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In New Year’s speech, Abe prioritizes economic growth

by

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe maintained Wednesday that his top priority for the new year will continue to be the economy and that he will first try to have the Diet enact the fiscal 2017 budget as quickly as possible.

“This year, too, the economy comes first,” Abe said during the year’s first news conference in Ise, Mie Prefecture, after visiting Ise Shrine in the city.

“To accelerate Abenomics and have the economy steadily grow is the mission given for us,” Abe said. “And the biggest economic measure will be early enactment of the next fiscal year’s budget.

“I want to concentrate on this for now,” Abe said during the nationally televised news conference.

Specifically, the prime minister said he will continue promoting his Abenomics economic policy mix — a combination of ultraloose monetary policy, aggressive fiscal spending and structural reforms to raise Japan’s long-term growth potential.

Abe also said he will further promote various social reforms to give more employment opportunities for the potential workforce, including women, the elderly and the disabled.

Abe, however, did not reveal additional details of his “economy first” policy.

He also said he will convene this year’s six-month-long ordinary Diet session on Jan. 20, and currently is not considering dissolving the Lower House for a snap election.

“I’m not thinking of dissolution (of the Diet) at all,” Abe said.

Given the low approval rates of opposition parties, speculation was rife in recent months that Abe could dissolve the Lower House as early as this month.

But that speculation appears to have dissipated in recent weeks after Abe failed to make any major progress in resolving Japan’s territorial dispute with Russia during his summit meetings with President Vladimir Putin last month. Had that summit been successful, Abe would likely have seen a large popularity boost for himself and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Another issue that is expected to garner much speculation this year is how aggressively Abe will move on his lifelong quest to revise the pacifist Constitution. The prime minister, however, did not mention that goal during the news conference.

Instead, Abe only pointed out that 2017 is “a milestone year” marking the 70th anniversary of the enforcement of the postwar Constitution.

“Over the past 70 years, (Japanese) society and its economy have undergone great changes,” Abe said.

“The society is rapidly aging with fewer children,” he said. “Deflation, which originated with the burst of the bubble economy (in the early 1990s), has put heavy burdens on the Japanese economy for nearly 20 years.

“With the end of Cold War, the security environment around Japan has become increasingly severe,” he added. “We can no longer avert our eyes from those difficulties.

“Now is the time to promote efforts to create a new form of the nation that is forward-looking,” Abe said.