"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] Press Conference by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda

[Date] January 4, 2012
[Source] Prime Minister of JAPAN and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now begin the press conference by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. First, the Prime Minister will give an opening statement. Prime Minister, please.

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda

PRIME MINISTER NODA: First, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. I ask for your ongoing support in 2012.

I would like to begin by once again reconfirming the three issues considered to be of the utmost importance and priority when the Noda Cabinet was inaugurated at the beginning of September last year. The first of these three issues was the recovery and reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake, the conclusion of the nuclear accident, and the revitalization of the Japanese economy. I would like to continue to tackle these three critical challenges in 2012 as well. Before I begin, I would like to offer my heartfelt sympathy to those people who are still enduring harsh conditions away from home in temporary housing or in evacuation centers in the midst of this cold winter.

With regard to the disaster reconstruction, the third supplementary budget was enacted at the end of last year. In conjunction with this, we were also able to create new schemes, such as reconstruction subsidies and special zones for reconstruction. In addition, the Reconstruction Agency will soon be established, and I am determined to dynamically press forward with the reconstruction effort centered on this agency acting as a control tower.

As for the second issue, that is, our response to the nuclear accident, last year on December 16, I made an announcement that Step 2, in which the nuclear reactors were to reach a state of cold shutdown, was achieved, but I also stated that this did not mark the end of the ongoing battle with the nuclear accident. Moving forward, the firm realization of compensation payments, health management, and decontamination operations will serve to help the revival of Fukushima, I believe. I would like to emphasize continual efforts in this regard.

With regards to the revitalization of the Japanese economy, I have included seamless economic measures, such as location subsidies, for example, and financial assistance for small and medium-sized enterprises, within the recent third supplementary budget. Moving forward, I would like to make a concentrated effort to overcome deflationary pressures, in particular, through much deeper collaboration with the Bank of Japan than ever before, and seek out high-level economic partnerships, including the realization of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). I also hope to dynamically push forward with the revitalization of the Japanese economy while broadening efforts such as accelerating the implementation of the New Growth Strategy and crystallizing the Strategy for Rebirth of Japan.

I have just reiterated the three basic and essential issues facing Japan, but in addition to these, there are also issues that still remain even after discussions held between the ruling and opposition parties last year. The first of these issues is postal reforms. Besides the essential goal of postal reforms, this reform also carries with it high expectations as a source of non-tax revenue for funding disaster reconstruction. The second of these issues is political reforms, in particular, the reduction of the number of Diet members. Next is administrative reforms, including the reduction of civil servant-related personnel expenses. Unfortunately, a conclusion has yet to be reached on these issues, despite ongoing discussions held between the ruling and opposition parties. I would like to address each of these issues as soon as possible at the next ordinary Diet session.

On top of these issues, the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems appears to face the greatest hurdles of all. The foundation was laid for Japan's social security system in 1961. This included a universal pension plan and universal health insurance. Since then, however, the rapid birthrate decline and aging of population have placed various strains on the system today, I believe, and each year our social security expenses naturally increase by more than one trillion yen. Since the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito Party led coalition government, Japan has gone through great pains in order to have one half of the basic pension covered by the national treasury, so I feel that this situation can no longer be pushed back. While it is difficult to even maintain the conventional level of social security benefits today, as Japan's birthrate declines more and more going forward, social security programs will be needed not only for those receiving benefits, but also for those currently paying into the system. In other words, if we fail to create social security programs for all generations, such as youth and parents with children, by providing employment support for young persons and childrearing assistance, I believe that it will be difficult to ensure the sustainability of Japan's social security system. I feel this problem is fast becoming a theme that can no longer be ignored by any administration, let alone my own.

On this, a wide range of discussions were held within the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)'s Tax Commission at the end of last year, and around 100 party members remained until the late night hours of December 29. Fortunately, in the end, a certain conclusion was reached to applause and handshakes, and not through a coerced approach, and this represents significant progress, I believe. The basic ideas for a draft plan have been compiled, and so I hope to hold a meeting with the Headquarters of the Government and Ruling Parties for Social Security Reform to make a final decision on this draft plan.

After that, once the Government and Ruling parties have come to a consensus, I intend to lobby opposition parties. In this regard, I plan to meet with opposition party members sometime next week, and since I recognize that both ruling and opposition party members alike understand this is a problem that cannot be pushed back, I intend to hold mutual discussions and compile these into an outline, and then turn this outline into a bill and submit it for approval at the end of the current fiscal year. This is the process I plan to follow regarding this matter.

Furthermore, outside of issues of internal affairs, last year Japan also saw, for example, the beginning of a new era for the Korean Peninsula following the death of Chairman Kim Jong-Il of the National Defense Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. At the end of last year I issued instructions to strengthen information gathering, closely share information with related countries, and fully prepare for contingencies. Essentially, these instructions will continue to remain in place. At the end of last year I also held talks with the leaders of China and India. As such, I am determined to take all appropriate measures regarding a variety of risk management issues in the international community while seeking out close and solid cooperation with related countries.

