Press Conference by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida
Friday, January 13, 2017, 9:50 a.m.   Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Departure of U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy

Mie, Japan Times: U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy is scheduled to leave her position on Wednesday of next week. You interacted directly with Ambassador Kennedy as a counterpart in negotiations for just over three years and an article in the New York Times reported that you described her as a very tough negotiator in an e-mail to the NYT. What made her tough? Can you please explain your thoughts on her departure?

Mr. Fumio Kishida, Minister for Foreign Affairs: With regard to my interactions with Ambassador Kennedy during her tenure, we generally have a very positive view of her work. While you mentioned the term tough, I meant this in a favorable way in reference to the substantive and solid interaction that we had.

She thoroughly comprehended various content and earnestly and smoothly maintained communications with the U.S. Government. With respect to specific outcomes, we highly appreciate that Ambassador Kennedy delivered concrete results in relation to various issues such as President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima and efforts for reducing the impact on Okinawa. We appreciate and have a favorable view of her efforts during the just over three years of her tenure, which I also meant in my use of the term tough.

Japan-EU EPA

Nozaki, Kyodo News: I would like to ask about EPA negotiations between Japan and the European Union (EU). I believe a meeting of the chief negotiators is planned next week beginning on January 17. There is not much time left, considering the parliamentary general election in the Netherlands will be held in March. Please explain your outlook for the negotiation and whether there are any plans for minister-level negotiations between yourself and Ms. Cecilia Malmstrom, European Commissioner for Trade.

Minister Kishida: I held a telephone talk with the EU Commissioner Malmstrom on the topic of the Japan-EU EPA in December 2016. We agreed on aiming for an agreement in principle as early as possible and a prompt start of negotiations at the beginning of this year, which is this month. Japan has already been steadily engaging in negotiations with the EU at a variety of levels utilizing telephone conferences and other means. On this basis, we are resuming the meeting of chief negotiators on January 17, as you noted. Japan hopes to deepen discussions and clarify the main points through these efforts and to continue working toward an agreement in principle.

Regarding a ministerial meeting mentioned in your question, we will consider the suitable timing after seeing the results of these discussions. Nothing has been decided yet in regards to the specific timing of a ministerial meeting at this point. In any case, we have been earnestly engaged in discussions since the start of this year based on last year’s agreement with Commissioner Malmstrom, and Japan intends to continue making efforts in the meeting of chief negotiators and assess the situation.

Return to Duties by the Japanese Ambassador to the ROK

Ichikawa, Jiji Press: What are your thoughts on the timing for the return to duties of the Japanese Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (ROK)? Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga commented that Japan will make a comprehensive assessment regarding the return to duties. Does the comprehensive assessment include removal of the statue of a comfort woman in Busan?

Minister Kishida: Japan temporarily recalled Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine to the ROK and Consul General Yasuhiro Morimoto in Busan, mainly as an expression of Japan’s protest and to conduct meetings in Japan. The timing for a return to duties is undecided at this point. We plan to make a comprehensive assessment and review of various circumstances as mentioned by the Chief Cabinet Secretary as you noted.

You also asked about the relationship with the removal of the statue of a comfort woman. I would like to refrain from commenting on a hypothetical question given our stance of making a comprehensive assessment. In any case, Japan intends to comprehensively assess the situation from a variety of perspectives.

Ichikawa, Jiji Press: Is there a possibility of the Ambassador returning to duties even if the statue is not removed?

Minister Kishida: I would like to refrain from making a comment on hypothetical questions.

Fukai, TBS: Do you expect that Japan will not decide to proceed with a return to duties by the Ambassador unless the ROK side takes some type of visible action?

Minister Kishida: I would like to refrain from responding to questions based on speculations regarding the same point as the similar previous question. In any case, a comprehensive assessment will be made by the government as a whole, including the Prime Minister.

US President-elect Trump

Oikawa, NHK: I have a question about U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. He recently held a press conference and specifically cited Japan in regard to trade matters. Prior to this event, he also mentioned Toyota in a tweet. While these comments are coming before his inauguration, what is your view of these comments by the President-elect?

Minister Kishida: Regarding President-elect Trump’s press conference, I would like to refrain from making specific comments on remarks by the President-elect at this point because the current Obama administration is still in office.

