Japan election 2017

Shinzo Abe to discuss North Korea 'thoroughly' with Trump, Xi and Putin

VIDEO: REUTERS
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) said on Monday (Oct 23) he would discuss North Korea "thoroughly" with US President Donald Trump when he visits next month (November).
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) said on Monday (Oct 23) he would discuss North Korea "thoroughly" with US President Donald Trump when he visits next month (November).PHOTOS: AFP

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who won a strong election mandate, told a news conference on Monday (Oct 23) that he will discuss North Korea "thoroughly" with world leaders in meetings next month.

Speaking to reporters in a televised conference at his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headquarters, Mr Abe said he will reaffirm with United States President Donald Trump their countries' strategy of "strong diplomacy" to deal with the belligerent North, during Mr Trump's visit to Tokyo on Nov 5.

This would involve tightening the noose against North Korea through sanctions to make it give up its ballistic missile and nuclear development programme.

Mr Abe reiterated on Monday: "To deal with North Korea, we must work together with the international community to collectively strengthen pressure."

Mr Abe, who is also due to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meeting in Vietnam from Nov 11 to 12, said that he looks forward to discussing North Korea with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In the half-hour conference, Mr Abe repeatedly stressed that the LDP will "very humbly" regard its huge electoral mandate, and work towards fulfilling its election promises one by one.

The LDP and its coalition partner Komeito together won 313 out of 465 seats, and now control more than two-thirds of Parliament's lower chamber.

The largest opposition party in the chamber is the left-leaning Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), which clinched 55 seats, while the right-leaning opposition Kibo no To (Party of Hope) won 50 seats.

This means Mr Abe's bloc has won the basic two-thirds threshold required for him to push through constitutional revision, which is a goal for the LDP since its founding in 1955.

The 70-year-old supreme law of the land, written by US forces after Japan's defeat in World War II, has a war-renouncing Article 9.

Mr Abe intends to insert a clause to explicitly define the role of the military Self-Defence Force (SDF), but without giving up its exclusively pacifist stance.

Critics, however, are concerned that doing so would mark the start of a slippery slope towards a remilitarised Japan.

Mr Abe said on Monday that the ruling coalition will "work towards expanding an agreement beyond the coalition with opposition parties, and to win the understanding of members of the public".

While he has previously set a target to do so by 2020, he added that this was not cast in stone.

Constitutional revision in Japan will first need the support of two-thirds of the lawmakers in both the Lower and Upper chambers in the Diet, which the ruling coalition now has.

The proposed changes will then be put to a public referendum, where they will require a majority vote.

Mr Abe on Monday said the biggest challenge to his "Abenomics" economic policy is Japan's demographic crisis.

He said he will proceed with a slated tax hike in October 2019, to 10 per cent from eight per cent, with the additional revenue to be used for social security measures including free early childhood education.

"It is not just about slogans that are pleasing to the ear," he said, in a veiled reference to his ally-turned-foe Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, whose Kibo no To campaigned on a populist platform of achieving "12 zeroes" to rid Japan of hay fever, among others. "It is about humbly doing work and implementing policies."

Mr Abe is expected to announce a largely unchanged line-up to the Cabinet that he only put in place in August, as well as call a special Diet session next Wednesday (Nov 1).

When asked about lingering distrust against him, as he was implicated in two cronyism scandals, Mr Abe said: "I will politely work to win back trust and continue to face up to questions in the Diet."