Press Conference, 15 December 2006
- Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Their Majesties' Visits to European Countries
- Press Release on a Statement Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Japan and Ireland
- Visit to Japan by King and Queen Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
- Official Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with the Principality of Monaco
- Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) Relations
- Visit to Japan by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulit of the Lao People's Democratic Republic
- Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Talks between Japan and the ROK
- Question concerning the Six-Party Talks
- Questions concerning the Budget for Official Development Assistance (ODA)
- Questions concerning Expectations for Diplomatic Relations in the Coming Year
- Follow-up questions concerning Japan-ROK Relations
I. Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress' Visits to European Countries
Deputy Press Secretary Tomohiko Taniguchi: Thank you for coming.
First, I am pleased to be introducing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's statement on Their Majesties' visits to European countries. The statement reads as follows:
"I am pleased to announce that Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress will pay an Official Visit to the Kingdom of Sweden, the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK).
Japan has had close and friendly relations with these countries. The Kingdom of Sweden and the UK have extended their invitations to Their Majesties to visit both countries at the occasion of the 300th birthday of Carl Linneaus, a prominent biologist. The Imperial Family has long enjoyed a cordial relationship with their respective Royal Families. Invitations have also been extended to Their Majesties to make their first visit to the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia, and the Republic of Lithuania, with which Japan sees the 15th anniversary of establishment of the new diplomatic relations this year.
I am convinced that, through the Visit, existing friendly relations with these countries will be further strengthened, for which I would like to share my immense pleasure with the people of Japan.
I would like to express my wholehearted wish for Their Majesties' pleasant journey and safe return home."
That being the Prime Minister's statement, Their Majesties, who are honorary members of the Linnean Society of London, will likely leave Tokyo on 21 May and be spending around 10 days traveling, subject to change.
II. Press Release on a Statement Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Japan and Ireland
Mr. Taniguchi: Secondly, there is a new press release about an issuance of a paper jointly signed by Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso and Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern of Ireland, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Ireland.
Mr. Taniguchi: Thirdly, yesterday we delivered a notice on the upcoming visit of King and Queen Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, who will be visiting Japan from 20-22 December. That will be the fifth visit to Japan as King of Jordan for His Majesty Abdullah II bin Al Hussein.
Mr. Taniguchi: Fourthly, the items issued yesterday also included a release on the official establishment of diplomatic relations with the Principality of Monaco. If this sounds new to you, Monaco had been until yesterday the only nation Japan recognized yet had no official diplomatic relations with.
Mr. Taniguchi: Fifth, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Mitoji Yabunaka will meet Deputy Minister for Trade Kim Jungun of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to have a two-day meeting on 18-19 December. The 5th Japan-ROK High Level Economic Consultation, which is how the meeting is called, will be a good opportunity for both Japan and the ROK to see how their respective economies are performing and trade policies being implemented, and how they can economically cooperate with an eye toward re-launching talks for a possible Japan-ROK Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
VI. Visit to Japan by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulit of the Lao People's Democratic Republic
Mr. Taniguchi: Sixth, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulit of the Lao People's Democratic Republic is now in Japan, and met Foreign Minister Aso last night. The Government of Japan has decided to extend a yen loan up to 500 million yen to help boost the World Bank-sponsored project called the Second Poverty Reduction Support Operation. Both Ministers exchanged notes for that last night.
Mr. Taniguchi: Lastly, there is going to be a meeting called Disarmament and Non-proliferation Talks between Japan and the ROK on 16 December in Seoul, ROK. From Tokyo, Mr. Takeshi Nakane, Head of the Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Science Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be joining to meet his counterpart Mr. Kang Kyung-hwa, Director-General of the International Organization Section for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the ROK Government. This will mark the sixth meeting of the continued disarmament and non-proliferation talks between the two nations, and the two of them will discuss a wide array of issues such as non-proliferation, chemical and biological weapons, and so on and so forth.
Q: The Six-Party Talks are going to be beginning on Monday, and I was wondering if Japan has heard anything from the People's Republic of China about any updates, like if there going to be an informal meeting tomorrow before the Six-Party Talks.
Mr. Taniguchi: I have nothing to say from my side at the moment
Q: Right now it is the budget season, and next week the Government is going to discuss the budget for next year. And there have been reports that official development assistance (ODA) will be decreased by 4%. I know that you cannot say the exact figure, but I was wondering, if it is going to be decreased by the 4%, last year it was by 3.4%, and it keeps on decreasing every year. How will this affect Ministry of Foreign Affairs policy? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs thinks of ODA as a key diplomatic tool, so how do you see the impact of this on Japan's diplomacy?
Mr. Taniguchi: I must say it would be very, "depressing" might be a strong word, but it would be to the detriment of Japanese foreign policy, because as you have correctly pointed out, ODA will remain one of the key tools with which Japan conducts its foreign policy and enhances the peace and stability of the world. The members of the Foreign Ministry are fully aware that the Government of Japan is running a huge budget deficit, and there have got to be all sorts of efforts to decrease the amount of fiscal budget deficit. As a Foreign Ministry operating within the framework of parliamentary democracy, we have to consider the challenge that we constantly face under the system of checks and balances. And yet exactly when nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, are suffering from tremendous human tragedies, and just when Japan is trying to reach out as much as possible to the places far afield, like countries of GUAM, i.e., Georgia, Ukraine, the Azerbaijani Republic, and the Republic of Moldova, it is very much regrettable if indeed the amount of ODA has got to be decreased yet again because of the budgetary constraints.
Q: With regard to the ODA, there has been criticism in the past that ODA is not being used wisely or is kind of wasteful, or at least that there is also some criticism that it is using taxpayers' money. How does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs react to that? How well aware is the Japanese public of the importance of ODA, and what kind of things does the Ministry plan to do in the coming months so that the Japanese people actually understand that this is a key diplomatic tool?
