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Abe tries to ease nation's anger over corrupt labor data scandal in policy speech

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes a policy speech during a plenary session of the House of Representatives, on Jan. 28, 2019. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his policy speech at the opening of the 198th ordinary session of the Diet on Jan. 28, seeking understanding for his plan to raise the consumption tax to 10 percent in October.

Abe told the national legislature that the hike is needed to create a "stable revenue source so that we can build a social security system for all generations by overcoming low birth rates and the aging of society."

As for the labor data corruption scandal that caused tens of billions of yen in payment shortfalls for work-related benefits for tens of millions of people, Abe apologized to the people of Japan, saying that the problem "damaged trust in the social safety net." The prime minister promised to make smooth payments of overdue benefits such as unemployment and industrial accident compensation.

The scandal led to a review of 56 fundamental statistics prepared by central government offices, which found that 22 of them had problematic processing of data. Abe said that he will "do his utmost to prevent the same thing from happening again, and conduct a thorough verification to restore trust in statistics."

Regarding his long-time goal of revising the Constitution, Abe called for political parties to deepen discussions at the Commission on the Constitution at each chamber of the Diet.

The prime minister said that he will take "all possible steps to prepare" for the abdication of Emperor Akihito on April 30 and the enthronement of Crown Prince Naruhito on May 1 as the new emperor.

Abe, meanwhile, indicated his intention of making Japan a society where giving birth to and raising children are easier to do by promoting free education for toddlers and other measures.

About the upcoming tax hike, Abe said he will do his best to manage the economy, based on lessons learned from the economic downturn following the April 2014 consumption tax increase from 5 percent to 8 percent.

The premier explained that he intends to make sure that economic recovery will be sustained by taking "more than sufficient measures" to return the additional tax revenue from the upcoming hike, such as lower tax rates for certain items and the issuing of special gift certificates for low-income households and others.

On diplomacy, Abe showed his resolve of settling the long-running territorial dispute with Russia and signing a peace treaty, saying that he "will definitely put an end to this challenge that has been left for more than 70 years after the end of the war, without passing down the issue to future generations." Abe added that he will "accelerate negotiations" with Moscow based on the 1956 Japan-Soviet joint declaration, which says that Moscow would hand over two of the four Northern Territories islands -- Habomai and Shikotan -- to Tokyo after signing a peace treaty.

Japan claims those islands off the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, although they came under occupation by Soviet Union forces after World War II and have remained under the control of Russia.

Regarding the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea, Abe indicated his willingness to sit down and negotiate with the country's leader Kim Jong Un. Abe, on the other hand, stopped short of referring to the bilateral relationship with South Korea due to deteriorating ties between Tokyo and Seoul over a series of issues including the South Korean Supreme Court's orders against Japanese companies to compensate Korean laborers forced to work at their factories before the end of the war, and the use of fire-control radar by a South Korean destroyer on a Japanese patrol plane.

The prime minister also expressed his intention of strengthening the nation's cyber and space defense programs.

This was Abe's seventh policy speech since his second administration began in 2012.

(Japanese original by Yu Takayama, Political News Department)

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