(* 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 Seiji Maehara

Date: Wednesday, November 24, 2010, 4:50 p.m.
Place: MOFA Press Conference Room

Main topics:

  1. Opening Remarks
    • (1) North Korean Situation
    • (2) Visit to Australia
  2. North Korean Situation

1. Opening Remarks

(1) North Korean Situation

Minister Maehara: My opening remark is about the shelling against South Korea by North Korea that occurred yesterday.
   Earlier, we convened a meeting of the Emergency Headquarters in the operation room of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and along with sharing the latest information, we held discussions on how to deal with this matter in the future. Since I think you are aware of the developments that have taken place since yesterday, I would like to explain today’s developments. During the Cabinet meeting today, it was decided to set up the government’s headquarters, and at 11 a.m., we convened a meeting of the headquarters with Prime Minister Kan serving as the chief of the headquarters. Prior to that, I talked over the telephone with South Korean Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Sung-hwan for about 25 minutes starting at 10:25 a.m. At the time, it was not known yet that there were civilian casualties, so I prayed for the repose of two soldiers who had lost their lives and expressed heartfelt condolences to them and sympathy to the families of the victims, and for those injured, I expressed my hopes for an early recovery. In addition, on behalf of the Japanese people, I stated that the Government of Japan strongly supports the people of South Korea and strongly condemns North Korea over its indiscriminate shelling of an island where unprotected civilians live – an act that is impermissible and forbidden. Minister Kim and I also talked about conducting closer coordination among Japan, South Korea, and United States in the future, including those at the United Nations. We also agreed to speak over the telephone or meet and hold talks as necessary. Additionally, I think that it was around 3:30 p.m., but I had Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua come to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to exchange views. I conveyed to him Japan’s position that we strongly condemn North Korea and support South Korea’s position and asked him about China’s official position beyond what has been reported in the media. He told me that China does not want the situation to worsen any further and hopes for peace on the Korean Peninsula. In any case, I stated that China has a substantial role to play, as it is a country with strong influence over North Korea, and we confirmed that as neighboring countries, Japan and China should cooperate to prevent this issue from escalating and work together on efforts to calm down the situation. We made our very first requests for telephone conversations with the United States along with South Korea, but due to the time difference between Japan and the United States, I have not been able to talk with Secretary of State Clinton. We are currently coordinating our schedules so that we can hold talks tonight or tomorrow morning.
   In any case, I received instructions from Prime Minister Kan. His instructions were as follows: “Continue to gather conduct information on relevant developments; coordinate closely with South Korea, the United States, and others to deal with the situation; and take all possible measures to ensure the safety and security of the Japanese people, such as preparing also for unforeseen contingencies.” These were the instructions he gave, and since some of them have a lot to do with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we intend to deal with the situation with a sense of urgency in the coming days with regard to what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can do, such as coordination with various countries, information gathering, and providing safety-related information to travelers.

(2) Visit to Australia

Minister: I went to Australia yesterday on a three-day trip with no stay-over. While I held a press conference there, I would like to report on my Australian visit to you all once again.
   There were a number of objectives in my latest visit. The first was that at our recent Cabinet meeting, we formulated a “basic policy on comprehensive economic partnerships.” This consisted of three pillars. One of the major objectives was to promote and achieve an early conclusion of EPAs and FTAs on which bilateral negotiations are currently being conducted and to which Australia applies. The second pillar of my economic diplomacy – while the first was a free trade system that I just mentioned – was resource diplomacy, energy diplomacy, and food diplomacy. We also made a confirmation regarding a long-term, stable supply of rare earths,
   The third was that as Japan and Australia have been conducting 2+2 meetings following a similar arrangement between Japan and the United States, and deliberations are being conducted in the Diet on the ACSA, or the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, we are currently exchanging such information and further promoting an agreement on information cecurity. Additionally, just as I was speaking with Australian Foreign Minister Rudd, I received an e-mail from my secretary on the first report concerning the latest incident of shelling of South Korea by North Korea, so I conveyed this report to my counterpart, and we confirmed that as two major countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan and Australia would cooperate by thoroughly sharing information on regional issues such as this.

