TOKYO -- Japan's former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic achievements at a party leadership debate on Friday, claiming his signature Abenomics policy had done little to benefit rural areas.
Ishiba is Abe's only challenger for the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party in an election scheduled for Sept. 20.
"Even though big companies and investors are getting more profits, this achievement has not spread to rural areas," said Ishiba. He pointed out that workers' incomes are very low, and said that labor must be rewarded.
"The countryside, small companies, agriculture, forestry and fisheries have potential. We have to make the most of it," he continued. Ishiba said there is a problem with a shortage of successors at small companies in rural areas, adding that matching systems are needed to bring together such companies and people living in cities who are willing to relocate.
The prime minister insisted Abenomics has produced results, such as improved employment rates and a declining number of corporate bankruptcies. He also emphasized that tax revenue has risen at both the central and local government levels.
On the subject of the large-scale monetary easing that forms part of Abenomics, the prime minister said it was never his intention to maintain the policy indefinitely. He said he was willing to move toward an exit strategy, but when pressed on the timing, he said the decision would be left to Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda.
Abe also reaffirmed his determination to carry out both constitutional and social security reform during the debate.
"I will take on the task of revising the constitution, a postwar challenge that has never been achieved, in order to open a new era," he said, while stressing a responsibility to instill pride in the country's Self-Defense Forces.