(* 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, February 19, 2010, 3:00 p.m.
Place: Briefing Room, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Main topics:

  1. Opening Statements
    • (1) The Foreign Minister’s Visit to Australia
    • (2) Recall of Toyota Vehicles in the United States
  2. The Issue of the Realignment of the US Forces in Japan
  3. Scientific Whaling (Interference by Sea Shepherd)
  4. The Foreign Minister’s Visit to Australia (Nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, Japan-Australia security cooperation)
  5. The Promotion of Japan as a Tourism Nation
  6. Recall of Toyota Vehicles in the United States

1. Opening Statements

(1) The Foreign Minister’s Visit to Australia

Minister: 
Today, we are able to start at our regular time. I would first like to address a few points. As for my visit to Australia, I will be leaving tonight, and will be staying on the 20th (Saturday) and the 21st (Sunday) to first pay a courtesy call to Prime Minister Rudd, and then to meet Foreign Minister Smith and Defense Minister Faulkner. I will also meet Western Australian Premier Burnett at an informal breakfast meeting to be hosted by Foreign Minister Smith. 

There are four objectives for this visit. The first is to further the strategic partnership between the two countries. We must therefore first make preparations for the third 2+2 Ministerial meeting, and also exchange views on stability in regions such as Afghanistan and North Korea. The second is to strengthen economic relations with a focus on natural resources. Australia is a country rich in resources such as iron and natural gas, and we aim to ensure a stable supply. As for the EPA negotiations, we are hoping that both countries can take a practical approach so that we can reach an agreement soon. The third is to talk about regional and global issues, with an aim to strengthen Japan-Australia cooperation on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. The fourth issue will be whaling. As we all know that Japan-Australia relations are of great importance, we shall talk to them about taking a comprehensive and diplomatic approach, and to request the Australian government’s cooperation in regulating Sea Shepherd activists. These are our basic objectives for this visit.

(2) Recall of Toyota Vehicles in the United States

Minister:
Secondly, I would like to talk about the recall of Toyota vehicles in the United States. As has already been reported in the media, President of Toyota Motor Corp., Mr. Akio Toyoda, released a statement announcing that he will attend a hearing to be held on February 24 by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of the House of Representatives. This issue is one that concerns safety, so I hope that this hearing and other activities will lead Toyota to swiftly recover a sense of security and trust from consumers domestically as well as abroad including the United States. As I have been saying from before, while this is the issue of an individual company, it concerns Japan as a whole and as such the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will do to support Toyota as much as possible.

2. The Issue of the Realignment of the US Forces in Japan

Question (Mizushima, Jiji):
Regarding the Futenma issue, according to media reports the government is considering a proposal to build an inland facility at Camp Schwab and the government has informally approached the US side. Can you confirm that? What are your thoughts on the feasibility of this inland proposal?

Minister:
This matter is currently being discussed by the Verification Committee, and I cannot comment on the specifics. Although there are media reports that Japan approached the US, I am not aware of this. I believe the Chief Cabinet Secretary has clearly denied the reports.

Question (Kajiwara, NHK):
On the issue of Futenma, Ms. Fukushima of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) indicated her intention to oppose the inland proposal and there is backlash from the People’s New Party. It almost gives the impression that there is wrangling within the Cabinet, within the ruling coalition. What are your thoughts on this?

Minister:
This is being discussed by the Verification Committee under the leadership of Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano with other members of the ruling coalition, and I believe their decision must be respected. From that standpoint, I have tried to be very careful not to use language like “this one is no good.” I believe this is one of the reasons we created the Verification Committee. In that respect, it is not appropriate for me to comment on the specifics, as it would be disrespectful to everyone who has been working so hard discussing this matter at the meetings of the Verification Committee.

3. Scientific Whaling (Interference by Sea Shepherd)

Question (Saito, Kyodo News):
I would like to ask about the Japan-Australia relationship. You are leaving for Australia shortly after this. It was reported today that Prime Minister Rudd said the following in an interview concerning Japan’s scientific whaling: “If our diplomatic talks fail to stop Japan’s whaling, we will bring the case to the International Court of Justice (ICC) before the next whaling season begins in November this year.” My understanding is that you intend to “resolve the issue diplomatically from a broader perspective.” I cannot help viewing his statement about bringing up the case in the ICC as being slightly different from your approach. Could you please tell us how you view his statement?

Minister:
I would like to confirm Prime Minister Rudd’s true intention in our meeting. That said, the Prime Minister also qualifies his statement carefully by saying, “if our talks fail to resolve the issue.” We should naturally take a dialogue-based approach, and I think there is no large difference between us in that respect, that the Prime Minister is also stressing the importance of dialogue. Japan’s argument is that our scientific whaling is compliant with Article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling and constitutes a legal activity conducted on the high sea I would like to put this argument forward in the meeting with Prime Minister Rudd and exchange views on the issue.

