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Abe to keep putting "highest priority on economy" in 2017

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday he will continue to
place his highest priority on the economy this year, aiming to pull
Japan out of the deflation that has dogged the country's economy for
the past two decades.
"Our top economic policy is the swift enactment of the budget
for the next fiscal year," Abe said at a New Year press conference in
Ise, central Japan, after visiting the Ise Grand Shrine in the city
earlier in the day.
"Our mission is to solidly grow the economy while advancing
'Abenomics,'" he said, adding, "We will continue to fire the three
arrows" to beat deflation," referring to his administration's
economic policy package of aggressive monetary easing, massive
government spending and structural reforms.
Abe said the next ordinary Diet session will convene Jan. 20 and
will be aimed at "opening up (Japan's) future."
While maintaining that he is "not thinking at all of dissolving"
the House of Representatives for an election, Abe noted that 2017 is
the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese zodiac, and such years "have
frequently served as major political turning points."
He cited 2005, in which former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
dissolved the chamber over postal system reform, and 1993, in which
the Liberal Democratic Party lost an election for the first time in
the post-war era. Abe was first elected to the Diet the same year.
Abe pointed out that former Prime Minister Eisaku Sato dissolved
the lower house in 1969, another Year of the Rooster, after clinching
a deal with the United States for the return of Okinawa. The island
prefecture had been occupied following Japan's surrender in 1945,
also a Year of the Rooster.
Abe also addressed the issue of Emperor Akihito's apparent
desire to abdicate, possible responses to which are being debated by
a government panel.
Hinting that his ruling party would try to seek common ground
over the matter with the opposition parties, Abe said "politicians
must demonstrate the decency not to turn the issue into political
fodder."
The 83-year-old emperor indicated in a video message broadcast
nationwide in August last year that his advanced age could one day
prevent him from fulfilling his duties as a symbol of the state.
Abe's government is considering submitting a bill to parliament
in late April that would enable the emperor to abdicate but apply
only to him, while the main opposition Democratic Party has opposed
the planned legislation, instead proposing a permanent change to
enable the current and future emperors to abdicate.
The advisory panel, set up in September, is currently studying
how to alleviate the burden on the emperor, including the feasibility
of abdication, and is expected to compile a report summarizing the
key issues involved this month.
An amendment to either the Constitution or the Imperial
Household Law, or the formulation of special legislation, would be
required to enable abdication.
Abe also said his administration will proceed with "new
nation-building" in 2017 as Japan marks the 70th anniversary of its
post-World War II Constitution, a document he has long sought to
revise.
"Now is the time to look to the future, in anticipation of the
next 70 years, and proceed with new nation-building," Abe said.
Revising the war-renouncing Constitution, which was introduced
while Japan was still under postwar occupation by the United States
and has remained unaltered since, has been a long-standing goal both
of Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party he leads.
Gains by the LDP and likeminded lawmakers in last year's upper
house election pushed them past a legal hurdle required to formally
consider a constitutional amendment.
Abe extended his Year of the Rooster metaphor to foreign
affairs, saying he will continue to advance "proactive diplomacy,
looking across the globe with a bird's-eye view, this year."
Last month, Abe hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin for a
summit in Japan. Informed sources have said Abe and U.S.
President-elect Donald Trump may be planning a meeting in the United
States at the end of this month, shortly after Trump's inauguration.
Japan's largest opposition party also kicked off the year in Ise
on Wednesday. Democratic Party leader Renho, who visited the Shinto
shrine ahead of Abe, said she wants the party to emphasize its points
of difference with the Abe administration this year.
"Our views will differ greatly from Prime Minister Abe's this
year, too, and I want the public to see that," Renho said.
The Democratic Party and the smaller opposition Japanese
Communist Party, Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party are
expected to begin discussions before the end of the month to narrow
down candidates and work out common policies eyeing the next lower
house election, the timing of which is up to Abe alone.
"There could well be a dissolution of the lower house and a
general election this year, (so) we'll maintain and enhance our
preparations for battle," Democratic Party Secretary General
Yoshihiko Noda said at his party's New Year ceremony.
Meanwhile in Okinawa, which hosts most of the U.S. military
presence in Japan, the governor vowed to continue a standoff with the
central government over the relocation of a U.S. air base within the
island prefecture.
Making his first comments of the year Wednesday, Okinawa Gov.
Takeshi Onaga pledged to "use every possible method available to the
prefecture" to prevent the plan to move the U.S. Marine Corps' Air
Station Futenma, located in the middle of a crowded residential area
in Ginowan, to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.
The central government resumed stalled construction work at the
Henoko site late last month after the Supreme Court ruled against
Onaga's move in October 2015 to block land reclamation, which had
been approved by his predecessor prior to his election in 2014. (Jan. 4)