2. North Korean Situation

Iwakami, Freelance: With regard to the latest shelling incident, how have you currently analyzed where North Korea’s true intentions lie? Please also tell us your view whether this latest situation corresponds to the situation in areas surrounding Japan stipulated in the Law on Situations in Areas Surrounding Japan.

Minister: I think that we need to continue conducting analyses from various angles in order to determine North Korea’s real intentions. As a result of investigations conducted by other countries – a multiple number of countries – it has been revealed that North Korea’s torpedo was responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan. We appreciated those results and Japan has thus taken the position of criticizing North Korea. Such an incident must not have recurred again. Nevertheless, North Korea has conducted an absolutely impermissible act of indiscriminate shelling of an island inhabited by ordinary people.
   Also, before that, North Korea invited an American scientist and showed off that it has been conducting development of enriched uranium. I believe that attention should be paid to the fact that there has occurred a series of actions based on some kind of intention.
   Amid this situation, if you think about what North Korea’s real intentions are, I naturally believe that analyses from various angles are necessary, but I feel that by taking some kind of action, North Korea may be trying to indicate that it wants to resume the six-party talks or hold direct talks with the United States or something like that, and by holding such talks, North Korea wants its demands to be accepted. However, I believe that such intentions, which are distorted in a certain sense, are not acceptable to the international community at all. Although according to reports, North Korea has sought resumption of the six-party talks, I feel that as a result of the latest series of incidents, it should be viewed that this has become more difficult instead. At any rate, I believe that North Korea should realize that unless it first completely stops conducting barbarous acts that violate international laws, the possibility of finding a path to dialogue, which North Korea seeks, would be diminishing instead.
   As for your second question on whether the shelling incident corresponds to the situation in areas surrounding Japan, such a situation refers to a situation that, if neglected, could cause a serious impact on Japan’s national security. At the moment, we do not think that this incident should be designated as such a situation. However, as indicated in Prime Minister Kan’s instructions, unforeseen contingencies cannot necessarily be ruled out. Therefore, the current situation is that all institutions and organization in Japan are now fully prepared for various possibilities.

Nishioka, Mainichi Newspapers: Not only South Korea, but also Japan actually faces the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles. As there is sufficient reason to expect that North Korea may conduct provocative acts against Japan in the future, please tell us your views on what kind of policies Japanese diplomatic authorities should adopt toward North Korea amid these circumstances.

Minister: The instructions that Prime Minister Kan gave on the unforeseen contingencies are to make every effort and take all possible measures to be prepared for all possible situations, and I would like to refrain from commenting on the details. I believe that South Korea has exercised extremely strong self-restraint in dealing with this issue. I think that considering their feelings, the people of South Korea should be infuriated by the latest indiscriminate shelling of an island inhabited by ordinary people, after the sinking of the Cheonan. However, I believe that South Korea has been exercising great self-restraint. I understand that South Korea is dealing with the situation in such a way that the situation would not be aggravated.
  While I have spoken with South Korea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua, the most important thing is that such a situation does not escalate, and I believe that it is important for various countries to make efforts to demand that North Korea exercise self-restraint to prevent the situation from escalating any further and to bring about a peaceful solution.

Oshima, Asahi Shimbun: It appears to me that ever since the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took over power, no progress has been made in the North Korean nuclear issue, abduction issue, and the missile issue. What do you think is the reason behind this? In other words, are the acts by North Korea or the relevant international situation responsible for making it difficult to achieve progress in these issues, or is it because diplomacy toward North Korea is a lower priority matter for the DPJ? What are your thoughts on these?

Minister: I feel that it is rather a sinister view to draw a line where the DPJ took over diplomacy or the DPJ took over power. During the time that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was in power, Prime Minister Koizumi visited North Korea in 2002. Although the situation did move at the time, I believe that as to whether any progress was made in the abduction, missile, and nuclear issues under LDP rule since then, you are all know that the situation has been in a complete deadlock. However, I do not intend to say that therefore it is okay if nothing moves under the DPJ administration.
   Nevertheless, although direct talks between Japan and North Korea are necessary on these issues, the nuclear issue, in particular, is to be discussed within the framework of the six-party talks. I believe that North Korea, of course, is totally responsible for the fact that the six-party talks have been stalled for nearly two years.
   In that sense, we want to move the issues forward. North Korea should be held responsible for preventing any progress in the substance of the agreements at the six-party talks. Consequently, no progress has been made over these issues. North Korea has conducted nuclear tests, and after saying that it would conduct investigations into the abduction issue, it has done nothing about that since then. Therefore, I believe that North Korea is responsible for the current deadlock, while we must also make efforts.

