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Abe, Ishiba go head to head in 1st debate in LDP leadership race

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and former Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, the two candidates running for LDP president, take part in a debate hosted by the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Sept. 14, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Shigeru Ishiba, former secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), came face to face on the morning of Sept. 13 in a debate in the lead-up to the party presidential election.

In the event hosted by the Japan National Press Club (JNPC), LDP President Abe emphasized his economic achievements, while Ishiba called for modifications to current economic policy, asserting that the party has not brought sufficient benefits to the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries industries, or to small- to mid-sized businesses.

Abe defended his administration's regional revitalization measures and wealth disparity countermeasures as effective, adding that he would be "taking on the challenge of building up the nation, and squarely confronting the declining birthrate and aging population, which could be characterized as a national crisis."

Ishiba countered, "I do not follow the line of thought that the fruits of economic growth in Tokyo and large corporations would spill over into regional areas." He went on to argue for the need to beef up regional revitalization measures, and pointed out the lack of successors to small- to mid-sized companies.

As for the issue of constitutional revision, Abe stated he would "tackle the challenge of constitutional amendment, which has not been accomplished even once in the 70 years since the end of World War II." He went on to express his enthusiasm for a plan that would keep the first and second paragraphs of war-renouncing Article 9 unchanged, and add a provision solidifying the existence of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF).

Meanwhile, Ishiba, a former defense minister, said, "It's not a matter that can be solved simply by adding (the SDF) to the article without revising the essence of the article," and expounded his argument that the second paragraph of Article 9 -- which prohibits land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential from ever being maintained, and does not recognize the right of belligerency of the state -- should be eliminated altogether. He added, however, that resolving the problem of merged constituencies was of higher priority than changing Article 9 of the Constitution.

Asked about the disposal and doctoring of public records regarding the scandal-ridden Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen educational institutions, Ishiba criticized how the cases have been handled, stating, "The government has not properly provided the information it should have, so there is room for improvement." Prime Minister Abe said, "I am responsible for inviting distrust from the public. I once again offer my apologies."

Regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin's abrupt proposal that Moscow and Tokyo sign a peace treaty without preconditions by the end of the year, Abe said, "We must be open to the message embedded in (Putin's) words. There's no denying that he indicated his view that a peace treaty was necessary." Abe continued that he himself, however, has made no change in policy, saying, "Japan still maintains the position that it will resolve territorial issues, before signing a peace treaty," and revealed that he communicated that position to Putin before and after he made the proposal.

Abe then indicated that Japan-Russia summit meetings in November and December will be important, with the upcoming APEC Papua New Guinea Summit and the G-20 Buenos Aires Summit in mind.

(Japanese original by Noriaki Kinoshita, Political News Department)

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