Press Conference, 20 March 2007

  1. Announcements available on the MOFA website
  2. The First Round of the Negotiation on the Trilateral Investment Agreement among the People's Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea
  3. Questions concerning the Middle East peace process
  4. Questions concerning the visit to Japan of leaders from the Republic of Iraq
  5. Questions concerning the comfort women issue
  6. Question concerning the possibility of a visit by Prime Minister Abe to the Gulf countries and the Arab Republic of Egypt

I. Announcements available on the MOFA website

Deputy Press Secretary Tomohiko Taniguchi: Thanks for coming. Just to remind you, if I may, of some of the titles of the items already uploaded on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Number one: Grant assistance to underprivileged farmers in the Republic of Sudan, the Palestinian Territories and the Republic of Mozambique through the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN).

Number two: Food aid through the UN World Food Programme to the Republic of Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe and the Somali Democratic Republic.

Number three: A protocol amending the agreement between Japan and the Republic of Singapore for a New-Age Economic Partnership.

First round of negotiations on the trilateral investment agreement among the People's Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, on which I will touch more later.

Efforts of Japan for the Republic of Iraq establishing a long-term and strategic partnership and promotion of national reconciliation. Let me add a few words about this.

The Government of Japan has decided to invite Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi of the Republic of Iraq from 21 March to 24 March. The Government will also invite 15 leading persons, including parliamentarians, led by the Iraqi Minister of State for National Dialogue Affairs Akram al-Hakim from 25 to 31 March.

The second meeting of the China-Japan Joint History Research Committee, which is actually going on today, and there will be a press conference by one or two of the scholars involved in this effort later today, in the evening.

The fourth round of negotiations for the Japan-Negara Brunei Darussalam Economic Partnership Agreement.

Emergency grant aid to Nepal for emergency humanitarian assistance.

Grant aid for the Earthquake Risk Reduction and Recovery Preparedness Programme for the South Asian Region.

Statement by the Press Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the formation of a national unity government of the Palestinian Authority.

Talks between Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso and a member of the Strategic Council for Foreign Relations of Iran.

That is about it. I should suggest, to know more about these, you go and see those on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

II. The First Round of the Negotiation on the Trilateral Investment Agreement among the People's Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea

Mr. Taniguchi: If I may spend a little bit more time to tell you just a bit more about the first round of the negotiations on the trilateral investment agreement among China, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

The first round will take place in Tokyo, Japan on 22 and 23 March. The negotiation will be attended by Mr. Masashi Mizukami, Deputy Director General, Economic Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chief Negotiator of Japan; and Mr. Seiichi Nagatsuka, Deputy Director General for Trade Policy, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry; and others. From China, Mr. Sun Peng, Deputy Director-General, Department of Foreign Investment Administration, Ministry of Commerce and other people will be joining; and from the Republic of Korea Mr. Won Sam Chan, Senior Coordinator for Bilateral Trade, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other people will be participating.

This negotiation will take place as a result of the decision made at the Summit Meeting among the leaders of China (Premier Wen Jiabao), Japan (Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) and the Republic of Korea (President Roh Moo-Hyun) held in Cebu, the Philippines on 14 January 2007.

If you look back, in the year 2003 the bilateral investment treaty between Japan and the Republic of Korea came into effect and since then there has been a joint study group involving the three nations of the trilateral investment agreement. Then, finally, came this first round of negotiation. The hope is for the business communities in the three nations to have an enhanced future predictability about their business environment and the transparency thereof. Actually from Nippon keidanren, which is Japan's biggest business organization, there has been a request that the negotiation process should be accelerated so that the Japanese companies would be better prepared, so that Japanese businesses could better protect themselves from the abuse of intellectual property rights, and so on and so forth. It is also to be expected that the launch of this trilateral negotiation would serve, in the long-term, the formulation of a better trilateral and regional cooperation framework.

That is it. Questions please?

Related Information (Press Release)

III. Questions concerning the Middle East peace process

Q: Thank you for this very impressive summary of very condensed activities that keeps us very busy all the time.

