Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda kicked off a new Diet session Tuesday by urging the opposition camp to stop playing party politics and join talks on raising the consumption tax.
The biggest and most difficult task Noda has on his plate during the 150-day Diet session is to pass legislation to hike the 5 percent consumption tax to fund the swelling social security costs of the rapidly aging society.
But the Liberal Democratic Party, the largest opposition force and one that earlier said a tax hike to 10 percent was necessary, has refused to hold discussions and is pressing Noda to dissolve the Lower House and call an election first.
“What is required now is not to play up minor differences, but to approach politics with a broad perspective, in consideration of the true interest of the people and the future of this country,” Noda said in his policy speech.
“As members of the Diet representing the entire people of Japan, this is the time for us to fix our eyes on the big picture rather than political situation.”
Noda expressed his intention to hold cross-party talks on the consumption tax hike and compile and submit related bills by the end of the fiscal year in March. Earlier this month, his government approved a draft to raise the tax to 8 percent in April 2014 and to 10 percent in October 2015. Noda is hoping to use the plan as a springboard for discussions with the opposition.
The prime minister had originally taken a humble attitude toward the opposition parties, pleading with them to engage in thorough discussions on various key policies. But since that tactic didn’t work, it looks like he’s decided to go for a stronger approach.
In his speech Tuesday, Noda quoted former prime ministers, including the LDP’s Taro Aso, who had stressed the need for a tax hike to secure a stable social security system and declared that the then LDP-led government would hike the levy “without delay.”
“These are not my words,” Noda said. But “my aims are the same. I hope more than anything that people will think beyond the scope of their positions and engage in discussion on the draft plan for the sake of all citizens and for the future of our country.”
In exchange for the financial burden on the public, Noda pointed out that there needs to be administrative and political reforms taken by bureaucrats and lawmakers. He expressed support for a bill to cut the pay of public servants by 8 percent and another to pare the number of Lower House members.
Japan will aim to establish high-level economic cooperation on bilateral and multilateral levels, including the Free-Trade Area of the Asia Pacific and a Japan-China-South Korea framework, Noda said. He also vowed to continue talks with the nations pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade accord.
“Within the highly diverse Asia-Pacific region, Japan will continue to take the initiative to make proposals for common principles and concrete rules, and joining hands with other countries who share our aspirations, we will proceed strategically toward regional stability and prosperity,” Noda said.
Meanwhile, amid the goal to reduce reliance on nuclear power, there is rising domestic concern about the recent U.S. sanctions against Iran and how it would affect Japan’s oil imports. The U.S. also plans to level sanctions against financial institutions that conduct transactions with Iran’s central bank to buy oil, and Tokyo is negotiating with Washington to see what measures can be taken.
“I share a deep sense of concern with the international community over the Iranian nuclear issue,” Noda stressed. “With the basic stance of seeking a peaceful and diplomatic solution, I will respond appropriately to this issue by working in concert with other countries while also taking into consideration the impact on the crude oil market and the Japanese economy in a comprehensive manner.”
On North Korea, Noda said the government will “thoroughly prepare for contingencies” in the wake of the death of Kim Jong Il and that the past abductions of Japanese nationals “infringe on basic human rights.”
Noda vowed to proceed with quake reconstruction and nuclear crisis relief measures. He triggered public criticism last month by declaring the crisis had been “brought to a conclusion” with the achievement of the cold shutdown, referring to the accomplishment of “Step Two” in the decommissioning process.
On Tuesday, he said: “Our fight against the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station is not at all over. The completion of Step Two at the end of last year is no more than a milestone in the long process leading up to the decommissioning of the reactors.”