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Abe vows to promote aggressive diplomacy, raise pressure on N. Korea

TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday pledged to promote “aggressive” diplomacy, including raising pressure on North Korea, in his first policy speech to parliament after being re-elected as leader this month.


While repeating his Liberal Democratic Party’s campaign pledges made in the run-up to the Oct. 22 lower house election, Abe, who doubles as the ruling party president, called for opposition parties to debate his long-cherished goal of a first-ever amendment to Japan’s pacifist Constitution.


“We have to make North Korea change its policies. To that end, we will further strengthen pressure on North Korea along with the international community,” Abe said during the 39-day special Diet session that runs through Dec. 9. He also vowed to beef up Japan’s defense capabilities, including in missile defense.


He started his new term as prime minister on Nov. 1 following the ruling bloc’s general election victory.


The prime minister gave a glowing review of U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Japan, saying it “demonstrated the solid bond of the Japan-U.S. alliance to the world.”


Referring to Trump’s meeting with families of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea decades ago, Abe reiterated his determination to resolve the issue.


“My mission will not end until the abduction victims step on Japanese soil again and embrace their families,” he said.


Abe also said he wants to deepen cooperation with neighboring China and South Korea by holding a trilateral summit involving Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae In “as soon as possible.”


But all is unlikely to be smooth sailing for prime minister with opposition parties set to grill him over allegations of favoritism, a scandal that hurt his popularity before the election campaign.


On Tuesday, education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi gave final approval for a veterinary school run by Abe’s close friend to open in a government-designated deregulated economic zone. Abe’s alleged role in the establishment of the school was at the root of the favoritism scandal.


The prime minister is scheduled to take questions from party representatives from next week, with opposition lawmakers set to interrogate him about whether the decision-making process was influenced.


Regarding the contentious issue of amending Japan’s supreme law, Abe briefly touched on the issue at the end of his speech, calling for constructive debate among ruling and opposition parties.


“I am sure that debate over a constitutional revision will advance as a result of efforts to gain collective wisdom and work out answers to difficult challenges,” he said.


The LDP has proposed discussions over amending the Constitution, which they envision means including explicit mention of the status of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces in its war-renouncing Article 9. In May, Abe called for debate on the issue to advance so that the amendment could come into force in 2020.


The general election gave the ruling LDP-Komeito party coalition and other pro-revision lawmakers the numbers they need in both Diet houses. A two-thirds majority is a required condition to formally propose a constitutional revision, which must then be approved by a majority of voters in a national referendum.


On the economic front, Abe expressed his determination to resolve the dual challenges of Japan’s aging population and falling birthrate to give Japan its best chance to escape the chronic deflation it has been experiencing.


The prime minister said Japan will review the way in which revenues from a planned consumption tax hike in October 2019 are used, and invest to help families with children.


He pledged to offer free preschool education for all children aged three to five and for those aged two or younger from low-income households by fiscal 2020.


Abe’s Friday speech was relatively short as he is expected to deliver another in two months during the upcoming ordinary Diet session scheduled to convene in January, according to a senior government official.

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