(* 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 25, 2011, 5:30 p.m.
Place: MOFA Press Conference Room

Main topics:

  1. Opening Remarks
    • (1) Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake
    • (2) State Recognition of the Cook Islands
  2. Japan-US Relations (Host Nation Support)
  3. Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake

1. Opening Remarks

(1) Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake

Minister Matsumoto: With regard to the earthquake, 132 countries and territories and 34 international organizations have expressed their intention to offer assistance to Japan. We are receiving increasing number of assistance in kind, and most recently, relief supplies have been delivered from Iran, the EU, Venezuela, and Malaysia. I understand that a rescue team from India and supplies from Pakistan and Nepal are scheduled to arrive tomorrow. I would like to once again express our gratitude for the solidarity shown by the international community. 

Related Information (Tohoku - Pacific Ocean Earthquake)

(2) State Recognition of the Cook Islands

Minister: At the Cabinet meeting today, we decided to give state recognition to the Cook Islands, which are in free association with New Zealand. In the future, we intend to strengthen our relations with the Cook Islands, including cooperation in the international arena. 

2. Japan-US Relations (Host Nation Support)

Shiraishi, Yomiuri Shimbun: I would like to ask you a question concerning host nation support. A meeting of the Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee was convened today, and a vote (on a new agreement on host nation support) was originally scheduled to be held at this meeting, but in the end, the vote was postponed to next week at the earliest. Please tell us how you feel about this situation in the Diet and what kind of impact the situation in which the agreement is not getting approved readily will have on Japan-US relations in the future?

Minister: My understanding is that the Foreign Affairs Committee was not convened today. Since the management of the Diet is decided by the Diet, I am in no position to comment on that. Our position is that we would like the Diet to promptly conduct deliberations on treaties and agreements that we have submitted to the Diet and give its approval. As we are asking for the approval of the treaties and agreements that we have currently submitted to the Diet as those that should be approved, my position is to seek their approval as soon as possible because the current agreement on host nation support is in effect only until March 31. Under these circumstances, we hope that deliberations will be held at the Diet. As I just said, considering the relations between Japan and the United States, I believe that it would be desirable for the new agreement to be approved as soon as possible, so that it would subsequently take effect after the current agreement expires.

Saito, Kyodo News: The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) voted against the current agreement in both houses of the Diet during the ordinary session of the Diet in 2008, when it was an opposition party. Currently, the party's position is to aim at an early conclusion of the new agreement. How should we think about this in terms of consistency? As it appears that the DPJ is in a different position, please give us an explanation on this point in a way that the people understand clearly.

Minister: First of all, we voted in favor of it five years ago. The party voted against it three years ago.

   In the case of the agreement on host nation support five years ago, since the agreement entailed government spending, debates were conducted in the Diet regarding such matters as how the funds would be used, and after all, various points were made in the debates on how the taxpayers' money should be used in the broad sense. Nevertheless, upon comprehensively giving due consideration to the matter, we voted in favor of the agreement.

   As I believe that you would understand if you looked at the debates in the Diet three years ago, my understanding is that we voted against the agreement upon taking into consideration the degree of progress in reviewing the use of tax money during the period from five years ago to three years ago, as well as considering that by expressing opposition, we could firmly raise questions concerning such use of tax money, among other things.

   Just to make sure, while I believe that you would understand its intent, I would like for you to understand that the DPJ has said that it considers the Japan-US relations as the axis (of Japan's foreign policy) and has not opposed to the host nation support agreement itself.

   Generally speaking, as I myself have served as Chair of the Policy Research Committee of the DPJ, when it comes to voting for or against a bill while participating in debates as a lawmaker of an opposition party, it is easy to come to the conclusion of voting against the bill if it completely contradicts our policy. However, as I just said, in the case of the agreement on host nation support, we were not opposed to the agreement itself, but after all, we wanted to raise questions concerning the use of money in accordance with the agreement. That was the case five years ago when we voted for the agreement while raising questions during the debates. In the case of the agreement three years ago, I believe that we voted against it upon explaining the reasons for our opposition.

