Japan's deputy prime minister Taro Aso tells US audience: Our airline crews won't beat you

Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso at a news conference after a US-Japan economic dialogue in Tokyo on April 18.
Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso at a news conference after a US-Japan economic dialogue in Tokyo on April 18.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - According to Japan's deputy prime minister, Japan has a lot to offer America: Its people are "graceful" even amid hardship, worker morale is high, and you never have to worry about getting dragged off a plane like the passenger in the United Airlines debacle.

"Our social fabric has not been torn apart," Taro Aso said in a speech at Columbia University on Wednesday evening (April 19). Japanese people endured an economic slump, stayed calm and "the sense of pride among workers is still intact" he said, adding "airline crew will not beat you," according to the text of the speech distributed to reporters at the event.

Aso used the wide-ranging speech to extol the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as advocate the progress Japan has made in the labour participation rate for women and corporate governance.

Japan's high quality and affordable taxi services also got a mention, with Aso commenting that they makes businesses like Uber unnecessary.

Aso, 76, who hosted Vice President Mike Pence in Tokyo this week for a bilateral economic dialogue, is in the US for spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and talks with his G-20 counterparts.

His comment on the airline crew was an apparent reference to an April 9 incident in which a passenger was forcibly removed from a United plane. The airline faced widespread criticism on social media and has apologised. The passenger was injured and his lawyer has indicated a lawsuit is likely.

Aso, himself a one-time premier who currently oversees the finance and banking ministries, has been known for blunt comments and the occasional verbal gaffe.

Last year he called securities workers shady characters and he once asked why old people were worried about making ends meet given they won't be around much longer, according to local media. On another occasion, Aso said the government could learn ways to change the constitution from the Nazis, a remark which caused a furore and was later retracted.

Aso also used his speech at Columbia to highlight his concern about the toll Japan's ageing population has taken on public finances, which he said was some of the "bad news" for the outlook of an economy with one of the oldest populations.

Aso said he disagrees with the notion that Japan has been through a period of "lost decades." He told the New York audience that Japan has undergone a "revolution" of sorts during recent decades, making gains with a female labour participation rate that eclipsed that of the US in 2015. Companies have also made strides with their efforts to increase shareholder return policies, he said.

On a personal note, Aso said he misses some of the Japan of old, but welcomes companies focusing their energies on corporate governance rather than wining and dining.

"It is no wonder that in Ginza, the posh night-life district, you now see fewer chauffeur driven cars, and more and more coaches filled with Chinese shoppers," Aso said. "Do I miss the Ginza of days gone by? Of course I do."