Press Conference, 27 April 2007
- Overseas visits by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso
- First round of negotiations to conclude a Japan-Russia Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy
- First Chairperson's Meeting on the Second Phase of the Japan-ROK Joint History Research Meeting in Seoul
- Launch of the International Compact with Iraq
- Follow-up questions concerning the overseas visits by Prime Minister Abe and Foreign Minister Aso
- Question concerning North Korea's normalization of relations with the Union of Myanmar
- Follow-up questions concerning the Two Plus Two meeting
- Question concerning a visit to Japan by former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage
Deputy Press Secretary Tomohiko Taniguchi: First off, Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso is setting off tomorrow, Saturday 28 April, for a short but round-the-world trip. Short as he is coming back on Sunday, 6 May; round-the-world as it covers the United States (US), the Russian Federation, and the Arab Republic of Egypt, in that order. That coincides with the prime ministerial trip now underway, stretching also from the US through the Middle East. The strict Diet calendar dictates that trips, be it by the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister, should be made and completed while the Diet is in recess, so the Golden Week oftentimes turns out to be the busiest week for the leading members of the Japanese Government.
In the US, Foreign Minister Aso is going to meet Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice and join the so-called "Two Plus Two" meeting. Jointly they are going to review many developments, from the situation in some of the troubled spots in the world and what is going on in terms of US base realignment in Japan to the ballistic missile defense initiative.
Later, in Russia, he is trying to build momentum that is now taking shape to widen the scope of the bilateral relations. The issue of the Northern Territories, needless to say, is going to be touched upon.
The Iraq Compact is an important pledge that the world community has made to help stabilize the Iraqi situation, and the purpose for Foreign Minister Aso to be in Egypt is to join the related conferences. I will add a footnote about this later on.
As to Prime Minister Abe's trip, he has already spent a night in Washington, DC, extremely rich in content, I should say. He is flying later today over to the Persian Gulf region. That leg of the prime ministerial tour promises to be an unprecedented one in many respects. First and foremost, some 170 or 180 leading members of Japan's business community will be accompanying him. I have no doubt that this will make a landmark in Japan's increasingly deepened relationships with the Arab world. On this, let me refer to the speech that Foreign Minister Aso made back in February for what Japan aspires to do with people in the Middle East.
II. First round of negotiations to conclude a Japan-Russia Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy
Mr. Taniguchi: I will make the rest of my opening statement brief. Firstly, the first round of negotiations to conclude a Japan-Russia Agreement for Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy took place on Thursday, 26 April here in Tokyo. Moscow will hold the next round sometime within the next two to three months.
III. First Chairperson's Meeting on the Second Phase of the Japan-ROK Joint History Research Meeting in Seoul
Mr. Taniguchi: Second, and lastly, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) are having today in Seoul, ROK, what is called the First Chairperson's Meeting on the Second Phase of the Japan-ROK Joint History Research Meeting. Professor Cho Kwang of Korea University and Professor Emeritus of University of Tokyo Yasushi Toriumi are the chairs from the ROK and Japan, respectively.
Mr. Taniguchi: Now let me add this short footnote about the International Compact with Iraq (ICI). On 8 April 2007, there was a gathering in Baghdad co-chaired by Deputy Prime Minister of Republic of Iraq Barham Seleh and Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, the Special Advisor to the United Nations (UN) Secretary General. At that time, Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq Saleh announced that the ICI would be formally launched in a ministerial meeting in Egypt on 3 May 2007. This is the meeting that Foreign Minister Aso is going to join, and the launch meeting of the ICI will be followed on the next day, May 4, by a ministerial meeting of Iraq, its neighbors, permanent members of the UN Security Council, G8 members, and Egypt and the State of Bahrain. To this meeting also Foreign Minister Aso is going to join.
V. Follow-up questions concerning the overseas visits by Prime Minister Abe and Foreign Minister Aso
Q: Regarding Prime Minister Abe's banquet with US President George W. Bush, has anything come out of it in terms of what sorts of topics were discussed during that banquet?
