Press Conference by Foreign Press Secretary YOSHIDA Tomoyuki
Wednesday, January 20, 2021, 3:45 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Situation in the United States (Assessment of the Trump Administration)
Asahi Shimbun, Kitami: The Trump administration will end as of early in the morning tomorrow Japan time. Can you please tell us your assessment of the past four years?
Mr. YOSHIDA Tomoyuki, Press Secretary: As you pointed out, the new Biden administration will be inaugurated tomorrow.
During the past four years, we have advanced Japan-U.S. relations and the Japan-U.S. Alliance to be even stronger with the Trump administration. Amidst this, as Foreign Minister Motegi also mentioned yesterday, Japan and the United States concluded the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement and the Japan-U.S. Digital Trade Agreement, which are important economic agreements.
We have also made efforts based on the Japan-U.S. Alliance to involve many countries and expand understanding of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” concept that Japan has been promoting.
In particular, I believe there was a personal relationship at the summit level with President Trump, so the firm relations of the Japan-U.S. Alliance thus far were further strengthened.
It is my understanding that as it is being stated publicly, the new Biden administration that will be inaugurated tomorrow will, for the time being, work to overcome the division within the United States that has been exposed, including in regard to the presidential election process.
We would like to start discussions with the new administration at an early stage in order to make the Japan-U.S. Alliance even stronger under the administration. Firstly, we will monitor with major interest the efforts in the United States such as those to address the division within the country as well as domestic novel coronavirus countermeasures.
Negotiations on Host Nation Support (HNS) for the U.S. Forces Japan
Asahi Shimbun, Kitami: I would also like to ask about what can be called an unresolved issue from the previous administration era. I believe that the HNS negotiations have still not been concluded. Can you please tell us the status of the negotiations through now, and what effects there will be due to the transition to the new administration?
Press Secretary Yoshida: In regard to HNS which you asked about, the current Special Measures Agreement (SMA) on HNS for the U.S. Forces Japan is valid until the end of March. Negotiations, including in-person negotiations, were conducted several times last year. At the present point the negotiations have still not been concluded, as you pointed out.
The U.S. Forces Japan have a central role in terms of how to deal with the increasingly severe security environment of this region that includes Japan. We will thus diligently advance negotiations with the new administration as well, including for how to deal with this new situation.
On the other hand, another aspect of the reality is Japan’s severe financial situation. Also, the negotiations never continued from one administration to the next in the past. We will continue to accelerate the negotiations taking this situation into account. At the present point, we have not reached a stage in which I can say anything further.
Situation in East Asia (Japan-U.S. Cooperation)
NHK, Watanabe: I would firstly like to ask about the formation of the Biden administration. In relation to the questions that were just asked, as the new U.S. administration is inaugurated, from Japan’s perspective there are still concerning issues in regard to the situation in East Asia, including the East China Sea issue and the North Korea issue. Amidst this situation, how will Japan approach cooperation in terms of participation by the new U.S. administration on these various problems in regard to East Asia? How will this change from the time of the Trump administration, or will some aspects not change? How does Japan intend to build relations with the new administration amidst the situation in East Asia that involves Japan?
Press Secretary Yoshida: As I have taken various opportunities to state, I understand that the Japan-U.S. Alliance is not limited to simply bilateral relations between Japan and the United States, but rather has matured to become relations that contribute to peace and stability in particularly East Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, as well as the world.
Although I am repeating myself, the regional security environment is becoming increasingly severe. In regard to the various problems and unresolved issues in East Asia that you pointed out, we have been communicating with the United States at all levels since before. We have been making efforts for that, working on division of roles between Japan and the United States for defense-related and security-related preparation, and strengthening the functions of that.
As stated, the Japan-U.S. Alliance receives nonpartisan support in the United States. Also, the people nominated for many important security-related posts and posts related to the regional situation in the new Biden administration that will be inaugurated are extremely familiar to us and have much experience. Accordingly, based on what we have built up thus far, we will communicate with the new personnel while considering the new situation. We recognize the need to work to be able to respond quickly to the situation.