Let me just go to your statement about the Palestinian national unity government. I remember reading that Japan appreciates the efforts for peace made by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. There is no mention of other parties' efforts for peace. Does that indicate anything?

Mr. Taniguchi: No. I did not mean anything like that. There has been a considerable amount of effort involving all the parties in the Palestinian Territories to create this national unity government, and what is to be stressed is that this is an important step forward for them to get themselves prepared for giving a new impetus to the Palestinian peace process.

Q: Palestinian peace process?

Mr. Taniguchi: Middle East peace process. I am sorry.

Q: Do you think also that the State of Israel should do its part and at least applies the UN resolutions, especially 242?

Mr. Taniguchi: Please state the question again.

Q: Do you think that Israel has also a duty or responsibility on its part to do what the international community adopted at the UN Security Council many years ago, such as Resolution 242, that is not really looking about now?

Mr. Taniguchi: I cannot immediately remember what 242 was about.

Q: It is about withdrawal from the occupied territories, from the Republic of Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Palestinian Territories. This is actually a condition put by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia--he was the Crown Prince when he made this initiative--that if Israel applies this resolution then the Arab countries will accept peace with Israel, but Israel has not accepted that resolution. Meanwhile, we always hear complaints or criticisms against the Palestinians as if they are responsible, but nobody is trying to force Israel to execute the resolutions in the same way that Iraq was forced to execute the UN resolutions. Do you think the time has come for the international community to make Israel apply all the resolutions that are preconditioned by the Arab moderate governments at least, to do the peace process you are supporting?

Mr. Taniguchi: You have just mentioned that Iraq had been forced to comply with the UN Security Council resolution. I am not so sure if a comparison can be made between the Iraqi situation and the Middle East peace process, but I think there is a strong indication that there is a growing will on both sides, the Israeli side and the Palestinian side, to once again reinvigorate the peace process. The Japanese Government is putting an enormous amount of hope on that seemingly new development.

Q: I understand from your answer that it is not the case that Japan has asked Israel to apply these resolutions.

Mr. Taniguchi: It is hard to answer one way or the other. The situation is evolving almost monthly and it is really hard for me to answer in a straightforward fashion whether or not the UN Security Council resolution, which is pretty much an old one, is to be applied fully to the current situation.

Q: So you mean if some resolutions are old they should be reconsidered?

Mr. Taniguchi: May I once again reiterate what I have just said. The Middle East peace process has undergone many an up and down over the last couple of years and we are now faced with a new situation where the Palestinian region is forming this unity government and that, I take, as something giving a new impetus to the whole process. The process itself is moving forward, not necessarily as originally planned, and yet to a better direction at least. That is as much as I can say, albeit I have not answered your question directly, but you can tell what the Japanese Government is looking at now.

Q: It is widely considered encouraging in the Arabic countries, the statement by Japan welcoming this government's establishment, so do you think the Japanese Government will be more proactive with this government to continue its traditional strong support for the Palestinians?

Mr. Taniguchi: I must say there was a degree of cautiousness on the side of the Japanese Government to talk to the Hamas-led government because we were not sure, for many months, whether or not the Hamas people would give up the means of violence to achieve their purpose, but you are now looking at the new government which I can say to you seems to be much, much more encouraging and therefore can give better room for both governments, the Japanese Government and the Palestinian Government, to talk directly to one another. You should be reminded, if I may, that in the Palestinian region Japan has been one of the largest donors and that stance, namely, to support the nation-building process of the Palestinian region, from the Japanese Government is definitely going to continue.

Related Information (Middle East Peace Process)

IV. Questions concerning the visit to Japan of officials from the Republic of Iraq

Q: You mentioned that the Vice President of Iraq is coming to Japan. Would you please elaborate more on this visit?

I think I read some reports saying that Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq is coming to Japan, not the Vice President.

