhouse gas emitters, without exception, participate and cooperate with each other.
Japan possesses the world's most advanced environmental and energy conservation technology. I firmly believe that Japan can make a contribution to the world by spreading this technology to other countries around the globe. Yet, in order for us to lead the world forward, we will need to make even greater efforts. We must establish a low-carbon-footprint society that can become a model for the rest of the world by changing our lifestyle. I would like us all to tackle this issue together.
The price of crude oil has risen to above 100 dollars a barrel. Although this will probably be a temporary situation, we still cannot afford to ignore the effects of this price rise. At the end of last year, the government -- at an emergency ministerial meeting -- decided on its immediate policy for dealing with the situation, and going forward as well, we will be taking all possible measures. At the same time, we will firmly tackle medium- and long-term issues concerning Japan's resources and energy. It is imperative that Japan be "a country open to the world" if it is to continue to develop in the future. It is also essential that we continue to cooperate and deepen our interdependency with the international community. For Japan, a peaceful and stable international community is an irreplaceable asset. This is why Japan needs to help the international community as much as possible.
Even at this very moment, out on the Indian Ocean, many countries are cooperating with each other in continuing the fight against terrorism, halting its spread and attempting to prevent terrorists from entering Afghanistan. On the ground in Afghanistan, various countries are carrying out activities aimed at improving the lives of the local people. From Japan too, dozens of staff members from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) are conducting their activities in and around Kabul despite the danger. Support from the sea is essential in order to secure, to the highest degree possible, the safety of these activities. I would like the operations of Japanese fuel supply vessels to be resumed at the earliest possible date, and to show that Japan is working together with other countries for the sake of the world.
Last but not least, I would like to say a few words about hepatitis contraction through blood products. I can barely imagine the years of mental and physical suffering endured by those who contracted the disease. No words can describe the hardship they have had to bear. I admit without reservation the government's responsibility in allowing such a huge amount of damage to occur and in failing to prevent the spread of the disease. I take this opportunity to once again offer my heartfelt apologies to all those patients who contracted the disease.
We have reached an agreement with the plaintiffs and their attorneys that we will use legislative means, with the cooperation of the ruling parties, to award uniform compensation to all the victims at the earliest possible date. The current extraordinary Diet session does not have much time remaining, but I will do my best to pass the legislation with all due haste while obtaining the cooperation of the opposition parties.
Furthermore, based on profound regret over this incident, and on the resolution that a tragedy of disease contraction through biomedical products must never be allowed to happen again, the government will proceed with a review of the therapeutic goods administration in order to prevent the occurrence of any similar tragedy. We will also implement comprehensive hepatitis countermeasures, including the provision of medical expense grants.
I will make dedicated efforts to establish a society that focuses on the people. I hope that one year from now, each and every one of you will be able to actually feel that something has changed.
From my heart, I wish each and every one of you a good year ahead.
QUESTION 1: In the political world, voices are growing stronger within both the ruling and opposition parties, saying that this is the year to dissolve the House of Representatives and hold a general election. Do you think the dissolution and general election should take place after the completion of the Toyako Summit in July?
As you yourself pointed out earlier, the situation at both the extraordinary and ordinary Diet sessions is severely contorted, making it difficult to make any predictions.
Are you considering a grand coalition with the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) or further policy consultations with them on which such a coalition could be based in your future political schedule? Also, if a grand coalition were to be realized, would this come about after the next House of Representatives election?
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: How we resolve policy issues is what I am focusing my mind on now. At the same time, I would like to pass the FY2008 budget, which we will be deliberating on at the upcoming ordinary Diet session, at the earliest possible juncture before the end of March. We should not act in ways that have a negative effect on people's daily lives.
Accordingly, I would like to put a variety of methods and measures into practice to ensure the swift enactment of the FY2008 budget.
Now, you have brought up the possibility of a grand coalition, but whether or not the grand coalition will be formed rests on the single point of whether or not the coalition will enable a system that can lead to the resolution to policy issues. Rather than making the grand coalition a starting point, I would consider first what system is desirable from the standpoint of resolving policy issues.
To that end, we certainly need to take many opportunities to conduct sufficient discussions with the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).
You said at a gathering with reporters during your visit to China last year that the issue had been left open, that you agreed to some extent with what some in the LDP were saying, and that specific matters would be addressed after the turning of the year.
Now that the New Year's holiday is over, have you fixed a policy of reshuffling the Cabinet before the opening of the next ordinary Diet session?
