(For more on Japanese politics click on [ID:nPOLJP])
* Japan PM vows to provide safety net for society’s weak
* PM underscores importance of Japan-U.S. ties (Adds opposition comments in paragraph 8-9)
By Isabel Reynolds
TOKYO, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged on Monday to consider ways to keep the country’s ballooning debt in control over the long term, while protecting the weak from harsh economic competition.
In his first speech to parliament as leader, Hatoyama also reaffirmed the importance of Japan’s alliance with Washington, after disagreement over U.S. military bases in Japan sparked concerns over ties last week. [ID:nT264763]
“Once we have decided what kind of public spending will protect the Japanese people’s livelihoods, we will consider from a long and broad viewpoint how to rebuild the country’s finances,” Hatoyama said in a speech repeatedly interrupted by cheers from his Democratic Party.
Hatoyama swept to victory in an August general election, toppling the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) with promises to reform Japan’s bureaucrat-led system of government and reallocate spending to improve individuals’ livelihoods.
He must now strike a delicate balance between spending enough to keep the economy from slipping back into recession and assuaging fears about Japan’s enormous public debt, which at almost 200 percent of GDP is the highest among developed nations.
“It is obvious that leaving everything to the market and pursuing market efficiency to the point where you sacrifice people’s livelihoods and only the strong survive will not work,” Hatoyama said, while acknowledging the benefits of market economics.
Hatoyama said there was no room to relax vigilance on the economy, adding that regional areas and small and medium-sized companies in particular were experiencing difficulty.
Sadakazu Tanigaki, head of the opposition LDP, said the premier’s speech lacked specifics and made a historical comparison to describe cheers from Hatoyama’s fellow lawmakers during the speech.
“I got the impression that the atmosphere in parliament was similar to the Hitler Youth agreeing to Hitler’s speech.”
Just over two weeks ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s first visit to Japan as leader, Hatoyama said he wanted to deepen and broaden ties between the two countries, which mark the 50th anniversary of their security alliance next year.
Last week, Japanese and U.S. officials publicly disagreed on how to deal with the repositioning of a U.S. Marine base on the southern island of Okinawa, which is key to a realignment of U.S. troops in Japan.
“The cornerstone is a close and equal relationship between Japan and the United States,” Hatoyama said of regional security. He added that he wanted to make the alliance a multi-layered one that could contribute to global issues such as the environment and nuclear non-proliferation.
The parliamentary session will be limited to 36 days, to allow the government time to formulate a new budget.
But it is likely to see Hatoyama face questions about funding irregularities that have attracted renewed media attention since he became premier.
Newspaper reports say money from the wealthy politician’s own fortune was disguised as donations from individuals, some of whom were later found to be dead.
“We must regain the people’s trust in politics,” Hatoyama said in his speech, calling for more transparency and apologising for the fuss his own funding issues had caused.