(* 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 29, 2011, 4:15 p.m.
Place: MOFA Press Conference Room

Main topics:

  1. Opening Remarks
    • (1) Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake
    • (2) Visit to Japan by President Sarkozy of the French Republic
  2. Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake
  3. Foreign Affairs, National Security (China's Threatening Behavior in the East China Sea, Close Approaches to Japanese Airspace by Russia)
  4. Takeshima Issue

1. Opening Remarks

(1) Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake

Minister Matsumoto: With regard to the disaster, 134 countries and territories and 39 international organizations have expressed their intention to offer assistance to Japan at the moment. Beginning today, a 53-member medical team from Israel started conducting activities in Minami-Sanrikucho, Miyagi Prefecture as the first medical team from a foreign country. As for assistance in kind, supplies from 28 countries, territories, and organizations have arrived so far. Recently, 10 tons of biscuits from India arrived on the 28th, while 4 mobile power generation equipment from South Korea arrived this morning, the 29th, along with 1,800 solar lamps from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In addition, as we have received large amounts of monetary donations from the governments of various countries, civilian organizations, and individuals, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude. As for the details, while I intend to publicize official figures at another time after conducting a close inspection, the amount accepted at our diplomatic establishments abroad has exceeded 1 billion yen. The situation is such that if you include the offers that have been announced to us and what has been reported by the news media – although we do not have direct knowledge – I believe that the amount of money could be larger by another digit. In any case, I would like to publicize the figures after conducting a close inspection.

(2) Visit to Japan by President Sarkozy of the French Republic

Minister: President Nicolas Sarkozy of the French Republic is scheduled to visit Japan on the 31st and hold talks with Prime Minister Kan. We are receiving the President in response to his intention to visit Japan as the chair of this year's G8/G20 Summit so as to convey the solidarity of the international community and announce its assistance to Japan in the wake of the earthquake.

2. Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake

Oshima, Asahi Shimbun: Yomiuri Shimbun reported this morning that a Japan-US joint liaison and coordination council has been set up to deal with the nuclear power plant accident. Please tell us whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is involved in this council, and if so, please tell us to the extent that is permissible how it is involved.

Minister: Japan and the United States are cooperating in the responses to the disaster as well as to the nuclear power plant. With regard to Japan-US cooperation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is proactively involved in that cooperation team as the government stands united. As for the report by Yomiuri Shimbun, although I am aware of the report, I will not make any comments on that.

Saito, Kyodo News: I would like to ask a question concerning President Sarkozy's visit. I understand that currently, France is substantially promoting an energy policy relying on nuclear power. I believe that even in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the President's intention with regard to the nuclear power generation policy is that this policy will not be withdrawn at all in France and that it would be promoted – I understand that he made such a comment. Please tell us how the Government of Japan view the position taken by France and how GOJ it plans to promote collaboration with France on this nuclear power plant issue.
   At the same time, I have one more question. According to reports, the French minister in charge of energy-related affairs has made the following comment: "In response to requests from the Japanese side, we have decided to send experts from our country to Japan in connection with the Fukushima nuclear power plant issue." How does Japan intend to strengthen Japanese and French expert-based collaboration? Japan and the United States are already doing this. I would also like to ask how Japan intends to sort this out.

Minister: With regard to nuclear power generation, I think that such countries as the United States, France, Japan, and Russia may be called major powers. In that context, I remember that Russian experts have visited Japan. With regard to the latest accident at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, debates were also held at the Diet today concerning (whether the disaster was) "within or beyond assumptions." In any case, it is a fact that we have had to address the Fukushima nuclear power plant issue until today precisely because it is a great disaster exceeding the extent to which preparations had at least been made. Therefore, in order to restore the situation to a normal state while minimizing the diffusion of radioactive substances as much as possible, I think that there basically is the belief in the international community that all available technologies and knowledge should be mobilized. Although I do not have any information on hand as to specifically what we are requesting of individual countries, I believe that since there are offers, shall I say, or talk about international cooperation, it is important to first address this matter properly while thoroughly utilizing such cooperation.

