Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to a landslide victory in the House of Representatives election on Dec. 16 under the slogan “Restore strength to Japan.” He was interviewed on Jan. 24, 2013 about his foreign policy, plan to revive the Japanese economy through so-called “Abenomics” and other policy matters.
(The following are excerpts of the interview conducted by Kyodo News)
For Reference: Abe’s policy speeches, press remarks
–Policy Speech to 183rd Diet Session (Feb. 28, 2013) (read…)
–“Japan is Back” Policy Speech (read…)
–Press Conference During U.S. Visit (read…)
–Policy Speech to 183rd Diet Session (read…)
–“The Bounty of the Open Seas: Five New Principles for Japanese Diplomacy (read…)
Establishing U.S.-Style NSC at Early Date, Amending Self-Defense Forces Law Needed
Question: hostage crisis in Algeria has brought to public attention various problems concerning Japan’s system for crisis management. What thoughts do you have on this issue?
Abe: Algerian hostage crisis claimed the lives of nine Japanese (as of the time of the interview). It’s truly regrettable. Many Japanese people are doing a laudable job around the world and are working hard to promote local development, which is helping to improve Japan’s reputation. I believe that people who have been working at the forefront in many parts of the world have played a great role in bringing about the rise of Japan following its defeat in World War II. So I offer my deepest condolences over this hostage crisis.
This incident has brought to the fore the question of how to gather and analyze information. The planned (Japanese) National Security Council (NSC) will consider how to gather information from the perspective of policymaking. It will centralize the task of information analysis and devise policies based on that analysis. I think that such a function is necessary. Even before the hostage crisis occurred, my administration had determined that the NSC is essential and decided to set up a framework to discuss it. With the Algerian incident as a lesson, I am thinking of also reviewing what we were able to do and unable to do.
Question:Is it fair to say and understand that you are considering making changes to the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) Law?
Abe: Many Japanese nationals work abroad. Some of them work not in metropolitan areas but in deserts and other places distant from populous regions. It is the Japanese government’s responsibility to secure those people’s safety. Naturally, we should study amendments to the SDF Law.
Optimal Decision on TPP from Standpoint of National Interests
Question: The public is increasingly interested in what the prime minister is going to do about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Will you talk to us about this?
Abe: Preliminary negotiations about the TPP began under the previous administration of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) so I hope to learn fully about that situation. Unfortunately, under the DPJ administration, various government ministries and agencies produced widely divergent statistics about the possible impact of Japan’s joining the TPP. Without any basis for constructive discussions in the first place, each of them focused on the area under its own supervision in a red-tape manner and came up with numbers discretely.
We are getting the ministries and agencies to scrutinize the impact all over again. They are still in the middle of analyzing specific effects. After closely examining their analysis and also looking into the progress of the preliminary TPP negotiations, we will try to protect our national interests. I hope to make the best decision in a way that will defend our national interests.
Regaining Trust in Politics — Top Priority for Futenma Base Issue
Question: The DPJ government dithered when handling the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station and in the meantime a lot of time was lost. Are you resolved to hammer out a conclusion to this issue during your term?
Abe: The worst possible thing that could happen would be that the U.S. Marine Corps would stay in Futenma permanently. The realignment of the U.S. military presence in Japan calls for reducing the base-hosting burden on Okinawa as the overriding principle, while at the same time maintaining the current level of deterrence capability. Against this backdrop, the decision was made to relocate the Futenma base. Unfortunately, the DPJ administration made a promise (to relocate the Futenma base outside Okinawa) which it could not fulfill from the beginning, and changed it along the way, thus undermining trust in politics. This big problem remains. I don’t think it is necessary to come up with a solution to the Futenma issue before my visit (in February) to the United States. The top priority is to first regain the trust of the people of Okinawa.
(Note: the interview was conducted before his visit to Washington.)
Question: Shortly after you came into office, you showed your determination to reach a conclusion on the North Korean abduction issue while talking with relatives of the Japanese abductees. Exactly what are you going to do? You accompanied then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when he visited North Korea. A summit meeting between both countries’ leaders could produce great results. Do you intend to visit North Korea?
Abe: Last year a decade had passed since I accompanied Prime Minister Koizumi on his visit to Pyongyang. Regrettably, many abductees remain in North Korea. My duty will not come to an end until the abductees’ families are able to embrace their children. I am determined to make that happen while I’m in office.
In North Korea, there has been change of power from Chairman Kim Jong Il to Mr. Kim Jong Un. No sufficient analysis has yet been conducted on information regarding what Mr. Kim Jong Un thinks about the abduction issue and Japan-North Korea relations. But I think we have a kind of opportunity here and hope to take advantage of it. Visiting North Korea is not our goal: resolving the abduction issue is. If it is possible to resolve the matter, we will not spare any effort to do so.
We will soon set up a headquarters in which all Cabinet members will join and tackle the abduction issue. At the same time, we are set to create a forum for exchanging views with members of opposition parties. By making good use of such a forum, I intend to assemble “all-Japan” efforts and resolve this issue.
Large Supplementary Budget Needed to Beat Deflation, Attain Growth
Question: Ever since you were campaigning in the election, you have talked of your resolve to restore economic strength and you have compiled a large supplementary budget worth 13 trillion yen. What results do you think the budget will produce?
Abe: My Cabinet’s economic policy involves “three arrows” – a bold monetary policy, a flexible fiscal policy and a growth strategy for stimulating private-sector investment.
