(* 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 Takeaki Matsumoto

Date: Friday, March 18, 2011, 3:20 p.m.
Place: MOFA Press Conference Room

Main topics:

  1. Opening Remarks
    • (1) Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake
    • (2) Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Foreign Ministers' Meeting
  2. Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake
  3. Situation in Libya

1. Opening Remarks

(1) Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake

Minister Matsumoto: With regard to the Tohoku-Pacific Ocean earthquake, various countries and international organizations have offered assistance. Therefore, representing the Government of Japan, as well as the people of Japan, I would like to once again express our sincere appreciation.  We have started accepting the signing of condolence books at our diplomatic missions abroad from March 16th. I have heard that US President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel signed the books yesterday, while Indian Prime Minister Singh signed one today. I believe that South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and the leaders of various other countries, as well as government officials and many citizens have come to sign the books. In addition, we would like to make efforts, being greatly encouraged by the fact that we are receiving kindness from various countries and people of the world, such as citizens voluntarily conducting fundraising activities in various countries.
  While I have been allowed to attend the G8 meeting the other day, I myself have also noticed it, but embassy officials were saying that they felt encouraged because people all wave at them when they see the Japanese flag on their cars. Also, while I believe that countries are all conducting activities from the standpoint of protecting their own people, I believe that we can expect them to act calmly as we thoroughly provide information. With regard to the nuclear power plants, although the date has changed to yesterday due to the time difference, I would like to inform you that US Deputy Secretary of Energy Poneman said that there is no reason to question the measures taken by Japan and that they were appropriate.
   I spoke a while ago with IAEA Director General Amano. I told him that I would  continue to firmly cooperate with him and that I would make efforts to gain the understanding of the international community by providing an explanation that is transparent. The Director General said that he would like to cooperate.
   With regard to this matter, the United States has sent (experts), and the US nuclear experts and Japanese experts are working together closely. I expect them to ask them to continue doing so. 

(2) Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Foreign Ministers' Meeting

Minister: The meeting was scheduled for tomorrow, and as I made a confirmation once again within the government today, it will be held tomorrow. As you are aware, we are having the foreign ministers come to Japan, so if it was not for the current situation, we were considering various things worthy of their reception. However, under the current circumstances, we plan to hold a Japan-ROK meeting, China-ROK meeting, and a Japan-China-ROK trilateral meeting, along with a short dinner all within a half-day schedule. With regard to the trilateral relations, or shall I say, the relations between Japan and China as well as South Korea are very important to us in Japan, so on this occasion that has been scheduled, we would like to make efforts to strengthen the cooperative relations and the diplomatic relations between each other and among the three countries. 

2. Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake

Shiraishi, Yomiuri Shimbun: I have two questions related to the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. You said that the US side has spoken to the Government of Japan about sending its nuclear experts to Japan. Were there any specific offers in terms of supplies such as helicopters, coolants, boric acid, or protective suits? Another question is that since countries other than the United States, such as Russia, South Korea, and France, have apparently indicated their intentions to offer assistance in some way with regard to the nuclear power plant issue. Specifically what kind of offers have they presented?

Minister: Various countries have indicated their intentions to offer full assistance with regard to this disaster, not just the nuclear power plant issue. With regard to this nuclear power plant issue and other issues as well, we are working out arrangements to accept assistance according to our needs while coordinating with other parties regarding what kind of assistance is possible.

Nagai, Nihon Keizai Shimbun: I would be grateful if you can tell us specifically what kind of things there are among the items being coordinated. I also have another question. While you said during your meeting a while ago with IAEA Director General Amano that you "make efforts with an awareness that it is necessary to enhance transparency," please tell us specifically what kind of steps or response you intend to take to enhance transparency.

Minister: With regard to the first question, my understanding is that we will provide answers or announce the items of the individual supplies, etc. when we begin accepting them upon conducting specific coordination. While we are receiving various offers from various places, we are making judgments including the question of what we should receive from where that would be the most effective in terms of (disaster) alleviation. Since each country is making its offer out of goodwill, I would like to refrain from speaking about individual items while we are still in the process of coordination.
   As for the issue of transparency, while we have been proceeding with the understanding that it is important to provide explanation both domestically and externally, we intend to actively respond to various questions primarily from the international community such as how they would like for us to explain or what they do not understand. I understand that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already been working from several days ago to distribute material in English or provide explanation to the governments of various countries or foreign media. I spoke with Director General Amano to the effect that as we proceed with implementing various steps such as these, we would like to gradually enhance transparency where we can on the efforts we have made so far.

