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Speech dwells on deregulation, security panel

Abe opens Diet session focused on the economy

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The 53-day extraordinary Diet session opened Tuesday, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe focusing on his domestic economic policies to spur growth.

This is the first full-fledged session of the Diet following July’s Upper House election, in which Abe’s ruling bloc won an overwhelming victory to enjoy a comfortable majority in both chambers.

But this also means Abe can no longer blame the opposition camp for obstructing Diet procedures or scrapping key government-sponsored bills. If he fails to carry out his agenda goals, Abe may face criticism from voters more directly.

This has apparently prompted him to keep his focus on domestic economic issues, a policy area where he has enjoyed his biggest successes so far.

In his keynote policy speech at the Diet on Tuesday, Abe mainly discussed infrastructure projects in the disaster-hit Tohoku region, deregulation to urge businesses to invest more, and called for creation of a new national security council.

“This year, (the economy) grew more than 3 percent on the annualized pace for two consecutive quarter periods,” Abe said, adding, however, that Japan has only gone halfway toward eradicating deflation.

Abe also emphasized he will accelerate reconstruction of damaged infrastructure in the Tohoku region, in particular in Fukushima Prefecture, the site of the 2011 nuclear meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“Every day at the prime minister’s office, I eat rice grown in Fukushima Prefecture. . . . I hope consumers will actually enjoy safe and tasty agricultural and fishery products from Fukushima, not deluded with (groundless radiation) rumors,” Abe claimed.

Earlier this year, Tokyo Electric Power Co. realized tons of radioactive groundwater was flowing from under the plant into the Pacific every day. Tepco later revealed that quickly made tanks to store radioactive water at the plant had also leaked. The revelations have caused a major international outcry.

But Abe stressed that, despite those incidents, radiation levels in food and seawater from Fukushima did not exceed safety thresholds.

“We won’t leave all the (water) issue to Tepco. We will carry out our responsibilities, working on the front line,” he said.

Government sources had initially indicated that during the extraordinary session, Abe might pursue a change in the government’s interpretation of the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense under the U.N. charter.

But Abe has apparently shelved this plan and made no mention of it in his speech.

Instead, Abe just argued Japan should become “a proactive contributor” to the peace and stability of the world.

Neither did he directly discuss his diplomatic policies for China or South Korea, whose relations with Japan have been strained over territorial and historical issues in recent years.

“We should never look away from the reality of the security environment, which is becoming increasingly severe,” Abe said, praising the Japan Coast Guard in Okinawa for protecting the disputed Senkaku Islands and the Self-Defense Forces mission in Djibouti for guarding against pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean.

Abe’s government plans to submit a number of bills to the current Diet session, including those to provide incentives to corporate investment and create special economic zones to attract more foreign businesses and thereby spur economic growth.

But many of those ideas have already drawn criticism that they are just reheated versions of growth strategies advocated by past administrations that eventually flopped.

On Tuesday, Abe did not go to into details of his growth strategies, but stressed that his government will put an emphasis on executing those ideas, not just planning them like past administrations did.