Fiscal measures are absolutely indispensable to bail the nation out of deflation and achieve economic growth. Monetary steps will be instrumental in reviving the entire country and fighting deflation. But I believe an expeditious fiscal policy is necessary from a macroeconomic point of view and is also crucially important to rejuvenate local economies quickly at the same time.
The supplementary budget consists of two main pillars — disaster prevention and reduction, and revival of local economies. We have allocated 900 billion yen to revitalize local economies through such measures as promotion of tourism and agriculture, for example. We intend to provide for strengthening local economies by working out a package that combines agriculture and tourism.
I also think that in order for local economies to expand there is a need for infrastructure to enhance competitiveness and productivity. While promoting improvement and expansion of infrastructure, we will try to reduce local burdens as much as possible. To prevent our policy of reactivating local economies from resulting in heavier local burdens, we have decided to offer 1.4 trillion yen in grants aimed at “enhancing local vitality and job creation.” We reckon it will create 600,000 jobs and raise gross domestic product by 2 percent.
Question: As for monetary easing, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) Policy Board has decided on an inflation target of 2 percent. At the moment, how much do you believe it is necessary to change the BOJ Law? In the foreign exchange market, the yen has depreciated significantly. What is your view on this?
Abe: Since it is crucial to continue implementing bold monetary easing measures, I’m inclined to keep in sight a revision of the Bank of Japan Law. As for foreign exchange, I would refrain from commenting as prime minister about current or desirable currency rates. Local smaller businesses, especially manufacturers, are working at their very best. But no matter how much they sweat and rack their brains to cut costs, exchange rates (a strong yen) are sapping their competitiveness. This is unreasonable. We intend to pursue our policy action by bearing in mind this kind of common sense.
Question: BOJ Governor Shirakawa’s term is expiring. What do you want of his successor?
Abe: I believe the top terms of qualification are essentially a person who is receptive to our view on the bold monetary policy and credit easing which we are planning to promote, and who has the same basic vision. At the same time, the ability to communicate internationally is also a requisite.
Question: Seeking fiscal discipline is also crucial. How do you intend to reduce welfare benefits and slash tax grants to local governments for local civil servants’ wages?
Abe: We will thoroughly and radically cut the waste which ballooned under the DPJ administration. I intend to deliver on this in the current process of budget formulation.
Question: Two years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011. Immediately after you took office, you went to Fukushima to pledge the reconstruction of the area and full support for decommissioning of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Do you intend to create a new framework for financial assistance other than the existing Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund for Tokyo Electric Power Co.?
Abe: The decommissioning of the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Station is going to be the first of its kind in the world, since it involved an accident in which the fuel inside has melted down. Carrying out decommissioning as soon as possible will be the prerequisite for the reconstruction of Fukushima. Unless Fukushima recovers, there will be no restoration from the earthquake-tsunami disaster. To do so, I believe it is natural that the government should take the initiative instead of leaving it to Tokyo Electric Power. Given that this will be the world’s first such undertaking, I think it would be impossible to put it on Tokyo Electric’s shoulders. We will conduct progress management properly so that decommissioning will proceed as rapidly as possible.
Our economic stimulus package will allocate 85 billion yen to create an international center for research on radioactive matters. Through such measures, we intend to go all out to decommission the Fukushima reactors while expending all possible means to ensure the safety of the nuclear plant.
Question: Do you have any plans to have a new nuclear power plant constructed?
Abe: I visited Fukushima as the destination for my first trip as prime minister. At that time, I also went to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant as well as evacuation sites where people who had to leave their hometowns due to the crisis are living. I met and talked with these people, and saw at first hand those who are worried about their future and are enduring great hardship. This is engraved on my heart and mind, and so I can’t lightly judge about constructing a new nuclear power plant. I think it necessary to weigh the matter very carefully.
Question: Do you mean that the basic policy is to promote a society that will not rely on nuclear power?
Abe: I have no intention of talking lightly about total elimination of nuclear power like the DPJ did. But after the terrible accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, it is natural to want to reduce our reliance on nuclear power. Given these considerations, we will restart existing plants in accordance with scientific safety standards. With an eye on the future of nuclear power generation, we will do our utmost to develop renewable and other new energy resources over the next three years.
In regard to the restart of nuclear plants, as there is a need to ensure stable supply of low-cost power, it should be considered from the standpoint of whether such supply will be possible in the future. We also need to figure out a way to meet immediate demand for electricity and make decisions regarding the risk inherent in the global supply of fossil fuels. Government, Diet and private-sector committees have already submitted reports examining the nuclear accident. We have to make decisions by looking at these reports and studying ways to improve safety.
Question: The DPJ government appropriated 19 trillion yen for reconstruction efforts over five years and secured the necessary funding. Do you have any plan in the event that reconstruction costs more than 19 trillion yen? Do you plan to raise taxes?
Abe: The priority is to reconstruct Fukushima. Fukushima has suffered from harmful comments (about radiation fears). As many people are still living in evacuation, decontamination must also continue. Unless Fukushima makes a comeback, there will be no comeback for all the areas that have been affected by the disaster. Unless all disaster-hit areas recover, Japan cannot regain its strength. That is my basic thinking.
People in Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures are worried that if a ceiling of 19 trillion yen is set in advance, the budget will be cut at that ceiling even when new needs occur and they must be implemented for reconstruction. My government will not be constrained by this cap. What is crucial is to do whatever is necessary to reconstruct the areas and create a new Tohoku region. We will discuss how to secure the financial resources in the process of budget formulation.
The interview was conducted by Kyodo News on Jan. 24, 2013