Press Conference, 24 October 2006
- Announcements and Documents Available on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Website
- Statement by Press Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mitsuo Sakaba on the Expansion of the Panama Canal
- Visit to Japan of the Right Hon. John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- Grant Aid to the Republic of El Salvador
- Visit by Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuhito Asano to the Kingdom of Thailand
- Questions concerning Economic Sanctions against North Korea
- Questions concerning the Visit to Japan by Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani
- Questions concerning the Plan of Protestors from Taiwan and Hong Kong to Land on the Senkaku Islands
Deputy Press Secretary Tomohiko Taniguchi: Good afternoon and thanks very much for coming. Let me begin today's conference by briefly introducing to you the titles of the items we have put on our website over the last couple of days. They are: Provision of Yen Loan to Iraq; Visit to Japan by Delegation of the Central Party School of the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China; Australia-Japan-US Counter-Terrorism Talks; Exchange of diplomatic notes for Entry into Force of the Japan-Belgium Social Security Agreement; and the International Conference on Sustainable Growth in the Asia-Pacific Region.
I am not going to tell you more on each one of those items; let me instead urge you to go take a look at them on the website.
II. Statement by Press Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mitsuo Sakaba on the Expansion of the Panama Canal
Mr. Taniguchi: In addition to that, I should introduce a new statement by the Press Secretary.
In the Republic of Panama they held a national referendum which, according to President Martin Torrijos, is giving an endorsement to the canal expansion program. The statement is to tell the people of Panama that the Government of Japan, both as one of the original planners of the expansion project and in representing the country that is the third-most-frequent user of the Canal, congratulates and welcomes the result of the referendum and hopes that the Government of Panama ensures transparency in the ensuing actual construction processes so that Japanese companies can possibly take part in the project.
III. Visit to Japan of the Right Hon. John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Mr. Taniguchi: Next, from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State The Right Honorable John Prescott, Member of Parliament, came to Tokyo on Sunday, 22 October and is due to leave soon today. Representing the Government of the United Kingdom, Mr. Prescott came to see Japan's new Prime Minister, Mr. Shinzo Abe. He also met Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki and Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso.
Mr. Taniguchi: As a new attempt for Japan's official development assistance, may I say that the Government of Japan has decided to support the Government of the Republic of El Salvador by extending a cultural grant aid of up to 38.7 million yen for their project for the improvement of sound and lighting equipment of the National Theater of San Miguel Francisco Gavidia.
Mr. Taniguchi: Lastly, there is another press release about Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuhito Asano going to the Kingdom of Thailand on the 24 and 25 October. This is going to be the first high-level visit from the Japanese Government to the nation after the tentative administration took shape in the country.
Q: I have a question on the status of economic sanctions against North Korea. I believe that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been meeting today to discuss how to implement the ban of all ships entering Japan and people traveling from North Korea to Japan. Can you explain what the current status is?
Mr. Taniguchi: In terms of the details of how to implement the sanctions, I have to say that I am not fully aware of the minute details of those programs. I do not think I need to remind you of the items that the Government of Japan is going to impose against North Korea as sanctions, but just in case, they are banning North Korean people from entering Japan, banning all North Korean ships from entering Japan's ports, and banning all North Korean goods from being exported to Japan. Those items have been discussed and decided by the Cabinet, and LDP members, according to news reports, are saying that in the upcoming Diet Session, the Diet has got to give an endorsement to those programs. Nonetheless, those programs are in their implementation stage, and officials concerned, I believe, will implement those programs accordingly and in an orderly fashion. That is probably as much as I can say at the moment to you.
Q: By the way, do you at this point regard North Korea's first nuclear test as confirmed, or is it still a "supposed first nuclear test?"
Mr. Taniguchi: It is still "supposedly" a first nuclear test, but I should say once again that that is not actually the point. The point is that here is a nation that openly admits that it has got the will and intention and capacity to build nuclear weapons, and here is a country that also openly admits that it does its utmost to build its missile technologies. We are looking at one of the most dangerous equations in the world, and that is the point. The international community, including Japan and others, has stood up against the very intention that the North Korean Government is presenting to the world.
