(* 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: Friday, November 26, 2010, 3:05 p.m.
Place: MOFA Press Conference Room

Main topics:

  1. North Korean Situation
  2. Japan-China Summit Meeting
  3. Making Korean Schools Tuition Free
  4. Realignment of US Forces in Japan (Gubernatorial Election in Okinawa)
  5. Minister's Press Conferences

1. North Korean Situation

Nishioka, Mainichi Newspapers: With regard to the North Korean shelling incident, there have been some reports that a meeting will be held among the foreign ministers of Japan, the United States, and South Korea. Please tell us when and where this meeting is scheduled to be held.

Minister: It is true that coordination is going on. However, the details have yet to be decided.

Takahashi, Fuji Television: In connection with the Japan-US-South Korea (foreign ministers' meeting) just mentioned, please tell us your outlook on specifically how you plan to conduct discussions on what kind of demands would be made to North Korea.

Minister: We have already discussed this over the telephone. I had a telephone conversation with South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Kim Sung-hwan on the day before yesterday. I also spoke with US Secretary of State Clinton yesterday morning. We agreed that North Korea's indiscriminate attacks on an island inhabited by civilians are outrageous and that we severely criticize North Korea over those attacks. We agreed that we appreciate South Korea's restrained handling of this matter and that we would make efforts to prevent this from escalating by maintaining close cooperation. We also agreed to call on other countries including China, which has influence over North Korea, to work together with us on this matter. Moreover, since South Korea is a country that is directly involved in this affair, there is the question of what it intends to do, and I believe that we will be making confirmation on various matters including situational analyses, as we also agreed to cooperate if arrangements are to be worked out in other international venues.
Nanao, Nico Nico Douga: While there have emerged moves among Japan, the United States, and South Korea to call on China, which has influence over North Korea as you just mentioned, to take responsible action, it has also been reported by some newspapers that there are divided views within China over to what extent China should reach out to North Korea. Please tell us specifically the level of expectations you hold of China.

Minister: I would like to refrain from commenting on China's internal affairs. However, since China is the chair of the Six-Party Talks, and if debates are to be conducted on this matter in the international arena such as the United Nations, for example, China is also a permanent member of the UN Security Council, so it has strong influence in that sense. From this viewpoint, we plan to cooperate with China to firmly create a situation in which this matter would not escalate and further disrupt the peace and stability of this region.

Yamaguchi, Asahi Shimbun: While I believe that during intensive deliberations at the Budget Committee meetings, the opposition parties have continued to apply pressure on the government over its initial response following the series of incidents that have occurred, I think that the Chief Cabinet Secretary and you have responded to interpellations at the Diet and explained the government's position. In the wake of the series of pressure applied by the opposition parties, please tell us again if you have anything to comment on the initial response.

Minister: I feel that there have been no problems with regard to how the government responded this time, and I believe that at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the State Secretaries, Parliamentary Vice-Ministers, and ministry staff have done a good job. However, as it is important to further improve the system by conducting thorough verification every time when something happens, we held a meeting among the Minister, State Secretaries, and Parliamentary Vice-Ministers today, and we confirmed that if there are any points that need to be considered, we would thoroughly review them.
   In addition, at the time that we were an opposition party, we pursued the government over the ruling parties' crisis management system, including the chronological details, While we would like the opposition parties to cooperate on issues related to diplomatic events as well as the nation's crisis management. And there should be cooperation across the party line, I think that it is important for us to further enhance our crisis management capability, even though we feel that we are fully prepared, by having the opposition parties thoroughly press the ruling parties and the government over the issue of how crisis management ought to be. Therefore, I believe that it is necessary for the opposition parties to pursue us over this matter.

Takahashi, Sankei Shimbun: With regard to this crisis management issue, I think that initial response is indeed very important. In the case of Diet members, I feel that there are no problems, as the beautiful housing for Diet members in Akasaka has been constructed nearby. In the case of government officials, however, I think that it is necessary to construct government quarters in a location from where they can rush to work in case of a contingency. How do you feel about this?

Minister: The quarters for staff who are involved in crisis management are in Kioicho, just beyond the government offices. My understanding is that preparations have been made, including housing from where they can rush to work immediately.

Takahashi, Sankei Shimbun: Do you believe that the current system is sufficient?

