(* 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, September 10, 2010, 4:30 p.m.
Place: MOFA Press Conference Room

Main topics:

  1. Opening Remarks
    • (1) Dispatch of International Peace Cooperation Corps Members to the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT)
    • (2) Collision into Japanese Coast Guard Vessels by Chinese Fishing Boat
  2. Collision into Japanese Coast Guard Vessels by Chinese Fishing Boat
  3. Realignment of US Forces in Japan
  4. Takeshima Island Issue (Publication of Defense White Paper)
  5. Convening of Okinawa Policy Council
  6. Evaluation on the Foreign Minister's Performance during the First Year of Service
  7. Plan to Nationalize Remote Islands
  8. Dismissal of Lawmaker Muneo Suzuki's Appeal
  9. Revision of the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement

1. Opening Remarks

(1) Dispatch of International Peace Cooperation Corps Members to the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT)

Minister Okada: I have two announcements. The first announcement is that during today’s Cabinet meeting I made a statement concerning the dispatch of two members of the Self-Defense Forces to Timor-Leste to act as military liaison officers for the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) based on the International Peace Cooperation Law.
   Peace and stability in Timor-Leste are crucial for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. With this perspective, Japan has actively contributed to nation-building efforts in that country. Japan has, for example, dispatched Self-Defense Forces personnel, civilian police officers, and election observers, and implemented economic cooperation totaling more than 25 billion yen. These contributions have been made since before the independence of the country and have been highly appreciated by the relevant parties of Timor-Leste.
   This dispatch of military liaison officers to the UNMIT will further contribute to nation- building efforts in the country. It will also help improve the opinion of the international community regarding Japan’s contributions in the area of peace building. We will continue to cooperate with the international community and actively work toward peace and stability in Timor-Leste. That was the gist of my statement at the Cabinet meeting.

(2) Collision into Japanese Coast Guard Vessels by Chinese Fishing Boat

Minister: The other announcement is that with regard to the collision into our Coast Guard Vessels by a Chinese fishing boat that occurred on the 7th in our territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. We have repeatedly lodged strong representations and expressed to the Chinese side that the occurrence of such an incident is extremely regrettable and that they should thoroughly enforce guidance and supervision over Chinese fishing boats to prevent recurrences. Amid this situation, it has been reported in China that our Coast Guard vessels rammed into the Chinese fishing boat. However, this contradicts the facts. That is clear if you look at the damage to our vessels. It is extremely regrettable that such reports are being made. We do not want the situation to escalate any further. We hope that China will respond calmly and cautiously.

2. Collision into Japanese Coast Guard Vessels by Chinese Fishing Boat

Chan, Global Chinese Press: In 2004, seven Chinese activists landed on the Senkaku Islands. At that time, they were released immediately, but this time, (the captain of the Chinese fishing boat) has been sent to the prosecutors. When I think about the reason, I get the impression that the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration indeed takes a tougher position on the Senkaku Islands issue. How do you feel about this?

Minister: This issue does not concern how the administration feels about it. We will duly take necessary steps in accordance with law.

Yamauchi, Nihon Keizai Shimbun: It is said that today, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi summoned Ambassador Niwa and lodged a protest. Please tell us your thoughts on this and let us know if you have something planned in response.

Minister: I am aware that the Ambassador was summoned. As I explained earlier, the reports, including the claim that our vessels rammed into the Chinese fishing boat, contradict the facts. We are duly responding in accordance with law, as there was in fact an obstruction of the execution of official duty within our territorial waters.
   From this perspective, it is regrettable from our judgment that the Chinese Foreign Minister summoned our Ambassador. However, that being said, we intend to handle this in a calm manner.

3. Realignment of US Forces in Japan

Higa, Kyodo News: I have a question regarding the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma.
Yesterday, at the Diet committee, you spoke about flight routes. You spoke about the differences between the trapezoidal flight route that had been explained when the LDP was in power, and the understanding of the United States. You also touched on the possibility that the Osprey aircraft would be stationed there, and said that this could result in a change to the flight routes. I would like to confirm something basic. Is the difference in flight routes between Japan and the United States because of the possibility that the Ospreys will be stationed there? Or would they be different even if the Ospreys are not stationed?

Minister: The facts of the matter are not clear, but I do not think that it is an issue of the Ospreys alone. Japan thought that Japan and the United States had a common understanding on the trapezoidal shape, but this may not necessarily be the case for the United States. In addition, stationing the Osprey would add a new element, so I think that there will be further changes.

Higa, Kyodo News: Where did this difference in the understanding of the United States come from, in relation to the trapezoidal shape that the Japanese side has been explaining?

