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Press Conference by the Chief Cabinet Secretary

Friday, May 9, 2014 (AM)

Press Conference by the Chief Cabinet Secretary (Excerpt)

[Provisional Translation]

Opening Statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I would like to give an overview of the Cabinet meeting. The meeting approved four general measures and the promulgation of a treaty and legislation, as well as cabinet orders and personnel decisions. With regard to statements by ministers, the Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications made a statement concerning the results of the labor force survey and the results of the household budget survey; the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare made a statement concerning the effective ratio of job offers to applicants; and I made a statement concerning acting Ministers while Ministers in charge are away on overseas visits.

In ministerial discussions, Minister Amari made a statement concerning consumption and other trends following the raising of the consumption tax.


  • The review of the 500 days since the inauguration of the administration
  • The announcement of population estimate by the Japan Policy Council

REPORTER: Today marks the 500th day since the inauguration of the administration. Could you first share your views and thoughts on this if any?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Reflecting on the past 500 days, I recall that on December 26, 2012, after the inauguration, the Prime Minister told all ministers that the administration should exert every effort to revitalize the Japanese economy, and achieve reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake and thorough crisis management. The Prime Minister also instructed all ministers to address these issues as if they were each the ministers in charge. Driven by this determination, I believe that we have continued to work single-mindedly throughout the past 500 days. Looking back, various events and happenings occurred. I particularly recall the three arrows of Abenomics, the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, the reform of agricultural policies, electricity reform, the successful Olympic bid, support for the active role of women, efforts to reach the 10 million annual tourist target as a tourism nation, strengthening reconstruction efforts, the contaminated water issue, and the establishment of interim storage facilities. I also remember other events such as the incident in Algeria, the Japan-U.S. summit meeting, the establishment of the Japanese version of the National Security Council, and the granting of landfill approval in Henoko. The more I think about it, the more happenings come to mind, including things that I would never have anticipated or predicted. However, I think that guided by the Prime Minister's leadership, all ministers demonstrated tremendous teamwork and fulfilled each of our responsibilities. The public has shown understanding for our efforts and we will continue to steadily address each of the issues and goals so that we can meet the expectations of the electorate.

REPORTER: There are rumors that there will be a Cabinet reshuffle this summer, but the Abe administration has not seen any personnel changes over the last 500 days, making it the longest unchanged postwar Cabinet in Japanese history. Do you have any thoughts on this?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I believe my thoughts are shared by other Cabinet members, but personally I have not kept track of how many days it has been; I simply keep working single-mindedly. I understand that this administration is the longest unchanged Cabinet since the end of the war. We will remain focused, and steadily address each of the issues and our goals so that we can meet the expectations of the public.

REPORTER: I believe that the no personnel changes in the Cabinet could have both a positive and negative political influence, for example, in terms of impact on the stability of the Government. Do you have any thoughts?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Cabinet personnel changes are always the result of various factors. We have been making every effort to live up to the trust of the public in any way we can, and I believe in that sense, the fact that we were able to reach the 500 day mark without a single change to the Cabinet is an indication that we have been able to serve the public.

REPORTER: I understand this is the longest a Cabinet has lasted without a single change in personnel. When there are personnel changes to Cabinets, it is usually the result of controversial comments by Cabinet members among other reasons. It is not as if no controversial comments have been made by the current Cabinet, but no Cabinet member has been replaced. What has been the key to this?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I believe this has been the result of the great teamwork demonstrated by all Cabinet members and the steady efforts they have made in their respective positions toward achieving the goals set forth by the Prime Minister. Having said that, I believe what is most important is what the Government has achieved over the last 500 days, rather than the length of time itself. In this sense, I listed a number of our achievements. Looking back, throughout the past 500 days, we have always worked with a shared recognition across the Government of the issues.

REPORTER: When Minister Amari was asked for his thoughts on this topic, he said that the very fact that 500 days is a record is a sad reflection of the state of Japanese politics. Minister Amari also said that the fact that there have been no personnel changes is most welcome. Do you believe that the no personnel changes in the Cabinet is desirable for Japanese politics?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: As I just said, I assume that the public shares the same view that there have been too many personnel changes to prior Cabinets. If a Cabinet were able to meet the expectations of the public, even after undergoing changes in personnel, that would be satisfactory. However, I believe that having Cabinet members serve for a fixed period of time allows us to better exercise political leadership and achieve our campaign pledges.

REPORTER: I believe that in the past, the reshuffling of past Cabinets often came down to maintaining unity or alleviating dissatisfaction within the party. In this sense, do you believe that the Abe administration has such strong unity that it does not require a Cabinet reshuffle?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I would hesitate to make such a self-congratulatory statement. However, we take great pride in the fact that all members of the Cabinet are working toward the same goal as we strive to fulfil each pledge we made in the lead up to the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives elections, and, in the case of the Prime Minister, the campaign for the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) presidential election.