Minister: Although it is necessary to continuously conduct reviews as I said earlier, I do not think that the current system has caused any problems or trouble. I served as Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism for one year; the people in charge of crisis management compete to rush to work immediately if anything happens. In that sense, I feel that we are fully prepared, including the housing and the morale.

Inada, NHK: Let me ask two questions concerning North Korea. First of all, although Japan, the United States, and South Korea have so far been calling on China to reach out toward North Korea, and you are in agreement that the Government of Japan would try to make approaches, what specific actions does the GOJ consider taking? With regard to the US-South Korea military exercises starting on the 28th, North Korea has demanded that the exercises should be canceled and hinted the possibility of second or third shelling, depending on circumstances. If you or the GOJ has something to tell North Korea, what would that be?

Minister: Firstly, with regard to your first question, I called Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the day before yesterday to exchange views, and we confirmed that we would continue to maintain close cooperation. During the meeting, we also agreed to firmly cooperate to keep the situation from escalating and prevent a chain of retaliations from expanding, at all costs. We intend to cooperate closely with China through various diplomatic channels in the coming days.
   With regard to the second question, the exercises were originally planned (before the shelling incident occurred). While North Korea seems to have issued a bold statement, we would like them to exercise self-restraint, given that the exercises are not being conducted abruptly in response to the shelling incident.

Inukai, Mainichi Newspapers: With regard to diplomatic strategy toward North Korea, I believe that in the wake of such an incident, pressure would be firmly applied to North Korea through the US-South Korea military exercises next week and the Japan-US military exercises following that, so that this situation does not escalate. While I think that future responses on this matter will center on UN Security Council debates, please tell us what kind of actions will be taken against North Korea in the coming days.
   Additionally, the United States and South Korea have upheld their policy of not agreeing to resume the Six-Party Talks or hold dialogue unless North Korea takes concrete action toward denuclearization. What are your thoughts on such dialogue?

Minister: First of all, with regard to the UN Security Council, since South Korea is a directly involved party, we would like to maintain close cooperation while primarily respecting the intentions of South Korea including how it wants to utilize the United Nations.
   With regard to your second question, before the disclosure of North Korea's uranium enrichment program or the latest shelling incident, Japan, the United States, and South Korea have shared the view that they would not agree to resume the Six-Party Talks simply for the sake of dialogue -- holding dialogue for the sake of dialogue. Although we would agree to resume the Six-Party Talks if the agreements that have been made so far are to be moved forward, it is the common understanding of Japan, the United States, and South Korea not to agree to holding dialogue for the sake of dialogue, as such a situation does not exist at the moment. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi also held the same view at the time I held talks with him in late October in Hanoi.
   As the situation has changed, should I say, or since North Korea itself has further heightened the crisis, I believe that if North Korea wants to resume the Six-Party Talks, it needs to understand that such a possibility would instead further diminish if this kind of behavior continues in the future. In any case, we would like to deal with this matter by maintaining close cooperation with the concerned countries, while particularly respecting the intentions of South Korea, which is a country directly involved.

Mori, Nikkei Business: With regard to that “close cooperation”, you mentioned, although I believe that you are doing this through various bilateral arrangements, how are you working on this with Russia? Please tell us about this including anything that has been scheduled.

Minister: Among the members of the Six-Party Talks, we have been requesting talks with my counterparts of China and Russia, as I have yet to hold talks with them individually. Coordination is currently under way.

Nishioka, Mainichi Newspapers: While seeking China's response or China's influence, should I say, Japan has been facing difficulties with China over the Senkaku incident. Please tell us whether in holding talks with China over this latest North Korean incident, Japan is able to hold talks with China by treating these incidents as separate issues, or there is an impression that the Senkaku issue is casting a shadow over the North Korean issue in one way or another.

Minister: Although there was not much time during the ASEM and the Hanoi meetings, Prime Minister Kan and Premier Wen Jiabao met and agreed to make efforts to improve the relations between the two countries. Recently, Prime Minister Kan met with President Hu Jintao in Yokohama and confirmed during their talks that Japan and China would mutually make efforts to improve their bilateral relations. I also met with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi twice -- in Hanoi and Yokohama -- and we shared the understanding that since the relations between Japan and China are indeed important bilateral relations, and that we should make concrete efforts toward improving the bilateral relations.
   With regard to the Senkaku issue, we maintain that no territorial issue exists in the East China Sea and that it is an undeniable fact that the Senkaku Islands are the inherent territory of Japan. Meanwhile, as has been agreed at summit meetings and foreign ministerial meetings, Japan and China intend to make efforts, keeping in mind our Mutually Beneficial Relationship based on Common Strategic Interests. I believe that the denuclearization and peace of the Korean Peninsula serve as the backbone of the Mutually Beneficial Relationship based on Common Strategic Interests, and in that sense, I think that Japan and China are in complete agreement.