Saida, Nishinippon Shimbun: I have a question about additional sanctions on North Korea. The last time, when the South Korean patrol ship was sunk, although a few additional sanctions were made, I believe there were arguments that it was difficult to create effective sanctions. Amid these circumstances, how do you view making additional sanctions now?

Minister: In the context of this recent shelling of South Korea, since South Korea is the victim, the question is how we will approach coordination with them. I also think that it is essential to give the primary weight to how South Korea intends to resolve this issue. I think that now the issue is not for Japan to make some sort of decision by itself with its own assumptions, but for Japan to discuss the issue and coordinate with South Korea, the United States, and other collaborating countries.

Uesugi, Freelance: Although you may have mentioned this (in your opening remarks on) your visit to Australia, if that is the case then I would like to ask again, when and how did you first learn of this incident?

Minister: I received an email on my mobile phone from my secretary during my meeting with Foreign Minister Rudd. That was at 3:18 p.m. Japan time, or since the local time there is two hours ahead, it was in the evening, at 5:18 p.m.

Deguchi, Kyodo News: You stated that you met today with Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua, and also stated earlier that China has a substantial role to play; in this case, unlike the Cheonan incident, North Korea has admitted to actually conducting the shelling. What do you expect from China in its work to influence North Korea regarding this case?

Minister: When I said that China has a substantial role to play, as I also said to Ambassador Cheng, I meant firstly that China is the chair of the six-party talks. Secondly, China is providing economic aid and support. I spoke of China's influence with these two things as background.
   Ambassador Cheng replied that he would like to study in a little more detail the agreements regarding that sea area to date, and the facts of this incident. In other words, there are the things that the North is saying, and the things that the South Korean side is saying, while of course the North has also admitted the shelling. He stated that he wanted to study the events leading up to the incident closely, or in other words, the facts about South Korea’s exercises.

Asaka, Freelance: Although you just said that you received the first report at 3:18 p.m., I have been told that you probably spoke with State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Matsumoto via telephone at 7 p.m. There is a considerable length of time between these two; how were you making contact during this time? A liaison office had been set up within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by 3:30 p.m.; what were your instructions regarding this?
   Also, information for the protection of Japanese citizens came out at 10 p.m. This is a considerable length of time. Please tell us whether the fact that you were overseas had an impact on this delay.

Minister: Firstly, I checked my notes thoroughly earlier, and I received my first report via email at 3:18 p.m. However, I was in the middle of a meeting at that time, so it would be rude to the other party, and I was also speaking with the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs on that topic at the time. On the Australian side as well, Minister Rudd had instructions that if such a thing were occurring, Australia should thoroughly obtain information themselves via diplomatic channels. We spoke to coordinate our information, having discussions of our future responses.
   After the meeting ended – the meeting was held in Foreign Minister Rudd's office in Canberra – then on my way to Canberra Airport, I instructed Vice Minister Matsumoto to go to the Prime Minister's office. A liaison office was set up at the Prime Minister's office, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs was currently absent. While the Chief Cabinet Secretary was serving as an acting Foreign Minister, I instructed State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Matsumoto to go to the Prime Minister's office in place of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
   Subsequently, I flew from Canberra to Sydney, and then shortly after I arrived in Sydney, I spoke with State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Matsumoto, who had already arrived at the Prime Minister’s office, and the Chief Cabinet Secretary via telephone, and gave a variety of instructions. I asked about the current situation, and at the same time, gave instructions as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
   Naturally, the Minister of Foreign Affairs spend a considerable amount of time overseas. Knowing that, we cannot allow delays in communications, forming a response structure if something should occur, when the Minister of Foreign Affairs is outside the country. In this sense, therefore, I think that they are responding properly in my place.
   The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of course investigated the location of this incident, and it was revealed this location is by no means a place where Japanese tourists would go. It was a remote island. On the other hand, however, as I said earlier, and as the Prime Minister instructed, we cannot know when and where an unforeseen incident will occur, and amid these circumstances, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also responded to it as an organization possessing a consular section. Firstly, in our response at the site of the incident, we confirmed whether Japanese citizens were present, and as a response to an unforeseen incident, in particular we put out safety information with regard to travel to South Korea.

