Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he will deliver on his pledge to revive the Japanese economy through his growth strategy to beat chronic deflation, as his Liberal Democratic Party's victory the previous day gave him a vote of confidence over his handling of the government.
Now that the ruling bloc of the LDP and the New Komeito party has won back control of the upper house, Abe began considering a new lineup of party executives to ensure political stability as the terms of some LDP executives are set to expire in September. Sources said LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba is likely to retain his post.
"Japan is facing difficult challenges -- making bold reform, the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement) and raising the consumption tax," Abe said during a press conference.
"But it is imperative that we make decisions for the future of Japan, and the outcome of the upper house election made me realize that as a nation we can surely overcome these challenges," he said.
"A strong economy is essential for national strength. Without it, we won't be able to have strong diplomatic power and improved social security," the prime minister added.
Abe, who leads the LDP, can now focus on his policy agenda, including his long-cherished goal of revising the Constitution, enabling Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense and to have national defense forces rather than the Self-Defense Forces.
"It's the people of Japan who can decide what to do," Abe said. He called for a national debate about amending the Constitution, stressing the need for the government to explain what exercising the right to collective self-defense means for Japan and why it is necessary in detail in relation to the long-standing security alliance between Washington and Tokyo.
U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Abe on his election victory on Sunday and expressed the hope of working closely together in addressing various challenges in Asia.
The prime minister has said the purpose of making revisions to the Constitution is to respond to the changing security environment around Japan. Bilateral ties with China have frayed over the status of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, administered by Japan but claimed by China, while with South Korea, differing views about wartime history have prevented Tokyo and Seoul from holding a summit.
Abe said the bilateral relationship between Japan and China is "one of the most important" and that Japan is always open for dialogue at the ministerial, as well as the top leaders' levels.
"Both sides need to make efforts to cooperate and overcome (differences)," the prime minister said.
Other pressing issues also lie ahead on the economic front. Tokyo needs to decide whether to proceed with the planned consumption tax hike in April and seeks freer trade under the TPP framework despite some local opposition. Japan is set to start participating in negotiations being held in Malaysia for the U.S.-led trade liberalization pact from Tuesday.
Abe said the government will decide whether to raise the consumption tax after seeing the strength of economic recovery during the April to June period, as economic growth needs to be weighed against the restructuring of its finances, the worst among developed nations.