(* 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 Koichiro Gemba

Date: Wednesday, August 29, 2012, 2:30 p.m.
Place: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Main topics:

  1. The Japanese flag incident in Beijing
  2. The Comfort women issue
  3. Osprey
  4. The Comfort women issue
  5. Takeshima
  6. Japan-DPRK preliminary talks
  7. TPP

1. The Japanese flag incident in Beijing

Matsumura, Asahi Shimbun: The flag was taken away from Ambassador Niwa’s car in Beijing. The suspect is reported to have been detained and under police questioning. Please tell us about the information that the Government has at the moment.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba: To state my conclusion first, we have received no such notification that the suspect has been detained. The flags and emblems are the symbols of the dignity of a nation, so it is extremely regrettable. Thus we demanded a rigorous investigation to be done, and the Chinese side said that it would conduct strict investigation.

2. The Comfort women issue

Saito, Kyodo News: I would like to ask about the question of the comfort women. Two days ago, in the Budget Committee of the House of Councillors, in relation to the comfort women issue, Prime Minister Noda said that the Government could not confirm the fact there was a forcible recruitment with document, and that there was no witness testimony to that incident. He also said that what was behind this was interviews and talks with those who were comfort women, and that study led to the so-called Kono Statement.
The Press Secretary of the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade reportedly said that past apologies and remorse have been rendered ineffective by the recent statement by Prime Minister Noda. So, I would like to ask the following question: Are there any problems on the Prime Minister’s statement I have just mentioned? And how do you view the criticism from the Korean side? And you, yourself, on the comfort women issue– Do you have an understanding that there has been forcible recruitment by the Japanese side? Your own view – that is my question.

Minister Gemba: First of all, whether there is a problem with the comment by Prime Minister Noda, I do not think there was any problem. The statement by Mr. Kono in the past, the questions and the responses in the Diet sessions and answers to written inquiries during the Abe Administration were all on Prime Minister’s mind. My understanding is that, although there was no evidence, the so-called comfort women had been interviewed and the Kono Statement was prepared. That was what was described by the Prime Minister.
The position of the Noda Government is that just like the past LDP Administrations, the Kono Statement  has been inherited or passed on as of today. South Korea therefore, should thoroughly study and understand the comment by Prime Minister Noda and its background.
Now, the second question by Mr. Saito: how does Koichiro Gemba, myself, view the issue? As the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Kono Statement is of course inherited by myself. I follow the statement as well.
Regarding the question that you have just asked – whether forcible recruitment occurred or not – the question, whether that was a fact or not, however, I am not able to collect all the evidence and investigate on my own, and therefore, I basically believe the result of the investigation the government has conducted. I will follow the position of the past Japanese administrations. In addition to discussions on evidences of proofs, of course they are important. However, this is related to dignity of women, and violation of it. Against such violation, I believe there must be strong sympathy.

3. Osprey

Kamide, Freelance journalist: Concerning the discussion at the Diet and the Minister of Defense’s comment, I would like to ask about Osprey. There are discussions ongoing, but it seems that there comes a plan first. Although investigation is conducted, and the Japanese experts are saying that there is no safety problem, it is the investigation conducted by the U.S. without the participation of Japan from the beginning. My impression is that Japan simply has to follow the finding by the U.S.; the plan is already pre-determined. What do you think about this point? Next, this issue could be subject to prior consultation. There are many subjects that could be covered by prior consultation. Going forward, if prior consultation may take place, what subject could be eligible?

Minister Gemba: Regarding your latter question, the Fujiyama-MacArthur verbal agreement and the Kishi-Herter exchange of official letters would not lead to prior consultations in this case. But de facto prior consultation, interaction or coordination between Japan and the United States should take place, and we have indeed done so by this time.
On your first question, Minister Morimoto yesterday gave a report with regard to MV-22 Osprey accident in Morocco. According to the report, there were two errors; that is, two violations of the manual, and a mixture of both, which are suspected to be the cause of the accident. That is my understanding. They entered into “avoid area”, and then the nacelle operation was incorrectly done. That is my understanding.
On whether we just followed the finding of U.S. survey, I believe Japan is conducting its own analysis with the participation of outside public intellectuals.
However, what is important is what we are going to do from now. We should not end the process with this report. Minister Morimoto will be visiting Okinawa and Yamaguchi today. This should not be the end of the process.
On the part of Japan, inclusive of intellectuals outside of government, the experts should properly analyze and evaluate the accident. And in this process, if they feel that they need to iron out more details regarding a certain aspect, or if there are measures that need to be taken in order to prevent a recurrence, in their view, these issues should be brought to the attention of the United States properly. Going forward, there should be exchanges between Japan and the United States on this issue. We should do catch ball of some sorts, and this is something that we should do.
And the CV-22 Florida incident, I believe, is pretty much the same. Regarding low altitude flying of airplanes and implementation of this nature, there should be proper discussions and consultations between Japan and the United States, and having done that, we will have to talk with people of Okinawa and Yamaguchi Prefectures in detail. That is what I think is important.
For Japan to independently confirm the safety aspects and to explain, and at the same time, not to just follow suit, we should properly talk with the United States on this issue, if we have any questions. We should not give precedence to following the schedule for the introduction of the Ospreys. But rather, we should carefully confirm the safety on our own and explain to the people. That is important. In addition, as I have always pointed out, the Self Defense Forces have retired CH-46E over 20 years ago. I recall that CH-46E has not been manufactured for more than 20 years. So these are older model aircraft. So, how long do we use these aircraft? These are things that we have to give thought to along with other points. Perhaps you are sick and tired of hearing this, but Ospreys’ radius of action is four times, its load is three times, and two times faster. The Nansei Shoto Islands defense and security of Japan as well as East Asia, and disaster relief and humanitarian relief – when we consider these needs, the Ospreys meet all the demands. So we need to explain that, in my view.

