(* This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only. The original text is in Japanese.)
Press Conference by Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada
Date: Friday, January 22, 2010, 6:10 p.m.
Place: Briefing Room, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Opening Statements
- (1) Ministerial Conference on Haiti
- (2) A Letter on Nuclear Policy from Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
- Aid for the Haitian Earthquake Disaster
- A Letter on Nuclear Policy from Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
- The Issue of the Realignment of the US Forces in Japan
- Meeting for the Promotion of Economic Partnership Agreements and World Trade Organization Negotiations
1. Opening Statements
(1) Ministerial Conference on Haiti
I have two announcements today. The first one is about the earthquake in Haiti. It has been decided that State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Koichi Takemasa will attend the Ministerial Conference on Haiti, which will be held in Montreal on January 25. He will leave Japan on Sunday, January 24, and return on Wednesday, January 27. State Secretary Takemasa will explain Japan’s policy regarding aid to Haiti and hold an exchange of views regarding future aid to Haiti with 22 countries and related organizations participating in the conference. It is expected that this meeting will demonstrate the solidarity of the international community to Haiti, and accelerate early relief for the people affected by the disaster in Haiti and actions towards the swift reconstruction of Haiti. Japan will actively contribute to the success of the conference, and also to the relief and reconstruction of Haiti.
I assume you will have questions on this. We are currently considering new aid measures so that we may announce it at the conference.
(2) A Letter on Nuclear Policy from Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
Another announcement that I will make today is about the letter on nuclear policy that I sent to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on December 24 of last year. The content of the letter is just as you see; I wrote that I thought highly of the deterrence provided under the nuclear umbrella and that I supported “a world without nuclear weapons” and intended to cooperate in that respect. I am aware of various views on this, but some media outlets have reported that in the process of the compilation of a report by the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, Japan’s diplomatic authority had requested the United States to acquire low-yield nuclear earth penetrators and had opposed the retirement of the nuclear-tipped Tomahawk Land Attack Missile. As far as I understand, Japan’s diplomatic authority did not take such actions. In the letter, I made it clear that what was described in these reports is entirely different from what I seek, which is nuclear disarmament. Naturally, I wrote that I requested that an explanation be given on any impact that the retirement of the Tomahawk missile will have on expanded deterrence and I requested a separate explanation on ways to supplement the retirement of the missile. I also touched upon the announcement of a report compiled as a joint Japan-Australia initiative by the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. I stated that I had strong interest in the proposals in the report, including measures for all the nuclear-armed states to take – measures to limit the possession of nuclear weapons to only cases where the weapons are being used as tools for deterring the use of nuclear weapons – and recommendations to ban the use of nuclear weapons by the non-nuclear parties of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. While acknowledging that it may not be possible to carry the proposals out immediately, I wrote that I wished for the governments of Japan and the United States to deepen discussions on the possibility of reflecting them in current and future policy.
Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates have responded, but I will not disclose content of these responses in consideration of the relationships of trust I hold with them. I will just make it clear so as not to create any misunderstandings: both secretaries indicated no signs of disagreement with what I wrote in my letter.
2. Aid for the Haitian Earthquake Disaster
Question (Higashioka, Asahi Shimbun):
I would like to ask you a question in regard to Haiti, which you just talked about. You said that considerations are currently under way to announce new aid measures at a ministerial-level meeting. Could you tell us what extent of measures are being considered? Also, today, UN Under-Secretary-General Kiyotaka Akasaka pointed out that the amount of Japanese aid in response to UN appeals was very small. What are your thoughts regarding the notion that the amount offered was small?
Our announcement was made immediately after the earthquake occurred, at which point we needed to confirm the amount of funds available. I do not think that it is by any means a small amount. However, quite some time has passed since the earthquake occurred, and we are now considering within the government how we will take part in the recovery process as activities aimed more at recovery and reconstruction pick up. With regard to the content of aid, it has not been decided as of this moment, so I cannot say anything now.
Question (Igarashi, Asahi Shimbun):
I would also like to ask you about aid to Haiti. With regard to the dispatch of the first medical team, there has been a debate as to whether or not it was carried out in good time or not. There was a question about this from Diet Member Yuriko Koike in today’s Diet session as well, and you said that you “would like to verify this.” What kind of verification would you like to conduct within your ministry and the government going forward? Likewise, as she also mentioned in her question, do you intend to review such policies at the one which requires a prior request from the recipient government before aid can be carried out, and also the one which details rules for carrying weapons and other matters?
I would like to first conduct verification within my ministry. The dispatch of such emergency aid teams is conducted under the legal authority of my ministry – though of course other ministries and agencies are involved – so I intend to conduct verification within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As I said in the Diet session, I think that there are special circumstances to be considered here regarding the earthquake that occurred in Haiti, a country in which security is extremely poor, meaning that a large number of PKO forces are required for the capitol. I would very much like the people of Japan to understand that there were special circumstances. Countries such as the United States and China had the personnel and the framework to protect their dispatched teams already in place, but in Japan’s case, we did have such a framework already established, so the fact of the matter is that we had to carefully take in the actual situation there first, before doing anything else.
However, as I also mentioned at the Diet session, looking at the way in which the survey team went out first and then a day or two days later the main team did likewise, it may have been possible to send the main team out as soon as possible and have them stand by in Miami. In other words, dispatch could have been done on a provisional basis. In such a case, aid might have arrived a day or so sooner, such are my feelings. Today, Representative Koike also said that we should be doing such things, that it would not be a waste of taxpayers’ money. Of course it would depend on the occasion; I would like to thoroughly verify whether or not such a thing could have been possible, since there is the future to consider.
There is one other thing worth mentioning – we dispatched a medical team, but we did not dispatch a rescue team. This was a situation very different from that of, for example, the giant earthquake in Sichuan Province. Haiti is very far away and it takes time to get there, so I think that the possibility that we would have been able to rescue people was very low. I think that that was the reality. I think that we also must consider whether or not other options were available to us this time.
Question (Igarashi, Asahi Shimbun):
With regard to the policy under which aid requires prior request?
Here again, I think that sending aid on a provisional basis, at least sending personnel to nearby locations, could very well be considered.
Question (Saito, Kyodo News):
I understand the comment that you just made was strictly with regard to what could be done within the framework of the Japanese Constitution and laws as they are now configured, taking into consideration the current situation. However, the fact of the matter is that countries such as China and South Korea, not to mention the United States, are aggressively conducting activities through such means as dispatching greater PKO forces. The current situation is such that they can send PKO forces, but our country cannot, since domestic circumstances are different. I would like to ask whether or not the time has come now to review the relevant laws and rules including the five peacekeeping operation principles, taking this situation into consideration.
I am not aware of the details regarding whether or not the United States is sending its troops in the context of peacekeeping operations. At least with regard to the UN, whether or not it is sending troops after receiving official sanction is something I am not certain of at this moment. I assume that you have some sort of reason for asking about their status as PKO, whether or not, it is not the case that we set about reviewing the five PKO principles as a result of the current situation.
With regard to PKO review, I think that I have mentioned it before as a matter for future consideration. However, instead of doing something like overcoming all sorts of restrictions and sending anything and everything whenever there is a disaster, I think that we should calmly discuss whether or not there is a need to change the current five principles with regard to the ordinary dispatch of PKO forces after things have settled down a little.
Question (Kawasaki, Yomiuri):
I understand that Japan will be explaining its aid measures at the meeting in Montreal; will additional financial aid be included in that explanation? Specifically, as was put forth in a previous question, from the UN side there is a strong request for Japan to implement aid of an amount commensurate with its status as an economic power. Currently, Japan is providing 5 million dollars as an initial amount, but other countries are providing tens of millions of Euros, or 100 million dollars – the United States is providing that level of money. Taking that into consideration, it is not unthinkable that Japan will be adding much more, announcing additional aid. It may be the case that the amount is currently under consideration. What do you have in mind?
The matter is currently under consideration within the government, so I think that it is better not to express too much of my personal opinion. That said, it is my understanding that the current situation in Haiti is very serious.
Question (Beppu, NHK):
With related to aid for Haiti, with regard to your attendance at international conferences, there will be an Afghanistan donors’ conference in London, and the day before that a donors’ conference for Yemen next week, in addition to the conference on Haiti. Although Yemen is far away, it is a country that helped us when a Japanese citizen was kidnapped there recently. I hear that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be attending both conferences, so I think that the conferences will be opportunities for meeting a variety of people. Of course the Diet is in session, and there are long-standing rules and customs about this, but since, after all, there has been a change in government, could not changes be considered here and now with a view toward allowing you to attend these conferences? What kind of damage to Japanese diplomacy do you think there will be if this situation continues, even though this may not be a matter that can not easily be calculated in terms of money?
