Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has issued an assertive call for “building a new Japan” in his new year’s message, vowing to defend territory disputed with China and reform the country’s struggling economy.
“In a world that is deepening its mutual interdependence, inward-focused thinking is no longer able to safeguard the peace of Japan,” he said, according to a transcript released by his office on Wednesday.
“We will fully defend the lives and assets of our nationals as well as our territory, territorial waters, and territorial airspace in a resolute manner,” he said.
His annual message this year is his second since his return to power in December 2012. In last year’s message he pledged to upgrade the defence measures of the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by China. He did not reiterate the pledge this year.
Abe suggested, however, that Japan’s pacifist constitution, imposed on the country after the Second World War, should be amended.
“I believe that now we should deepen our national discussions further, with a view to introducing amendments that incorporate various changes in the times,” he wrote.
In a separate New Year comment published in the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun on Wednesday, Abe said he expected the constitution to be revised by 2020, when Tokyo is scheduled to host the Summer Olympics.
Last week, Abe’s administration announced an increase in spending for Japan’s coast guard and the establishment of an amphibious assault unit to deter attacks on the disputed island chain.
On December 26, relations between China and Japan soured further with Abe’s surprise visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo, which honours Japan’s war dead. It was the first visit by a sitting Japanese Premier to the shrine since his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi's visit in 2006.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said his visit to the shrine had “shut the door” to direct talks between the leaders of the world’s second and third-largest economies.
In his new year’s message, Abe compared the economic reform challenges Japan faces with those of the reconstruction period after the Second World War.
Quoting from a saying by the ancient Chinese philosopher Guan Zhong, he pledged “true reforms” and to “convey a tangible feeling of economic recovery without fail to every corner of the country”.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye incidentally used the same Chinese quote - "when planning for a lifetime, there is nothing better than cultivating people" - in a speech during her visit to China in June.
Abe’s policy of increased monetary easing and fiscal spending is facing an uphill battle as annualized economic growth for the third quarter had to be revised from 1.9 per cent down to 1.1 per cent in December.
Forty-one economists surveyed by the Nikkei Shinbun expected Japan’s economy to grow by 1.4 per cent next year.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters