(* 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: Tuesday, March 22, 2011, 3:00 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. Japan-Russia Relations
  4. Situation in Libya
  5. Domestic Politics (omitted)

1. Opening Remarks

(1) Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake

Minister Matsumoto: Unfortunately, the number of victims of the Tohoku-Pacific Ocean earthquake is apparently increasing. Once again, I would like to humbly pray for those who have passed away, and at the same time, I would like to express condolences and sympathy to the afflicted people.
The government is currently making utmost efforts to support those afflicted by the disaster, as well as to work on measures to deal with the problems at the nuclear power plant. With regard to matters related to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 128 countries and 33 international organizations have already approached us with offers of assistance, according to information I have on hand right now. Since the information is being updated on our website, etc., I believe that you can obtain more accurate figures by looking at the information there. We are very grateful that so many countries have expressed their intention to offer assistance. While I spoke about this in responding to interpellations at the Upper House Budget Committee meeting today, we would like to accept the offers by working out arrangements as much as possible and make good use of them in our efforts to tackle this earthquake disaster. In addition, after the previous press conference, many people and the top leaders of various countries, including President Hu Jintao of China and Prime Minister Lee of Singapore, singed condolence books at Japanese embassies. We would like to express our heartfelt appreciation for the solidarity shown by the international community.

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

Minister: We held the Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Foreign Ministers' Meeting on the 19th in Kyoto. Although the meeting was already scheduled before the earthquake disaster, we reviewed the matter within the government once again regarding whether we should hold the meeting. We decided to shorten the meeting from the original schedule, while leaving the working meeting portion intact. At the same time, we decided to hold the meeting itself as scheduled, as we have received assistance from both China and South Korea and as our relations with each of those countries are one of the diplomatic relations on which we have so far placed a lot of importance as our closest neighbors. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and South Korean Foreign and Trade Minister Kim Sung-hwan attended the meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, we offered silent prayers to the victims. Subsequently, China and South Korea expressed solidarity saying that they "were with Japan." They also expressed their intention to provide maximum assistance. In addition, they expressed their appreciation for convening the meeting under such circumstances. I expressed deep gratitude for the emergency rescue teams of the two countries that came to Japan very quickly, as well as for the provision of relief supplies, etc. I also expressed our resolve to do all we can to overcome this national crisis. In terms of trilateral cooperation, what became the major theme of the latest meeting was cooperation in the areas of disaster prevention, disaster management, and nuclear safety. We held intensive discussions in order to realize cooperation in these areas in a good way. In addition, as a result of coordination, we agreed to cooperate so that concrete results can be gained in these areas in the future, during the Japan-China-ROK summit, which we wish to realize by all means.

2. Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake

Saito, Kyodo News: I have two questions in connection with acceptance of assistance from various countries. The first is that although there are detailed announcements about rescue teams and these can be viewed on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office, there are also reports that various countries are talking about voluntarily providing heavy oil to Japan, for example, or in the case of Russia, there are reports that at the local sites, they are talking about redirecting natural gas bound for Europe toward Japan. Please let us know if you currently have any substantial data on new offers of additional assistance from such countries. Also, please let us know if you know of the state of progress with regard to natural gas from Russia and oil from China.

Minister: As I spoke about this at the Budget Committee meeting today, we are having bilateral discussions so that we can coordinate regarding the provision of such supplies, on the premise that basically we will accept them by all means, as Japan is currently facing a severe situation. However, while there are various talks going on, I believe that it is probably true that the energy sector is a major theme for Japan, as was just mentioned. Nevertheless, when it comes to actuallyaccepting supplies, I believe that we will be doing that while conducting coordination, including such matters as what kind of supplies would be delivered, in what form they would be delivered, and where and how they would be delivered. With regard to individual items that I am already able to speak about, I believe that we will again be making announcements on our website. I also think that depending on the details, there are some items still under coordination that cannot be announced until coordination has been done to a certain extent. I would like you to keep watching the announcements we will be making.

Kamide, Freelance: I would like to make a confirmation in connection with the nuclear power plant issue. There are reports that at the time when the accident occurred, the United States offered assistance for some specific safety measures, but Japan declined. According to the reports, the offer was premised on abandoning of the nuclear reactors. When I checked with the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, etc., I found that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly acted as a liaison and declined the offer for the time being on grounds that there were still some matters that needed to be studied at the present stage. Was there such an offer that was premised on abandoning the nuclear reactors, or was there an offer, although not in that form, but since it was still only the 12th, Japan actually declined? Since this was linked to an argument that if Japan had responded sooner, the situation could have been slightly different and may not have become so serious, and it has been reported on the Internet as well as by some newspapers, please give us the facts in detail, including roughly when this interaction took place, although it does not have to be right now.

Minister: As I said earlier, I am not aware that Japan declined any assistance. Our overall policy, as I mentioned earlier, is that we will basically accept offers. However, I cannot speak about the offers right now by making specific references to the United States or the US military. For example, when we heard that a type of assistance was possible, amid various offers being made, if we were to say that we definitely want such assistance, there may be cases in which the other side might say that it would actually take one week to deliver the aid, while for our part, if we were told that they could deliver aid tomorrow to such and such a place, it could be that the place concerned may still not be accessible tomorrow. Therefore, in the sense of matching the supply and demand, it is true that there are things that we did not immediately accept on the spot, but I am not aware that we rejected any offer of assistance.
   In addition, just in case you did not know, I would like to say that it is my understanding that a similar question was apparently asked at a press conference (in the US) and a spokesman at the US State Department replied that he did not know that Japan ever rejected a US offer of assistance.

Kamide, Freelance: There are talks that Japan declined the assistance on grounds that abandoning the nuclear reactors was a premise, or this or that.

Minister: With regard to relations with the United States, experts have already arrived from an early stage. Although I cannot accurately recall whether they were here at the stage you just mentioned, we established close contact at a considerably early stage. Of course, there are considerable debates about the possibility of various kinds of assistance or that there may be certain problems. Amid such debates, it is a fact that not everything we said on the spot was immediately translated into action right there. However, my understanding is that what we felt was necessary at the time by holding discussions and at least based on information that was available at that stage has been promptly realized.

Kamide, Freelance: When did the United States make the first offer?

Minister: My understanding is that the offer, should I say, or the communication and collaboration with the United States or the US military existed practically from the day of the earthquake.

Solovyov, Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Under Prime Minister Putin's instructions, Russia plans to deliver gas to Japan. How do you feel about that? Also, will Japan be able to conclude some kind of a contract immediately?

Minister: As I just said, I would like to refrain from giving individual answers regarding Russia. However, with regard to all the offers of assistance that we received, we have examined them very closely, although we are very grateful about receiving the assistance. Therefore, various discussions are being conducted, premised on accepting the offers by all means.
   Although this is not particularly about Russia, if, for example, there were an offer that certain things would be delivered to a certain place and then we would take them from that point, there could be the question of where and how we would receive them. I have heard that there are even cases in which, for example, assistance would be provided and sufficient volume would be secured, but we would have to pay. Although this is a generalization, there are such cases, so I believe that with regard to the kind of offers we would accept, the conditions under which we would accept those offers, and the stage at which we would accept them, we will probably successively make requests as soon as arrangements are worked out.
   Once again, if they have taken the trouble to come here all the way from Russia, I would like you, by all means, to convey our gratitude to Russia, including the President -- as I also held talks with the Foreign Minister at the G8 Foreign ministers' Meeting -- for the expression of solidarity, the words of sympathy and words of encouragement, as well as the offers of generous assistance, including the rescue team from Russia.

Mukai, Yomiuri Shimbun: I have two questions. The first is related to relief teams and rescue teams from various countries. For example, the teams of such countries as South Korea have tentatively completed their search and rescue activities, and 107 members are currently on standby in Niigata. I believe that there will be cases in which the teams of other countries will also tentatively complete their rescue activities and be on standby in Japan. My first question is whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be coordinating with these countries to request their teams to continue their activities in Japan in some other ways.
   My second question concerns the summit meeting between the top leaders of Japan and China. While I believe that coordination was initially made to hold the meeting during the first half of this year, please tell us whether you are thinking about postponing it in consideration of the earthquake disaster.

Minister: Concerning your first question, as I recall telling all of you here before, I was in New Zealand -- I think that was more than two weeks ago. Basically, most disaster relief teams are totally self-sufficient and can move on their own. In the case of New Zealand, Japan sent replacement teams at nearly one-week intervals. In that sense, I believe that the disaster relief teams of the various countries operated at almost full capacity. Although in that sense, there are teams that are still operating right now, of course, I believe that it is natural that there are teams that arrived early and have come to a certain juncture as the first batch, so to speak.
   Of course, as I said earlier, we intend to totally accept all assistance if there are more talks of such offers, as search and rescue operations are still continuing, with another person rescued the other day. However, with regard to the situation that the first batch of rescue teams are facing and what is happening to them, we would like to work out arrangements, while receiving requests from them.
   As for your second question on our diplomatic schedule, since we held a foreign ministers' meeting just recently, frankly speaking, we would have to reconsider it if the summit were to start the following day. As we held the foreign ministers' meeting in the first place, and this time, we are thinking about producing results in the areas of disaster prevention, disaster cooperation, and nuclear safety, I would like coordination to be conducted properly, while taking into consideration the tradeoffs in terms of time and looking at upcoming measures to deal with the disaster and the prospects of reconstruction. For the time being, we would like to do our best in diplomacy, while making assurance doubly sure with regard to disaster management. In the first place, coordination on the schedule of the summit itself is still under way at the moment, so I think that we are not at the stage to speak about postponing it and so forth.

Solovyov, Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Currently, a team of more than 100 Russian emergency relief workers is conducting activities in the Tohoku region. Are there any disaster relief teams from other countries? How many members are there?

Minister: As far as I know, 20 teams from 20 countries have come to Japan. While you asked a question at the beginning, 12 of those teams have completed their missions. Currently, 8 teams are conducting activities.

Solovyov, Rossiyskaya Gazeta: About how many members are there?

Minister: I do not have information on hand right now regarding the total number. If you need it, please ask again later.

3. Japan-Russia Relations

Sakai, Sankei Shimbun: Amid this earthquake disaster, there was an incident in which Russian fighters flew over the Sea of Japan yesterday and A Japan Air Self-Defense Force aircraft scrambled to deal with them. JASDF also had an aircraft scramble to deal with a Russian information-gathering aircraft on the 17th. Please tell us whether Japan has lodged complaints over such incidents or whether there are plans to do so. Also, please tell us how you feel about such acts.

Minister: I am not in a position to announce how our Self-Defense Forces are dealing with the operations of Russian military aircraft or unidentified aircraft. However, I am aware that there were such reports.
   As foreign minister, considering that we have received words of sympathy from various countries as well as offers of assistance from them, it is our position to promote relations with various countries in the future, believing that those are indeed their true feelings.

4. Situation in Libya

Nishigaki, Jiji Press: Turning to Libya, as military intervention by the US, UK, and French forces has started upon the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution last weekend, you expressed support for this in your statement. Please tell us your views on this once again, as well as specifically what kind of action the Government of Japan intends to take in the wake of this resolution and the military intervention.

Minister: With regard to the situation in Libya, despite the fact that the UN Security Council adopted a resolution, a situation has emerged that unfortunately required another UNSC resolution. Even though Government of Japan has repeatedly called for the Libyan authorities to immediately cease the violence against the people of Libya, the violence is continuing as confirmed at the summit meeting held in Paris on the day before yesterday. Our understanding is that as a result of this, ordinary citizens in Libya are under the threat of attacks.
   Consequently, I said in my statement that the Government of Japan affirms that Member States of the United Nations take measures according to the UN resolution that were adopted this time for the purpose of protecting the civilians.
   While Japan has steadily implemented the UNSC Resolution 1970, I would like for you to understand that following the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1973, we are currently taking procedures to promptly implement such provisions as additional targets of the asset freeze. While continuing to watch the situation closely, we intend to cooperate closely with relevant countries to urge the Libyan authorities to cease the violence against their own people.

Deguchi, Kyodo News: My question also concerns the situation in Libya. As the Gaddafi administration continues its violence against ordinary citizens, do you have any message for Colonel Gaddafi or think that a leader who continues such acts should step down?
   Additionally, please tell us if there are any specific matters such as assets that have been frozen as a result of the sanctions currently imposed.

Minister: As for the last part of your question, although I believe that preparations have already been made to impose the measures under Resolution 1970, I do not have any information on hand about whether there are any assets that have been frozen as a result of that. If you need it, I would like to give you an answer later.
   In addition, we are demanding that Libyan authorities immediately cease the violence against the people of Libya, their own people, and ordinary citizens, and I believe that that is precisely our urgent demand at the moment. As to whether the position of a leader, as you just mentioned, has any relevance with regard to this, I believe that it requires some understanding and judgment. If one is a person in charge of the authorities who are attacking ordinary citizens and is effectively the person in charge, I believe that there are matters that the person must indeed consider.

5. Domestic Politics (omitted)

Domestic Politics (omitted)

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