I have a strong sense of urgency about this. With regard to opportunities for G8 foreign ministers to get together, all the foreign ministers of the G8 except me gathered at the inauguration ceremonies of the President of Afghanistan. We sent State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Tetsuro Fukuyama. In that case, since I had already been to Afghanistan, I thought that the effect would be relatively limited, but I do think that it is important that the G8 foreign ministers get together often and discuss a wide range of issues, so from that point of view, it was regrettable.
This time, again, at the conference in London for the reconstruction of Afghanistan in particular, the main item on the agenda is security, but the other item is the social reintegration of former Taliban soldiers, a discussion issue which at the working level the United Kingdom and Japan have been exerting a substantial amount of leadership on. This being the situation, when the matter reaches the ministerial level, the fact that the Japanese Foreign Minister cannot go to meetings could place into doubt Japan’s position, when it has been at the forefront of undertakings concerning Afghanistan. It is highly regrettable from the point of view that I would like to be engaged fully in the discussions on the issue.
On the other hand, I do recognize the realities of the Diet. We have discussed the matter within the administration, and I think that facilitating matters in the Diet brings with it certain unavoidable aspects. It is not the case that I have taken this matter specifically up to the opposition parties through our Diet affairs people and been rejected – I do not want you to misunderstand – but since I think that the opposition parties that were formerly the ruling parties until recently well understand the importance of the matter, I would be very much gratified if they would be a little more amenable to discussions regarding this matter in the future. I am not putting such a matter to the opposition parties right now, but I do want to make such a request in all sincerity on truly critical occasions.
Question (Kaminishikawa, Kyodo News):
I would like to ask an additional question related to your attendance at international conferences. When I cover international conferences, I suspect that the fact that the Foreign Minister of Japan is not in attendance has a negative impact on the ability of Japan to project itself. I think that this is a matter for Diet affairs people to take up as well. I feel that nothing will move forward if the parties in power and opposition simply switch sides and begin making the same arguments the other side has been making for years. Do you have anything in mind with regard to what should be done to enable you to actually attend more international conferences?
It is not the case that, when we were in the opposition, we always demanded attendance, and tied ministers down to the Diet. In my experience, it differs from committee to committee, but I think that there were occasions when we were flexible in our considerations. However, what is very difficult here is that it tends to wind up becoming the kind of negotiation where we say, “We will let him go, so add a few more days to the committee schedule,” in which case the ruling parties say no, and it is very difficult to find a way to reach a fundamental solution to this problem. There might not be a fundamental solution to the problem unless a situation is created in which answers by senior vice ministers to questions in the Diet becomes a normal matter. Until then, perhaps I will go and ask with all sincerity when it is absolutely critical – that is what I think.
3. A Letter on Nuclear Policy from Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
Question (Noguchi, Mainichi Shimbun):
I have a question about the letter you sent to US Secretary of State Clinton. What was your intention of sending the letter in December? You said that your understanding was that, on the contrary to some media reports, there was no action on the part of Japan’s diplomatic authority to request the United States not to reduce nuclear weapons. How can you be so sure when these media reports are about an event that might have happened when the government was led by the Liberal Democratic Party?
One of the reasons why I decided to write the letter was because of a report by a Japanese media outlet on the issue of the Tomahawk missile and low-yield nuclear earth penetrators. I investigated into the matter to see whether or not such a request was in fact made, and came to understand that there was no such request made. However, some people, both in Japan and abroad, point out that those who want to maintain the current nuclear situation by all means are exploiting Japan’s stance of seeking expanded deterrence. Therefore, taking this into consideration, I decided to write the letter, in spite of the result of my investigation.
Question (Ukai, Asahi Shimbun):
Normally, letters of this kind are not made public. Why did you make the letter public? In your letter, you state that dependence on expanded deterrence and the goal of nuclear abolition are not mutually exclusive. This argument is difficult to understand. Could you please provide us with further explanations as to why you think the two issues are not mutually exclusive? If we are talking about normal circumstances, being dependent on nuclear weapons and seeking to reduce these weapons seems to be two mutually exclusive actions. Why do you think they are not mutually exclusive?
I decided to make the letter public because I thought that this would better clear things up given that some media outlets had already been informed of the content of the letter. You may think that this is an information disclosure. Although it is no easy task to achieve a balance between expanded deterrence and “a world without nuclear weapons,” they are not completely mutually exclusive. The current situation of nuclear weapons indicates an excessive amount of nuclear weapons capable of destroying humankind many times. I think a reduction of nuclear weapons and expanded deterrence are both achievable, and inclusive issues. The advancement of nuclear disarmament will work to limit the amount of nuclear weapons, which in turn will create various discussion, but we are not at that stage yet and I believe both are achievable and inclusive. However, this is not something for Japan alone to decide, but something that requires substantial discussion between Japan and the United States; that is why I concluded the letter, after describing my views, with the wish to thoroughly consult with each other on this matter.
Question (Noguchi, Mainichi Shimbun):
Please tell us why you sent the letter at the end of the year in December.
As I explained earlier, I investigated into the matter within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in response to the Japanese newspaper article and decided to write the letter. I sent the letter in December because I believed that the sooner would be the better given the progress made during Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).
Question (Nishino, Kyodo News):
I believe it was my company, Kyodo News, which made that report.
I am sorry. It was Kyodo News and Fuji Television.
Question (Nishino, Kyodo News):
I am very disappointed to hear that there was no such request. Our report was based on solid information obtained by interviews. It was a well-grounded report. I appreciate your understanding of this.
That said, I would like to ask you a question. This letter seems to illustrate very clearly the issues facing Japan’s future nuclear policy. Do you think the letter will serve as the starting point or the basic stance for nuclear policy?
It may be too much to say that the letter will serve as a starting point because I did not touch upon specific matters in detail in the letter. I think, however, that you will understand my basic stance if you read the letter. The upcoming year will be an extremely important year for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. With the speech delivered by President of the United States Barack Obama in Prague serving as the starting point, we will have a Nuclear Security Summit in April and a NPT Review Conference in May. I want to steadily and clearly move the issue of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation forward this year. The issue of nuclear disarmament was scarcely discussed up until a few years ago, during the Bush Administration’s advancement of nuclear proliferation. The proliferation trend has turned around now and I want to facilitate greater change. It was with this wish in mind that I have been bringing up the issue of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation in most of the meetings with my counterparts, including the recent meeting with the German Foreign Minister. The issues of climate change in light of COP16, and nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, are the two major themes I want to tackle this year.
Question (Yamauchi, Nikkei):
My question is about NPR that the US government is currently formulating, rather than about the letter. You once made remarks on the No-First Use (NFU) policy of nuclear weapons before you assumed the post of Minister for Foreign Affairs. You stated that it was particularly important for Japan to urge the United States to declare an NFU policy. Various discussions are taking place in the United States as to whether or not this policy should be incorporated in NPR, which is currently being formulated. Is it correct to assume that your position remains unchanged?
I have expressed my views a number of times during press conferences. The NFU policy of nuclear weapons is a future issue. There are two realistic steps that I think should be taken to realize the policy. The first step is to give Negative Security Assurance (NSA); that is, to ban the use of nuclear weapons against the non-nuclear parties of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This is written in the last page of the letter. The second step is to urge all the nuclear-armed states to limit the purpose for which they possess nuclear weapons to only the deterrence of the use of nuclear weapons. These are the two concrete steps I wish to pursue. I would like to discuss these steps, which are not easy to realize, in various fora, including Japan-US and Japan-Australia talks.
Question (Ukai, Asahi Shimbun):
You indicated your wish to advance discussions between Japan and the United States. If I remember correctly, Japan and the United States agreed at the end of the previous government to hold discussions on expanded deterrence within 2+2 talks at a director-general level. Do you intend to use this framework, or do you plan to establish a new framework for talks?
Discussions have already taken place at various levels. While the US side has reservations about some items and is waiting for NPR results, Japan and the United States are nevertheless discussing nuclear issues at various levels, including measures to be incorporated in NPR.
Question (Kaminishigawara, Kyodo News):
You conveyed to Secretary of State Clinton similar thoughts to those expressed in the letter when you had a meeting with her at the beginning of this year. You said that Secretary of State Clinton’s impression of Japan opposing US efforts to realize “a world without nuclear weapons” was not correct. It seems that you were very conscious of NPR when you made that remarks. What is your view on the significance or importance of NPR?