REPORTER: I would like to ask one more question on the 500 days of the Abe Government. One thing that has really stood out to me during the 500 days is the Prime Minister’s high level of energy. For instance, the Prime Minister yesterday visited two barbeque restaurants immediately after returning from his 10-day overseas trip. The Prime Minister always seems to be so full of energy. As someone who works closely with the Prime Minister, what are your thoughts?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I think the Prime Minister is superhuman. He is able to take very good care of his health while thoroughly fulfilling the ultimate responsibility of being Prime Minister and meeting the pledges to the public. As such, I would say he has been able to manage his time very effectively.

REPORTER: You just touched upon Prime Minister Abe's health management. What is the secret behind this?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Firstly, Prime Minister Abe stepped down as Prime Minister during the first Abe administration due to health concerns. During the six years between the first and second administrations, the Prime Minister has thoroughly looked after his health. I understand that the Prime Minister decided to run in the LDP’s presidential election because he had full confidence in himself.

REPORTER: 500 days have passed, but Japan has not yet to arrange bilateral meetings with our neighbors, China and the Republic of Korea (ROK). How does the Government intend to proceed in this regard?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: As I have often stated, our door is always open for dialogue. At the same time, we will assert what needs to be asserted, while approaching bilateral relations in a firm and calm manner, making it clear to both countries that our door is always open for dialogue. Holding summit meetings is not the ultimate goal. Rather, we believe it is crucial that we work closely with both countries and develop mutual understanding. Furthermore, it is also important that we deepen economic, personal and cultural exchange. We will make thorough efforts toward achieving these goals.

REPORTER: LDP Vice-President Komura and some other officials visited China recently. Do you believe that the distance between Japan and China is steadily being closed?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Since the inauguration of the Abe Government, I have stated from the very beginning that we are closing the distance between our two nations. In any case, both China and the ROK are undoubtedly extremely important neighbors for Japan. Our policy of building a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests with China has not changed at all.

REPORTER: The Japan Policy Council, which consists of non-government experts, announced its own population estimates. The estimates predict that by 2040 there will be a substantial number of municipalities that will have difficulty maintaining public services. Could you share your thoughts on this with us?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: We take their estimates as a serious warning for society and for the Government that if we do not address the issue of Japan’s aging society and low birth rate we will encounter extremely serious consequences. The Government has implemented initiatives to address the low birth rate, initiatives to revitalize regional centers and initiatives to create a society in which all women shine. However, we are now once again reminded of the importance of taking more practical and fundamental action in order to overcome this issue of an aging society with a low birth rate. The Prime Minister himself has been working together with the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy to address the population issue, and other such issues. For example, he attended the meeting of the Forum for Consultations between the National and Regional Governments and the National Governors' Conference. Therefore, I believe that we must now arrange a venue to exchange opinions with leaders of municipalities and so on to gain thorough insight into the circumstances they are facing. It is extremely important that we fully address the issues presented in the report you just mentioned.

REPORTER: In relation to the population issue, some believe that Japan should accept overseas laborers or accept immigrants to counter the decreasing number of consumers and producers. The Prime Minister has shown reluctance towards accepting long-term immigrants, saying that his plans are more likely to involve limited-term migrant laborers who would return home after receiving payment for their services. Could you share with us the Government's stance on the utilization of migrant labor?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: The Government plans to accept overseas labor as an emergency measure to work in areas with particularly severe labor shortages. If we were to accept immigrants, there would be a number of matters that we would need to address domestically. Therefore, I do not believe that we are in a situation where we can immediately and easily accept immigrants. I assume that the Prime Minister's comments were in line with this understanding, but I do believe that we must take action in order to counter labor shortages in fields experiencing these problems.

REPORTER: You are from Akita Prefecture and the report indicates that 24 of the 25 municipalities in Akita will experience these difficulties. The report suggests that one of the reasons for this is that the young female population in particular is relocating to major cities due to a lack of employment opportunities. Do you have any specific solutions to such issues?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I believe that this is indeed true. Major cities and Tokyo in particular have large populations. In cities with large populations, the issue of low birth rates is particularly prevalent as people are reluctant to have children. If I am correct, even regional cities with relatively high birth rates only have birth rates of around 1.8 percent, with Tokyo being well below 1 percent. In light of the overall situation, I think that it is crucial that we continue to create employment opportunities in regional areas in particular. This is why I said earlier that we need a fundamental revision and reform of the current system.

REPORTER: When you say "fundamental reform" are you referring to things like the proposed regional Government system?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Well I would say that it is rather the case that our first priority is to implement reforms that create employment opportunities in regional cities. The following is merely an example, but we could, for instance, ask Komatsu Limited, which is originally from Ishikawa Prefecture, to open a factory locally rather than overseas. If the factory opens there, it would attract other related businesses and would create more employment opportunities. So long as there are places to work, I am certain that more young people will be willing to live in regional cities. With such goals in mind, I believe the Government must consider a more fundamental approach, and carry out various reforms to the current system, including the provision of incentives, for example, to create employment opportunities in the prefectures.

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