Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, February 9, 2021, 3:04 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) Japan-Australia Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I have been holding a Japan-Australia Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk up until now. The time was lengthened a little, thus the time of this press conference was also delayed.
The telephone talk was held commencing at 1:45 p.m. for approximately 45 minutes. It was held at the request of Foreign Minister Payne of Australia.
We first held an in-depth exchange of views on the situation in Myanmar and shared our current understanding and concern. We concurred to strongly urge the Myanmar military to swiftly restore Myanmar’s democratic political system and release those who were detained, including State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We also confirmed that Japan and Australia will continue to closely coordinate together regarding the situation in Myanmar.
In addition, we exchanged views regarding further deepening bilateral relations such as the security front, based on the progress made in Japan-Australia relations including Prime Minister Morrison and Foreign Minister Payne’s respective visits to Japan last year. We concurred to closely coordinate among like-minded countries towards the realization of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” We also shared the view to bolster collaboration among the “Quad” of Japan, Australia, India, and the United States.,
Furthermore, we held an exchange of views on China. We exchanged views on regional situations including the East and South China Seas, and agreed to strongly oppose any attempts that seek to unilaterally change the status quo. That is all regarding the Japan-Australia Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk.
(2) The Passing of Former U.S. Secretary of State Shultz
Minister Motegi: I would also like to speak briefly about two matters.
On February 6 U.S. time, former Secretary of State George Shultz passed away. Former U.S. Secretary of State Shultz served as Secretary of State from 1982-1989. He greatly contributed to the peace and security of the international community, including his efforts with former President Ronald Reagan to end the Cold War.
In addition, during his time as Secretary of State and after, he made large contributions to advancing Japan-U.S. cooperation and building the foundation for today’s strong Japan-U.S. Alliance. I would like to express my sincere respect and gratitude for former Secretary of State Shultz.
It was a great honor that I was able to see former Secretary of State Shultz when I visited San Francisco in January 2020. Additionally, the Reception to Commemorate the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty was held on January 19, 2020 in Tokyo, and former Secretary of State Shultz expressed congratulations for the reception. I would like to express my gratitude again. Having heard of his passing, I would like to express my sincere condolences.
(3) Support for the Reappointment of U.N. Secretary-General Guterres
Minister Motegi: The other matter I would like to speak about is in relation to U.N. Secretary-General Guterres, who announced his intention to put forth his candidacy to serve a second term as Secretary-General. Since his appointment in 2017, Japan has closely cooperated with Secretary-General Guterres, who has shown excellent leadership ability in extensive fields that the United Nations engages in, including international peace and security, development, climate change, and the response to the novel coronavirus.
Japan would like to continue to cooperate with Secretary-General Guterres to respond to various issues of the international community, and welcomes his intention to put forth his candidacy. We expect that he will continue to work toward resolving various issues of the international community, and Japan fully support such activities. That is all from me.
Japan-Australia Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk (Japan-U.S.-Australia-India Summit Meeting and Foreign Ministers’ Meeting)
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about the Japan-Australia Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk that you mentioned in your opening remarks. During your telephone talk, you agreed to strengthen the Quad. I also believe that it was agreed during the Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting last year to hold the Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting once per year. During your telephone talk this time, was it mentioned to hold another Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting this year? Also, did you discuss a Quad Summit Meeting?
Minister Motegi: The Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was held on October 6, 2020 in Tokyo. Foreign Minister Payne and I agreed that it was a very significant meeting, and we agreed on the importance of strengthening Japan-U.S.-Australia-India cooperation at the right time toward realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” We did not discuss details such as the specific schedule for Quad meetings at the foreign minister and summit level.
Responses to Human Rights and Environmental Issues
Freelance, Shiba: I would like to ask about responses to human rights and environmental issues, especially responses involving penalties. The Abe administration decided to provide economic cooperation worth about 800 billion yen to Myanmar, as well as yen loans worth about 120.9 billion yen through JICA last year.
Also, speaking about Brazil, there has been extremely severe destruction of the Amazon at an unprecedented level in recent years during the Bolsonaro administration, and Germany and Norway suspended support to Brazil.
Accordingly, I would like to ask about Japan’s foreign policy. Is Japan considering any penalty measures or measures against countries where there are extremely severe issues concerning human rights and the environment? Or is there no plan? Please tell us your thoughts.
Minister Motegi: It is not the case that there is no plan.
Freelance, Shiba: It is not the case that there is no plan (off-mic).
Minister Motegi: Would you like me to say more?
Freelance, Shiba: A little more (off-mic).
Minister Motegi: Human rights are being violated. Japan has taken severe measures against this thus far. On the other hand, Japan has also provided support for advancing the development of democratization in countries that are making efforts to do so.
I believe it is necessary to take severe measures in relation to human rights while providing support for promotion of development of democratization.
In regard to the issue of climate change, it is currently a major global issue. Japan has clearly announced that it will have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. We also want to cooperate with initiatives on this issue by the international community, as well as firmly support initiatives in developing countries.
Peace Treaty Negotiations with Russia
Hokkaido Shimbun, Hirota: I would like to ask about the negotiations to conclude a peace treaty with Russia, including about the Northern Territories issue. In his video message during the National Rally to Demand the Return of the Northern Territories held on February 7 and when answering questions in the Diet, Prime Minister Suga stated that the negotiations will continue to be steadily advanced based on the various agreements between Japan and Russia thus far. When he has spoken about the various agreements when answering questions in the Diet, he has mentioned that the Tokyo Declaration on Japan-Russia Relations and the Irkutsk Statement are included among these agreements. I believe you have also made the same statements when answering questions in the Diet. During the 2018 Japan-Russia Summit Meeting in Singapore, did Russia also share the recognition of basing the negotiations on various agreements including the Tokyo Declaration? Please tell us your view.
