Press Conference by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda following the Decision to Reshuffle the Cabinet
[Opening remarks by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda]
Since assuming the post of Prime Minister in September of last year, I have pushed forward reforms from the public's viewpoint, aimed at changing politics and the administration in such a way that they put the people first. The reality of the situation, however, is that many of the people have yet to actually feel the benefits of such reforms in their everyday lives and, instead, a growing number of the people are finding it harder than last year to make ends meet, due to surging gasoline and food prices.
It goes without saying that the Cabinet should address and work on medium- and long-term policy issues, but paying attention to the people's everyday lives and listening intently to pained and anxious voices are also the basis of politics from the public's viewpoint.
In order to continue to strongly promote the people-oriented political and administrative reforms, along with other purposes, the new Cabinet lineup is primarily geared to realize policies that lead to perceptible improvements in the living conditions of the people. The mission of this Cabinet is to realize and carry out policies.
Prices for resources and energy are currently rising at an abnormally rapid pace. Given robust demand in emerging economies, this phenomenon does not seem to be a temporary one and we need to be prepared for the continuation of somewhat elevated price levels.
At home, we are witnessing an aging society with fewer children in absolute terms. The real issue of the moment is how to overcome these two major structural changes that Japan currently faces. The basic path to the resolution of this issue is to sustain economic growth into the future, thus expanding employment and increasing incomes. We must leverage the wisdom of the nation in order to transform the economic and social structures so they are geared to higher prices for resources and the aging society with fewer children.
First, in the era of global warming and surging prices for resources, we must realize economic growth that goes hand-in-hand with a low-carbon society. To that end, we need to change our lifestyles and accelerate the introduction of energy-conserving technologies in households and corporations. What is most important is to further accelerate the development of Japan's world-leading environmental and energy technologies.
In response to surging grain prices, we must strongly promote the restructuring of Japanese agriculture and strengthen its competitiveness through various means such as cooperation among the agricultural, commercial, and industrial sectors and reform of the distribution system, and thus raise Japan's self-sufficiency ratio.
Furthermore, in response to the full-fledged onset of the aging society with fewer children, we need to conduct, without dodging responsibility, a fundamental review of the social security system, including pensions, medical care and nursing care. My determination to squarely face these fundamental issues and resolve them remains unchanged with the new Cabinet. In order to invest serious efforts in these endeavors, we must solidly respond to the people's present anxieties about their living conditions.
The first challenge is that of responses to higher prices, including surging prices for resources. Rapid and extraordinary rises in crude oil and food prices are currently having a serious impact on the people's lives, in particular on small and medium businesses, farmers and fishermen, and are also making overall economic prospects uncertain.
I sense that the people are feeling that a string of price rises are making it increasingly harder to make ends meet. On account of these rising prices, the nation's economy is currently experiencing major difficulties. I believe it is the role of politics to substantially respond to various anxious voices by taking measures, among others, to reduce the burden of rising fuel costs on farmers, fishermen, and people living in remote locations, and to support funding of small and medium businesses under pressure due to their difficulties passing on rising costs through their products and services.
In unison, the new Cabinet is firmly determined to overcome the difficulties facing the nation's economy: rising prices and the slowdown in business activity.
The second challenge for the new Cabinet is ensuring that the people do not feel anxious about everyday concerns including pensions, medical care, and employment. As drastic reform of the social security system is necessarily taking some time, the people's distrust of the pension system and medical and other social security services has not yet been eliminated. A variety of flaws in the current social security system have been identified. I must admit that we are in a very difficult situation. In order to improve, as soon as possible, the safety net for the people's lives without waiting for the completion of drastic reform, it is necessary to front-load and implement those measures that are possible from among the ones outlined in the Five-Point Reassurance Plan, unveiled by the Government recently.
Specifically, the Government will implement at an early date such measures as an emergency response to the shortage of doctors in obstetrics, pediatrics, and emergency medical care, an acceleration of the establishment of nursery schools in areas where many children are on waiting lists, a review of the Worker Dispatch Law, and support for young people undergoing vocational training to become full-time employees.
The first and foremost task of the reshuffled Cabinet is to solve the aforementioned two major difficulties that beset the everyday lives of the people by implementing carefully-crafted policies to respond to the people's needs, so that they can have more definite grounds to feel as reassured as possible.
