Press Conference, 9 March 2007

  1. Visit to Japan by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of the Republic of Singapore
  2. Visit to Japan by Prime Minister John Howard of the Commonwealth of Australia
  3. Questions concerning the comfort women issue
  4. Questions concerning the situation in the Republic of Iraq
  5. Question concerning the possibility of a visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to four Arab countries
  6. Question concerning a meeting to be hosted by Japan of representatives from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the State of Israel, and the Palestinian Territories
  7. Questions concerning the strategic dialogue between Japan and the Republic of Korea

I. Visit to Japan by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of the Republic of Singapore

Deputy Press Secretary Tomohiko Taniguchi: Thanks for coming. I have two or three points to make. One is about the visit of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of the Republic of Singapore, together with his wife, Madam Ho Ching.

They will be making an official working visit from Sunday, 18 March to Wednesday, 21 March. Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan will give a luncheon for them and the Prime Minister and his wife are going to see Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during their stay. Obviously Singapore is going to hold the chairmanship for the ASEAN meetings this year, which makes it all the more important for both nations to discuss lots of things with one another. That is one thing.

Related Information (Press Release)

II. Visit to Japan by Prime Minister John Howard of the Commonwealth of Australia

Mr. Taniguchi: Secondly, also about a visit, in this case of Prime Minister John Howard of the Commonwealth of Australia. Prime Minister Howard is going to come on this coming Sunday, 11 March, and leaving on Wednesday, 14 March. Prime Minister Howard will be coming also with Mrs. Janet Howard. During their stay he is going to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso and other leaders of this country. In conjunction with this, let me also say that the economic partnership agreement discussions between Japan and Australia are going to start on 23 April. The discussions will take two days and will take place in Canberra, Australia.

Related Information (Press Release)

III. Questions concerning the comfort women issue

Q: My first question is, what is coercion in the "narrow sense?"

Mr. Taniguchi: About what? About the comfort women issue?

Q: Yes. It was an expression used by the Prime Minister a few days ago.

Mr. Taniguchi: I do not want to dig into that area because it would serve no one.

Q: There is some confusion about the Prime Minister's position on the comfort women issue and on the Kono statement of 1993. Can you set out the Government's position on the issue of the comfort women?

Mr. Taniguchi: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, together with his colleagues, such as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, have made it repeatedly clear that they stand firmly by the 1993 statement issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, so that is that simple.

Q: But it is not that simple, is it? Because Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed qualifications and doubts about the investigation which led to that statement, and he has made distinctions about different varieties of coercion. No matter what he says about standing by the statement, this has given rise to doubt. That was the point of my first question. When he said that "there is no evidence of coercion in the narrow sense," what is coercion in the narrow sense?"

Mr. Taniguchi: On that point I think I am speaking as a Press Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and please listen to what I will be saying as something coming from the MOFA's spokesperson. That said, I would repeat again that I do not want to dig into that area because this would, in some cases, make the pain already felt by the victims, the comfort women, even more painful and I do not think it would serve Japan's national interests overall.

Q: So, clarifying the Prime Minister's comments does not serve Japan's national interests?

Mr. Taniguchi: I cannot speak on behalf of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on this issue. If you ask me, I can speak on behalf of Foreign Minister Taro Aso, and let me say that I can testify, under oath if you want, the following: that this Government stands by the 1993 Kono statement and, moreover, when you think about the extreme situation when comfort women served the Japanese military, that is the kind of image you and I as parents do not want our children to look at. It was the war and war involved all sorts of human tragedies, and that is the reason why then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, under the strong instruction of then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, as a whole Government made the statement in which he said that the Government of Japan was clearly responsible. That led to the establishment of the fund to which the Government contributed a significant amount of money, added to that also was the considerable amount of money donated by private citizens, and to each and every individual victim Prime Ministers up until former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had sent letters with the Prime Minister's signature. I think that much is already telling a lot of things.

Q: You said that you cannot speak for Prime Minister Abe but you can speak for Foreign Minister Aso; do they have a different view of the comfort women issue?

Mr. Taniguchi: No they do not.

Q: They have the same view?

Mr. Taniguchi: Yes.

