Prime Minister Fumio Kishida warned on Monday that Japan is “on the verge” of losing its social function due to its rapidly declining birth rate, vowing to focus on education policy as the most pressing agenda item this year.
In his policy speech at the start of a 150-day regular parliamentary session, Kishida expressed his willingness to revive and take a leading role in the world’s third-largest economy ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic in diplomacy as president this year. the top of the Group of Seven.
The prime minister also apologized for the resignation of four ministers last year in the space of about two months. They were effectively fired despite criticism of scandals, including questionable ties to the controversial Unification Church.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers his policy speech at Parliament in Tokyo on January 23, 2023. (TBEN)
Kishida’s address comes after a government estimate released in December showed annual births in Japan are likely to fall below 800,000 for the first time by 2022.
Kishida called policies aimed at facilitating children’s education “the most effective investment for the future” and vowed to create “a child-centered economy and society” to support the country’s plummeting birth rate, which is hampering longer-term productivity growth. hinders bending.
As the Children and Families Agency, a new government body overseeing child policies, is slated to launch in April, Kishida said his government will outline a plan by June to reduce the budget for raising children at a later date. double. .
“We will consider how society as a whole can support children stably as we make different efforts,” Kishida said, without elaborating on how the costs could be funded.
On the macroeconomic front, Kishida called on lawmakers to band together to put Japan on a “new growth path” following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, first detected in late 2019 in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Kishida said wage increases are key to achieving a “virtuous cycle” of redistributing higher earnings from companies to their employees and boosting consumer spending, which is suffering its sharpest inflation in more than 40 years.
Japan’s core consumer price index, which excludes volatile fresh food, rose 4.0 percent in December from a year earlier, the highest level since 1981.
Kishida stressed the need for wage growth above current inflation, driven by higher food and energy prices in the wake of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine since February last year.
As about three years have passed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Kishida stated his intention to downgrade the legal status of COVID-19 to a class 5 disease this spring, the same level as seasonal flu.
He also said his government, formed in October 2021, will take necessary steps to overcome the ongoing eighth wave of infections.
With Japan hosting the G-7 summit in May in his home district of Hiroshima, Kishida said at the meeting he will demonstrate a strong commitment to maintaining a “free and open international order” based on the rule of law amid the Russian invasion of Japan. Ukraine.
The prime minister added that he will show unity at the G-7 meeting in the western Japanese city destroyed by a US nuclear bomb in 1945 as he seeks to strengthen ties with the “Global South” or developing countries in areas such as Asia, Africa and Japan. Latin America.
On national security, Kishida said his government will “take steps” to secure sufficient resources to meet its goal of nearly doubling its annual defense spending to about 2 percent of gross domestic product over the next five years, similar to NATO members.
In December, Japan decided to acquire enemy base attacks to deter attacks on its territory and increase defense spending amid growing military threats from its neighbors – China, Russia and North Korea.
Kishida, meanwhile, reiterated his eagerness to establish “constructive and stable” relations with China and “closely communicate” with South Korea.
Tokyo is at odds with Beijing over Taiwan. Ties between Japan and South Korea have sunk to their worst levels in decades under President Yoon Suk Yeol’s predecessor, Moon Jae In, in the wake of a wartime labor dispute.
In recent months, approval ratings for Kishida’s cabinet have plummeted as suspicious connections were revealed between many lawmakers belonging to his ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Unification Church, often labeled a cult.
Kishida said he takes the issues surrounding the religious group, known for its aggressive solicitations for donations and other fundraising practices, “seriously”, adding that the government will strive to avoid similar problems in the future.
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