We have steadily been making headway with reforms from the public's viewpoint, including the implementation of consumer policy in an integrated manner, zero waste in administrative expenditures, progress toward a low-carbon society, reform of the Ministry of Defense, measures to deal with the pension record problem, and reform of the social security system. Concrete issues the Government should address going forward have been identified, and the Government has clear blueprints to deal with them. The reshuffled Cabinet will strive to carry out those respective policies in a steady manner and to further accelerate reforms from the public's viewpoint.
On the foreign policy front, the Government will continue to proactively address global warming and various other global issues, and also promote international cooperation as a Peace Fostering Nation in such areas as peacekeeping operations (PKO), anti-terrorism measures, and reconstruction assistance.
The Government will also pursue proactive policy toward the Asia-Pacific region, with the Japan-US alliance as its pillar, and exert utmost efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear, missile, and abduction issues.
We are now approaching a major turning point, both at home and abroad. Surging prices for resources that are occurring throughout the world and the acceleration of demographic aging at home are the very tough issues with which we have to deal.
Still, I am determined to take on the necessary reforms and overcome these difficulties, with my sights focused on the future of Japan, and without sidestepping my responsibility.
At the same time, by always giving more than a passing thought to how the people are feeling about their everyday lives, I will strive to carry out finely-tuned policies in response to various anxieties the people may feel. With the new Cabinet in place now, I am resolved to steadily carry out reforms from the public's viewpoint, based on what the people are actually feeling in their everyday lives. In this, I sincerely ask for the understanding and cooperation of the people of Japan.
Question 1: This latest Cabinet reshuffle now shifts the focus of the political situation to the dissolution of the House of Representatives and a general election, with the term of office of the current members of the House of Representatives expiring in just over a year. Some people within the ruling parties have been heard to say that the election should be fought under a new prime minister if the popularity of the Fukuda Cabinet remains low. Are you going to dissolve the House of Representatives yourself? First of all, let us know your determination on the matter.
Regarding the timing of the dissolution, as you said earlier, you are giving priority to the Cabinet dealing with policy issues. On this, again, there seem to be voices in some quarters of the ruling camp saying that the House of Representatives should be dissolved at an early date, before the year-end and New Year period, without waiting for the enactment of the FY2009 budget. What are your thoughts at the moment about the timing of the dissolution?
I understand that there are a myriad of opinions. But my basic approach is as I have just stated. I would like to devote myself to reducing the present anxieties as much as possible through the implementation of policies, thereby demonstrating the approach to the future that we take.
Another question. How would you name your reshuffled Cabinet? Could you please reply to these two questions?
Regarding the naming of the reshuffled Cabinet, I would call it the "cabinet that brings about peace of mind" in the sense that it has been formed to steadfastly realize policies and provide the people with a sense of reassurance, as I mentioned earlier.
However, as to when the tax hike should be carried out, opinions are quite varied. I do not believe that those people you just mentioned, for example, are arguing for an immediate increase in the consumption tax rate. I believe that it is important to have solid and full discussions on the consumption tax issue, chart a clear course of action about how to handle the consumption tax issue, and then explain it fully to the people.
Opinions within the ruling parties are divided over the convocation time and no consensus has been reached, with some saying it should be convened in late August whereas others prefer that the convocation take place in late September. What is your position at present on this matter?
Moreover some say a gulf may be developing between the LDP and the New Komeito party due to differences in opinion on this issue. What is your view on that?
However, we are still in the process of considering specific responses from various angles, and I do not think now is an appropriate time to reveal such responses. What I see as necessary is for Japan to make whatever solid responses it can make, bearing in mind the aforementioned circumstances and the international situation.
However, I would like to call on people in the opposition camp, particularly people from the DPJ, to thoroughly consider whether stiffening the confrontation needlessly is really an acceptable thing to do at a time when the people's lives are beset by difficulties. Naturally, we do the same thing on the part of the ruling parties. I would like to urge them to work together to develop and implement better policies through dialogue in the Diet, if possible. As this is our sincere hope, I will maintain the stance in favor of dialogue with the opposition.