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Abe hails Japan-U.S. ties in Diet speech ahead of Trump inauguration

The position of the Japan-U.S. alliance as the linchpin of
Japanese foreign policy and security is an "unchanging principle,"
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a policy speech Friday hours before
the inauguration of the next U.S. president.

Speaking in the Diet at the opening of a 150-day ordinary
session, Abe said he wants to hold talks with President-elect Donald
Trump as soon as possible after the inauguration.

Abe described Japan as being "at the center" of a rapidly
changing world, pledging to "develop dynamic peace diplomacy and
economic diplomacy" at a time when several major world powers are
undergoing changes of leadership.

Amid uncertainty over Trump's foreign policy strategy, Abe's
choice of words indicates a resolve to work with the Trump
administration and U.S. allies to maintain the rules-based world
order advocated by outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama.

"As a standard-bearer of free trade, (Japan) will construct a
21st-century economic system based on fair rules," Abe said.

Abe said Japan will take a leadership role in negotiations
toward the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade
mega-pact, in which China is the largest participant by gross
domestic product.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-party deal signed last year
and piloted by the United States, is expected to fail to come into
force due to Trump's pledge to immediately withdraw from the pact
once he takes office later Friday.

Abe and Trump met in New York in November following a
presidential election campaign during which Trump said Japan and
other allies need to shoulder more of the costs associated with
stationing U.S. forces on their soil.

Abe also indicated that the Diet will play host this year to
developments in forging a legal pathway to enable the potential
abdication of Emperor Akihito and in bring reform of Japan's
Constitution closer to reality.

Several days of question-and-answer sessions next week will give
lawmakers in both Diet houses the chance to discuss the contents of
Abe's address and accompanying speeches Friday by the ministers of
finance, foreign affairs and economy.

Addressing ongoing discussion on the future role of the
83-year-old emperor, Abe expressed confidence that "we will be able
to obtain a defined plan in a calm environment, based on public
understanding."

Emperor Akihito indicated his wish to abdicate in a video
message broadcast in August last year, saying his age could one day
prevent him from fulfilling his duties as a symbol of the state.

According to sources close to the matter, the government is
considering submitting a one-off bill to the Diet in late April that
would enable abdication only for the current emperor, while the
opposition Democratic Party has called for a permanent abdication
provision to be added to the Imperial House Law.

A government-commissioned advisory body on the issue is expected
to issue an interim report Monday that will effectively favor the
one-off approach, according to a government source.

The premier also called for the resumption of debate in the
Diet's constitutional commissions, a step toward formulating an
amendment proposal to be put to a nationwide referendum.

"As we mark 70 years since the Constitution came into force and
look ahead to the next 70 years...why not deepen concrete debate in
the constitutional commissions to show the public what kind of nation
we propose to make Japan into?" Abe asked.

Abe, who took the lead in reinterpretation of the war-renouncing
Constitution and crafted legislation to allow Japan to play a greater
security role overseas, has long aspired to amend the supreme law.
Constitutional reform has also been a long-standing goal of his
Liberal Democratic Party.

The premier also said his government will strengthen measures to
combat the risk of terrorism at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and
Paralympics, including submitting to the Diet a bill criminalizing
conspiracy to commit terrorism.

The administration is framing the bill as a crucial part of
Japan's efforts to keep the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics safe
from terrorism, but opposition parties are expected to scrutinize the
measures over any possible infringement of human rights.

Similar initiatives to introduce what has been described as a
conspiracy charge have fallen flat in the past amid concerns the
provision could be used to crack down on civic groups and arbitrarily
punish people who have not committed any crime.

Abe also hailed the participation of Self-Defense Forces
personnel in an ongoing U.N. peacekeeping operation in restive South
Sudan. The latest cohort of Japanese peacekeepers has been assigned a
controversial new security duty -- under security legislation brought
in by the Abe administration.

"We must not be the only country to turn away from the reality
of the increasing severity of global challenges like terrorism,
refugee (displacement), poverty and infectious diseases," Abe said,
calling for Japan to contribute to world peace and prosperity under
the banner of "proactive pacifism."

On the economic front, Abe hailed his "Abenomics" economic
policy package -- based on aggressive monetary easing, hefty
government spending and structural reforms -- but said its work to
create a "virtuous cycle of growth and redistribution" is not yet
complete.

Abe said his administration will continue to push through
policies to achieve its target of raising the annual number of
visitors from overseas to 40 million by 2020.

As an example of structural reform, Abe described a plan to
submit to the Diet a bill to reform Japan's agriculture sector by
stripping privileges from a politically powerful farming lobby.
(Jan. 20)