Mukai, Yomiuri Shimbun: I would like to ask questions on two main points. My first question concerns your meeting with Ambassador Cheng Yonghua. Although you said that China has a substantial role to play in this incident, regarding the six-party talks, China, with a more positive aspect, has a slightly different approach to the hosting of a meeting than Japan or the United States. . Did you speak specifically with Ambassador Cheng on this topic of whether six-party talks should be held?
   Also, before you traveled to Australia, you also spoke with US Special Representative Bosworth. I have heard that some people in the United States are saying that six-party talks should be held; did you exchange views on this topic with Special Representative Bosworth?

Minister: Firstly, regarding Ambassador Cheng, I am not aware of any differences between the positions of Japan and China regarding the preconditions for holding six-party talks. A meeting between the Foreign Ministers of Japan and China was held in Hanoi at the end of October, and when I discussed this issue with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, we agreed on the point that we must not hold six-party talks for the sake of a dialogue; that we must not hold six-party talks for the sake of holding a dialogue alone. In other words, we agreed that a meeting must move issues forward, so it is my understanding that there are no substantial differences between our ways of thinking on holding six-party talks.
   Next, with regard to Special Representative Bosworth, that was held before this incident occurred, and the main purpose of Special Representative Bosworth's visit was to provide information and exchange views on the fact that North Korea is developing enriched uranium. Although I did not speak directly with Special Representative Bosworth on this issue, I have spoken about it with Secretary of State Clinton twice, and we have spoken about it via telephone once. Secretary of State Clinton also agrees that we must not have a dialogue for the sake of dialogue, merely for the sake of holding a meeting. We are in agreement on the approach that they must be for the purpose of moving forward what was agreed to in the six-party talks. Special Representative Bosworth did not give any indications that would knock down this precondition or that six-party talks should be held.

Inada, NHK: I would like to ask you about two points. The first is in relation to China. You just said that Ambassador (Cheng) told you earlier that the Chinese side was not particularly insistent on the six-party talks, and that they wanted to study the South Korean and North Korean sides in detail. I have a sense that China has a slightly different degree of interest than Japan, the United States, and South Korea. As China is also a member of P5, do you approve of this response, or would you like to request a slightly different response? That is my first question.
  Earlier, there were reports in the media that the bodies of two civilians were found on the island in question. Have you confirmed the facts of this report? Also, if it is confirmed that civilians have been the victims of this incident, what would be your reaction to this, and what impact do you think there would be if there were civilian victims?
Minister: Firstly, on the topic of Ambassador Cheng, speaking on the facts of the matter at the current time, Japan is criticizing North Korea for this shelling. China has not yet criticized North Korea, and they are taking a neutral position. The background to this is that they will study in detail regarding military exercises by South Korea, as Ambassador Cheng discussed earlier.
  What Ambassador Cheng was saying was that there have been shots exchanged between North Korea and South Korea in that sea area several times in the past. He said, however, that this time was different, because North Korea indiscriminately attacked a place inhabited by ordinary people. Although I also said that this incident is completely different, at any rate, they will study the incident in detail, and I think that we are in agreement that the most important thing is to prevent the incident from growing larger. I think that it will be essential to hold thorough discussions with the Chinese side as well, in order to achieve our main goal, including the prevention of recurrence.
  I have received reports that the bodies of two civilians have been found. This is extremely regrettable, and I would like to express my heartfelt condolences for the two people who lost their lives. While of course there is no difference in the lives of a soldier or a civilian, in the sense that completely defenseless civilians were killed in an indiscriminate attack, I think that this is extremely grave and serious, and it made me feel even stronger anger. In this sense as well, I think that North Korea has committed an absolutely unpardonable act.

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