Mr. Taniguchi: Let us wait a little more until we see the final results. I cannot say anything, because it is past midnight there, they are asleep, and we are not allowed to make an announcement until they make it public.
Q: How come the Japanese media are saying that they talked about baseball player Daisuke Matsuzaka?
Mr. Taniguchi: They are free to discuss anything, and obviously President Bush is known to be a great fan of baseball. I did not know that Prime Minister Abe was also a great fan of baseball, but why not?
Q: Also regarding his trip, I think he met with leaders of the US Congress earlier in the day, and during that time I heard that he apologized about the comfort women. Has his comment come as a surprise to you?
Mr. Taniguchi: I do not think he apologized. He tried hard to explain what he has long been saying about the very issue of comfort women, and that is what actually happened. So, describing it as that Prime Minister Abe tried to apologize to the members of Congress I think is not an accurate description.
Q: Also in regard to Prime Minister Abe's visit to Washington, I hear that they also discussed environmental issues. Could you elaborate on that?
Mr. Taniguchi: Once again, we will have to wait until the final outcome will be made public, but certainly they spent time to talk on that issue. It is very much important for the economies of the US and Japan, of which total gross domestic product (GDP) amounts to 40% of the world's total output, to collaborate with one another very closely so that they could jointly show a role model, if you like, for the rest of the world. So that is the guiding spirit, but beyond that, let me spend a little more time before I can give you more concrete details.
Q: I hear that there is going to be a joint statement issued after the meeting between Prime Minister Abe and President Bush. Is that true? What sort of statement can we expect?
Mr. Taniguchi: It is one of the questions that I find it hard to answer. As usual, with this sort of bilateral summit meeting, it is not allowed for the members of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to give a sneak preview of what sort of document will come out.
Q: Regarding Prime Minister Abe's trip to the Middle East, 180 members of an economic mission, led by the Keidanren, are going to be accompanying him. It is the second time, I understand, that an economic mission has accompanied the Prime Minister, after his visit to Viet Nam last year. I want to know what kind of message does Prime Minister Abe or Japan want to deliver in bringing this large an economic mission to the Middle East?
Mr. Taniguchi: The sheer fact that as many as 180 leading members of the Japanese business community will be appearing before the public of the Gulf nations is in itself going to be a powerful message that the Japanese business community is very interested in deepening ties with Gulf nations. There are a couple of points that I should make.
First, the economy in the region is actually booming. There's a huge number of developmental projects, like constructing a huge bridge, infrastructure-related projects, and one of the telling episodes for that matter is that (as much as 50% of) the amount of growth of outstanding loan that the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) has been providing to the world has been going to this very region of the Persian Gulf. That the Japanese business community is sending that huge number of delegates to this region is tantamount to saying that the Japanese business community is also interested in being a part of this burgeoning economy in the region. So that is the first point.
Secondly, the Japanese Government and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries have been engaged in the negotiation process in the run-up for the envisioned Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two, and I understand that the negotiation process is going very smoothly.
Added to that, the sending of the delegates to the region would also make a symbolic gesture towards people in the region that the relationship between the Gulf region and Japan is broadening in its scope and coverage. Prime Minister Abe is keen on telling the people in the region that thus far it might have been the case that the relationship between the Gulf region and Japan has been predominately one of economics, namely the relationship sustained by the oil trade, but beyond that Prime Minister Abe is keen on sending another message: that in addition to the already good trade relationship, the Japanese Government and its business community are much keener than before on enriching the relationships between the two.
I should add as a final note that if you recall what Foreign Minister Aso has been saying of late about creating an "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity," the Middle East is obviously an important part of this Arc, and to stabilize the Middle East, in which there do exist troubled spots, is an important part for Japan's diplomacy to actually try to create the Arc.
Q: To follow up, I understand that the People's Republic of China and ROK, when their dignitaries went to the Middle East they also brought a large business delegation accompanying them, and there are views that Japan is copying this strategy. How do you view that?
Mr. Taniguchi: If that is a good practice, why not copy them? That is number one. Number two, the Japanese Government, I admit, has long been rather reluctant to bring members of the business community when making trips abroad as part of a delegation, but lately, as has been said a number of times, the Japanese Government, certainly including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is no longer shy in addressing the business interest, which at the end of the day makes one very important element of Japan's national interest. That is the second point that I should make.
