Speeches by the Foreign Minister

January 18, 2021
At the 204th session of the Diet, allow me to outline Japan's foreign policy.

The international community is now confronting three major transformations and challenges. The first is how to overcome the crisis stemming from the global spread of COVID-19 and the difficult situations involving challenges to human security. The second is the challenge against the universal values and international order that have so far underpinned the peace and prosperity of the international community posed by such developments as protectionism and unilateral attempts to change the status quo. The third is the emergence of common challenges facing the international community, including globalization, digitalization, and climate change, together with emerging challenges such as those in new domains, including outer space and cyberspace, as well as economic security.

In the face of these epoch-making changes, Japan will uphold its respect for multilateralism and take on a greater leadership role in establishing a free and fair order and rules on both the security and economic fronts, looking ahead to a post-COVID-19 world. This is the clear orientation of Japan’s foreign policy.

First, let me speak about our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been analyzing the global spread of COVID-19 and devising a variety of countermeasures. We have been fully committed to issuing the Travel Advice and Warning on Infectious Diseases and disseminating relevant information in a prompt and attentive manner, as well as enforcing border control, carrying out repatriation operations from Wuhan, China, and supporting Japanese nationals overseas who have encountered difficulties in leaving other countries or returning to Japan. Thus far we have successfully arranged the departure and repatriation of more than 12,000 Japanese nationals from 101 countries. We will expend all possible means to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals abroad and to assist them.

International coordination and cooperation are essential to tackle the global spread of COVID-19 and the human security crisis. To bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control as soon as possible and prepare for future crises, we will actively contribute to reforming and strengthening the functions of the World Health Organization (WHO), which is responsible for global health issues, and to helping developing countries bolster their health and medical systems by, for instance, providing support to the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases. In order to promote Universal Health Coverage with the spirit of “leaving no one’s health behind,” we will extend full support to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all, including developing countries.

With what I have said as a backdrop, I will further advance “diplomacy with a sense of caring and robustness” with a particular focus on seven areas.

The first area is strengthening the Japan-U.S. Alliance. The Japan-U.S. Alliance is the linchpin of Japan’s foreign policy and security as well as the cornerstone of the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. As the regional security environment becomes increasingly severe, Japan will work with the Biden administration, which will be inaugurated the day after tomorrow, to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. Alliance, including enhancing its deterrence and response capabilities. In this course of that, we will do our utmost to mitigate the impact of U.S. Forces on the local communities through such measures as the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko as soon as possible.  We will also work closely with the new Biden administration in combatting the COVID-19 crisis and in addressing climate change and other issues facing the international community.

The second area is achieving a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” The “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” which Japan has been promoting, is a vision for ensuring the peace and prosperity of the entire region, and by extension the entire world, through establishing a free and open order based on the rule of law. A number of countries now share this vision. The relevance and significance of this vision are growing as we advance toward the post-COVID-19 era. Seizing every opportunity of bilateral and multilateral dialogues, including the Japan-Australia-India-U.S. meetings, we will advance coordination and cooperation with those with which we share views, such as the United States, Australia, India, and ASEAN as well as countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Third, Japan will pursue diplomacy with its neighboring countries in line with well-defined basic principles.

Let me begin with our approach to China. A stable relationship with China is extremely important not only for the two countries, but also for the peace and prosperity of the region and the international community. As the world’s second- and third-largest economies, Japan and China share responsibilities to address regional and international issues. The two countries can meet the international community’s expectations only when both countries fully fulfill the responsibilities. At the same time, any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea, including the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands, are entirely unacceptable. With the determination to defend Japan’s territory as well as territorial sea and airspace, Japan will continue to take a calm yet resolute approach to the situation. Regarding the issues concerning the South China Sea, Japan will continue to emphasize that we must strongly oppose any actions that would increase tensions and that we must peacefully resolve issues in accordance with international law, not by force or coercion. There are various outstanding issues of concern with China, and Japan will continue to firmly maintain its position to resolve those issues one by one by taking the opportunities of high-level contacts such as meetings between the leaders and foreign ministers, all the while strongly requesting China’s responsible actions.

Next is the Republic of Korea (ROK). The ROK is an important neighboring country, and Japan-ROK and Japan-U.S.-ROK coordination, including in dealing with North Korea, is indispensable for the stability of the region. However, the recent Japan-ROK relations have fallen into a more difficult situation due to issues, including the issue of former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula (CWKs) and the issue of comfort women. In particular, in regard to the recent judgment on a lawsuit filed against the Government of Japan by former comfort women and others, it is of the view that it is extremely regrettable that an absolutely unthinkable, abnormal situation has occurred from the viewpoints of international law as well as bilateral relations. I made a telephone call and lodged a strong protest to Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha of the ROK, strongly urging the ROK to swiftly take appropriate measures to remedy its breach of international law as a country. Based on Japan’s principled positions on issues between our two countries, the Government of Japan will continue to strongly urge the ROK to take appropriate actions. As for Takeshima, it is an inherent part of the territory of Japan both in light of historical facts and based on international law. Japan will deal with this issue in a calm yet resolute manner based on this consistent position.

Regarding the relationship with Russia, Japan will develop the overall bilateral relations across a broad range of political, economic and cultural fields, including the issue of concluding a peace treaty. In order to resolve the Northern Territories issue, which is the main outstanding issue of concern between Japan and Russia, it is necessary to continue close dialogues between the leaders and foreign ministers. The discussions between the two leaders that took place in Singapore in 2018 have been thoroughly taken over. I will tenaciously negotiate with Russia as the person responsible for the negotiations under our basic policy of concluding a peace treaty through the resolution of the territorial issue. We will also make steady progress in working out further details of the joint economic activities on the four Northern Islands and in implementing humanitarian measures for the former residents of those islands.