Nishigaki, Jiji Press: In relation to your meeting with the IAEA director general, I believe that experts on radiation measurement came to Japan together with IAEA Director General Amano this time. My first question is what role these experts are expected to play in Japan, and my second question is that as Japan will likely ask the IAEA for further assistance, what kind of assistance the Government of Japan expects in the sense of further assistance. Please answer these two questions.

Minister: While the government has already been measuring radiation levels, we hope that with the experts from the IAEA coming to Japan, the data collected at various places by various methods will be used effectively in full collaboration with the government. As for future assistance, while I spoke earlier about the assistance toward the disaster in general, we are making utmost efforts in doing what we should do right now with regard to this nuclear issue. Amid this situation, the IAEA, for its part, has many experts, so upon coordination, we would like to accept them if possible for whatever assistance we can seek from them and thereby make the nuclear energy system perfectly safe within the framework of international cooperative relations.

Kamide, Freelance: With regard to transparency, I have actually been conducting interviews at the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry and Tokyo Electric Power Company. In the case of transparency, the general public has a certain kind of mistrust of the government, being suspicious of whether it is really disclosing everything, as the situation is fluctuating with explosions occurring despite the government's saying that it is safe; I believe that there is the issue of transparency at this level. Concerning the specific details of the transparency of information disclosed to foreign governments, are you merely talking about having this done properly at the government level or about transmitting information to the world? In that case, what constitutes transparency from your standpoint? Please tell us about this in slightly more specific terms. Although I believe that this is tantamount to transparency of information disclosed to the Japanese people, I am not quite sure about that point.

Minister: I would like to speak about that on this occasion. I would like to go as far as to tell all of you that the government, for its part, has never thought about withholding information or what needs to be announced.
    It is a fact that the Tohoku-Pacific Ocean earthquake was beyond imagination for many people in terms of not only its intensity but also the size of the tsunamis. Unfortunately, that caused immense damage, including the problems at the nuclear power plant. Amid this situation, we are providing in a timely manner all information that can be gathered, as well as explanation of the situation that can be gathered and explanation of the situation based on those information. We intend to speak about these matters with sincerity so that the government can share the relationship of mutual trust on this point with the people, and from a global standpoint, with the people of the whole world.
   On top of that, while it is a fact that we have been hearing voices emerging from within and outside the country seeking certain information, I am aware that at the moment, we unfortunately do not necessarily have all the information that is sought. We are taking action upon determining that we must promptly take countermeasures after assessing the situation as accurately as possible based on the available information and gathering any additionally necessary information if that is possible.
   It is probably in that sense that you just pointed out that everything is not turning out the way that we said we expected, as we are facing an unprecedented disaster and as the disaster itself was beyond imagination, frankly speaking. However, we would like you to understand that we have so far been dealing with this nuclear power plant issue by repeatedly grasping the situation as much as possible, selecting the best steps that can be taken at the moment, and doing all we can to implement such steps, and that we are indeed currently in the midst of trying to overcome that issue.

Ichihara, NHK: With regard to requests by various countries concerning certain information that you just mentioned, what kind of information is sought?

Minister: There is also a question of the extent of their understanding of the situation. Frankly speaking, various questions have been raised, such as a question that cannot be answered unless you are constantly staying right next to the power plant. I think that this is unavoidable. A person who is at a disaster site and another person who is looking at the situation from far away will have different views even if the latter tries to understand the situation by using his or her imagination. As I myself was at the earthquake countermeasures headquarters in New Zealand before I became foreign minister, I believe that this is an unavoidable reality. As you just asked the question, I believe that as we speak about the fact that we are properly disclosing information related to the nuclear power plant that can be disclosed or that can be gathered, this is coming to be understood.

Yamamoto, Sekai Nippo: While various countries are conducting coordination on what is necessary, as you explained earlier, Mr. Maher, Director of the Office of Japan Affairs of the State Department was recently dismissed from his post due to those remarks he made, but there are reports that he is serving in a special team set up in the State Department, working as a coordinator between Japan and the United States. Are you aware of that? Please tell us your honest opinion concerning his serving this role after being dismissed.

Minister: I am aware that Director Maher has been replaced.

Yamamoto, Sekai Nippo: Since then, there have been reports that a special team has been set up so that Japan and the US State department can determine what kind of supplies are necessary, and that Mr. Maher is serving as a coordinator.

Minister: I have seen the reports. For our part, I believe that necessary coordination with the US Government is being undertaken. I would like to earnestly ask that there be no misunderstanding, we were not merely conducting coordination during this whole week. I would like to convey to you that we are steadily accepting what has been coordinated.

Yamamoto, Sekai Nippo: Putting aside the fact that Mr. Maher was dismissed in such a course of events, what I meant was how you evaluate the fact that, in a certain sense, he is once again handling such affairs with sincerity.