Q: The Kono statement was, of course, a statement issued on behalf of the cabinet and it is on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website; I wondered if I could ask you about its content in a bit more detail, because I believe there certainly has been confusion in the past few days. Just to ask the most basic question: there were -- in the view of Foreign Minister Aso and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs -- there were comfort stations in military facilities during World War II?

Mr. Taniguchi: I do not think there is any doubt about that.

Q: What was the nature of those facilities?

Mr. Taniguchi: On that point also I do not think it would be appropriate from my side to say much about minute details of this sort of facts.

Q: I am not asking about minute details, more to confirm the content of the Kono statement. For example it says that women lived there in "misery" in "coercive" circumstances. That is correct, is it?

Mr. Taniguchi: Is that what you read from the Kono statement? I do not have his statement handy at the moment. If that is the wording, that is it.

Q: What does it mean, "coercive" circumstances? Prime Minister Abe has talked about different kinds of coercion -- coercion in the narrow sense and in the broad sense -- and I genuinely do not understand what those two expressions mean. If Prime Minister Abe and Foreign Minister Aso share the same view, perhaps you can explain?

Mr. Taniguchi: Yes. Let me just make it clear also, once again, the following remarks of mine I do not think will serve in an appropriate fashion for Japan's overall interests, because it is now time for Japan to pacify the feelings and pains expressed and still felt by the victims of the situation. That said, to answer your question, there are many different possible distinctions and definitions to be given to the situation that you are talking about as "coercion." The extreme case whereby Japanese authorities, be it the civilian government or a military authority, rush into private citizens' houses and kidnap young women and forcibly take them to the comfort stations that you just mentioned; those sorts of extreme coercive situations did not exist, and all the painstaking examinations that the Japanese Government undertook in and out of Japan at the time before the issuance of the Kono statement have proved nothing. They have proved, in other words, that those extreme cases did not exist. Then, you may ask, there might have been at least one example. In my understanding, it was known to the contemporary military authority, and the officer in charge was, as a result, given a punishment, and it therefore indicates that that sort of extreme case was regarded widely by the then-military authority as illegal and worthy of punishment.

Q: A number of people who identify themselves as former comfort women, including that an Australian lady, have said that having arrived at the comfort stations -- however they got there or were recruited -- they were forced to have sex with soldiers. Some of them describe being held down, some of them described guns being brandished, or swords or knives; they are describing, in other words, what seem to be rapes, and rape is clearly a coercive act. Did such things happen?

Mr. Taniguchi: I do not know. In most of the cases the women involved were from very poor quarters, in the case of Japan, and it was rather commonplace for poverty-ridden areas, such as the Tohoku area in Japan, and in terms of poverty, that was much, much more serious than the kind of poverty that you and I are now talking about, which actually existed before and during the war, and so there was a fact that young women served for the unspeakable occupation during that period of time. The fact of the matter is that most of the comfort women were being paid by the sex industry which was associated with the military. I have just used the term "sex-industry," but that is exactly the kind of word I do not want to use, because I have a daughter and a son who I do not want to read those sorts of bad words. That is exactly the reason why, once again, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono and the successive administrations of the Government of Japan have repeatedly said that we stand by the Kono statement and the fund set up for that purpose should serve to pacify the pains and the wounded souls.

Q: The kind of rape that I referred to in my last question; is that coercion in the "narrow sense?"

Mr. Taniguchi: I do not think that I can answer that question because I did not live in that era and I do not have an appropriate amount of knowledge as to what extent it was a rape and to what extent it was prostitution, but making a distinction between the two I do not think is any longer important. People are still feeling their pain, those women are still feeling pain and still suffering from the traumatic experiences, and that is the object that the Government of Japan is aiming at solving and pacifying.

Q: I think we can agree that there are a number of women who assert that they were repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers in comfort stations. The Government does not take their testimony as proof: am I correct?

Mr. Taniguchi: I should refrain from answering your question because I do not know exactly the case that you are talking about.

Q: Mrs. Jan Ruff-O'Herne says that she was picked out from the civilian prisoner of war camp where she was detained in Java, taken to a comfort station and raped four or five times a day for months; I think maybe two years. You do not necessarily believe her?

Mr. Taniguchi: I do not know if I can believe her or not simply because I should spend more time to look into her testimony and her record.

Q: Based on your answer do you think that this issue should be left to the historians and academics to talk about, rather than...

