(* 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, August 23, 2011, 3:15 p.m.
Place: MOFA Press Conference Room

Main topics:

  1. Opening Remarks
    • (1) Situation in Libya
  2. Situation in Libya
  3. Visit to Japan by the Honorable, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., Vice-President of the United States of America
  4. TPP
  5. Situation in Syria
  6. Japan-Russia Relations (Japanese National Arrested in Kunashiri)

1. Opening Remarks

(1) Situation in Libya

Minister Matsumoto: I am aware of the situation where there is a significant development in Libya. We call upon Libyan Leader Muammar Al Qadhafi to step down at an early date in order not to cause more human or material damage.
We hope that, with a broad participation of Libyan people and based on the roadmap announced by the Libyan Transitional National Council, a new political process will start, a constitution will be established, and democratic elections will be conducted peacefully. The Japanese Government would like to continue to provide Lydia with necessary support under the cooperation with the international community.

2. Situation in Libya

Yoshioka, NHK: According to some media reports, the Contact Group may hold a meeting again next week. What kind of assistance  can the Japanese Government think concretely? Please tell us the idea of the Japanese Government at the moment.

Minister: I have already stated our understanding of the current situation.  According to the roadmap announced by the Libyan Transitional National Council, Libya will go into a democratic process and a new nation-building process. We will be able to think of possible assistance at each stage in the future. To be concrete, I think that the roles of Japan will become clearer under the cooperation with the international community when we see the exact needs of the Libyan Transitional National Council.
Nothing concrete has been decided on Libya right now, and I have to  say that there is nothing in particular I can mention at this moment. Until now, Japan has been providing other countries such as Tunisia and Egypt with economic assistance for nation building and support for elections in the democratization process. Furthermore, Japan has been providing administrative official training for such countries where they are making progress in nation building, though I do not remember they are the cases for the two countries. I think, Japan's support to Libya will be considered from the menu that Japan can prepare.

Iwata, Tokyo Shimbun: You said that you cannot mention anything at the moment, but I would like to ask about Colonel Qadhafi and his family's assets that have been frozen by the Japanese Government. The United States advocates that it will apply the assets it has frozen to assistance for the Libyan Transitional National Council. What considerations are in progress regarding this matter?

Minister: I have not directly confirmed what you mentioned about the United States. We have been taking appropriate measures based on relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and we would like to consider our responses in the future in line with discussions at the Security Council and in the international community. 

3. Visit to Japan by the Honorable, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., Vice-President of the United States of America

Saito, Kyodo News: I would like to ask you in relation to the meeting between the Prime Minister and Vice President Biden today. Although there was a briefing about the meeting, I would like to ask about your interpretation of the meeting. I would like to know how their debate about the so-called deepening of the Japan-U.S. alliance was in the meeting and whether any new direction was confirmed. Furthermore, I would like to know whether constructive discussions were held by the repeated use of the expression, "deepening of the Japan-U.S. alliance." In that respect, would you give us your interpretation of the meeting and some explanations?

Minister: I understand that MOFA officials already gave a briefing about the concrete contents or the atmosphere of the meeting, and I think the greatest significance of the meeting this time was that Japan and the United States both reconfirmed the willingness to work in cooperation in the Pacific region. By all means, it has been said that Japan and the United States are the best friends, and as a matter of course, mutual efforts of both sides are necessary to maintain the friendly relationship. With regard to this, I think that it was an atmosphere to promote the relationship with each other in a positive sense..

Saito, Kyodo News: It has been our concern how to deepen the Japan-U.S. alliance. I would like to know how far the Japanese Government is making progress in the deepening of the Japan-U.S. alliance now, how the progress is evaluated by the Government and your opinion from a broad perspective viewpoint about where the direction of the Japan-U.S. alliance should go in the future.

Minister: About Japan-U.S. relations, we have been talking about security, economy, and people-to-people exchanges. When I think over the overall remarks of Vice President Biden at the meeting this time, I think he expressed that security and people-to-people exchanges, in particular, are important themes. As a matter of course, the importance of economy is obvious because he talked about it on several themes. I believe that we were able to share the perception on the future direction in that sense as well.

Yoshioka, NHK: I heard that Prime Minister Kan explained that the Japan-U.S. Summit meeting expected early in September was canceled due to Japan's convenience and that he apologized for it. I think it is extremely unusual to cancel a Summit meeting. Would you tell us your opinion about the influence of the cancellation of the Summit meeting on the Japan-U.S. alliance and Japan-U.S. relations in particular?

Minister: At today's meeting with the Vice President, I understood that both Japan and the United States have the same awareness of Japan-U.S. relations and that both parties should prudently react at the time of  changes of government so as not to lead to speculation.
In other words, we share the basic idea of maintaining Japan-U.S. relations, and I would rather say that we are able to share the recognition that we should dispatch positive messages so as not to give a false impression. I do not think that the cancellation will influence the Japan-U.S. alliance or Japan-U.S. relations. Incidentally, I dare say that schedules, such as meeting schedules, changes very often, though I do not think it desirable.