Mr. Taniguchi: What I have just said is about the visit of Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi of Iraq, and he is going to come to Japan from 21 to 24 March. Vice President Al-Hashimi is leaving on the 24 March, but immediately after that, from the 25 March to 31 March there is going to be a seminar on national reconciliation taking place in Japan; in Tokyo and Hiroshima. The seminar is going to invite 15 leading members, mostly parliamentarians of Iraq comprising different religious groups, like Shia, Sunni, Kurdish and so on and so forth. That will take place from the 25 to 31 March. You can say that we are investing in a very comprehensive fashion to help support the Iraqi nation-building process and to help promote the reconciliation process among the sectarian groups.

Q: Are there some other parties than Iraqis? This seminar: who is going to participate beside the Iraqis?

Mr. Taniguchi: The instructions will be given by Japanese scholars, so it is part like a sit-in class sort of seminar. There are a number of experts with experience in the reconciliation process in South Africa, for instance, and some may say about what they saw in places like Aceh, Indonesia to help solve the deep-rooted hatred among the host of different groups. That is going to be an intensive course for the Iraqi leaders to get themselves exposed to different experiences and different views. They can do that without paying unnecessary attention to the media they have to deal with in Iraq, for instance. In Japan they may feel secure and they may feel, I hope, relaxed. An environment such as that I think matters for them to see eye to eye with each other and develop, if possible, a sense of comradeship and friendliness among each other. That, I think, is a prime purpose of this seminar. No one anticipates that one single seminar will break the ice, will solve a difficult situation such as this, but what the Japanese Government is doing is to give a small impetus for them later on to continue their dialogue back in Iraq.

Related Information (Press Release)

V. Questions concerning the comfort women issue

Q: I would like just to move to the so-called "comfort women" issue.

I saw some demonstrations in Tokyo today protesting against the statement by the United States' Ambassador to Japan that he considered, according to Japanese media reports, that what happened to these women was rape. What is the reaction of the Japanese Government on this issue?

Mr. Taniguchi: First, may I say I am not a lexicographer. I am not interested in giving a definition as to what rape is, what rape is not. Let me just say that there was a clear statement made by the Japanese Government back in 1993 that comfort stations were established by the military and there was a degree of involvement by the Japanese military to set up those facilities and, in some cases, even to recruit the so-called "comfort women." That is the kind of thing that the Japanese Government openly admitted. If you look at the letters that Prime Ministers until former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sent to the ex-comfort women, they said that they felt very much sorry, not as an individual, but as Prime Minister of the state of Japan. Some people say that the letters were sent as private letters to those women by an individual who happened to be Prime Minister, but that was not the case. In the letter clearly stated was the remark that, "I, as Prime Minister of Japan, am sending this letter to you to express my heartfelt apology to the victims." That is what the Japanese Government has done. It is understandable that Ambassador Schieffer imagined what the situation was like during wartime and it is understandable, on his part, to imagine that there must have been a degree of brutality in the Japanese military.
That is how I view his remarks. As for the protest, the rally, which you saw, which I did not see by the way, I should not make any comment on that.

Q: You think, in general, the bilateral relations between Japan and the United States are not really affected by this issue?

Mr. Taniguchi: The US-Japan relationship is always an important one. You should not be complacent about anything but, in particular, about the US-Japan relationship; that constantly necessitates further reinvestment. The Japanese Government I think is going to be willing to do exactly that.

Related Information (Historical Issues)

VI. Question concerning the possibility of a visit by Prime Minister Abe to the Gulf countries and the Arab Republic of Egypt

Q: Do you have any confirmation about Prime Minister Abe's visit to the Gulf countries and the Arab Republic of Egypt?

Mr. Taniguchi: He is interested in going to the Gulf countries, but when, where, how long; I cannot confirm. I must say that due to the strict arrangement on the side of the Diet it has been extremely difficult for a spokesman like me to make an advance statement about the scheduled visits, if any. At this present time I cannot make any confirmation.

No more questions? Thank you very much.

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