Question (Nishino, Kyodo News):
Since Australia is a democratic nation like Japan, I think political decisions are largely influenced by domestic public opinion. I hear that there is an anti-whaling sentiment within Australia and that Prime Minister Rudd fought his electoral campaign by pledging to end commercial whaling in the manifesto. How should the issue of Sea Shepherd be addressed by separating it from this anti-whaling sentiment? Could you please tell us the government’s response or policy on it?

Minister:
I am aware that the current administration mentions scientific whaling in its manifesto. On that understanding, I would like to discuss calmly and thoroughly with Prime Minister Rudd. The issue of Sea Shepherd is about the use of force, which is completely different from the issue of anti-whaling sentiment, and must be treated on completely different planes. Since the issue of Sea Shepherd may even concern human safety, I would like to request substantial cooperation from the Australian government in that respect.

Question (Sakagami, The Australian Newspaper):
In connection to the aforementioned issue of Sea Shepherd, the Japanese government is presumed to ask for the cooperation of the Australian government in cracking down on violent actions. Could you please tell us specifically what kind of cooperation Japan would ask from Australia?

Minister:
We believe that there is no direct connection between the Australian government and the latest incident, where Sea Shepherd activists boarded a Japanese ship. Nevertheless, since Australia has been making various statements about the overall activities of Sea Shepherd, I would like to see the recognition shared between us that such dangerous, violent acts should not be permitted.

Question (Sakagami, The Australian Newspaper):
Concerning the aforementioned crackdown against Sea Shepherd, by saying “specific” I meant to ask if you have any definite plan, such as banning Sea Shepherd from using Australian ports.

Minister:
One of the Sea Shepherd vessels in question is registered in the Netherlands and another in Togo. If ships are registered, we can of course make requests to the countries of registration.

Question (Nishino, Kyodo News):
In connection to this, there is also a report that the Sea Shepherd vessels approached Japanese ships under flags of other countries, although the truth of the report is yet to be confirmed. Such acts can generally be interpreted as constituting an act of piracy. In the case of providing a base to a group engaged in acts of piracy, do you consider the possibility of making certain specific requests to the Australian government?

Minister:
I have not confirmed the truth of the report about using flags of other countries. However, if the ships have anchored in a certain country, then that country is involved in this respect. I believe we must discuss this aspect as well. Also, Japan has made a demand for due measures to be taken on this issue to the Togo government, as I said before. I heard that the Togo government revoked the registration of the Bob Barker.

Question (Ozawa, AFP): 
The Australian government has been explicitly stating its anti-whaling stance, but how do you perceive the extremely strong statement made by Prime Minister Rudd a day before your visit to Australia, in terms of its timing and strength?

Minister:
There must be various factors in the background, and I honestly do not know how I should perceive it. Therefore, I would like to hear his intention when I see him directly.

Question (Nezu, NHK):
Could you explain in a little more detail about the Togo government revoking the ship’s registration in response to Japan’s demand that you just mentioned? Also, how does the Japanese government evaluate the measures taken by the Togo government?

Minister:
The Government of Japan demanded Togo to “take due measures as the flag state.” I hear it was one of the factors, or triggers, behind the Togo government’s decision to revoke the registration of the Bob Barker. Japan would like to thank Togo for responding to our demand with this outcome. Another ship, the Steve Irwin, is registered in the Netherlands, which I hear is currently deliberating on the bill to revoke its registration.

Question (Kawasaki, Yomiuri Shimbun):
You just said that the Japanese government demanded “due measures as the flag state” from the Togo government. By “due measures,” do you mean you explicitly stated revoking of registration as Japan’s demand?

Minister:
I have no intention to go into the details of specific diplomatic negotiations. I can only say that we demanded that they take due measures.

Question (Nishino, Kyodo News):
I think you clarified your recognition that scientific whaling is totally compliant with the international law. On the other hand, how do you consider the necessity of scientific whaling, as well as the whaling needs within Japan? I think there are various issues, including food culture, that are intertwined with the issue of whaling.

Minister:
Food culture and scientific whaling are completely different issues. Scientific whaling is conducted to have an accurate grasp of the population, which is necessary in order to detect signs of extinction of species and risks thereof – I think that is the original intention behind conducting formal surveys. I believe this kind of survey is necessary, and it is legitimized in the convention. Food culture, however, is an issue of a completely different sphere. If someone says that the very act of catching whales is bad, if someone categorically stigmatizes catching or eating whales as being wrong, I would say that is a little off the mark, since I place much value in respecting each other’s diversity, including unique food culture.

Question (Asada, Australian Broadcasting Corporation):
Do you have intention to explain to Prime Minister Rudd directly what you have just said about Japanese food culture and the Japan’s stance on scientific whaling? Also, do you think scientific whaling can affect the Japan-Australia relationship and your visit this time?

Minister:
I will naturally discuss these issues with Prime Minister Rudd and Foreign Minister Smith. That said, in the light of our very important bilateral relationship, we would discuss the matter calmly without losing a sense of proportion.