You said that I was conscious of NPR. I wrote the letter because I believed that if Japan’s message had been conveyed to the United States inaccurately, the misunderstanding should be corrected. I will not elaborate on what was discussed during the Japan-US Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, but that was my stance. NPR is important because it will determine, if not entirely, the direction of US nuclear policy. Of course, we must face reality head-on. At the same time, I am paying a close attention to how we maintain a balance or draw a line between reality and the ideal of realizing the “world without nuclear weapons” which President Obama has advocated.
Question (Yamamoto, Nikkei):
Earlier you said that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation will be major themes this year. An international conference, which could also be described as an Asian Nuclear Security Summit, was held in Tokyo today and yesterday. What kind of message, assistance, or cooperation will Japan announce to the world leading up to the Nuclear Security Summit to be held in April of this year?
We are discussing various steps now and, as such, there is nothing in particular that I can announce at this moment.
4. The Issue of the Realignment of the US Forces in Japan
Question (Takimoto, Ryukyu Shimpo):
The fourth meeting of the Verification Committee on the Issue of the Okinawa Bases was held yesterday, and one of the things the committee discussed was the possibility of making an official inspection tour of Guam. State of Secretary for Foreign Affairs Koichi Takemasa has also said that he would like to discuss Guam. I would like to ask about the how coordination activities are proceeding for the trip of the entire verification committee to Guam.
This is an issue which depends on the Unites States. How the US government reacts and whether they allow the committee to go will really determine whether the trip happens or not. Therefore, at this moment in time I cannot confirm anything on this matter.
Question (Shinbori, TV Asahi):
Regarding the timeframe in which a decision about the relocation of Futenma must be reached, yesterday, citing a difference in their understanding of the concept of the issue, Prime Minister Hatoyama once again told Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano that “an agreement must be reached between Japan and the United States by the end of May.” What is your opinion on this? Also, have you said anything to the Chief Cabinet Secretary regarding the timeframe for a decision?
The Prime Minister repeated this today at the Diet, and I believe this to be the opinion of the entire government. This is an extremely delicate issue. The Prime Minister’s statement was the result of an exchange of opinions among the Prime Minister, the Chief Cabinet Secretary and me on issues such as by when things should be done and exactly what will be done by the end of May.
Question (Kaminishigawara, Kyodo News):
The mayoral election in Nago is about to open, and while I think it may be difficult to comment on the election itself, in relation to the relocation of Futenma Air Station, this will be the fifth time since 1997 that there has been a municipal vote, and it seems that the pattern of the public’s vote continues to go along the same line as it has in the past. In terms of the security of Japan, what are your thoughts on this situation, in which we have a policy continuing on for more than ten years which has divided the municipal people into two.
I also spoke on this when I visited Okinawa. I feel very sorry for the people of Nago. Putting aside the fact that this is something the national government should make a decision on, I feel sorry that we have reached a point where the election approaches in Nago and a decision has not been made.
Question (Nezu, NHK):
I think that the election this time in Nago is being carefully watched by the United States, and that possibly this is something the country cares about greatly. Are you thinking about making a report to the United States once the results of the election have been announced?
Since we are talking about a free and fair election, I do not think that I will be explaining anything or making any comments to the US side on this matter.
Question (Takimoto, Ryukyu Shimpo):
About the verification committee’s inspection, has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs worked out anything with the United States about the verification committee visiting Guam? Even taking Guam and taking Futenma as two separate issues, we still have a situation in which the Japanese government is giving financial support for the transfer of 8,000 US Marines to Guam. Since the government is giving financing for the building of facilities, the government should be monitoring how the money is used, and this should include an inspection of the situation in Guam. However, up to this point we have seen developments such as the those in the Social Democratic Party not being able to find the time to go and other times in which the US government refused to grant access to any visitors. We may well be approaching a situation in which no one is able to go for an inspection of the situation in Guam. What do you think of this?
Right after this I will be hearing a report from State of Secretary for Foreign Affairs Takemasa on the situation at yesterday’s meeting of the verification committee. As I have not yet ascertained the situation, I do not have anything in particular to say about this right now. Accordingly, I am also unaware of the situation within the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. My general opinion on these kinds of issues is that when deciding whether or not facility inspections will be carried out we should respect the conditions of the accepting side. The implementation of inspections is dependant on whether or not the accepting side says that such inspection is possible.