Mr. Taniguchi: I think that is a very good question, which members of the Ministry, up from the Minister for Foreign Affairs down to rank-and-file members, have always got to be prepared to answer. ODA is about money, and the amount of money involved is not small. It is always important for us within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be transparent, accountable, and ready to provide as detailed information as possible for public scrutiny. That said, may I say that nonetheless when it comes to the effort to make it transparent and accountable, I think we have come a considerable way from the past by publishing an annual report and by making it information-rich and by inviting individuals from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the like to inspect what is actually going on on the ground and in the field where the ODA is being conducted. There is no ultimate panacea to solve or brush away some of the doubts that the public may have, but precisely because it is difficult, I think it will continue to be very important for the Ministry to be as transparent as possible.
Q: I know it is quite early to ask for your assessment of Japan's diplomacy in the past year. What about for next year? What do you see as the main issues that Japan will be faced with in terms of diplomacy, especially in the East Asia region (Japan-China, Japan-ROK, Japan-North Korea)?
Mr. Taniguchi: Japan-North Korea relations, I am sure, will remain a huge challenge for Japan's diplomacy. It would be difficult to crack the barrier to get the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, convinced of how important it is for the nation to open up its country and to be more understanding of international concerns, including concerns from the Japanese perspective about abduction issues.
Secondly, when it comes to Japan-China relations, next year is going to be a very important year, because both nations are going to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two nations, and I gather the Government in Beijing is willing to celebrate this 35th year in a friendly fashion together with the Japanese people. People-to-people exchanges between Japan and China are proceeding, as evidenced by such programs as high school student exchange programs. To further cement the grassroots friendliness between China and Japan by successfully conducting the anniversary events would be part of the most important tasks for the Japan-China relationship for the next year.
Looking around a little farther afield, I think once again cementing the foundations of the East Asia Summit (EAS) will also remain important. If I can recall, we are having the Prime Minister of the Republic of India spending time in Tokyo, and he is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this afternoon. To strengthen dramatically the bilateral relationship with India will be part of the priority for Japan's diplomacy as well.
It is always importance to keep the US-Japan alliance in sound shape, and we have got to accelerate the base realignment as quickly as possible. Those would be the quick snapshots I can give you.
Q: So for next year, India-Japan relations will be somewhat more in focus, more than in the past years?
Mr. Taniguchi: Definitely. We are talking about increasing the number of direct flights, for instance, and talking of increasing the number of students coming from India to Japan, double and three times. A significant increase is very desirable.
Q: Where does that leave Japan-ASEAN ties, as well as Japan-Russia?
Mr. Taniguchi: Between Japan and the Russian Federation, I think, the territorial issue will remain, needless to say, among the most important challenges, but everyone acknowledges that it cannot be solved overnight. Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso said this morning that given the personal clout and political capital that President Vladimir Putin now enjoys in Russia, it may be opportune for both nations to sit together and think really hard about how to solve the territorial issue. No one can dispute that there has got to be a creative solution that will be acceptable for either party, Moscow or Tokyo. But beyond that, I have no idea what will happen.
Between ASEAN and Japan, economic relationships have been going along very steadily, and the Japanese business community is giving fresh eyes to nations such as the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, which looks increasingly hopeful as a location for production and as a country where a growing middle class is evolving. As was said in some of the speeches that Minister Aso has made recently, the surrounding part of the ASEAN nations, including the Kingdom of Cambodia and Laos, not just Viet Nam, would be the weakest link of the chain which is the ASEAN that is an epitome of a tremendous transition from rags to riches. These nations are thriving and trying hard to become a full-fledged part of some of their forerunners like the Kingdom of Thailand, Malaysia, the Republic of the Philippines, the Republic of Indonesia, and so on. The Japanese Government's priorities include giving hands to those nations to help them build their nations. That is an overall estimate of importance when it comes to bilateral relations such as those.
Q: You mentioned that Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso has expressed hope that during President Putin's term the solution would be resolved, or something to that effect. I was wondering if that is exactly the atmosphere within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
Mr. Taniguchi: I cannot say yes; Foreign Minister Aso has spoken from his personal judgment as a politician. As a shrewd, talented and seasoned politician, he may have his own views about President Putin, but there is no such thing as an official view about the easiness or difficulty for Japan to make a deal of any kind with Russia about territorial issues.
Q: There was a report that the ROK Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade might be visiting Japan by the year's end. Things have not yet been finalized, but in the event that he comes, what does Japan expect for Japan-ROK relations for next year? For next year, what is the outlook, especially with his scheduled coming?
Mr. Taniguchi: I do not think I can say anything other than what is pretty obvious. The ROK and Japan have to see many things from the same angle as two nations that share the same core values and economic system and so on. That would be the first thing that would be stressed if indeed the supposed visit takes place. About the bilateral relationship for the next year, 2007, the ROK and Japan have got to work closely together first and foremost to bring the North Korea issue into a soft-landing scenario by effectively continuing the Six-Party Talks framework. I think both of these nations, together with the US, will hold the key to making it happen. Apart from that, with regard to economic relationships and people-to-people relationships, I have absolutely no concerns.
Q: I suppose that since by next year former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Ban Ki-Moon will assume officially his post as UN Secretary General, Japan has expectations or hopes that the abduction issue will be dealt with more.
Mr. Taniguchi: It should be hoped that under the shrewd guidance of Mr. Ban Ki-Moon as Secretary General of the UN, the abduction issues, we hope, would be tackled in an even more serious fashion. As someone who has a firsthand knowledge about the situation in the peninsula, it is also to be hoped that North Korea issues will be discussed (under his guidance) in an even more effective way on the floor of the UN.
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