Q: There were some reports in the media about a difference of interpretation in Japanese law between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defense Agency on how Japan can or would respond for any sort of interdiction operations under the UN resolution. According to the reports, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was taking a much more open interpretation that Japan could participate in these sort of operations, whereas the Defense Agency chief has been quoted that he does not believe that under the current conditions an emergency exists that would even allow rear operation support. Have you heard anything more about that, or has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued any sort of clarification as to where Japan stands on that?
Mr. Taniguchi: There has been no clarification or official interpretation made by the Government of Japan, because members of the Diet and politicians are still debating that very issue. It is very confusing, I admit, especially in the eyes of people who are not familiar with the law. It is a long-named law, the Law Concerning Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan in Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan. In order for Japan to do certain things that the law stipulates that the Government of Japan can do, the Cabinet has to first declare that it is a situation that has been regarded as part of the "dangerous situations." Only then is another law going to be activated accordingly, and that law stipulates what can be done and how it can be done in terms of inspection of cargo on the sea. The politicians that you referred to are discussing the very issue of the nuclear test, the imposition of sanctions by the international community, the passing of the UN Security Council Resolution, and whether those elements would suffice in order for the Government of Japan to call this a "situation" that is part of the situations stipulated by the law. That is basically how the issue stands, and I do not know to which direction the debate is actually heading
Q: So first there would have to be action declared by the Cabinet, and that has not happened?
Mr. Taniguchi: Not yet. If Cabinet declares that this is such a situation, then the Diet is supposed to discuss the decision of the Cabinet, and hopefully the Diet is going to give an endorsement to the Cabinet. The Cabinet has not declared anything about any situation, however.
Q: When was the last time that the Cabinet declared this law?
Mr. Taniguchi: If it does, it is going to be unprecedented. It is a law that passed in the Diet pretty recently, in the late 1990s.
Q: While the Government of Japan and other allies are trying to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1718, there seem to be some moves within the Government of Japan considering drawing up a new sanctions resolution under the UN in the event that North Korea conducts a second nuclear test. I was wondering if from the viewpoint of the Government of Japan 1718 is not enough in case the second nuclear test comes? How effective would the new sanctions resolution all together be?
Mr. Taniguchi: That some people are talking about the necessity of coming up with another package of sanctions does not automatically mean that 1718 and the resultant sanctions package of the Government of Japan is not sufficient. The Japanese package, I believe, still remains one of the more serious ones ever imposed by the countries of the world in the aftermath of the alleged nuclear test of North Korea. Certainly, the message has to be made clear by Japan and by other members of the Six-Party Talks in addition to the UN member countries that if indeed you are going to do a second nuclear test, you are going to face even harsher sanctions. That is the kind of message that I think Japan and others have to continue to send to Pyongyang so that the Pyongyang regime will not misread the intentions of the international community.
Setting that aside, what sort of things could Japan do in terms of strengthening the sanctions still further against North Korea in the event that North Korea will attempt to do another test? There may be some other things that the Government of Japan could do; let us say further restrictions on trade or further attempts on the financial area. But when it comes to exact details of what sort of sanctions they will be, I frankly cannot tell you what exactly they will be, and I do not really think that it would be good for the Government of Japan at present to be specific on those issues.
Q: If I could ask a question or two about Iraqi oil. I am a little bit confused over exactly what is new this week, but the Oil Minister of the Republic of Iraq is here, and apparently Japan has now announced that a portion of that US$3.5 billion commitment, which I believe it made in 2003, is going to go for loans for projects in the oil sector. Could you explain exactly what is new about what is being announced right now? Also, in light of the apparent setbacks with Azadegan and reports that Japan might not get the energy allocations out of Sakhalin, could you talk a little bit about how critical Iraq's oil is going to be for Japan's energy needs from here on out?
Mr. Taniguchi: The Japanese economy's dependence upon the Middle East region for its oil procurement has grown, not decreased, and in that sense the Middle East in general, countries like the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq, will remain very much important for the foreseeable future for Japan to continue to secure its oil. Very few other projects, even including Sakhalin projects, can replace the importance of the Middle East region as a primary source of energy for Japan's economy.