   Furthermore, as I recently said at a Diet committee meeting, I feel that we need to take seriously the fact that voices were raised pointing out that the DPJ's opposition to the host nation support agreement three years ago resulted in doubts to be cast at the DPJ concerning its views on Japan-US relations and the Japan-US alliance.

Saito, Kyodo News: Let me make a confirmation concerning this matter. Does that mean that you recognize a clear difference in the way that the money was used in 2008, or in other words, in accordance with the current agreement, and the way that the money is to be used in accordance with the new agreement, for which the government is currently seeking Diet’s approval?

Minister: I am aware that in the consultations with the United States in the process of formulating the agreement with the United States during this time, one of the things that was pointed out three years ago was the possibility that the agreement included, among other things, labor costs for entertainment-related jobs, for which it is difficult to gain the understanding of the people, while another thing that was pointed out was that there might be more room to save on utility expenses, etc. My understanding is that we have submitted the agreement to the Diet considering that this is the best agreement in that we have done all we can and that a certain level of improvement has been made by revising the framework of the agreement this time, so that labor costs are reviewed and utilities expenses are saved.

Nishioka, Mainichi Newspapers: Amid these severe circumstances confronting the entire country, a situation has once again emerged in which a vote (on the agreement on host nation support) has been postponed due to the confusion over the attendance of the Defense Minister. In a certain sense, I believe that this is an extremely embarrassing situation. Meanwhile, there are concerns that such a situation could send a wrong message to the US military, to which we are indebted for their disaster assistance. Please tell us how you feel about this matter.

Minister: As I said earlier, since the current agreement will be expiring, we have submitted the new agreement to the Diet, requesting its approval and asking the Diet to conduct deliberations on it.

   In that sense, as you just mentioned, we certainly are currently receiving substantial assistance from the US Forces in Japan (USFJ) with regard to the earthquake. I feel that we must express gratitude, and at the same time, as we are asking for the approval of the host nation support agreement amid a situation in which the USFJ are shouldering the obligation to defend Japan in accordance with the Japan-US Security Treaty, we intend to convey our request that the agreement be approved as soon as possible.

   In the end, however, I believe that we also need to say that we are not in a position to comment on the schedule of the Diet deliberations.

Yamamoto, Sekai Nippo: In connection with host nation support, Policy Research Council Chairman Ishiba of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has made critical remarks during interviews and other occasions to the effect that the DPJ ultimately has not made a thorough explanation regarding host nation support. However, I heard during an interview that in the end, he accepted your explanation and changed his stance, acknowledging that the Kan administration is moving toward deepening the Japan-US alliance.

   Is it in that sense that in the end, your explanation turned out to be a sincere and convincing explanation to Chairman Ishiba when you made your final statement in exchanges made during the last committee meeting? Please tell us your views on that.

Minister: According to what I have on hand right now, we have not directly asked the LDP about its official decision on the agreement, so I am not in a position to comment on that from our side. However, as has been the case so far, deliberations on the host nation support agreement have actually not started yet. So far, we have given answers to questions about it that we received during deliberations at meetings of other relevant committees. However, while this is a matter about the future in terms of deliberations at the Diet, if understanding can be gained on what we have been saying, I believe that gaining bipartisan understanding itself is very welcome.


3. Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake

Ichihara, NHK: With regard to the acceptance of assistance related to the disaster, while it has been two weeks today since the disaster occurred, how is the situation concerning study and coordination for accepting foreign doctors, nurses, and teams that will be conducting medical activities?

Minister: My understanding is that with regard to how medical activities themselves ought to be carried out, results have been achieved to a certain extent as a result of coordination conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. Amid this situation, we intend to promote coordination on offers that have been made, as we have been saying that we would like to accept them by all means.

   However, when it comes to accepting people to a greater extent than supplies, I believe that specific coordination will become necessary, including how we accept them and how we bring them to the relevant sites, so when it becomes possible to speak to you about specific details, I would like to tell you about them as they come along.

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