Having said that, I believe the economic relationship between Japan and the U.S. and vibrant trade and investments are vital sources of economic activity between our countries. Japan strongly hopes to pursue initiatives that lead to further advancement and deepening of economic ties between Japan and the U.S. with the Trump administration too. We intend to continue to closely monitor comments by the President-elect from this perspective.

Japan-Russia Relationship

Yaoka, Nippon TV: I have a question about the relationship between Japan and the Russian Federation. It will soon be a month since the Japan-Russia summit meeting. The two countries agreed to begin negotiations on joint economic activities. Please explain the current state of negotiations and your outlook.

Minister Kishida: At the Japan-Russia summit meeting held in December of last year, the two countries agreed on joint economic activities in the Northern Territories and economic cooperation and other efforts by Japan and Russia. I believe the results from this meeting were a very important step forward in the Japan-Russia relationship and negotiations for a peace treaty. I am also aware that discussions are currently continuing at a variety of levels and in various routes at the start of this year. Minister Hiroshige Seko will also be visiting Russia. Japan needs to continue to thoroughly follow up in various routes on the results from December’s Japan-Russia summit meeting, and I hope that this follow-up will lead to concrete results.

Yaoka, Nippon TV: There is talk about an early visit by Prime Minister Abe to Russia during the first half of this year, possibly in April. The Russian side has mentioned this possibility. What would be the significance or specific aim of a visit to Russia?

Minister Kishida: I am aware that Prime Minister Abe hopes to visit Russia at a fairly early point this year. While early timing has been mentioned, the specific timing of a visit is still being coordinated at this point and nothing has been decided yet. If Prime Minister Abe visits Russia and the next summit meeting is held, the purpose would obviously include follow-up from the December summit meeting, and the meeting hence would be based on results from discussions conducted at various levels and routes between Japan and Russia. Developments in various interactions between Japan and Russia conversely might affect the timing too. In any case, Japan intends to determine a suitable timing in light of the circumstances. It is still being coordinated and the specific timing of a visit by Prime Minister Abe to Russia has not been decided yet.

Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement

Kobayashi, NHK: I would like to return to the Japan-U.S. relationship. I have a question regarding the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) on which an agreement was reached in principle last year. You mentioned at the time that it was intended to be signed during the Obama administration. This agreement contains content that revises the scope of the civilian component of the U.S. Armed Forces. Please explain subsequent progress and your outlook for signing the agreement.

Minister Kishida: Regarding the Agreement on Cooperation with regard to the Implementation Practices relating to the Civilian Component of the U.S. Armed Forces in Japan that you mentioned, we are currently making adjustments and are striving to have it ready for signing early next week. We will provide notification once it is decided.

Kobayashi, NHK: Please once again explain the significance of signing this agreement in light of the incident that led to it.

Minister Kishida: Regarding the significance, a serious incident by a civilian employee of the U.S. Armed Forces occurred in Okinawa in April 2016. Following this incident, Japan and the U.S. made a joint announcement in July and expressed our intention to take this initiative. We hope to achieve the result of curtailing incidents involving civilian employees of the U.S. Armed Forces in Okinawa through signing the agreement, which allows us to clarify the scope of the civilian component and also oversight and treatment by the U.S. side in regard to this category.

Japan-China-ROK Summit Meeting

Takeda, Asahi Shimbun: I believe Japan aims to hold a Japan-China-ROK summit meeting as the chair country again this year. Please give an update on the current state of coordination. Also, please clarify whether the statue issue in Busan will affect the decision on the timing of the Japan-China-ROK summit meeting or it has no relationship and coordination is taking place separately.

Minister Kishida: Regarding the Japan-China-ROK summit meeting, we were arranging the meeting for the end of last year, but are rearranging the date because of various circumstances and decided to conduct the meeting at a suitable time this year in Japan. While you also mentioned the relationship with the issue surrounding construction of a statue of a comfort woman in Busan, the Japan-China-ROK summit meeting is a trilateral framework and is also a framework for discussing cooperation among the three countries. Japan has no intention of linking it to the problem regarding construction of the statue of a comfort woman in front of Japan’s consulate general in Busan. Specific timing has not been decided yet. However, we will continue efforts to coordinate a meeting in Japan at a suitable time this year.