In a departure from the norm, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto opened the 150-day Diet session Monday with a speech focusing solely on financial markets and the economy, stressing that Japan will not let its woes drag the rest of Asia and the world into more turmoil.”It is our firm resolve that neither a (worldwide) financial crisis nor an economic crisis originating in Japan must be triggered,” Hashimoto told a plenary session of the House of Representatives.”The government will stabilize the nation’s financial system, which constitutes the artery of the economy, and restore public confidence in economic prospects,” he said. But in a new proof of Japan’s fragile financial system, the Finance Ministry reported later Monday that self-assessments by major and regional banks showed they have accumulated 76.71 trillion yen in potentially sour loans, roughly 3.5 times greater than what the ministry has assessed.By focusing specifically on economic and financial issues, Hashimoto’s opening address to the Diet departs from the usual practice of making an overall policy speech for the year at the start of the session. Hashimoto is expected to deliver his policy speech for 1998 later this month.His speech, which was reported on in advance last week, was considered a public display of the government’s resolve to protect the nation’s financial system from collapse. The Diet session also convened about a week earlier than usual, mainly to show the government is serious about turning the economy around.During his speech, Hashimoto stressed that stable business conditions are also necessary to achieve his six big reform goals — in the administrative system, fiscal structure, social security system, economic system, financial markets and education.Hashimoto said the government will take steps to protect depositors and take crisis management-related measures to protect the financial system. To finance the measures, Hashimoto said the government will utilize 30 trillion yen to help financial institutions improve their fiscal health.”(The injection of public money) will not be made to bail out ailing financial institutions. Instead, it is to be made to avert any possible serious impact on the economy and credit and order (from further collapse of financial institution),” Hashimoto said. “As a matter of course, the government will use tax money for the purpose in a fair and transparent manner to obtain public understanding (toward the spending),” Hashimoto stressed.The government is also making preparations at government-affiliated financial institutions to lend a total of 25 trillion yen to firms that are having difficulty obtaining operating funds from commercial banks. Many private banks have become increasingly reluctant to lend to businesses because the government plans to impose stricter capital requirements on banks operating solely in Japan starting from April.However, in a bid to end the cautious trend in bank lending, the government has decided to push back the planned introduction of tougher standards on capital-to-asset ratios, Hashimoto said. The prime minister called on domestic financial institutions to improve their management style and provide the public with more information related to their business so they are accepted in the international community.

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