Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday he will continue to place his highest priority on the economy this year, aiming to pull Japan out of the deflation that has dominated the country’s economic narrative for the past two decades.
“Our top economic policy is the swift enactment of the budget for the next fiscal year,” Abe said at a New Year press conference in Ise in Mie Prefecture, central Japan, after visiting the Ise Grand Shrine in the city earlier in the day.
“Our mission is to solidly grow the economy while advancing ‘Abenomics,’” he said, referring to his administration’s economic policy package of aggressive monetary easing, massive government spending and structural reforms.
Abe said the next ordinary Diet session will convene Jan. 20 and will be aimed at “opening up (Japan’s) future.”
The prime minister said he is “not thinking at all of dissolving” the House of Representatives for an election, which he has the discretion to do at any time.
Abe also said his administration will proceed with “new nation-building” in 2017 as Japan marks the 70th anniversary of its post-World War II Constitution, a document he has long sought to revise.
“Now is the time to look to the future, in anticipation of the next 70 years, and proceed with new nation-building,” Abe said.
“We, who are living today, must learn from our predecessors of 70 years ago who built postwar (Japan), face our challenges head-on and fulfill our responsibilities for the future,” he said.
Revising the war-renouncing Constitution, which was introduced while Japan was still under postwar occupation by the United States and has remained unaltered since, has been a long-standing goal both of Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party he leads.
Gains by the LDP and like-minded lawmakers in last year’s upper house election pushed them past a legal hurdle required to formally consider a constitutional amendment.
Hinting at a more self-reliant Japan, Abe said, “Our future is not something we are given by (other) people.”
“We, the Japanese people, will carve it out with our own hands—now is the time when the grit (to do so) is needed,” he said.
With a government panel continuing to debate possible responses to Emperor Akihito’s apparent wish to abdicate, Abe reiterated that the issue is “an extremely serious matter and must not be turned into political fodder.”
Noting that 2017 is the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese zodiac, Abe said he will continue to advance “proactive diplomacy, looking across the globe with a bird’s-eye view, this year.”
Last month, Abe hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin for a summit in Japan. Sources have said Abe and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump may be planning a meeting in the United States at the end of this month, shortly after Trump’s inauguration.
Japan’s largest opposition party also kicked off the year in Ise on Wednesday. Democratic Party leader Renho, who visited the Shinto shrine ahead of Abe, said she wants the party to emphasize its points of difference with the Abe administration this year.
“Our views will differ greatly from Prime Minister Abe’s this year, too, and I want the public to see that,” Renho said.
The Democratic Party and smaller opposition parties—the Japanese Communist Party, Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party—are expected to begin discussions before the end of the month to narrow down candidates and work out common policies eyeing the next lower house election, the timing of which is up to Abe alone.
“There could well be a dissolution of the lower house and a general election this year, (so) we’ll maintain and enhance our preparations for battle,” Democratic Party Secretary General Yoshihiko Noda said at his party’s New Year ceremony.
Meanwhile in Okinawa Prefecture, which hosts much of the U.S. military presence in Japan, the governor vowed to continue a standoff with the central government over the relocation of a U.S. air base within the island prefecture.
Making his first comments of the year Wednesday, Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga pledged to “use every possible method available to the prefecture” to prevent the plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, currently in the middle of a crowded residential area of Ginowan, to the less populated Henoko seaside area of Nago.
The central government resumed stalled construction work at the Henoko site late last month after the Supreme Court ruled against Onaga’s move in October 2015 to block the land reclamation, which had been approved by his predecessor prior to his election in 2014.