Political party leaders on Tuesday questioned the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over its policy vision on the first day of Diet questioning, as the premier vowed to prioritize rebuilding the deflation-hit economy.
In the session designed for party leaders to pose questions about a series of speeches delivered by Abe and three other Cabinet ministers, Abe reiterated his pledge to create a "virtuous cycle" of increases in corporate earnings, wages and consumption.
"We will make sure Japanese people can feel the benefits of economic growth in their daily lives," Abe said in response to a question from Banri Kaieda, leader of the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
Kaieda criticized Abe for what he termed as belittling the country's pacifist stance by seeking more security roles abroad, and failing to address economic inequality as he claimed the administration has given preferential treatment to the corporate sector.
"The yen's weakness is translating into soaring fuel and raw material costs, and putting pressure on people's lives," Kaieda said.
In his policy speech delivered Friday, the start of the 150-day Diet session, Abe said the economy should come first for Japan to beat nearly two decades of deflation, and to withstand the impact of a sales tax hike in April.
The Diet is expected to deliberate two state budget bills, along with those related to the country's growth strategy, the third arrow of the "Abenomics" policy mix that has helped boost Japanese share prices and weaken the yen.
On diplomacy, Kaieda questioned the seriousness of the government's push for dialogue with China and South Korea, given that Abe has paid homage at Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war criminals along with the war dead, and drawn a comparison between Japan-China relations and those between Britain and Germany before World War I.
Abe said Japan will remain a pacifist state built on the suffering of other Asian nations, adding that his government has been actively seeking dialogue with China and South Korea. "We hope they will respond," the premier said.
The issue of collective self-defense will likely come into focus during the regular Diet session through June 22, but Abe said only that the government "will consider what to do" after it receives a report from a panel of experts commissioned by the prime minister to discuss the matter.
Whether Japan should exercise the right to collective self-defense to defend allies under armed attack remains a controversial issue, as the New Komeito party, the coalition partner of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, remains reluctant.
While such a right exists under international law, engaging in collective self-defense is generally seen in Japan as going beyond the principle of self-defense allowed under the pacifist Constitution.
Abe, who said he is willing to work with "responsible" opposition parties, has agreed with Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe to cooperate to achieve policy goals. Watanabe said Tuesday that the issues of collective self-defense and constitutional reform would "inevitably" be included as potential agendas.