Mukai, Yomiuri Shimbun: With regard to monetary donations from various countries that you mentioned at the beginning, it appears that a substantial amount of money has been collected. Please tell us how the government intends to utilize this money and through what channels.

Minister: I would like that money to be used by all means in a way that is the most effective in reconstructing the livelihood of the afflicted persons. In that sense, I intend to closely consult other officials including Minister Ryu Matsumoto, who is directly in charge of this matter, and as I believe that it is important to quickly hand the money to the afflicted persons upon properly determining the method that responds to the feelings of the people who sent the money and is useful to the afflicted persons, I feel that the government must properly handle the monetary donations that have been entrusted to it. However, I am not aware that details such as specific methods have been decided at the moment.

Yamamoto, Sekai Nippo: While it was explained that a medical team from Israel has arrived in Japan and started medical activities, it was said that there are legal restrictions on medical practices by holders of foreign medical licenses. Are the activities being conducted after these circumstances were cleared up quickly?
   I have one more question. While I believe that the Israeli medical team has started conducting activities in Sanrikucho, Miyagi Prefecture, if there are other similar medical teams, are there certain places where you would want them to go?

Minister: For your first question, I think that it would be best to place an inquiry with the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. However, my understanding is that as a decision has already been made on guidelines concerning the scope of activities that the holders of foreign medical licenses are permitted to conduct amid this unprecedented great disaster, the Israeli medical team is conducting its activities in accordance with those guidelines.
   With regard to your second question, amid various offers that we have received, offers of assistance are of course very broad, ranging from relief supplies to doing anything that can be done. As there are offers of medical assistance as in the example cited, I believe that if we accept such offers and they contribute to reconstructing the livelihood of the afflicted persons, we should proactively promote this by all means. We at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our staff, as well as government officials, are truly making great efforts in that sense this time as well. Growing up in Hyogo Prefecture, I recall the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which occurred 16 years ago, and understand that matching and coordination is very important when it comes to assistance, and determining how to properly deliver what truly fits the needs is a very important role. In that sense, I believe that by making utmost efforts to ensure that the good will we are receiving from various countries matches the needs and then by successively accepting the matched offers, we are gradually achieving results. With regard to medical services, I think that there still remains the extra possibility of needs in certain areas in the future. As such, I believe that the question of whether a certain need exists as one type of the needs that should be searched will become the subject of study, along with the question of what kinds of assistance are available from the providers.

3. Foreign Affairs, National Security (China's Threatening Behavior in the East China Sea, Close Approaches to Japanese Airspace by Russia)

Sakai, Sankei Shimbun: Although I asked you this question before, after this great disaster, Russian aircraft have made close approaches to Japanese airspace and China has shown threatening behavior in the East China Sea. Please tell us once again the views of the Government of Japan and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding such behavior.

Minister: As I have repeatedly stated, I believe that we have properly handled foreign affairs and national security, considering that they cannot be neglected even for a single day. With regard to the close approach made by a Chinese helicopter to an escort ship in the East China Sea, which you just mentioned, my understanding is that as stated at a press conference by the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs yesterday, we lodged a complaint, urging China not to repeat such flights, as the close approach by the helicopter was a dangerous action.
   With regard to close approaches to Japanese airspace made by Russian aircraft, on which I received a question recently, while I replied to interpellations at the Diet concerning this matter, I believe that the (Air) Self-Defense Force responded appropriately. As for complaints, while I believe that continuity is important in diplomacy that has been conduced so far, my understanding is that from the time that Japan has been under the rule of the Democratic Party of Japan, as well as during the period under the rule of a different political party, Russian aircraft have consistently flown over international waters, and as they possess the freedom to fly over the high seas, Japan has not lodged any complaints if they did not intrude into Japanese airspace. Also, while I have been asked a number of questions by the media and at the Diet, I have never said that we would not protest or lodge a complaint because Russia is one of the countries from which we are receiving assistance with regard to the latest earthquake. If there has been any misunderstanding, I would like to use this opportunity to clearly deny that. Let me repeat that with regard to China, we have lodged a complaint as we have done so far, telling them that close-approach flights are dangerous. With regard to close approaches to Japanese airspace by Russian aircraft, I would like you to understand that we have not lodged complaints to Russia because, as in the past, they did not intrude into our airspace.

