Japanese PM Kishida says addressing falling birthrate top priority

Japan's Prime Minister Kishida Fumio says addressing the country's falling birthrate will be a top priority for the government.

He made the comment on Monday during his policy speech on the first day of the Diet's ordinary session.

Kishida said births in Japan last year are estimated to be under 800,000. He said the government will try to implement unprecedented countermeasures to boost the number of births. He said he intends to devise steps and seek stable financial sources to achieve the goal.

The prime minister said Japan is at a critical juncture, 77 years after the end of World War Two. He said the country must break away from established past practices and create a society, economy and international orders that are suitable for a new era.

Kishida also stressed the need to bolster Japan's defense capabilities. He said the government will secure a defense budget of 43 trillion yen, or more than 330 billion dollars, over five years. He indicated that about a quarter of the increased funds will be raised through tax hikes.

He also said the government will deal with rising prices. He said the government will make efforts to increase wages, including trying to accelerate reform of the labor market by reviewing the seniority-based wage system. Kishida also mentioned support for people who want to change their employment status from non-permanent to permanent, and support for reskilling.

Commenting on how Japan will ensure it has stable energy supplies, Kishida said the government will promote the construction of next-generation reactors at nuclear power plants and extend the operations of nuclear reactors.

Kishida also said the government will mull reclassifying the coronavirus and moving it into the same category as the seasonal flu this spring.

Kishida also spoke about diplomacy and national security. He said Japan will work with the other G7 countries to respond to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and other global issues ahead of the group's May summit in Hiroshima, western Japan. He also expressed his determination to take measures to realize a world without nuclear arms.

Kishida also referred to the resignations of some Cabinet ministers last year over political funds scandals and ties to the religious group widely known as the Unification Church. He said he took the resignations seriously, and said he will try to prevent a recurrence of the conduct that led to the scandals.