Japan will face various issues in 2012 as well, and the Government's basic stance is to overcome each individual issue one at a time. Under this stance, I am determined to exert my best efforts toward making this a positive year. Here, I would like to end my opening statement for the New Year. Thank you.


CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now move on to the Q&A session. For those who would like to ask questions, we would appreciate it if you would first state your name and affiliation. Thank you. Mr. Miura, please.

REPORTER: I am Miura of the Tokyo Shimbun. Thank you for making this occasion today. As you just said, I think this year will be a year that determines the future of Japan in various ways. Therefore, we will probably be asking you on many occasions to explain to the people what is going on.

Now, my question. As you mentioned a few moments ago, you compiled a draft plan for the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems at the end of last year, and the draft plan says that the Government is going to raise the consumption tax rate incrementally up to 10% by October 2015. You just said you are hoping to hammer out a broad outline of the comprehensive reform by calling on the opposition parties to begin consultations as early as next week. But the opposition parties, particularly the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), are criticizing the consumption tax rate hike as a breach of the manifesto of the DPJ, and are in absolutely no mood for consultations. So, let me ask this. If the opposition parties do not budge and continue to refuse consultations on the comprehensive reform, do you still intend to proceed and prepare the outline and then submit a relevant bill to the Diet? Please let us know your stance on this.

PRIME MINISTER NODA: In the event that the Government and the ruling parties make a final decision on the so-called draft plan for the comprehensive reform by the end of this week, I would like to call on the opposition parties to begin consultations early next week. You said the opposition parties would not respond to the call for consultations, but I have yet to make a formal request for consultations. The first thing I should do, I think, is to bow down and sincerely ask them to join the discussion as this is an important issue, making a request to them in earnest for constructive discussions for the sake of the nation and the people. We are not at a stage to make a reply to the hypothetical question. I would like to first and wholeheartedly ask the opposition parties to begin consultations.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next person, please. Yes, Mr. Yamane.

REPORTER: I am Yamane of Kyodo News. My question is related to the consumption tax rate hike. Prime Minister, you have shown your strong determination to date to reduce government expenditures, and at a press conference in December last year, you spoke of a plan to forge an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties on a bill to cut national civil servant remuneration by the end of last year for its enactment at an early date. Unfortunately, however, that agreement is not yet in sight. Given the divided Diet, how are you going to manage to obtain the cooperation of the opposition parties to secure expenditure-cutting measures? This is my first question. Another question concerns the opposition parties' demand for the early resignation of two cabinet members against whom no-confidence motions were adopted in the House of Councillors. This may pose an obstacle to consultations between the ruling and opposition parties, in my view. How are you going to handle this?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: First, the question of civil servant remuneration. At this moment, no agreement has been reached between the ruling and opposition parties. We would like to decide when to convene an ordinary session of the Diet within next week. Before the start of the ordinary Diet session, we would like to have last-minute negotiations in earnest over what we must defend and what we can concede as we have already announced our stance and the opposition parties have also made their positions known.

Concerning the cabinet members, I would like all the members of my Cabinet to work together and do their utmost to address the issues and problems I mentioned earlier.


REPORTER: I am Indo of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. You seem to be talking with the hope that the opposition parties will respond when you formally call on them to begin consultations. But it is apparent to everyone that it is difficult to enact a bill to raise the consumption tax with the cooperation of the opposition parties. The only thing left to break this deadlock is public opinion, in my view. Everything now seems to depend on how you are going to drive public opinion. Do you have an intention of directly asking the people of Japan about this matter?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: You say definitively that it is difficult to gain the cooperation of the opposition parties on this matter. Yes, we have a lot of hurdles to clear going forward. We are about to call on the opposition parties to start consultations, but there are uncertainties whether an agreement can be obtained, whether a bill can be submitted to the Diet, or whether the bill, even if submitted, can pass the Diet. Yesterday, I went to a high school alumni reunion and received a letter asking me whether I remember "the most famous six words" a teacher told us in a world history class. Although I had forgotten them, they are "Never, never, never, never give up," the words of (British Prime Minister) Winston Churchill during the time of World War II. I firmly believe that we can turn around the situation if we do not give up on a good cause and steadily and tenaciously deliver that message.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: The next question, please. Ms. Egawa, please.

REPORTER: Thank you. I am Shoko Egawa, a freelance journalist.

PRIME MINISTER NODA: Oh, you were a junior of mine in high school, weren't you?

REPORTER: Yes, Thank you for taking my questions. In your opening statement today, you said that you would like to carry out political reforms, especially the reduction of the number of Diet members, as one of the preconditions for the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems. If I recall your statement on a radio program at the beginning of this year, you said the same thing, that you will carry it out with unwavering determination. Would you tell us specifically how you will carry it out and the time limit you set to achieve this goal? Is it correct to understand that you plan to pass the bill to cut the number of the Diet members by the next general election? Regarding electoral reform, there is another problem - disparity in the relative weight of one vote, which goes against the principle of "one vote for one voter." How would you address the electoral reform taking account of these problems? Please tell us your plans and the schedule for resolving these issues.