Yoshioka, Jiji Press: You said earlier that coordination is under way with regard to holding talks with China and Russia. May I understand that these talks will be done over the telephone?

Minister: Yes, these will be done over the telephone.

Yoshioka, Jiji Press: One more thing -- do you have any idea when these will take place?

Minister: Currently, coordination is underway because they (the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers) are overseas. In some ways, it is quite difficult to talk over the telephone with people who are overseas.

Inada, NHK: South Korea's KBS Television has released flash news that the sound of gunfire was heard twice in Yeonpyeong. Please tell us whether the Government of Japan has confirmed the facts and how the GOJ plans to deal with this, if there are any announcements planned.

Minister: While we have received such a report from our Embassy in South Korea, we are currently trying to confirm the detailed facts.

2. Japan-China Summit Meeting

Takahashi, Sankei Shimbun: This question is about the Japan-China summit at the recent APEC. Prime Minister Kan said that he regretted having read his opening remarks from his notes at the beginning of the meeting, and I think that this was very embarrassing for the Japanese people. What is your view of Prime Minister Kan's attitude toward this meeting?

Minister: Prime Minister Kan said that he would be sure not to read from notes when the cameras are rolling, so I think that we should respect his views.
  Although this may be defending him somewhat, in fact he had a cold at the time, and was in very poor condition. He was taking medicine at the time. When we were meeting with him, several of us caught his cold, and my secretary and several of my staff were sneezing. I was taking special care not to catch his cold. Blowing his nose, he had to take on the major role of APEC chair in extremely poor physical condition. Representatives from 21 countries and regions gathered, and there were a considerable number of bilateral meetings, so in this sense, I think that he worked very hard to fulfill his responsibility as chair of APEC, despite his physical condition. I am afraid that he was too preoccupied to think about how he appears on the screen.
  Although this may be putting it in the most favorable light, I think that he did a fine job as chairman. Also, the video captured such a scene only. At the Japan-China summit, in fact the Prime Minister stated Japan's position firmly. Listening to him, I was even impressed. I would like the Japanese people to understand this.

3. Making Korean Schools Tuition Free

Yamao, Asahi Shimbun: There has been a report that the other day, you made a statement to Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Takaki regarding making Korean schools tuition-free. What did you say to him? Also, what are your views on making Korean schools tuition-free given the current circumstances?

Minister: The facts are the opposite. Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Takaki came to me, and said he would like to ask the view of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, because this was also a diplomatic issue. He appears to have included a process of listening to the views of relevant Ministers, In the series of (decision) processes, and he took the trouble to come to my office. I spoke on two points. The first was that efforts are required to improve the content of the textbooks, and in particular ideological education. The other one was that I would certainly like the issue to be revisited if there is some incident that changes the circumstances. At that time, I was speaking about things like, for example, another nuclear test or missile launches. I agree with this process of the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology collecting a variety of views first, and then making a final decision, so I said that I would certainly like weight to be given to my view.

Inada, NHK: Please allow me to ask two questions. My first question is: when you mentioned incidents that would change the circumstances, do you think that the recent shelling would be included in such incidents? The next question concerns the Six-Party Talks. Despite the agreements made to date, they have been discarded, and North Korea has itself revealed that it had been secretly engaging in an extremely concrete process of uranium enrichment. With North Korea making promises in this way only to break them, resuming and halting over and over, what is your view of the six-party framework itself and its effectiveness?