Q: Was that a cultural thing, or was it more like bringing a business delegation along was an obstacle to political discussion?
Mr. Taniguchi: That is a good point to ask about. It was part culture, and there might have also been a concern that if you were to bring in Panasonic, for instance, you would have to bring in Sony, Sanyo, Sharp, and the others, and so that might also have been one of the concerns, but what is good for Japan's businesses must be good for Japan as a whole.
Q: Regarding this delegation going to the Middle East, are the members from various sectors, or are they concentrated in particular sectors?
Mr. Taniguchi: Given the number of companies, it is a wide-ranging assortment of business interests, but obviously if you take into consideration what sectors are booming in the Gulf region, they are related to petrochemical, infrastructure building, and shipping. Those three are probably among the most important sectors for the development in the Gulf region. You should not be surprised to see that a majority of the companies that are accompanying Prime Minister Abe deal with those sectors. Fourth, I should have added, financial institutions.
Q: On a different topic, in regard to North Koreans normalizing relations with the Union of Myanmar, does the Japanese Government have anything to add?
Mr. Taniguchi: Nothing at the moment, except that the point should be made again and again that North Korea has to be faithfully implementing the pledge that they made themselves, namely, to smoothly and in a rapid fashion come back to the negotiating table and invite inspectors from the IAEA and seal the nuclear facility, and so on. Those are the things that North Korea pledged to the international community; nothing yet has taken place.
Q: I have a question on Two Plus Two. I believe that that is the first time in a year that it is resuming. Can you give us a bit of background on how it was launched, what sort of developments there have been since, and what you are looking forward to this time?
Mr. Taniguchi: The US and Japan are longtime allies, but recently there have been many cases that the two nations worked even more closely in areas that are not necessarily directly connected with Japan's main islands. For instance, in Indonesia when the massive tsunami hit the region, it was the US, Japan, and the Commonwealth of Australia, among many others, who rushed to the area for rescue, and in the Indian Ocean there has been an ongoing effort (by Japan) to be part of Operation Enduring Freedom, and in Iraq, obviously, Japan is still a part of the stabilizing force in Iraq.
You can add many other things. One could be that Japan is trying to enhance its ties with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) member nations. Lately both the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister have made themselves available at the North Atlantic Council (NAC) and expressed Japan's will to become a partner nation for NATO in the effort to give protection and stabilization to such areas as Afghanistan.
Japan's diplomacy has been widened in two respects. One, in terms of geography, and second, in terms of including the assets of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF). That has given both nations, the US and Japan, a legitimate cause upon which this process of the Two Plus Two meeting has been built. Therefore it invites the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense from the US and their counterparts from Japan, namely the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Defense, to let them discuss what Japan and the US can jointly do together and what is going on in the world. That is an indication that Japan's diplomacy has been lately engaged in many aspects in the world.
That is the backdrop against which this process of the Two Plus Two meeting has been launched, but it is always a difficult task for both nations to schedule the meeting because it involves some of the busiest members of each respective government. As you say, it has taken a while for this meeting to get organized, but that is the background.
Q: Will the fact that Defense Agency has become a ministry change the importance of significance of this meeting or the power?
Mr. Taniguchi: The change in status itself is rather domestic in nature, and even before the Ministry of Defense became a ministry, the head of the agency was a full-fledged member, not a junior at all, of this Two Plus Two meeting. I do not think really the change of status of the institution affected it very much.
Q: Also related to the Two Plus Two meetings, I remember that Foreign Minister Aso and Minister of Defense Fumio Kyuma both criticized Washington's policy in Iraq. Are both sides clear on that?
Mr. Taniguchi: I think there has been a good amount of understanding on both sides, and I do not think they have any misperceptions about each other.
Q: I heard that former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was in town. I was curious who called him over, or what was the purpose of his visit?
Mr. Taniguchi: I'm afraid I don't know. I actually have to run in another minute or so. Thank you.
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