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: Last year, on December 29, during my visit to China, I talked about a Cabinet reshuffle at a meeting with reporters. At that time, I said that matters were being left open, including the matter of whether or not to carry out the Cabinet reshuffle. But on the following day, it was reported in concert that the Cabinet was to be reshuffled. I do not know whose little joke this was, but it was not what I expressed.
Naturally, attention is focused on what I am now thinking on the matter of the Cabinet reshuffle. Frankly speaking, the present Cabinet members are working very hard to deal with their respective policy issues.
There are some who are still in the early days of their posts and some who may well be about to start displaying their real capabilities. In consideration of a wide variety of points, I would like to maintain the current lineup of Cabinet members.
As a matter of fact, the present Diet session has been re-extended and the next Diet session will be starting soon after the closing of the current Diet session. The interval between the two sessions will be very brief. I have been considering from many different angles whether or not I should reshuffle the Cabinet when the interval between the two Diet sessions is so brief. I am certainly aware that there are many voices calling for the reshuffle. But there are also some positive, forward-looking opinions suggesting ways to proceed with the status quo. While heeding such opinions, I would like to implement even further improved plans.
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: Discussions on the permanent law have been proceeding for several years now. The pros and cons have been debated in the Diet too, and it is now considered preferable to establish a permanent law.
With the current structure, an anti-terrorism law is established as a special measure, and since it is a special measure law, we have to hold deliberations at the Diet each time the SDF is deployed abroad. It takes a substantial amount of time. Against this backdrop, there have been calls for a system to be developed so that the SDF can carry out their activities more actively and swiftly -- on the condition that they engage in international cooperation for peace -- and accordingly, calls for the development of the permanent law to enable such active and swift operations of the SDF. I, too, hold this view.
I hope that there will be a full discussion in the Diet about what kind of system would be good, while envisioning a variety of international situations in which international cooperation forces and the SDF will be carrying out their activities.
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: It was decided at the conference held in Bali in December of last year that all greenhouse gas emitters will participate in a framework. I think that was a major advance because it formed a basis on which all countries can discuss, without any restrictions, global warming countermeasures.
And now we have the G8 Summit to be held this summer. At the Summit, all major greenhouse gas emitters will fully discuss the issues, consider how things should be, and then decide the direction in which they should move.
You mentioned the Davos Forum. The regular meeting will be held in Davos at the end of January, but I should refrain from going into further details now because how the framework will develop has not yet been clearly identified. Considering the grave responsibility that Japan is holding as the Chair of the G8 Summit that is in charge of compiling the best possible methods available under the current framework, I prefer to maintain a cautious stance on expected results.
Still, Japan is the world's most advanced country in terms of energy conservation and is also the world's most efficient user of energy. We must present to the world these qualities that we have. On top of that, we must think about how we can make the G8 Summit a success. In the run-up to the Summit, we must hold sufficient discussions with major countries, and think about what kind of dialogue we should conduct with developing countries such as China and India.
Another point concerns the consumption tax issue. I think that the issue of a rise in consumption tax will inevitably be discussed this year, as the state contribution to the basic pension is expected to increase. Is it your intention that the government will embark on the discussion this year, including discussion on specific tax rate? I would like to ask you about these two points.
PRIME MINISTER FUKUDA: How we solve current problems surrounding pension records that form the very foundation of the pension system is of extreme importance. If we fail to properly settle these problems, people's trust in the pension system will eventually be lost. We are carrying out verification of records thoroughly now, and we will continue our work carefully for each and every one of records. To that end, we must construct a system for properly managing pension records.
The Japan Pensions Organization will start its operations in 2010. We must ensure that this organization is worthy of the people's trust. At the same time, we must create a system by which people can confirm their own pension record anytime they want.
The government has already started the Pension Special Notification Service, and will expand the scope of the service to cover all pension recipients -- although whether or not the process will be complete by the end of this year remains to be seen -- to ask them to verify the details described in the special notification against their own records.
Pensions form the core of social security, and as such, we must design a pension system with an unprecedented level of security while considering the most appropriate modality for the system. This is one aspect. Also, there are problems that must be addressed comprehensively with a view to their relations with other social security systems. In any event, I would like to include the pension issue among the topics on the agenda for the national commission on the modality of social security, which I mentioned earlier. I will ask the members of the commission to conduct discussions from a broad perspective, and to draw up an interim report by the summer and a final report by the autumn.