Mori pledges a national rebirth

Economy the priority, but policy speech lacks original ideas

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori pledged to achieve a “rebirth of Japan” on Friday but mapped out few original ideas to realize that slogan in his first policy speech.

During the 20-minute address to the Diet, Mori emphasized that he would follow in the footsteps of his comatose predecessor, Keizo Obuchi, from whom he took over the prime ministership on Wednesday.

“In the wake of Obuchi’s illness, I was unexpectedly appointed prime minister,” said Mori, a native of Ishikawa Prefecture. “I believe it is God’s will that I succeed Obuchi, and I will devote every effort to handling the nation’s politics.”

He said he formed a new coalition government made up of the Liberal Democratic Party, which Mori now heads, New Komeito and the newly founded Conservative Party, a 26-member splinter group from the Liberal Party.

Mori indicated that he will take on two of Obuchi’s top priorities — to stir a genuine economic rebound and engineer structural reform.

“Although it is still in a severe condition, the nation’s economy is continuing a moderate improvement,” he said.

Mori also pledged to take steps to increase employment. The unemployment rate hit a postwar high of 4.9 percent in February, the latest month for which data is available. More ominously, the rate stood at 5.1 percent for men and economists expect the numbers to continue to rise in the months ahead.

Unemployment is likely to present Mori with his greatest challenge.

It is axiomatic that instituting public measures to increase employment runs counter to implementing structural reform, but Mori will apparently adhere to Obuchi’s belief that the economy can first be guided to a recovery before the government begins the difficult task of reform.

“It is a matter of course that fiscal structural reform is an important issue the government also must realize,” he said.

He said that after steering the economy onto the right track, the government will tackle various reforms in the areas of tax, social security and decentralization.

Mori, a former education minister, also stressed the importance of education reforms.

He pledged that he would promote education reform based on discussions at a national conference.

Mori expressed his regret over recent scandals in the police force, adding that he called upon public servants to take proper measures to improve their ethics and discipline.

“I will take every step to regain public trust in the police system,” Mori said. He will also review the system while considering an advisory panel’s recommendations to the National Public Safety Commission.

Mori pledged to take all possible measures to ensure the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa is a success.

“I would like to send a strong message from Okinawa about what steps the international community should take to live in a world of peace and prosperity in the 21st century,” the prime minister said.

The G8 summit — the main event on Japan’s diplomatic agenda this year — will be held between July 21 and July 23 in the resort city of Nago.

He added that the government will implement measures to further boost Okinawa’s economy and tackle issues concerning the relocation of Futenma Air Station in central Okinawa.

While placing the United States at the center of the nation’s diplomatic relations, it is important for the government to contribute toward peace in Asia, especially in the northeast region, he said.

On relations with North Korea, the government will make efforts to advance the recently resumed talks for normalizing ties with Pyongyang and continue to cooperate with South Korea and the United States, he said.

“I will make every effort to solve various issues between Japan and North Korea, including humanitarian and security issues,” Mori said.

On relations with Russia, Mori said he will continue to strive to develop mutual relations in various fields, including talks on a peace treaty.

Japan and Russia have pledged to resolve a long-standing territorial dispute and conclude a peace treaty by the end of this year, but talks on the territorial row have stalled.

The dispute concerns the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan, and the Habomai islets off Hokkaido. The islands were seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II.