TOKYO, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- The Japanese Diet opened Monday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowing to tackle a number of issues facing the country, including the rapidly aging and shrinking population, as well as diplomatic issues that have hampered relations with South Korea.
In the policy speech marking the beginning of a regular parliamentary session, Abe, calling South Korea "the most important neighbor that essentially shares basic values and strategic interests," said that the strained ties must be addressed.
Japan and South Korea have been at odds over a wartime labor dispute that has spilled over into economic areas. A month after holding talks for the first time in 15 months with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Abe said that "future-oriented" ties need to be built.
On social security issues, the Japanese leader said the system needs to be overhauled, speaking to the demographic crisis facing the country, involving a rapidly-aging and shrinking population.
With the number of newborns at a record low and about one-third of the country's population aged 65 and older, the labor market has been steadily hollowing out while social security costs to cater to senior citizens have ballooned.
"I will promote social security and other bold reforms to reshape our country," the prime minister said.
Revenue from a consumption tax hike last October has been partly allocated to make better provisions for childcare support and to purportedly encourage female workers to return to work after giving birth.
The government is also planning to encourage seniors to stay in work longer, rely less on the pension system and contribute more to medical services.
Abe said that reforms put in place had helped the nation to overcome "the feeling of resignation" that had been prevalent in the country, adding that through such reforms including his own "Abenomics" policy mix, Japan had moved away from its economic doldrums, and that "Japan is not what it used to be."
The prime minister's remarks came despite Japan's dire fiscal health, the worst in the industrialized world, and the inability of the Bank of Japan (BOJ) and the Finance Ministry to effectively tackle deflation, which has mired the nation for decades.
The country remains well below its many-times-delayed 2-percent inflation target.
On the prime minister's legacy-led goal of amending Japan's pacifist Constitution for the first time since World War II, and with little progress having been made amid a staunchly opposed opposition camp as well as the general public, Abe called for lawmakers from all parties to step up debate on the controversial issue.
With the Olympic and Paralympic Games set to kick of in Tokyo this summer, Abe said the event would be a chance to showcase how far regional communities hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster had come, dubbing the worldwide sporting event as the "Recovery Games."
Abe also touched on Japan's relationship with the United States, in line with the government's stance that the Japan-U.S. security alliance remains the centerpiece of Tokyo's diplomatic program.
He said efforts would be made to ensure close relations between Tokyo and Washington.
Abe also said that on the basis of "deep trust" built between Japan and the United States, Japan would continue to try and reduce the U.S. base hosting burdens on the people of Okinawa.
Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, yet the tiny island accounts for just a fraction of Japan's total land mass.
For decades, locals in Okinawa have been the victims of U.S. base-linked accidents and mishaps, involving aircraft, as well as victims of air and noise pollution.
Okinawans themselves have also been forced to deal with numerous crimes committed by U.S. base-linked personnel, including instances of murder and rape.
Regarding tensions in the Middle East and the government ordering the dispatch of troops and hardware there for intelligence-gathering purposes, Abe said that he is "deeply worried" about the rising tensions there.