Seen from the Iraqi perspective, the prospect that Iraq can do more with countries like Japan in terms of its oil trade should give hope to the Iraqi people. At the end of the day, oil production makes up a huge amount of their economy, so if the Japanese Government can help to some degree the Iraqi people to regain their power as an oil producer, it would do a lot of good to the state of the economy in Iraq. This has got to be a win-win solution from both sides, Iraq and Japan.
You are asking, basically, how insecure the Japanese are feeling in light of some of the events that have occurred. I would say, not that much. At the end of the day, oil is one of the most frequently traded commodities, and you could swap Iranian oil with oil produced elsewhere. It is one of the most openly-traded commodities as well, and the Japanese economy has experienced at very few times any serious difficulties in continuing to secure oil. Certainly, the demand and supply situation is constantly changing, and with the emergence of many hugely populated, powerful economies such as China and the Republic of India, some in Japan are expressing that in the future in the long run there may be a difficulty for Japan's economy to procure oil as easily as it has continued to do, but that is a long-term projection. The Japanese Government has got nothing to do with that sort of private prediction.
At present, I believe there is very little difficulty, despite some of the events that you are pointing out, for Japan to procure oil. The first priority for Japan's energy security strategy, if I may say a little more about it, is to continue to maintain open, stable, and peaceful trade environment across the globe, because as an island nation which is also a huge economy, Japan has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of the open trade network, and the Government of Japan is committed, together with other nations such as the US and increasingly the Commonwealth of Australia, to providing and maintaining the open and stable trading network. That also benefits the Japanese economy per se, I believe.
Q: The Iraqi Oil Minister this morning told reporters that Iraq is ready to supply oil to Japan today, that they are all set to go. From your perspective, is there any reason that Japan is not yet receiving supplies from Iraq? They are producing 2.5 million barrels per day, which is at about the March 2003 level, and the goal is to get it up to 4.5 million by 2010. Have you heard as to when Japan can start to expect some sort of return for all of its investments?
Mr. Taniguchi: I do not think I am the right person to make a comment about this; frankly, I do not know anything about why Japanese companies have not started to import oil from Iraq. I could speculate, but I should not, because I have got a very scant knowledge about it.
VIII. Questions concerning the Plan of Protestors from Taiwan and Hong Kong to Land on the Senkaku Islands
Q: About protestors from Hong Kong and Taiwan planning to join and land on the Senkaku Islands, I believe that Japan is sending a message to take measures so that they will not land on the island. Can you explain what sort of measures are being decided on?
Mr. Taniguchi: There was a similar attempt a few years ago. A couple of people from mainland China made a landing on the Senkaku Islands, and they were arrested by the Japanese police. That will likely happen again if indeed those people succeed in landing despite the fact that they have been constantly told by the Japanese Coast Guard and others not to do so. We are making no fuss about it; we are going to just capture those people in a calm and orderly fashion.
Q: So there have been no diplomatic messages that have gone out to Beijing that they should rein in these people? There has been no diplomatic traffic about this from Tokyo?
Mr. Taniguchi: There is no need to, because the Senkaku Islands are not a matter of dispute between the two nations.
Q: But you have these deliberate attempts to come into Japanese territory by Chinese citizens, and obviously their Government is aware that they are making these trips.
Mr. Taniguchi: I believe the Chinese Government is fully aware of that, and one piece of the evidence that my counterpart, the Press Secretary of the Chinese Government said in answering questions from the floor at one of his press conferences of late was that the Japanese Government should deal with them in a calm fashion. In any event those people who are landing on the Senkaku Islands will be captured according to the Japanese law.
Q: I believe some years ago when there was a clash there, one man from Hong Kong actually drowned. If there is an accident of some sort, will the Japanese Coast Guard or Japanese authorities try to rescue those people?
Mr. Taniguchi: Certainly if it is a matter of life and death, it is the Coast Guard's proud occupation, I think, to give a helping hand to anyone.
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