Mr. Taniguchi: What actually happened is hard to retrieve. What kind of era that was during the Edo era is a matter of debate. Since the end of that era, in 1868, there still exist two or three different camps and schools of thought, one of which says it was a dark age, and the other is increasingly saying that it was very much a well-governed era, so it is extremely hard for even historians to retrieve what actually happened and what actually was the case to describe the gone-by eras. It is not the business of practitioners such as me, such as Government ministers, to talk about what exactly happened in history.

Q: Do you think this issue is politically motivated by certain parties who want to put Japan into a negative situation?

Mr. Taniguchi: There must be a group of people, especially in the United States, who do want to redress the cause that they are standing by, and I do not know if it is appropriate to dub that action as politically motivated; I am simply stating that there must be a group of people who are making advocacy.

Q: Do you mean Americans? You said "the United States."

Mr. Taniguchi: Geographically speaking there seem to be a couple of influential groups of people working in the US but, again, I am not saying that they are politically motivated simply because I do not know what their causes are.

Q: Apart from the case of Mrs. Ruff-O'Herne, the Australian lady, there are other women of various nationalities who claim to have been forced to go to comfort stations and claim to have been raped. As I understand it, you believe that it is possible that they were prostitutes who are not telling the truth now. Am I correct?

Mr. Taniguchi: It is extremely difficult, or even impossible for humankind to make a claim that a certain thing did not exist. If you can bring in one example to prove otherwise, your position is not going to be sustainable. But, as far as the Government of Japan's investigations are concerned, I am saying that forced kidnappings, forced rapes and forced breaking into private citizens' homes to capture young women; those sorts of unspeakable events we could not find.

Q: I should know the answer, but did that investigation consider the witness testimony of people who claim to be former comfort women?

Mr. Taniguchi: I believe the investigation was made elaborate as much as it should have been and the investigators took all sorts of information seriously and then came to this conclusion.

Q: Did they talk to these former comfort women?

Mr. Taniguchi: On that specific point I am afraid I cannot answer. I do not know. I do not have that amount of knowledge.

Q: I understand that some of the confusion in the past few days -- and maybe you can enlighten me -- may have arisen from the Prime Minister's use of words in Japanese which can be interpreted in different ways in English and, in particular, words referring to evidence, proof, and testimony. My Japanese, unfortunately, is not really good enough for me to get to the bottom of this on my own but I got the impression that the Prime Minister, in his remarks, was talking about written evidence, documentary evidence, and that is why I am asking whether the Government's position takes into account verbal witness testimony as well. Do you know whether it does?

Mr. Taniguchi: I think that is a very good point, and I have to say that I should have known that, but I am afraid I do not know that.

Q: Perhaps you could check?

Mr. Taniguchi: I do not think I can guess. I can check later if you would give me a little bit more time?

Q: Sure.

Related Information (Historical Issues)

IV. Questions concerning the situation in the Republic of Iraq

Q: If I can jump to the suffering of women and other people going on today in the Republic of Iraq, rather than talking about something that happened 60 years ago. What is the position of the Government of Japan on the tragedies that have been caused by the war on Iraq on the Iraqi population? We now know tens of thousands have died and there is a kind of exodus from Iraq, every day thousands of people fleeing the country. So, since you just said that wars bring tragedies, did you not anticipate this situation when you supported that war and do you feel the responsibility that Japan should take for the suffering of the current Iraqi people?

Mr. Taniguchi: I think the evolution of the situation in Iraq has come to become something that was beyond anyone's imagination, including the Japanese. We certainly hoped when we withdrew the Ground Self Defense Force personnel from Iraq, from the southern part of Iraq, that over the course of the next several months the situation would get much, much calmer than it was, which has proven to be wrong, especially in the case of the central Iraqi region around Baghdad. That said, Iraq seems to us as a patchwork of different areas, for instance if you look at the northern part of Iraq, where the Kurdish population dominates, I understand the situation there is calmer than it is in Baghdad, and the same goes for the area where the Japanese Self Defense Forces personnel operated, and that still remains very much peaceful. We have rejoiced that the contribution that we have made did not end in vain. The problem is actually the central area of Iraq, and I understand that the addition of forces of the US are aimed at bringing in stability in that part of Iraq, and it is the hope of the Government of Japan that the effort will result in a fruitful outcome together with the help provided by the Iraqi people themselves. I can only say, like what other people are saying, that the sectarian rivalry has to be calmed down and Sunni and Shia conflict being a source of tremendous tragedies. That is the kind of thing that only Iraqi people themselves can solve. One should hope that it will be a matter of time, no matter how long it my be, that Iraqi people would form a functional government and provide a security blanket to the victims of the massive tragedies, exactly like the children and women that you are talking about.

