The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition camp on Monday grilled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over policies ranging from diplomacy with U.S. President Donald Trump to national security to immigration.
In the first parliamentary exchange since the Oct. 22 Lower House election, both LDP and opposition representatives questioned — and sometimes critiqued — Abe in response to the policy speech he delivered Friday to both Diet chambers.
Speaking to a plenary session of the Lower House, each leader read out a scripted speech directed at Abe, to which he responded by similarly delivering a carefully prepared text that largely avoided giving away crucial details on sensitive matters.
But in one of the few moments of candor, Abe flatly denied that he and Trump discussed during their summit earlier this month the prospect of a bilateral trade framework, which Trump hopes will supersede the multinational Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement as part of his push for a “free, fair and reciprocal” trading relationship with Japan. The U.S. leader pulled out of TPP upon his inauguration in January.
“There was no talk on a Japan-U.S. free trade agreement in my conversation with President Trump,” Abe said in response to Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the second-largest opposition force, Kibo no To (Party of Hope).
Abe’s denials ran counter to U.S. Ambassador William Hagerty’s assertion at a Tokyo news conference last week that the two leaders “did discuss this tool” — referring to an FTA — as Trump sought to “address some of the imbalance in our trade.”
Abe also stood by his position that his administration “has no intention” of accepting immigrants even though Japan has a serious worker shortage gnawing away at firms in rural areas.
Tamaki said it is high time for the government to debate direct acceptance of foreign workers instead of relying on the notorious foreign technical internship program that critics liken to modern-day slavery.
While ruling out the possibility of full-fledged immigration, Abe did concede the need to lure more foreign workers in areas “where they are truly needed,” in order to “keep Japan’s economy and infrastructure sustainable.”
All of the speakers — LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida, Yukio Edano, head of the No. 1 opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, and Tamaki — tried in vain to get specific details out of Abe on his approach to North Korea.
Asked whether Tokyo would support military action by Washington, Abe repeated his usual line that “dialogue for the sake of dialogue” is meaningless and that Japan needs to “maximize pressure” to drag Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.
Pressed to divulge what measures are currently in place to evacuate the estimated 60,000 Japanese citizens residing in South Korea in the event of an emergency, Abe was similarly mum on details, saying only the government is undertaking “necessary preparations” in terms of transportation and ensuring safety.
Edano reiterated criticism of Abe’s security laws that allow the Self-Defense Forces to come to the aid of the United States and other allies under what is known as collective self-defense.
Abe’s ongoing push to revise the Constitution to formalize the status of the SDF in line with this legislation, Edano said, would theoretically justify the organization “joining a war even half a world away,” thereby signaling a “significant departure” from Japan’s exclusively defense-oriented policy.
Abe said he is convinced that the security laws are in their “best possible form” and that the defense-only posture will remain the “basic policy of Japan’s defense policy.”