Saito, Kyodo News: I would like to ask an additional question concerning the close-approach flight that you just spoke about. This was not the first case of close-approach flight incidents, and as you know, such an incident happened at the beginning of this month. As I understand that this helicopter belonged to the State Oceanic Administration, I also understand that the Chinese Navy's helicopter made a close-approach flight around spring of last year. In other words, these incidents have been occurring repeatedly. Therefore, the Japanese side must have repeatedly lodged complaints from the standpoint of hazard prevention. However, there has been no improvement in the situation. I would like to make a confirmation concerning how you feel about the fact such a close-approach flight occurred again at a time when Japan is currently facing extreme difficulties due to the great disaster and whether you have been able to lodge a complaint or convey the feelings of the Japanese side to the Chinese side.

Minister: Needless to say, we have told China that close-approach flights were regrettable, and as you pointed out, I feel that we have no choice but to say that it is regrettable that such incidents continue to be repeated.
   On the other hand, while it is true that the entire government must of course actually concentrate all its efforts toward dealing with the disaster as mentioned in your earlier question, I believe that with regard to foreign affairs, national security, and national defense, it is essentially important to deal appropriately with all matters, as I said earlier that they cannot be neglected even for a single day. In that sense, we have been promptly lodging complaints as necessary and the Self-Defense Forces have responded appropriately, so I believe that we can tell the people that the government is capable of properly handling national defense and national security.

4. Takeshima Issue

Asaka, Freelance: I would like to ask a question concerning the Takeshima issue. While this is connected with the Japanese textbook screening issue, I have heard that spokesman Cho of the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade declared on March 24 that the government's policy is that it firmly opposes Japan’s territorial claim, and that a "council of organizations on Dokdo territorial management strategy" was established on March 28, with decisions made to repair heliports and use of civilian organizations to stir up awareness about South Korea's possession of the islets. I have also heard that a nationwide large-scale exhibition on Takeshima, which is first of its kind at the government level, will start on April 4. How do you feel about such movements concerning Takeshima in South Korea? Also, does Japan have any plans to express regret or lodge a complaint with South Korea over such movements?

Minister: Japan has taken a consistent position with regard to the Takeshima issue. In that sense, if we have the opportunity to speak with various countries on the Takeshima issue, I believe that we will always assert our consistent position. I think that you meant talks involving the government you just mentioned, civilian, and other sectors. I feel that what I can say right now is that we will firmly make efforts to make South Korea and the international community understand our position.

Asaka, Freelance: Then, does that mean that you have no intention at the moment to immediately lodge a complaint with the South Korean Government over this matter?

Minister: While we have currently come into contact with such talks and a number of reports and information, our position remains consistent, as I have been saying.

Nishioka, Mainichi Newspapers: The results of the textbook screening regarding the Takeshima issue is to be announced tomorrow. As disaster assistance by South Korea makes progress, there are concerns that this could result in chilling Japan-South Korea relations. How do you intend to deal with this matter?

Minister: Although it is necessary to avoid creating misunderstanding, if I venture to say that these are completely different issues, the fact that we have been expressing gratitude for the assistance, in which you said progress is being made, remains just the same as I have been saying so far. Meanwhile, concerning textbook screening, I am aware that this is the year that textbook screening is conducted, and what you just mentioned will take place tomorrow. However, as I understand that the (Textbook Authorization Research) Council is currently conducting deliberations, I have no comments at the moment regarding textbook screening.

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