"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 the Prime Minister

[Date] September 16, 2020
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

Opening Statement

I am SUGA Yoshihide and I have been designated as the 99th prime minister.

First, I express my sincere condolences to those who passed away because of the novel coronavirus, an infectious disease that does not allow for optimism even now. I also convey my deep appreciation to everyone, in particular health professionals and nursing care providers who have worked to the best of their ability around the clock to protect the lives and the health of the Japanese people.

I also pray for the repose of the souls of those who lost their lives because of the series of natural disasters, including torrential rains and a typhoon, and extend my heartfelt sympathies to everyone who has been affected by these disasters.

Up to today, as Chief Cabinet Secretary in the second Abe Administration, I have worked on critical issues affecting the future of this country, namely reviving the Japanese economy, reconstructing Japan's diplomacy and national security, and realizing a social security system oriented to all generations. In addition, since the beginning of the year, I have been tackling head-on the spread of novel virus infections and the greatest economic downturn in the postwar period, an unprecedented situation Japan has never faced before.

Former Prime Minister Abe has now stepped down in the middle of his term because of health concerns. I can imagine the regret he feels.

However, we must not allow under any circumstances a political vacuum as we confront this national crisis. In order to overcome the crisis and enable all citizens to restore their daily lives with peace of mind, we must thoroughly carry on with the initiatives the Abe Administration has promoted and advance them further. I recognize that as the mission given to me.

Right now, the highest-priority issue we must take on is responding to the novel coronavirus. We will absolutely prevent an explosive outbreak like those seen in Europe and Americas and thoroughly protect the lives and the health of the public. On top of that, we will aim to balance these measures with socioeconomic activities. Otherwise, the daily lives of our citizens will become impossible. Making use of our experience tackling the novel coronavirus since the beginning of the year, we will streamline our countermeasures, strengthen our screening structures, and secure medical treatment structures. We will also aim to secure the amount of vaccines necessary to cover all citizens by the first half of next year.

At the same time, it is extremely important that, amidst economic conditions that remain severe, we protect employment and ensure that businesses are able to continue their operations. To those in need, we will extend our economic measures, namely the Sustainability Subsidy (Subsidy Program for Sustaining Businesses) of up to two million yen, as well as Employment Adjustment Subsidies and interest-free loans up to 40 million yen that do not require collateral. In addition, premised on squarely taking measures to counter infections, we will support those who have suffered damages, such as those in tourism, restaurant businesses, the event industry, and shopping arcades, through "Go To" campaigns and other such initiatives. As for travel under the "Go To Travel" campaign, a total of 13 million people have taken advantage of the campaign since its launch in July, but there have been only ten cases of infection among those making use of this campaign. I intend to continue to take countermeasures going forward without hesitation.

Economic revival will continue to be the matter of the highest priority of the administration. We will carry on with Abenomics, with its three pillars of monetary easing, fiscal investment, and the Growth Strategy, and we will continue to advance further reforms. Before the Abe Administration was inaugurated, the yen was trading between 70 and 80 to the U.S. dollar and the stock price average was at the 8,000 to 9,000 level, a situation that didn't allow companies to carry out economic activities in Japan. At present, even against the backdrop of this novel coronavirus, the market is showing stability in its movement.

Since the Abe Administration was inaugurated, despite a decline in the population, the number of people in the workforce increased by about four million, of which some 3.3 million were women. The ratio of job offers to job seekers surpassed 1.0 in every prefecture. That is to say, the Abe Administration created an environment in which everyone who wants to work can have a job. We were enjoying the best economic conditions since the economic bubble burst, but then this novel coronavirus appeared. We will first overcome this crisis, and afterwards, we will undertake intensive reforms and make necessary investments towards a "post-corona" society. By doing so, we would like to restore a robust economy once more.

Above all, the novel coronavirus has revealed the necessity of digital transformation and the review of supply chains. It is also imperative that going forward we continue to make use of online medical consultations, whose ban has been lifted at long last. We will also vigorously promote GIGA Schools (schools implementing the Global and Innovation Gateway for All) to support the education of children in the "post-corona" age. The key to digitalizing government administration is My Number Social Security and Tax Number cards. To bring about a society in which the entire range of procedures are available without going to a government office, My Number cards are indispensable. However, the cards have not been pushed much into widespread use. Going forward, we will move up what we can do in this area and establish an agency in charge of digital transformation as a structure to coordinate related policies that are divided across multiple ministries and agencies and press forward with them vigorously.

Also, even in the "post-corona" age, we will continue to work hard to realize environmental measures and a decarbonized society as well as a stable energy supply.