Minister: Firstly, I think that this recent incident would of course be included among incidents that change preconditions, as I stated. This is an egregious act; it is the first time since the armistice in the Korean War that an island inhabited by civilians has been shelled indiscriminately. In that sense, there are even suspicions that this incident could be in violation of the United Nations Charter or the Geneva Convention. In this sense, I think that this incident has changed the presumed conditions. I think that this is included in the presumed conditions, as I see them.
  Turning to your second question, to give my conclusion first, I think that the Six-Party Talks are still an effective framework, and that we must keep the Talks as such. In other words, this framework has the responsibility to achieve the ultimate goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula amid a persistent dialog with North Korea by the countries responsible for the peace and security of the region. I think that there is no alternative to the Six-Party Talks, so although it is certain that North Korea continues to make new provocations, I do not by any means think this signifies that the Six-Party Talks are useless.

4. Realignment of US Forces in Japan (Gubernatorial Election in Okinawa)

Mukai, Yomiuri Shimbun: I have a question about the gubernatorial election in Okinawa. The day of voting is approaching, and both of the top two candidates are opposed to the relocation (of UCAS Futenma) to Henoko. Although the conclusion has not yet been reached, how will the government approach the issue after the gubernatorial election?

Minister: Whoever wins, it is an expression of the will of the residents of the prefecture, and I think that we will have to react with sincerity. However, we intend to ensure that the Japan-US agreement of May 28th is carried out. I think, however, that the precondition is that we must apologize sincerely to the people of Okinawa in two senses: the sense of raising the hopes of the Okinawan people by saying we would move Futenma "outside the prefecture at least, and outside the country if possible" in the recent general elections; and the sense that Okinawa has borne an extremely heavy burden since its reversion to Japan in May 1972. In the Japan-US agreement, we agreed on (the relocation site of ) Henoko, in Nago City. While we will be asking the area of Nago City to bear a new burden, looking at Okinawa as a whole, looking at the area south of Kadena, this will without a doubt reduce the overall burden on Okinawa. This will lead to the reversion of MCAS Futenma, which is the most dangerous airfield; it will also lead to a total of 17,000 people being transferred to Guam: 8,000 Marines, and 9,000 family members, military dependents, and military employees. We certainly intend to continue requesting sincerely and persistently on these points, while thoroughly apologizing.

Kamide, Freelance: This is in relation to current Japan-US relations. The other day, a well-known Dutch expert, Mr. Wolfen, who is a former journalist, and currently a professor at Amsterdam University, held a lecture. Secretary of State Clinton recently indicated in Hawaii that the Senkaku Islands fall under the security agreement to which China was opposed; including this scene, excuse me for saying this, not only that professor, but many people say that Secretary of State Clinton seems to speak to you, sir, as a child. Since the time of the Liberal Democratic Party government, Japan has never spoken against the United States, and in a word, Japan has done the bidding of the United States. As Mr. Kamei said, "the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a branch office of the State Department." Is there leeway to change this situation? Again, please tell us your views on how Japan can push back against the United States otherwise, including on the current issue of Henoko in Okinawa, although I am omitting various complexities.

Minister: I do not intend to respond to each opinion that a single expert gives.
At any rate, considering the security of Japan and of the region, it is essential for us to solidly maintain and strengthen the Japan-US alliance. At the same time, as I said just now, I think that the Kan Cabinet must properly and thoroughly reduce the burden on Okinawa, where the burden has been concentrated excessively.

Takimoto, Ryukyu Shimpo: I think that after the governor's election, no matter who wins, I think that it will be difficult to advance an agreement on relocation to Henoko. The Prime Minister has indicated his intention to go to Okinawa in person after the governor's election; alternatively, I believe it was Parliamentary Senior Vice-Minister of Defense Azumi who said it, but there was a suggestion that the Foreign Minister and Defense Minister would go there in rotation. Regarding the schedule after the governor's election, in what form do you intend to take actions to ask the people of Okinawa for their understanding?

Minister: The government has not yet decided how it will respond overall. In any case, I think that the important thing is for the people in positions of responsibility to go to Okinawa, apologize sincerely, and make the request. I intend to go to Okinawa as soon as possible.

5. Minister's Press Conferences

Takahashi, Sankei Shimbun: I have a request regarding the press conferences. You have set a limit of 30 minutes on press conferences. Given the current mountain of diplomatic issues, 30 minutes is far too little time to ask all the questions, or go into any depth. I would like you to answer all questions, so long as they do not interfere with your official duties, and I think that if the Kan administration advocates open politics, then I would by all means like to see this. Your reaction, please.

Minister: I will take your view under consideration.

Back to Index