Question (Takimoto, Ryukyu Shimpo):
Regarding the locations being discussed by the verification committee, in a New Year’s interview with the Ryukyu Shimpo, in the context of discussing the verification of new locations, you stated that “this is something which should without a doubt be verified by the Ministry of Defense, but I would also like the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to look into this.” How is verification proceeding within the Ministry for Foreign Affairs?
The verification committee is operating under the direction of the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Takemasa is participating in it. I am not in a position to comment on the status of deliberations. Committee members are approaching debate on a “zero base” which is free of preconceptions.
5. Meeting for the Promotion of Economic Partnership Agreements and World Trade Organization Negotiations
Question (Ishikawa, Yomiuri Shimbun):
I would like to ask a question about the meeting for the promotion of economic partnership agreements (EPAs) and World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations. I think that a meeting was held this morning, and in the past I believe that you have stated that you would like to further EPAs with the EU in particular. Including what went on in today’s meeting, at this stage, what countries and regions are being discussed? I think that the conclusion of an EPA requires cross-ministerial cooperation, so I would also like to know how linkages and communications are proceeding with other ministers.
A meeting of the relevant ministries was indeed opened today. Except for the Minister of Finance, who sent the Senior Vice Minister of Finance, all the four ministers who have been attending these meetings, in other words, myself, the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, were in attendance. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare also came to the meeting and participated in discussion. We discussed Peru, and then Australia, South Korea and the EU. It was a fairly lively debate in which we discussed the progress with each country and what problems there are. I want the agreement with Peru to be thought of as being as important as the agreements Japan has with Mexico and Chile, and I have requested cooperation on this from the beginning from the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. What the other four ministries have come up with so far is not necessarily acceptable for me, and so I requested that those ministries work at a higher political-level on the agreement. Regarding Australia, particularly on agricultural goods it might be said that we are having problems, and Australia is resolute on this issue. I firmly stated that I want an effort to be made on this issue. There was a summit meeting with India at the end of last year, where there was a certain exchange of opinion, and consequently things are accelerating. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare primarily attended to discuss the EU. The major issue with the EU is its demands regarding medical equipment. We discussed whether we could not possibly develop shared standards. I believe that this meeting helped us to take a real step forward as we were able to concretely discuss issues on a ministerial-level.
Question (Igarashi, Asahi Shimbun):
I have heard that in the Japan-Indonesia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, the Indonesian Foreign Minister requested that something be done to improve the situation regarding the test for the program through which nurses from Indonesia visit Japan. In response you stated that you wished to improve it in any way possible. What is the current status of discussion on this matter within the government?
The Indonesian Foreign Minister said that the Chinese characters used on the test are too difficult. I did not respond directly to this point, but obviously there is a problem regarding Japanese proficiency, and in order to fix this we must create solid opportunities for the study of Japanese. Although the program is being called training, doing a job, studying for tests, and then furthermore studying Japanese all at once is actually quite difficult. We need to think about this a little bit more, given the potential of the nurses we receive. The nurses that come to Japan are those who are extremely well regarded in their home country, and to have them come to Japan to all-out fail a test is not desirable. On a working-level, there is discussion being carried out on this among the various ministries and agencies about how to improve the program, and I think that this is a problem that at some stage will require a parliament-level debate.
Question (Ishikawa, Yomiuri):
There are certain EPA negotiations which have not progressed up until now, and it is being said that this is because of strong opposition on the part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. I think that the politician-centered leadership that has been promoted since the change in administration has the power to further negotiations. Do you think that politician-led leadership can break the barrier that has been put up by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries?
I do not think that we should label the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries alone as the villain here. The government has, after all, a unilateral responsibility to small-scale farmers, and this is really the cause of the problem. And it is because of this responsibility that we must think of income security systems and other alternative solutions. Problems like this are not just the result of those involved with them, there are a variety of structures in place – things like amakudari (the practice of placing civil servants into related organizations after their retirement from public office) and other problems connected to this. And when you have things like this which are blocking progress – and I just mean in general, I am not talking about the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in particular here – I think that getting rid of these things through politician-led leadership should indeed allow things to move forward.
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