Mukai, Yomiuri Shimbun: There was a briefing about the meeting between the Prime Minister and Vice President Biden already, and according to the MOFA officials' explanation, some agenda items were carried over to the subsequent luncheon. I heard that views on economic relations were exchanged. I think that the Prime Minister expressed Japan's early study on the TPP. Were there any reactions from the U.S. side then? Furthermore, were there any opinion exchanges over the superstrong yen?

Minister: I am informed that the MOFA officials reported that foreign exchange was not on the agenda. I do not think it necessarily appropriate for government members to give comments about foreign exchange while the market is active, however in my understanding, I do not think that there was any specific references to foreign exchange.
Foreign exchange should be originally determined in the market. I think there are various discussions about whether the Government should evaluate the level of foreign exchange. On the other hand, we think that rapid fluctuations in exchange rates are undesirable and that Japan has been responding appropriately in conjunction with the international community. I believe that the department concerned with the market will take proper measures.
I think the Japanese Government share the recognition that a sharp appreciation of the yen, in particular, will have a great influence on the economy of Japan. I think that necessary measures will be taken firmly for this matter by government department in charge of market affairs.

Mukai, Yomiuri Shimbun: Was there any reaction to the TPP?

Minister: I remember that the Prime Minister mentioned he would like to decide on the participation in TPP negotiations as early as possible. I do not remember exactly if the Vice President used the word TPP, but I felt that he talked in a friendly manner that there are many individual issues that are more politically difficult to solve than comprehensive issues, to which the Prime Minister nodded.
I sat next to the Vice President at the luncheon, and before he left, he stood up and told me that we could work out everything, which I think true. 

4. TPP

Kamide, Freelance: With regard to the TPP agreement, I happened to be at the press conference on August 19, where Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Kaieda mentioned that he will continue to adhere to the conventional view despite a lack of conviction about what will happen to the new political regime. The schedule was once postponed in June, and I asked him if Japan will express its attitude clearly around the time of the APEC meeting that will be held in Hawaii next time, then he responded that the exact date has not been fixed yet. Apart from the Prime Minister's recognition, what response do you have in your mind to the TPP agreement?

Minister: There is a Japanese saying that goes like this, "Speak of the next year, and the devil will laugh." I must frankly admit if the current situation is appropriate for us to mention responsibly what will happen in three to four months in the future.
It is true that all policy matters including the TPP agreement needs speedy responces. Nine countries have already started TPP negotiations, and we are deciding on participating in the negotiation. If the negotiations make progress to a large degree, however, Japan's participation itself may become meaningless. We should make the right judgment in this regard. At present, I understand nine countries are now making various studies and negotiations in the aim of completing them by the time of APEC meeting this autumn. If the arrangements and negotiations are making progress as intended, the significance of Japan's participation to the negotiations varies with the timing. I think it is true that Japan should take the timing into consideration.
I would like to add one thing. The TPP agreement is now under negotiation. Originally, we should consider to design the TPP agreement with participation in the negotiation. In a way, it is clear that the participating countries have been decided and that their idea of achieving a higher level of economic cooperation is obviously clear. The concrete contents of the agreement have been now under negotiation. I would like to mention on a later date whether it is good to discuss the participation in the negotiations by assuming the concrete contents of the agreement at this stage. 

5. Situation in Syria

Yoshioka, NHK: I understand that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President Assad held a telephone conference on August 17 and that President Assad conveyed a message that he would stop resorting to violence. With regard to this, you told the Syrian Ambassador to Japan on August 19 that you were paying close attention to this decision or remark with grave concern.
According to local media reports, however, violence against citizens by the government has still been  continuing. While conveying the Japanese Government's regret over this, are you considering further action over Syria?

Minister: We clearly informed the Ambassador of our message that President Assad should make way for a successor, and in our understanding, it is very different in dimension from the expression of regret, and I think the message was relayed to the President's side. At the same time, we have been mentioning that the use of violence on civilians should be stopped immediately. We have talked to the Ambassador that we would like to watch all efforts including those of the UN very carefully.
We would like to consider our action including economic measures in the future in cooperation with the international community. 

6. Japan-Russia Relations (Japanese National Arrested in Kunashiri)

Inukai, Mainichi Newspapers: There was a report yesterday that a Japanese national named Keisuke Kuriyama was captured by the Russian border patrol off the northern shore of Kunashiri Island on August 21 for making an unauthorized visit to Russian territory. I understand that this man has been questioned. If you have any information on his release or his purpose of visiting there in the first place, please tell us.

Minister: At the moment, we have requested this person's early release and assurance of his safety, however at the moment, I have not confirmed  any concrete progress for this matter after that. We have been trying somehow to work out the problem continuously. We will inform you of any development promptly.
For confirmation, I would like to mention again that Japan cannot accept Russia's assertion over the northern territorial issue from the viewpoint of Japan's legal status and feel regret about the case, and I would like to state that we have informed Russia of this point. 

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