Press Conference by Foreign Press Secretary YOSHIDA Tomoyuki
Wednesday, January 13, 2021, 3:46 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Opening Remarks - New Year’s Greeting
Mr. YOSHIDA Tomoyuki, Press Secretary: I do not have any opening remarks. However, since this is my first press conference of the New Year, I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year, although I am a little late. I would also like to thank you for your support last year, and to request your further support this year as well. Thank you.
Republic of Korea (ROK) (Lawsuit of a claim for damages against the Government of Japan filed by former Comfort Women and others)
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: I would like to ask about the judgment on the lawsuit filed by comfort women in the ROK. Foreign Minister Motegi stated that the Government of Japan will resolutely respond with all options on the table going forward. Will the Government make some kind of response during the time until January 23 when the judgment is confirmed?
Press Secretary Yoshida: You asked about the lawsuit filed by former comfort women in the ROK. Although what I will say overlaps in some parts with what Foreign Minister Motegi already stated, to once again state the Government of Japan’s position, it is extremely regrettable that an absolutely unthinkable, abnormal situation has occurred from the viewpoints of international law as well as bilateral relations.
It is not acceptable for Japan to be subject to the jurisdiction of the ROK in accordance with the principle of State immunity under international law. It is the clear position of the Government of Japan that this lawsuit must be dismissed, and we have repeatedly expressed this to the ROK side.
The issue concerning property and claims between Japan and the ROK, including the issue of comfort women, was settled completely and finally with the Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Co-operation between Japan and the ROK of 1965. Furthermore, it was confirmed that the issue of comfort women was “resolved finally and irreversibly” with the agreement between Japan and the ROK in 2015.. For your information, I am aware that the recent comment by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of ROK mentioned that the 2015 Japan-ROK Agreement was an official agreement.
Despite this, a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs was rendered which denies the principle of State immunity. Also, I believe the Government of the ROK commented that it would respect the judgment. This is all absolutely unacceptable to the Government of Japan.
We believe that this judgment is a development that will put Japan-ROK relations, which were already in a severe situation, into an even more serious state. We will request the ROK to take appropriate measures to remedy its breach of international law not only as a government but also as a country.
In regard to your question, we need to ascertain what approach the ROK side will take based on Japan’s position of requesting the ROK to take appropriate measures to remedy its breach of international law. Our approach will be to resolutely respond with all options on the table going forward. The Government of Japan will not appeal because that could put us in the position of having to abide by the judgment. However, I would like to refrain from answering your question about our response in specific terms, such as what we will do and the timing in terms of whether it would be before or after the finalized judgment, since this could reveal our intentions.
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: I fully understand that the Government of Japan’s position is that this lawsuit must be dismissed. However, this is a court decision in the ROK, so what response are you requesting the Government of the ROK to take for the judgment to be dismissed?
Press Secretary Yoshida: As I just stated, the Government of Japan’s position is that this judgment must be dismissed or invalidated. We believe that the start of improving future Japan-ROK relations is premised on this.
On the other hand, rather than Japan saying what measures the ROK should take to remedy its breaches of international law, we believe the Government of the ROK itself should consider all the options it can take.
For your reference, there was a case similar to this one in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the past. It is the case brought by Germany against Italy to the ICJ in 2012. This case was about the judgements by Italian domestic courts where Italy did not recognize Germany’s State immunity. The ICJ rejected Italy’s judgments for denying Germany’s State immunity.
The ICJ’s judgment stated that Italy had to, “by acting appropriate legislation, or by resorting to other methods of its own choosing, ensure that the decisions of its courts … cease to have effect,” and that “the fact that some of the violations may have been committed by judicial organs, and some of the legal decisions in question have become final in Italian domestic law, does not lift the obligation incumbent upon Italy to make restitution. ” Based on this, we would like the ROK to take appropriate measures.
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: I have another related question. There are concerns that the judgment in the ROK might enable the seizure of Japan’s national assets in the ROK. State immunity is also applicable to national property, but would such seizure be realistically possible? Please tell us your thoughts on that point.
Press Secretary Yoshida: The judgment in this case has not been confirmed at this point yet. What processes can be taken after that is a matter of civil litigation processes within the ROK, so Japan is not in the position to speculate on what will happen. I would like to state that first.
If I were to say anything more, it would be absolutely unacceptable for measures to be taken enforcing the judgment. State immunity applies to Japan’s national assets. Also, in the case of this affecting diplomatic missions, I believe it could be said that it would clearly violate the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which has become customary international law.
NHK, Watanabe: In relation to this, if we look at the series of responses by the ROK, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of ROK pointed out the importance of the 2015 Agreement in a comment. On the other hand, such a judgment has been rendered by the ROK court, and the Office of the President has not clearly expressed its intention. Do you get the impression that there is disarray about the position on this issue as well as on relations with Japan within the ROK? Or do you believe that there is not any disarray about their respective positions, and instead there is some sort of intention behind this? I would like to ask that first.
My second question is, basically Japan’s consistent position on the entire process seems to be that the ball is in the ROK’s court. On the other hand, this situation has continued without the ROK making any kind of reply that Japan can clearly accept. Sure enough, Japan has been asserting its position, and the ROK has been obstinate. How can the deadlock be broken in this situation? The ROK will probably have to yield on the solution, but will it yield easily? This has been continuing without a change for a long time, so would there ultimately have to be an administration change?