Minister:
I add one more point which was not mentioned in the questions. I believe you are all aware that the New Zealand embassy announced that the consulate staff in Tokyo interviewed Sea Shepherd activist Mr. Pete Bethune. Yesterday, at 8:00 P.M., in one of the conference rooms within the MOFA building, the consul talked to Mr. Bethune, who is currently on board Shonan Maru No. 2, on the phone and confirmed his safety. I should refrain from revealing the detail of the telephone conversation, but can say that the following four points are confirmed. First, Mr. Bethune is in good health physically and mentally. Second, he has been granted a certain freedom of action on board under the surveillance of Japanese crew members and is given a private room. Third, Mr. Bethune is served three meals per day of satisfactory content. Fourth, Mr. Bethune desires to be transported to Japan on board Shonan Maru No. 2. We know that such details of the conversation were explained to his family via the New Zealand government.

4. The Foreign Minister’s Visit to Australia (Nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, Japan-Australia security cooperation)

Question (Nezu, NHK):
I believe that nuclear disarmament will be a focal topic during your Australia visit, but what significance would this visit have in preparing for the next NPT review conference in May? 

Minister:
We haven’t started discussions yet, so we have yet to cover the details, but if possible, I would like to release something of a joint statement with Foreign Minister Smith, with the Evans-Kawaguchi Commission in mind. Although this is a non-government commission, they have provided an extensive report. So, in drafting this statement, I think we both should build a shared understanding on which commission proposals should be prioritized. 

Question (Saito, Kyodo News):
This is a question on your visit to Australia. Aside from the whaling controversy, you mentioned that Japan-Australia security cooperation including the 2+2 meetings will be a major theme. Could you please clearly explain what significance Japan-Australia security cooperation holds, and in what areas this cooperation will be called upon?

Minister:
I think I should expand on this after the talks, but to give you an example, I think there are areas where both countries can cooperate in cases of disaster, and I’d like to closely discuss with the Prime Minister what the possibilities are in this area.

5. The Promotion of Japan as a Tourism Nation

Question (Nanao, Nico Nico Douga):
I have a question on behalf of our users. It concerns the promotion of Japan as a tourism nation, which I have asked about previously. The initiative calls for a 2.2-fold increase in the number of overseas visitors to Japan, from 6.79 million last year to 25 million in 2013. I imagine one of the priorities is to attract Chinese tourists. To what extent are efforts such as the easing of restrictions on personal tourist visas expected to contribute to the achievement of this large goal? If there are any other measures of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, please share them with us.

Minister:
I believe easing the requirements for the issuance of visas is a powerful means for attracting visitors to Japan. That said, there is a possibility that easing the requirements will have negative impacts. I believe the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while of course continuing to agree on the importance of promoting Japan as a tourism nation, must bear in mind such negative aspects as it decides what ultimately should be done. In addition, the physical capacity to issue visas is overstretched and there is quite a bit of administrative work. I believe we must also fully address these issues. At present I believe there are three visa offices in China—in Beijing, Guangdong, and Shanghai. One possibility is to have more offices, but this will require personnel. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be discussing these issues thoroughly.

6. Recall of Toyota Vehicles in the United States

Question (Kozuka, Nikkan Gendai):
Regarding the Toyota issue, you previously said that you were concerned about the effect the issue would have on Japan-US relations. Currently the situation seems to be worsening rather than getting better due to the issue of whether the Toyota president would attend the hearing. Would you first tell us your concerns about the current situation? Additionally, you just said you would do your best to support Toyota. Please tell us exactly what kind of support you are considering.

Minister:
Regarding support for Toyota, of course Toyota is a private sector company and a big one at that, and I think that for the most part it can handle the problem on its own. However, I am sure there are things the Japanese government can do using diplomatic channels through the embassy and we would like to provide support in that way. Of course, this is an issue that concerns safety, so we will not support Toyota unconditionally, but rather provide support in a way that will ensure that communication is conducted smoothly and without misunderstandings. At a press conference on February 17, President Toyoda stated that he “would consider attending the hearing if requested” and then he said he was “officially requested to attend, so I will gladly do so.” I think that President Toyoda’s position on this matter has remained consistent and I think it extremely unfortunate that some media outlets have reported that “he said he wouldn’t attend and then said he would.”

Question (Yoshida, NHK):
I have another Toyota related question. At the beginning of this press conference, you stated that this issue “concerns Japan as a whole.” Would you please tell us what you meant by this statement?

Minister:
While this is a safety issue of Toyota, an individual company, it has the potential of affecting the trust of “made in Japan” technology and products – of course Toyota has “Made in the USA” products as well. Additionally, if you include its affiliated companies, Toyota’s business covers an extensive range. While as a fact, Toyota may be forced to reduce production in various areas – in the case of a recall, of course that would be necessary – there is the possibility that this may expand more than necessary due to miscommunication. I think it is only proper that the Japanese government take measures to prevent such a thing as much as possible.


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