Japan PM Kishida vows focus on COVID-19 response, new capitalism

© Kyodo News

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday vowed to continue to take all necessary measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 while accelerating his push to create a "new capitalism."

In his New Year's address, Kishida also said he would step up summit diplomacy in 2022 and that constitutional reform would be a "major theme" of the year.

"I will further enhance prevention, testing and early treatment and reduce the risk that the novel coronavirus poses to society," Kishida said.

The government is seeking to speed up the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots with the community spread of the Omicron variant confirmed in some areas including Tokyo and Osaka. In such regions, free PCR and antigen tests are being provided

To support the pandemic-hit economy, parliament has passed a record 36 trillion yen ($313 billion) extra budget for the current fiscal year to March.

The COVID-19 response has taken priority but once the country wins the battle against the virus, the government will focus on policies to achieve growth and wealth distribution, he said.

"Pursuing economic sustainability by creating a virtuous cycle of growth and distribution is the kind of new capitalism that I am aiming for," he said, calling for further wage hikes and more investment in human resources by companies.

"I will realize more robust growth, countering intense challenges posed by an economic system operating under what can be described as state capitalism," Kishida said in what was seen as a reference to the Chinese economy.

In his first New Year address since becoming prime minister in October, Kishida said solid leadership is necessary to cope with the severity and complexity of international affairs.

He vowed to move ahead with what he has described as a diplomatic approach based on "realism for the new era," saying it consists of three pillars -- emphasizing universal values, engaging in efforts to resolve global challenges and "resolutely protecting" the lives and livelihoods of the people.

He has expressed hope to visit the United States for in-person talks with U.S. President Joe Biden, though no specific date has been set.

Kishida is seen as a moderate conservative in contrast to more hawkish members of his Liberal Democratic Party including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But he vowed to accelerate debate to achieve the party's goal of revising the pacifist Constitution, which was strongly pushed by Abe.

"I will strive to deepen debate in parliament and also spur discussion among the people of Japan," the 64-year-old prime minister said.