Press Secretary Yoshida: Your question requires in-depth analysis, so I am not sure how best to answer. As I stated before, Japan-ROK relations are already in a severe situation due to the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, and other matters. For matters such as the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, if liquidation of assets took place based on the judgment on the case, it would result in an irreparable situation. We have publicly stated this repeatedly. In the process of the current lawsuit as well, the Government of Japan has been repeatedly conveying its position to the ROK that the case must be dismissed because it is unacceptable to deny the principle of State immunity.
In terms of how the ROK side will respond to this issue, you pointed out that there are complicated implications seen from the recent comment. Whatever the background for this, this issue is related to the principle of sovereignty. Thus, it is theoretically out of the question for us to compromise or suggest a compromise plan.
We would like the ROK to fully understand that once again, and muster its wisdom to work on this issue.
Situation in the United States (Occupation of the U.S. Capitol Building by Supporters of President Trump)
Asahi Shimbun, Kitami: I would like to change the subject to ask about the incident in which people stormed the U.S. Capitol Building. At the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Division of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) today, a member in attendance stated that as Prime Minister Suga has not made a statement about this incident and Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato has only answered questions about it, the top leaders of Japan need to firmly issue a message. Can you please tell us again the position of the Government of Japan on this incident, and whether the top leaders will issue a message for similar cases in the future?
Press Secretary Yoshida: I have heard about what was pointed out today in the meeting of the LDP’s Foreign Affairs Division, which you mentioned in your question. To restate what has been stated, the Government of Japan is concerned that the storming of the Capitol Building obstructed the proceedings of Congress. There was a question about this incident immediately after it occurred on January 7 during Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato’s press conference, and the Chief Cabinet Secretary responded with what I just stated. Furthermore, the Chief Cabinet Secretary has communicated the position of the Government of Japan of our expectations that U.S. democracy will overcome the current difficult situation, and that peace and harmony in society will be restored along with the peaceful and democratic administration transition.
Also, in an on-the-spot interview on January 8, Prime Minister Suga was asked this question, and he answered with a message that he would like the American people to come together to move forward under the upcoming Biden administration. Based on the belief you stated in your question that the Prime Minister has not made any statement, perhaps that point was not fully conveyed.
On the other hand, I believe that there are various factors that have affected the content and form of messages issued by various country leaders, such as the leaders’ views and the countries’ relations with the United States. Therefore, I believe it is difficult to simply compare them with generalization.
In any event, it is my understanding that the position of the Government of Japan was conveyed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato and Prime Minister Suga, as I just stated.
Asahi Shimbun, Kitami: I would like to ask a related question. The member of the LDP’s Foreign Affairs Division pointed out that rather than issuing a message on his own volition, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga was responding to a reporter’s question. I believe that Prime Minister Suga also made his statement in the same way. However, for example, Chancellor Merkel has issued messages in a ruling party meeting on her own volition and made posts on social media. The Government could have issued messages in a similar fashion, but what kind of judgement was made regarding its response on this occasion?
Press Secretary Yoshida: To repeat what I said earlier, I believe that various countries have made their own decisions on the form and content of messages that they have issued as a nation or by their leaders about this incident. In the case of Japan, as this incident occurred on January 6 U.S. time, a clear message was issued taking the opportunity of the Chief Cabinet Secretary’s press conference immediately after the incident on January 7.
Situation in the United States (Expectations for the New Biden Administration)
Kyodo News, Asada: The new Biden administration will finally be inaugurated in the United States next week. What are the expectations of the Government of Japan for the new administration in terms of diplomacy, security and the economy? Thank you.
Press Secretary Yoshida: I believe that preparations are being steadily advanced for the U.S. presidential inauguration on January 20. Most of the personnel choices for the new cabinet have already been made public. It is my understanding that, for the time being, President Biden will prioritize working on the domestic discord that has become apparent due to the presidential election and its process, and national reconciliation. Japan also expects such work to be taken.
On the other hand, in terms of Japan-U.S. relations, last year was the 60th anniversary of the entry into force of the current Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, and the Japan-U.S. Alliance has been steadily deepening up until now. Based on the extremely severe security situation both domestically and overseas, we would like to make the Japan-U.S. Alliance even stronger going forward not only in the security field, but also for matters such as the economy, society, and global issues.
Therefore, we expect to have frank exchanges of views with the new Biden administration on how Japan and the United States should work on various multifaceted issues by taking opportunities for direct dialogue at the summit level, ministerial level, and foreign ministry level as quickly as possible.
Of course, a shared recognition has already been formed between the governments of Japan and the United States about the severe security situation surrounding Japan and East Asia. As we further update that, I believe a major premise will be what initiatives and cooperation Japan and the United States can conduct together. Furthermore, in order to make this stronger, we also hope to confirm and develop with the new U.S. administration Japan-U.S. leadership on forming a new order and rule-making in the international community, for example, related to the economy field and the trade and investment field, as well as new matters such as climate change which President-elect Biden places importance on and global health.
We also expect to swiftly work on the realization of the content of cooperation in relation to the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” which Japan and the United States have been jointly promoting, based on our cooperation thus far and other related aspects.