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Japanese PM pledges to bolster economy, defense

Updated at: 10/15/2013 2:35 AM
By MARI YAMAGUCHI

(AP) TOKYO - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Tuesday to push forward with his plans to bolster Japan’s defense in the face of what he said was an increasingly insecure environment.

In a speech opening a new session of Parliament, Abe said he will establish a security council within his office that will be a diplomatic and defense command center, a move lawmakers are expected to approve during the 53-day session.

The ruling party also hopes to pass a companion bill protecting state secrets, legislation supporters say is necessary as Japan seeks greater cooperation with others in international security. Longer term, Abe wants to allow Japanese troops to fight when its allies are attacked _ a reversal from the stance of previous governments _ by reinterpreting the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan’s pacifist Constitution.

"As global inter-dependency deepens, Japan can no longer protect its own peace without actively fulfilling its responsibility to global peace and stability," Abe said in the speech. He said Japan should be proud to have been a pacifist state since the end of World War II, but it’s time to be realistic.

"We must act now in order to protect peace into the future," he said.

Critics say the state-secrets legislation may infringe on the constitutional right to know and free press and could further limit access to public information, for which Japan is already criticized.

Japan’s Parliament is returning from a recess that followed a sweeping upper house election victory by Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party in July. It gave his coalition bloc the majority in both houses, lowering hurdles for his government to pass key legislation. But some of the security bills may take time to pass as the party needs support from its pacifist-leaning coalition partner, New Komeito.

Abe also pledged to continue pushing reforms and economic measures to pull Japan out of its long period of deflation, while keeping control of government finances. Among them are measures aimed to offset the impact of a consumption tax increase in April to 8 percent from the current 5 percent.

Abe said regaining economic strength would help disaster reconstruction, especially in radiation-hit Fukushima, and promised to boost agricultural and fisheries exports. He said the government is doing its utmost to contain the radioactive water leaks from the wrecked nuclear plant and gave reassurances of the safety of produce from the area.

South Korea has banned fish imports from Japan’s northeastern coast, citing public worry and insufficient information from Tokyo. Japan calls the ban unscientific.

"I eat Fukushima rice at the prime minister’s office every day. It’s delicious," Abe said, urging consumers to do the same and "not to be confused by rumors."

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)