Sat, Jan 02, 2010 - Page 11 News List

Hatoyama says focus to be on economy

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Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, whose approval rating has fallen by a third since a landslide election victory in August, said his focus for this year will be to create jobs and fight deflation to revive Japan’s stuttering economy.

“Our honeymoon period is over,” Hatoyama said in a New Year statement released yesterday. “I’d welcome severe criticism.”

Hatoyama’s tenure has been dogged by deteriorating ties with the US, whose troops help defend Japan, and Cabinet bickering over spending priorities for a government laden with the world’s largest public debt. His personal reputation was tarnished last month when two former aides were charged with falsifying his campaign finances and he was forced to pay about ¥600 million (US$6.5 million) in gift taxes.

Japan unveiled a record US$1 trillion budget on Dec. 25 designed to lift the spending power of households and switch the economic focus from public works spending. The extra yield on 30-year government bonds compared with two-year notes is trading at close to a four-year high, reflecting concern the administration may struggle to contain a debt load that is approaching 200 percent of GDP.

“I’ll devote myself to enacting an extra budget and next fiscal year’s budget speedily,” Hatoyama said. “Economic recovery, securing jobs and defeating deflation are the people’s urgent hopes.”

Japan’s jobless rate rose for the first time in four months in November to 5.2 percent and consumer prices fell for a ninth month. A government report on Dec. 28 showed that monthly wages slumped for the 18th straight time.

Hatoyama’s Cabinet had an approval rating of 50 percent in a Nikkei newspaper survey published on Monday, down from 75 percent in September. The Dec. 25-Dec. 27 Nikkei Inc and TV Tokyo Corp poll canvassed 1,597 households.

Meanwhile, Singapore’s economy is improving after a “volatile” year that saw it shrink for the first time since 2001, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) said.

GDP fell 2.1 percent last year, Lee, 57, said in his New Year message on Thursday. That’s in line with the government estimate for a contraction of 2 percent to 2.5 percent. The trade ministry forecasts the economy will expand 3 percent to 5 percent this year, an estimate reiterated by Lee.

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