I was born the eldest son in a farming family in Akita. The desire to cherish local communities and restore the vitality to all of Japan's communities flows consistently and ceaselessly in me. With this feeling as my starting point, I have pursued policies by extracting wisdom over the years.

When I assumed the position of Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications during the first Abe Administration, I established the "hometown tax" system, an idea brewing inside me for quite some time, despite having to fight tremendous opposition from government officials. People coming to Tokyo from outside want to contribute in some fashion to their hometowns and want to maintain their ties with them in some way. There is no doubt that they feel that way. So that is how, from what I myself thought, I proposed the "hometown tax" system and made it into a reality. There was an enormous amount of opposition to it, but currently a large number of citizens make use of it.

As Chief Cabinet Secretary, I worked to bring vitality back to communities, in particular those outside the major cities. What brought me the most joy is that last year, for the first time in 27 years, land prices in areas outside the major cities, which had been in permanent decline for 26 years and were said would never rise again, switched to increasing in value. That was an impact of visiting foreign tourists, so-called inbound tourism, which is a trump card in our efforts for regional revitalization. When the Abe Administration was inaugurated, the number of foreign tourists was 8.36 million. Last year, that number was 32 million. Those foreign tourists also visit local areas outside major cities and their consumption has increased from 1 trillion to around 5 trillion yen in total. Agriculture too has seen exports of agricultural, forest, and fishery products expand from 450 billion yen to 900 billion yen last year. I want to continue to work hard on policies that bring vitality to local areas, centered on areas like these.

It is children who will hold the future of Japan in their hands. Addressing the declining birthrate has been a longstanding challenge for Japan. We have pressed forward with making kindergartens, day-care centers, universities, and vocational schools free of charge as well as with male national civil servants taking a minimum of one month of childcare leave. I would also like to build a social security system oriented to all generations through which young people are able to have peace of mind about the future as well.

As for the issue of childcare waiting lists, we made use of the fruits of economic growth and pushed forward with preparing childcare arrangements for 720,000 children. The number of children on waiting lists last year was 12,000, the lowest figure since surveys began. From now I intend to expand childcare services, putting an end to this issue.

Moreover, in order to provide wide-reaching support for households hoping to have children and lower the hurdles as much as possible, we will have insurance cover fertility treatments. A society in which people can bear and raise children with peace of mind and a society in which women can stay healthy and be actively engaged -- I intend to thoroughly develop such an environment.

In the field of diplomacy and national security, the environment surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly severe. Against that background, I intend to deploy policies that place a well-functioning Japan-US alliance as their linchpin. In order to defend our national interests to the end, I intend to strategically implement the free and open Indo-Pacific while also building stable relations with neighboring countries, including China and Russia.

I will aim for a total reassessment of our postwar diplomacy, doing my very best to resolve the abductions issue in particular. Over the last two years, I additionally held the portfolio of the Minister in Charge of the Abductions Issue and I worked hard on this issue. I will closely collaborate with the United States and other relevant countries and continue to make all-out efforts to realize the return of all of the abductees as early as possible.

Also, during the seven years and eight months I served as Chief Cabinet Secretary, I responded to various matters as the person in charge of crisis management. There were many kinds of urgent situations, including ballistic missiles and other security threats, natural disasters, and the risks of terrorism against Japanese nationals living abroad, and I responded swiftly and appropriately to such crises.

I have always thought that our society still has a tremendous amount of unusual things that stand significantly apart from the common sense held by the public. Because of bureaucratic sectionalism among relevant ministries and agencies, most of the dams in Japan have not been utilized for flood prevention. While being awarded frequency bands, which are the people's property, the three major mobile phone operators have maintained an oligopoly, surpassing 90 percent of the market for many years, and generating an operating profit margin of 20% through mobile phone fees that are expensive compared to international standards. There are many facts like these that are unusual. I will never overlook them and, listening to voices on the ground and carefully looking at what is in line with common sense, act boldly. That is my belief. I will continue to do this, never wavering.  

Self-help, mutual help, and public help and "kizuna" (bonds) are the vision of society I aspire for. To begin with, we must try to do things ourselves. Then we should assist each other within our families and communities. Then beyond that, the government will provide protection with a safety net. I aim to create this kind of government that the public trusts. To do that, I will tear down bureaucratic sectionalism, vested interests, and the notorious habit of following past precedents and give my all to advancing regulatory reforms. I will create a Cabinet that benefits, that works for the people. By creating such a Cabinet, I hope to meet the expectations of the people. Accordingly, I would like to ask for your cooperation.

I will end my opening statement here.