Minister: That is actually not very clear. Japan likely drew the lines, in order to minimize as much as possible the impact on local residents. This was during the former LDP administration, or the coalition government of the LDP and the New Komeito Party, so I am not aware of the details, but I think that the United States may have taken precautions and had a different approach because it placed more importance on operational necessity.
But I have also heard that there was actually an agreement, so I frankly am not sure of the details in this regard. Even if we follow up on this, I think that we will not get a single answer, since each side is saying something different. We must speak properly and honestly to the Japanese people, including differences in understanding between Japan and the United States. And if the United States has operational necessity, and if new Ospreys are to be stationed there, then we must consider those factors as well, and at the same time we must absolutely minimize the impact on local residents. As to where to draw the line, I think that it will be vital for both countries to discuss the flight routes, and then when an agreement is reached, to explain this properly to the Japanese people.
I do not think that it is a good idea to say that the Ospreys will not be stationed just because the Government has not said so despite the possibility that Ospreys could be stationed.

Takimoto, Ryukyu Shimpo: In relation to this topic of Ospreys, the press secretary of the US Department of Defense announced or spoke on the record that the plan to station the Ospreys in Japan had been communicated to Japan. Was Japan notified? If so, when and where were you told that the Ospreys will be stationed?

Minister: I do not yet know. But the reason why I have been speaking for some time of the possibility that Ospreys could be stationed is that the US Forces are gradually replacing their helicopters with Ospreys, and in light of this fact, there is a high probability that this will happen in Japan as well.
   As to how we should interpret the statement that you mentioned, Press Secretary Morrell of the Department of Defense said that when, where, and how the Ospreys would be stationed were to be decided, so the US side has probably not said anything specific. I think that they have said at some level that they may or will be stationed in Japan, but I am also not aware of the details.

Mizushima, Jiji Press: The Osprey was plagued by accidents during development. I think that concerns over safety are especially strong in Okinawa, but what are the safety issues with the Ospreys, as far as you know?

Minister: I think that this will also be a topic of discussion if the Ospreys are to be stationed in Japan. I am aware that many accidents occurred during its development, but I am not necessarily aware of any recent safety issues. If safety were a great problem, I do not think that the US would be actively stationing them in the first place, but if there is a formal decision to actually station them in Japan, I intend to confirm this thoroughly.

Takahashi, Jiji Press: At yesterday’s committee meeting, and also at this press conference, you said that regarding the former administration’s response to the Osprey issue, it was not good to say that they would not be stationed because (the United States) did not say so. Unlike the issue of the secret agreements, the Osprey issue is occurring now. In other words, the DPJ government has been in power for a year now, and there was an expert panel after the May agreement, so this is truly an issue that is occurring in real time. I therefore think that the DPJ government already has a responsibility to ask the United States about this, and explain it to the local community. What is your view of the responsibility of the current administration?

Minister: What I said was that the response taken after the Ospreys became an issue was not good. This does not mean that the current DPJ administration is responding in the same way. We are certainly not saying that the Osprey will not come to Japan because the United States has not said so.
   Beyond that, as it was stated by the US defense press secretary today, I intend to ask closely about at which level and how much detailed it was. But common sense says that there is a high probability. This is what I think, and I have been saying so.

Tsuruoka, Asahi Shimbun: I would like to follow up with the first question about the flight routes of the Ospreys. There was a study by an expert parel that continued until the end of August, but were the flight routes and the stationing of the Osprey communicated by the United States by then, and discussed at the study? Or was the discussion of flight routes limited to normal helicopters?

Minister: I am not aware of the details of the expert panel discussions, but I have been told that one of the reasons for the flight route described by the United States, or in other words one of the reasons why it is not trapezoidal, is the possibility of the Ospreys being stationed there. It is not necessarily clear whether this was mentioned explicitly. I have also heard that there are other factors. I am told that the Ospreys are not the only reason why the flight routes drawn by the United States are not trapezoidal.
   In other words, we must draw a line between giving leeway to operational reasons and minimizing the impact on local residents. The United States wants to ensure the most operational leeway possible. They may have always proposed flight routes that are not trapezoidal, but I think that we must now understand that they do not agree to Japan’s proposal of a trapezoidal flight route.

Takimoto, Ryukyu Shimpo: Earlier, when Mr. Takahashi asked about responsibility since the DPJ government took power, you responded that since this was not discussed by the DPJ government, and since the Ospreys were not a problem, this issue did not come up in the first place. But, the environmental impact assessment in Okinawa does not make any mention of the stationing of the Ospreys. Ever since the DPJ came into power, people have been saying that the environmental impact assessment is incomplete. If you say that you are not aware of those voices then that may be the end of it, but the Okinawan side has been pointing out this problem the entire time. Considering this point, does the DPJ administration still not recognize the Ospreys as a problem?

Minister: The environmental impact assessment was specifically for the agreed-upon plan of building off the shore of Henoko. The location had been actually discussed for a year. I therefore think that if we agree to the construction off the shore of Henoko, as was agreed between Japan and the United States during the former administration, then we must explain to the Japanese people in some way. I must say that when this was being discussed, there was no additional leeway to discuss the flight routes of the Ospreys based on that premise, or that the assessment would or would not change if the Ospreys come.

4. Takeshima Island Issue (Publication of Defense White Paper)

Yuasa, Associated Press: My question concerns the Takeshima issue. With regard to what was explicitly stated about Takeshima in the Defense White Paper released today, the South Korean Government just a while ago demanded that the Government of Japan retract this. Please tell us your view on this matter.