Minister: I am not speaking with some individual person. We are speaking with the US Government. As such, I am not in a position to make any further comments.

Ito, Japan Times: Embassies of various countries, one after another, are sending the people of their countries away from Japan and temporarily closing down their embassies or moving their offices to the Kansai area. Please tell us how you feel about these moves and whether you have any concerns that such developments could stir further anxieties about the nuclear power plant issue in particular.

Minister: I believe that each country is acting in accordance with its own decision. We intend to disclose information properly. With regard to the nuclear power plant, we have currently instructed people living within 20 km of the power plant to evacuate and those living within 30 km to stay inside their houses. In reference to that, the US Deputy Secretary of Energy has deemed that Japan is taking appropriate measures. In that sense, I believe that what we are trying to has been understood, and I feel that at the moment, it is our duty to provide information properly so that we can be understood.
   Of course, I believe that the final judgment is up to the discretion of the people of each country.

Saito, Kyodo News: I would like to ask a question concerning the handling of the situation of those afflicted by the earthquake rather than about the nuclear power plant issue.
   You mentioned earlier that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently engaged in confirming the safety of foreigners. Please explain the significance of this effort and the current situation regarding to what extent the work on confirming the safety of the foreigners has progressed, as well as upcoming challenges, etc.

Minister: While this will be a repetition of what I said earlier, only two weeks ago, I was in a position as a foreigner to request the cooperation of the New Zealand Government in confirming the safety of Japanese nationals in New Zealand. In that sense, I feel that the confirmation of the safety of the Japanese people and the confirmation of the safety of the foreigners must really be done in the same way. Regarding the foreigners, however, there are many cases in which fewer people around them know about the situation of those foreigners, such as where they used to be, before it became necessary to confirm their safety as compared to the case of Japanese people. Consequently, I believe that we need to do a follow-up, including such matters.
   Specifically, we receive requests from the embassies of various countries concerning the confirmation of the safety of their people. I believe that each embassy is making various efforts toward protecting its own people, working in various regions and with our government here. In the sense that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs handles relations with diplomatic corps in Tokyo, we intend to make efforts so that the safety of the foreigners can be confirmed quickly by having MOFA listen to such requests as much as possible and properly share information with relevant government institutions.
   While this will not be limited to the police or the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which is in charge of local governments, I have given instructions from the beginning to set up a system that enables broad collaboration. My understanding is that this is moving forward and each point of contact at the working level is functioning properly and work is currently underway.

Nishioka, Mainichi Newspapers: How do you intend to give a briefing on the earthquake to the South Korean side and the Chinese side during tomorrow's Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Foreign Ministers' meeting? Also, please tell us what other topics are on the agenda beside the earthquake.

Minister: Frankly speaking, since the earthquake has turned out to be of such great magnitude, I believe that we will be discussing mostly about matters related to the earthquake. I plan to speak frankly about the situation of the disaster, including the overall damage caused by the tsunamis, as well as the current situation at the nuclear power plant, although MOFA sends daily notifications on that to various foreign countries. I would like to thoroughly speak about these matters at the meeting tomorrow, and if possible, I would like to speak about strengthening the cooperative framework in the future, while firmly expressing our gratitude for the assistance we have already received from China and South Korea in various forms.
   First of all, our top priority is to overcome the great disaster that confronts us, and we intend to concentrate all our efforts toward that. Since disaster prevention and nuclear safety have been topics of discussion in the East Asia region for some time, I hope that on this occasion, deepening the debate on these topics will be discussed among the three countries in the future and their directions can be adjusted to match.

3. Situation in Libya

Saito, Kyodo News: My question concerns Libya. Although you spoke about this topic earlier, I would like to ask another question.
   This UN resolution demands that the Gaddafi regime halt violent actions immediately, and – this may be under Article 7 – it appears to approve military action against Libya by the international community. What is your specific reaction to this UN resolution? Also, what measures do you think should be taken with regard to the situation in Libya? I would like to ask your views on these points.

Minister: I prepared my statement with care, so I had written everything that needed to be said, but let me reiterate this: despite the fact that resolution 1970 came out recently, Libyan government authorities unfortunately continue to exert marked violence against their citizens, and I cannot but strongly criticize that. I would also like to state my strong concerns over the fact that many have been dead or wounded.
   As I stated earlier, Article 6 of this resolution speaks of a no-fly zone, and Article 22, although I need to check for accuracy, has strengthened sanctions. It is strongly expected, and we also demand that Libyan government authorities immediately halt violence against Libyan citizens, and what we are demanding is that the Libyan authorities comply fully with the resolution immediately.
   It is our understanding that the fact that a resolution by the UN Security Council was issued is a strong message from the international community.

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