Fourth, Japan’s basic policy to normalize its relations with North Korea, in accordance with the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, through comprehensively resolving outstanding issues of concern such as the abductions, nuclear and missile issues, as well as settlement of the unfortunate past remains unchanged. We will continue to aim to ensure full implementation of the relevant United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions and realize denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, under the close Japan–U.S. and Japan–U.S.-ROK collaboration, as well as in cooperation with China, Russia, and the rest of the international community. We will make our utmost efforts toward early resolution of the abductions issue, which is a top priority for the administration.

The fifth area is to address the situation in the Middle East. While tensions in the Middle East remain high, the situation in the region has been changing as seen in the example of the normalization of relations between the State of Israel and some Arab countries. The peace and stability of this region, where countries across the world have various stakes, is vital to the peace and prosperity of the international community, including Japan. As Japan depends on this region for around 90% of its crude oil imports, it is extremely important to ensure the safety of navigation in the waters in the Middle East region. We will continue to contribute to easing tensions and stabilizing the situation in the Middle East through our persistent diplomatic efforts, making the most of Japan’s position as being endowed with relationships of trust with various partners.

Sixth, Japan will lead international efforts to create new rules.

As protectionism and inward-looking tendencies spread worldwide, Japan has demonstrated its leadership as a flagbearer of free trade, starting from the TPP11 and building up to the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement, the Japan-UK EPA, and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) among others. We will continue our efforts to expand a free and fair economic zone, which Japan has been promoting, and maintain and strengthen the rules-based multilateral trading system. We will also lead the reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO), including the efforts to produce concrete outcomes at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference scheduled to be held within this year.

Digital technology will grow in importance in the post-COVID-19 world. We will promote the “Osaka Track” worldwide, which Japan launched on the margin of the G20 Osaka Summit under Japan’s presidency, and lead the efforts to develop common rules on data flow. Japan will also play a central role in international rule-making in such fora as the UN, the WTO, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). We will continue to exercise international leadership in disseminating and implementing the principles and visions led by Japan at the G20 Osaka Summit, including the “G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment” and the “Osaka Blue Ocean Vision.”

In addition, we will further strengthen public-private partnerships, particularly by supporting Japanese companies in expanding their business overseas. As this year marks a decade since the Great East Japan Earthquake, we will step up our efforts to dispel harmful rumors overseas and call for lifting of import restrictions on Japanese food products.

At the same time, we will redouble our efforts to promote public diplomacy to broaden understanding of and support for Japan’s policies, initiatives, and positions. We will also further collaborate with communities of Japanese immigrants and their descendants around the world, including Latin America where I recently visited.

The seventh area is addressing global issues.

Guided by the principle of human security, we will accelerate our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and tackle global issues by making active and strategic use of Official Development Assistance (ODA). In particular, addressing climate change is the most important agenda at the moment. Striving to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, that is, to realize a carbon-neutral society, Japan will partner with other countries and lead international efforts at this year’s COP26 and beyond in order to realize a decarbonized world, which the Paris Agreement aims for. We will also actively work on such issues as marine plastic litter, human rights, refugees and displaced persons, women’s empowerment, and disaster risk reduction towards the achievement of the SDGs.

The 8th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 8), the second TICAD to be held in Africa, will take place in Tunisia in 2022. We will continue to robustly support African-led development efforts, including through human resources development, in order to address development challenges such as those related to health that have become all the more important due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the global spread of COVID-19 is demanding more international cooperation than ever, Japan has always attached great importance to multilateral frameworks such as the UN. In this connection, the UN Security Council reform, including Japan’s entry as a permanent member, is long overdue, and Japan will therefore work to launch concrete negotiations. Japan will also seek election as a non-permanent member of the Security Council in the 2022 election to further contribute to the peace and stability of the international community. We will actively contribute to addressing a wide range of international issues through, among others, UN peacekeeping operations (PKOs) and the 14th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, also known as the Kyoto Congress, to be held in Japan in March. To further enhance our contributions through these multilateral frameworks, we will be stepping up our efforts to enlarge opportunities so that more and more competent Japanese nationals can work successfully for international organizations.

Furthermore, Japan will make active contributions to international discussions to achieve a meaningful outcome at the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) expected to be held in August.

I would like to make this coming summer a special one by overcoming the difficult circumstances. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will contribute to the whole-of-government efforts to hold the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games that are inspiring as well as safe and secure as proof that humanity has defeated the virus. As international conferences such as the 9th Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting and the 13th Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting are also scheduled to be held in Japan this year, we will elevate our cooperation with other countries to new heights.

These are Japan’s policies in the seven areas. In order to pursue these policies and flexibly advance “diplomacy with a sense of caring and robustness,” we will reinforce our foreign policy implementation apparatus, including by bolstering our missions overseas in terms of both quantity and quality.

This year, as the new Biden administration starts in the United States, Japan will strengthen the Japan-U.S. Alliance even more and further advance a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” a vision that is now gaining traction worldwide. With a sense of responsibility and mission, I am determined to devote my utmost efforts to make this a year that will give Japan a more prominent presence in the international community as Japan demonstrates its leadership in international efforts in creating a new order and new rules for the post-COVID-19 world.

I sincerely ask for the understanding and cooperation of all Diet members and the people of Japan.
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