PRIME MINISTER NODA: First of all, regarding the disparity in the relative weight of one vote, in my constituency - Funabashi district, or Chiba 4th District - one vote has the least weight among all constituencies in Japan. That is not the only reason, but the reform is necessary and this means that the boundaries of such constituencies need to be changed. I think it's only natural that these changes must be made. A fundamental problem is that the people cannot see any effort being made on the part of the Diet to overcome this disparity, which has been declared as being unconstitutional by the court. We must start from this.

The public opinion is that if we want to accomplish the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems, we have to reform ourselves first, undertaking the actions we call on others to take. I take public opinions seriously, thus I think the reduction of the number of the Diet members needs to be done as soon as possible. Correction of the disparity in the relative weight of one vote must be done quickly also, but I believe this issue should be separated from the right to dissolve the Diet. Correction of disparity in the relative weight of one vote and the reduction of the number of Diet members are top priorities, thus if we have two arrows, the first arrow should be targeted to these two issues.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Yes, the next question. Mr. Foster, please.

REPORTER: I am Foster, a reporter from Associated Press. A Happy New Year to you. Through making reports myself and reading recent surveys on public opinions, I feel that the people of Japan harbor a deep sense of distrust about the Japanese Government's responses towards the Fukushima nuclear power station accident and its lack of transparency in information and communication delivering as well as the confusion the Government has caused. In addition, recent battles within the ruling parties over the issue of increasing consumption tax are further increasing the sense of political distrust among the people of Japan. In order to regain the trust of the people of Japan, what kind of steps and policies are you going to take specifically?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: We have heard many criticisms from the beginning of the disaster that we have failed to disclose clear and accurate information properly in a timely manner about the nuclear accident issues in Fukushima and the entire issues on the Great East Japan Earthquake. We have tried to think over our deeds every time and improve the Government's transparency over these matters. Yet, if there are still the same criticisms, we must reflect on our past attitudes and actions very seriously, and ensure accurate and proper information disclosure for not only the people of Fukushima but for the people of Japan and the rest of the world, because many people in the world are very much concerned about this issue and take it as their own problem. Thus, I think it is one of the most important basics that we will keep informing people by disclosing the status of the nuclear power stations. I resolve once again to carry out this basic stance. Especially ministers concerned continue to visit Fukushima often to provide explanations. Three top ministry officials appointed among politicians have tried their best on this, but I think they should try harder. On January 8, I will visit Fukushima again, and closely listen to the people of Fukushima.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next person. Mr. Takada, please.

REPORTER: I am Takada of Fuji Television. I wish you a Happy New Year. Looking ahead this year, there will a party leader's election for the DPJ in September. If you intend to stay at the helm of state affairs, you must be reelected as the DPJ party leader. Do you intend to run for the party leader's election in September? And if that is the case, what will you be appealing for? Also, do you intend to dissolve the Diet before or after the party leader's election? Please answer these three questions.

PRIME MINISTER NODA: I haven't thought that far ahead. What I need to do now is to commit my full power to overcoming issues, one by one, each day. Before pondering what to do in September, there are a number of issues that must be addressed first during the next Diet session. All I can say is that I will do my utmost in reaching concrete decisions on these issues. I don't have any plan beyond that yet.


REPORTER: I am Sakajiri of Asahi Shimbun. My question concerns the relocation of Futenma Air Station. The Ministry of Defense (MOD) submitted the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report concerning the relocation of Futenma Air Station to Okinawa Prefecture at the end of last year, but as citizens against the relocation staged a sit-in protest at the Prefectural Office, it had to be carried into the building in the middle of the night at around 4am through the nighttime entrance and inside a cardboard box. Local residents are criticizing this Government's action as being too underhanded. How do you perceive this sequence of events yourself? Also, given such a development it seems rather difficult to have prospects for the relocation, but what prospects do you have on this issue?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: The basic stance of the Government is that we will eliminate the dangers of Futenma Air Station at the earliest possible date in line with the Japan-US Agreement, and in conjunction seek to reduce the burden on Okinawa. That is our most basic stance. It was in the context of this basic stance that we submitted the EIA report. I would like the MOD to continue taking proper responses for this issue.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We are running out of time so I would like to make the next question the last. Mr. Yamaguchi, please.

REPORTER: I am Yamaguchi of NHK. My question relates to the earlier question concerning the reduction of the number of Diet members. The DPJ's idea to reduce the number of proportional representation seats by 80 is unacceptable to small political parties, I think, but you are saying that you will seek to have this approved in the Diet. How would you seek a consensus?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: I believe the initial phrase was something like "reducing the proportional representation seats by 80," which was also included in the Tax Commission report compiled recently, but this was changed to "reducing the number of Diet members." We do have our own idea, which is coherent. However, opposition parties have different views. We will probably be making efforts up to the last moment in considering how we should realize the reduction in light of these views. In any case, I believe that the number of Diet member must be reduced in the end. Although we will be thoroughly considering the views of other parties, we will be bringing forth our own ideas in order to solicit constructive opinions from each party, and through such process come to a decision.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: With that, I will bring the new year's press conference to a close. Thank you for your cooperation.