4. The Comfort women issue

Higashioka, Asahi Shimbun: Earlier on, on the issue of comfort women, you talked about the Kono Statement. My question relates to what you have mentioned in this regard. With regard to the Kono Statement, on the part of Noda Government and on your part, you said you adhere to these. So, based upon this, I would like to ask the following question. Minister Matsubara said that he wanted to bring this up in the discussions among ministers. What do you feel about the need to discuss this among ministers? And you say you adhere to the Kono Statement, but Minister Matsubara said he still needs to take this up with other Ministers, although the Government has said that they adhere to the Kono Statement.
At the Kyoto Japan-Korea Summit Meeting, Prime Minister Noda said to President Lee Myung-bak that he would also explore ideas from a humanitarian point of view. Are you going to continue this effort?

Minister Gemba: After the Cabinet Meeting, there is the Cabinet Discussion Meeting where ministers have an opportunity to freely discuss.
In the past, during the LDP Administration, the opinions of the ministers could only be mentioned within their own jurisdiction. But, in the DPJ Administration, ministers are now given opportunity to talk about areas outside their jurisdiction. So, if you are referring to the subject in the context of the Cabinet Discussion Meeting, that opportunity needs not to be denied. However, the policy of the Noda Administration will not change from what I have mentioned.
As for your second point, the ‘Agreement on the settlement of problem concerning property and claim and on the economic co-operation between Japan and the Republic of Korea’ in 1965 has brought us the legal resolution of the issue. It has been resolved politically as well. However, as humanitarian measures, the Asian Women’s Fund was established in 1995 and various humanitarian measures including follow-ups have been implemented. That is our observation; it is nothing more or nothing less at the moment.

5. Takeshima

Azumi, Freelance journalist: As was mentioned yesterday, regarding Takeshima Island, about the phrase ‘illegal occupation’ – I would like to ask a question. Prime Minister Noda and you have both used the phrase ‘illegal occupation’, which has sent a strong signal to the ROK. If any minister denies using this phrase ‘illegal occupation’, would that be a discord within the Cabinet?

Minister Gemba: It is a hypothetical question. Does anybody say something on this? Or do you suspect that there is someone who might say that?
On my part, I will be using the expression “illegal occupation.” There is no difference in legal evaluation between this phrase and control or occupation without legal grounds. This time, they have stepped beyond the red line. The present head of state has actually done that, and with regard to territorial issues, we basically want to deal with it as such. Filing a suit with the ICJ is one way we could do this. Another measure is to propose conciliation based on ‘Exchange of notes constituting an agreement between Japan and the ROK concerning the settlement of dispute.’
With regard to the expression of the kind that you just cited, we had thought of it from the very first stage. To strengthen the framework for territory; that is, the strengthening Government’s framework including education and PR activities through our Diplomatic Establishments overseas. These are steps that we have been taking, and that is where we find ourselves. I will continue to use the expression “Illegal occupation.”

6. Japan-DPRK preliminary talks

Saito, Kyodo News: With regard to the Japan-DPRK relation, the Japan-DPRK talks will start today. As Foreign Minister, what do you expect of the DPRK toward the resolution of the abduction issue? What will you be asking of the DPRK? And if you are to give a message to them, what will you be telling them? Could you state to us what your message would be?

Minister Gemba: Between DPRK and Japan, there are many outstanding issues; the remains of the Japanese war dead is the start point. Since this is an opportunity, other issues – for example, abduction – to me is one of the most important issues. Of course, there are nuclear and missile issues that cannot be resolved only between the two countries. The discussions must be linked to those issues. Although there is no optimism that everything will proceed easily, we must be tenacious in the negotiation.

7. TPP

Kamide, Freelance journalist: This is a question about TPP. In the beginning of September, there will be APEC. What is the position of the Japanese Government, can you tell us again? Will the Japanese Government not announce its position on TPP at APEC?

Minister Gemba: There has been no formal decision that has been made on that.
However, as I always tell you, it is a major strategy, so there may be various impediments. But we need to overcome that. Pressure groups of various sorts have their ideas, but in the medium to long-run, if we think about the next generation, if we think that far, I think that the TPP is an extremely important theme for economic purposes as well as from the standpoint of security.
Also, the agricultural issue is something that we have to squarely deal with. As you know, for example, fruit and vegetables are not charged any tariffs. But, there are items tariffs are being charged on. What to do about these? To what extent we can allow for exceptions would depend on this. But exclusions, exemptions may not be easily allowed for certain items. Japan’s agricultural policies will be such that perhaps we need to conduct reforms that would include institutional reforms. I think these are necessary, and in the medium to long-run, I think that this would benefit the agricultural sector so that it would grow and turn into an exporting industry.

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