Minister: The White Paper uses the same expression that has been used traditionally. The Government of Japan has always claimed territorial rights to Takeshima Island. Moreover, the expression is not any different from what was used last year, so I can make no further comments. It has traditionally been written in the White Paper that Takeshima Island is an inherent Japanese territory.

5. Convening of Okinawa Policy Council

Takimoto, Ryukyu Shimpo: The Okinawa Policy Council was convened this morning. The meeting has started with the stance that discussions on the relocation of Futenma would not be held for the time being, and that discussions here would center on economic development projects for Okinawa. I suppose that a new subcommittee on reducing the burden of military bases will be set up, and I expect that discussions will be held there on the issue of removing the current dangers associated with Futenma. I feel that what lies beyond that is that since the Government of Japan intends to discuss this based on the stance that constructing a replacement facility would remove these dangers, the Government will try to gain Okinawa’s understanding by discussing the relocation of Futenma at future meetings of the Okinawa Policy Council. What are your thoughts on this point?

Minister: I have no thoughts of my own about this in particular. My view is the same as what the Chief Cabinet Secretary has announced.

6. Evaluation on the Foreign Minister's Performance during the First Year of Service

Nishioka, Mainichi Newspapers: Soon, a year will have passed since the DPJ came into power. Looking back at this past year, please tell us your self-evaluation on your performance as foreign minister.

Minister: I believe that I did what I could to the best of my ability. I tackled various issues, and even if I were asked to do more, I feel that I probably did everything to the best of my ability. Everyone at the Ministry worked hard to support me, and although we were frequently on jerky terms, I believe that overall, we managed to carry out diplomacy with good teamwork.

7. Plan to Nationalize Remote Islands

Chan, Global Chinese Press: The Government of Japan plans to nationalize 25 remote islands by March 2011. I do not know if this involves the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but if it does, regarding these 25 islands, including the Senkaku Islands – as far as I know the Senkaku Islands are the property of an individual in the city of Kurihara, in Saitama Prefecture – are the remote islands that you intend to nationalize the property of local governments, or the property of one or more individuals?

Minister: I do not know. This is a factual matter, so I would like you to ask the officials in charge and not me. I think that the matter will become clear if you ask the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

Chan, Global Chinese Press: Does this involve the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism? Which government ministry or agency should I ask about this issue?

Minister: Of course, this is a matter of the government as a whole, but it is my understanding that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is handling it.

8. Dismissal of Lawmaker Muneo Suzuki's Appeal

Ida, Shukan Kinyobi: With regard to the fact that the Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal filed by Mr. Muneo Suzuki, Chairman of the Lower House Committee on Foreign Affairs, I would like to ask you what kind of impact this would have on Japanese diplomacy. While this appeal was dismissed, Ms. Muraki, a former director-general of a bureau at the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, was declared not guilty today, indicating that the prosecutors may have conducted interrogations in an unreasonable manner, giving priority to interrogation reports and making speculations. There are reports that this could apply to Mr. Suzuki’s case. I have heard that Mr. Suzuki claims to have received many phone calls of encouragement from his friends in Russia and elsewhere. Please tell us your thoughts on what kind of impact this may have in terms of diplomacy.

Minister: Mr. Suzuki has worked hard as the chairman of the Committee (on Foreign Affairs) so far, and he has frequently made overseas visits, including in his capacity as chairman. In that sense, it cannot be said that there will be no impact in terms of diplomacy. However, if a decision has been made by the Supreme Court, I believe that that must naturally be respected. As I said yesterday, a person who could possibly be handed a guilty sentence was appointed to a public office, and appointed as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and although I am one of those who endorsed his appointment, I feel that this was indeed regrettable. From the standpoint of the authority of the Diet, this should have been avoided. With regard to Ms. Muraki, I think it is a very happy occasion that she was found not guilty, as I have also known her. Although I do not know what will happen next, I am very interested in why such unreasonable interrogations were conducted.

9. Revision of the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement

Ida, Shukan Kinyobi: Do you feel that, from the perspective of other countries, particularly the United States, the fact that such unreasonable interrogations may be conducted in Japan, could be a factor hindering the revision of the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement? In other words, as this is about the investigative authority of the Japanese side, how do you feel about the view that the revision of the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement has been delayed because of the concerns of the US side that in this way, immediately turning over the custody (of US servicemen, etc.) to the Japanese side could result in unreasonable investigations?

Minister: This is the first time that I have heard of such a view, but I feel that basically, the judicial system is working properly (in Japan). Of course, the prosecutors may take extreme measures at times, but I think that in the end, excessive acts are corrected by the decisions of the court in the form of sentences that are handed down. Therefore, I would like to say that basically, I have confidence in Japan’s judiciary system. However, if prosecutors go overboard during the various interrogations they conduct, I feel that this strongly makes us recognize that there is a need for visualization of the investigations – and this is what the DPJ has been asserting.

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