Minister Motegi: Firstly, I believe the Japan-Russia Summit Meeting in 2018 in Singapore was the twenty-something time that Prime Minister Abe and President Putin met, and they conducted various communication and discussions up until then. In the end, they agreed to accelerate the peace treaty negotiations on the basis of the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956. We will approach the negotiations going forward while firmly continuing such communication.
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: I would like to ask about the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. During the nonpartisan parliamentary meeting this morning, some people voiced the opinion that Japan should quickly ratify the Convention as China and North Korea are already ratifying it. I believe that Japan has taken the position for many years that it is necessary to conduct careful consideration. Can you please tell us again the reason for why Japan has not ratified the Convention?
Minister Motegi: In terms of major legal systems to address the crime of genocide, there are the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Japan believes that perpetrators of the most serious crimes such as genocide, which are a matter of concern for the entire international community, must not go unpunished. Japan has been sincerely implementing the obligations of the Rome Statue of the ICC as a signatory state with a view to contribute to eradicating and preventing such crimes.
On the other hand, the Genocide Convention makes it obligatory for signatory states to have domestic law criminalize perpetrators of acts such as genocide. In addition, it has broader provisions than the Rome Statute of the ICC regarding acts subject to punishment. Amidst this, although Japan has signed the Rome Statue of the ICC, in regard to signing the Genocide Convention, it is necessary for the ministries and agencies concerned to conduct discussion on the points I just mentioned such as the necessity of Japan signing the Genocide Convention as well as the contents of the domestic legislation required for signing the Convention. We will continue to conduct careful consideration.
The Senkaku Islands Issue
Independent Web Journal, Kihara: I would like to ask about the Senkaku Islands. Following the entry into force of China’s Coast Guard Law that allows the use of force by the Coast Guard, Coast Guard boats have been successively entering Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands. The Senkaku Islands are also directly connected to the issue of Taiwan in terms of geography. China has stated that Taiwan is the most important and sensitive reform issue. On the other hand, a U.S. destroyer passed through the Straits of Taiwan on February 4 and invited China’s opposition. If we take a broad view, the entry by Chinese Coast Guard ships into Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands can be considered to be part of the intensifying confrontation between the United States and China. Is it in the national interest of Japan for this confrontation with China to deepen with Japan taking the U.S. side? Taiwan is close to the Senkaku Islands, and also claims sovereignty over them. If China tries to truly take Taiwan, it will probably also want to take the Senkaku Islands. Although Japan and the United States are putting pressure on China to prevent this, as Harvard Professor Graham Allison stated in his article in the March 2020 edition of Foreign Affairs, “In 18 of the last 18 Pentagon war games involving China in the Taiwan Strait, the U.S. lost.” U.S. specialists have also recognized that there is an extremely high possibility that the U.S. military could be defeated by the Chinese military if the United States and China had a clash.
On the other hand, Dr. Kurt Campbell, who was appointed by the Biden administration to be Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs, wrote about the importance of a balance of power maintenance in Asia and the Indo-Pacific region in the January 2021 edition of Foreign Affairs.
Amidst this, isn’t it necessary to have diplomacy with calm wisdom that is not completely devoted to following the United States in order to not have intensification of confrontations between the United States and China and between China and Taiwan, while protecting our sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands? Please tell us your view about Japan’s method of guiding peace in the Far East with a broad perspective and continuing its effective control over the Senkaku Islands for many years as a result of that.
Minister Motegi: In terms of whether the logic of the Thucydides Trap, which was elaborated by Professor Graham Allison who you mentioned, is applicable to the United States and China now, I believe many writers would argue that it does not apply at the present point.
Amidst this, it is truly regrettable and totally unacceptable that vessels belonging to the Chinese Coast Guard entered Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands for two days in a row and appeared to approach Japanese fishing boats. We have been lodging severe protests to China that the activities of its Coast Guard vessels, based on China’s unique claim that Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands are China’s, are in breach of international law.
There are various forms of cases of cooperation between Japan and the United States, but Japan has been lodging its own protests against the activities of the Chinese Coast Guard vessels. Also, amidst this, we are severely concerned that China’s Coast Guard Law entered into force on February 1.
Responses to Human Rights and Environmental Issues
Freelance, Shiba: Please excuse me for asking about this a second time. Perhaps my way of phrasing my previous question was bad. To ask you more simply, is it possible or not that economic cooperation might be suspended in the case of Myanmar or Brazil?
Minister Motegi: It is necessary in diplomacy to focus on what lies ahead in the context of various factors. I cannot give an across-the-board answer at this point in time about the possibilities of various diplomacy methods.
Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) Relations (Expectations for the new Foreign Minister)
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about Japan-ROK relations. Mr. Chung Eui-yong assumed his position as Foreign Minister of the ROK. Japan-ROK relations are continuing to worsen due to the comfort women issue and the issue of the foreign civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula. What role do you expect the new Foreign Minister to play?
Minister Motegi: I am aware that Mr. Chung Eui-yong assumed his position as Foreign Minister yesterday. Japan and the ROK are important neighboring countries to one another. However, Japan-ROK relations are in an unprecedentedly difficult situation as the ROK has breached international law and not implemented the Japan-ROK agreement over the past several years. There is no change to the Government of Japan’s consistent position of strongly urging the ROK to take appropriate responses. Our position will not change even if the Foreign Minister changes. At the same time, as we continue communication between the diplomatic authorities of our two countries, we will monitor specific proposals by the ROK to resolve the pending issues between Japan and the ROK.