That brings me back a memory that I gathered when I heard Foreign Minister Taro Aso's speech the other day, which he gave to the Middle East Research Institute. That speech started specifically by mentioning that the Muslim population appreciates their children very highly and so no matter when people in Iraq and other parts of the Muslim world look at young women and young children being killed and being victimized by terrorist attacks, that the Muslim people themselves are feeling sorrow much, much more than anyone else. That is what Foreign Minister Aso mentioned, and that is, I think, the feeling that many people in this country are also sharing.

Q: Thank you. Basically, who do you put responsible for reaching this stage of violence and killing and tragedies?

Mr. Taniguchi: I do not think I should go into a name-calling sort of action because it would benefit no one in Iraq, on either side of the Iraqi people and in the Middle East. I should actually hope that given the situation that lots and lots of things are interconnected, such as the situation in Iraq being connected with the situation elsewhere, like in the Palestinian Territories, the Government of Japan is putting enormous effort in trying to bring in peace in troubled spots such as the Palestinian Territories.

Related Information (The Issue of Iraq)

V. Question concerning the possibility of a visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to four Arab countries

Q: I have a quick question about Prime Minister Abe's trip to four Arab countries announced by some Japanese media. After his visit to the US he is reportedly visiting the State of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Republic of Egypt. Do you have some kind of update or background?

Mr. Taniguchi: I cannot confirm. All the time I am being asked that sort of question I am having a hard time to give you any sort of answer because scheduling the Prime Minister's visits always necessitates a firm endorsement from the parliamentary body, the Japanese Diet, and unless we have a positive endorsement from the Diet I cannot say anything, so I cannot confirm the reported trip of the Prime Minister. That said, the countries that you just mentioned are the countries that the Government of Japan is working hard to complete the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with, and the Government of Japan is working on the FTA proposal with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member nations, and as I say, it is a matter of a couple of months until the Government of Japan can complete the discussions and forge the FTA with them.

Related Information (Japan-Middle East Relations)
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VI. Question concerning a meeting to be hosted by Japan of representatives from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the State of Israel, and the Palestinian Territories

Q: Thank you. My last question, I heard about cooperation efforts including Japan is having an FTA and all of these things, and you are also hosting a kind of seminar on the Middle East. Do you have any updates about the preparations?

Mr. Taniguchi: I do not have an official update, but that is going to be a two-fold meeting; one is official, and the other is a track-two meeting. The second track meeting is aimed at building confidence among the participants who are coming from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the State of Israel, and the Palestinian Territories, joined by Japanese counterparts. It is there in the official part that the Japanese proposal made by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi about making the Jordan Valley an agro-centric industrialized zone to connect it with both ends; the Gaza Strip and the GCC nations, notably Saudi Arabia, and thereby creating what is called the Corridor of Peace and Prosperity will be discussed. The idea was first proposed by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last summer but, because of a lot things happened in the meantime, the Government of Japan has been unable to officially launch the initiative. Recently we have approached the three nations to jointly announce the plans and we are going to work with our partners towards the Corridor of Peace and Prosperity. And, the other track-two approach meeting is simply an endeavor to bring in Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres of the State of Israel and others and let them discuss what needs to be done for the Middle East peace process.

Related Information (Middle East Peace Process)

VII. Questions concerning the strategic dialogue between Japan and the Republic of Korea

Q: What issues need to be discussed in the strategic dialogue between Japan and the Republic of Korea?

Mr. Taniguchi: There are lots and lots of things. For instance how to settle the EEZ issue and obviously they will be talking about the next summit meeting between the ROK and Japan, between the President of the ROK and Japanese Prime Minister.

And let us not forget the Six-Party Talks is probably the most important thing for the Government of Japan, and how to coordinate both nations' views toward North Korea will also be important.

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