You asked about relations with the previous administration in particular. As I stated at the beginning, we are currently mid-way in our initiatives concerning the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” vision. With the new administration as well, we must firstly properly affirm our recognition of this, and work to advance specific cooperation.
I believe we must also firmly work with the new administration to deal with the Korean Peninsula situation which has extremely important effects on security and the attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, as well as the missile defense we have been advancing and strengthening our deterrence and response capabilities against missiles.
Situation in the United States (Assessment of President Trump)
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: You just spoke about your assessment of the Trump administration. I believe that the past four years have been generally good in terms of Japan-U.S. relations. On the other hand, the reality is that Mr. Trump has continuously dismissed the international order and democracy, and many countries have been subjected to his speech and conduct. What is your assessment of Mr. Trump as a leader?
Press Secretary Yoshida: You asked me a very blunt question. President Trump still holds his position of president at the present point. I am aware that there are various viewpoints, public opinions, reports, criticisms, and comments about the subject you asked about.
On the other hand, it is not customary in terms of diplomatic etiquette to comment on the leader of a certain country in such a formal press conference. I would thus like to refrain from commenting in response to your question.
In any event, I believe it is important for Japan to cooperate and work with the new U.S. administration that will be inaugurated on various matters such as international cooperation and unilateralism, as is being stated by the public.
Relations with the 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 change the subject to ask about the judgment concerning the lawsuit filed by comfort women in the ROK. As I asked last week, if it proceeds, the judgment will be confirmed on January 23. The ROK is currently not moving to remedy its breaches of international law. You mentioned in your recent press conference a precedent in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concerning Italy and Germany. As there is a precedent concerning State immunity, can you please tell us your thoughts on whether bringing a case to the ICJ could be a leading option for Japan at the present point?
Press Secretary Yoshida: I have commented recently about the judgment on the lawsuit filed by former comfort women and others in the ROK, and Foreign Minister Motegi has also received many questions about this matter, so I will not repeat the position of the Government of Japan.
On the other hand, the ROK is being requested to remedy its breaches of international law, not only as a government but also as a country. Japan is also making this request. We have repeatedly stated that we would like the ROK to immediately take measures on its own responsibility.
In regard to your question about a countermeasure or response by Japan such as bringing a case to the ICJ, I believe that this is an issue that we should consider while ascertaining the response by the ROK. Although I am repeating myself again, our current position is that we will resolutely respond with all options on the table.
Accordingly, I believe we are not at the stage now in which I can speak about the response, which you asked about in your question, or the timing.
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)
NHK, Watanabe: I would like to change the subject. The TPNW will soon enter into force. Can you please tell us again the Government of Japan’s approach to the TPNW? On the other hand, various reports have shown that there have always been views that argue whether it is fine for Japan to have this stance as atomic bombs were dropped on the country by the United States during the war. Based on this, what will the Government of Japan’s stance be going forward?
Press Secretary Yoshida: It is my understanding that the TPNW will enter into force on January 22, which is 90 days after it was ratified by 50 countries. As I have explained through now, firstly Japan supports the abolition of nuclear weapons raised in the TPNW as a country that experienced atomic bombing during war.
On the other hand, in order to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, it is essential for countries that actually possess nuclear to eliminate their nuclear weapons and advance nuclear disarmament. If we look at the current situation, none of the nuclear-weapon states, especially the five nuclear-weapon states in the UN Security Council, have indicated that they support the TPNW. The TPNW is also not supported by countries actually threatened by nuclear weapons, including various NATO countries such as Germany and Canada.
The North Atlantic Council recently issued a statement about the TPNW that again pointed out that it does not reflect the severe security environment.
From another angle, if we look at Japan, there are many weapons of mass destruction near us, including North Korea’s ballistic missile development. The reality is that the regional security environment is extremely severe.
Amidst this, in terms of the Government of Japan’s view, as I stated at the beginning, there is no change to the fact that Japan should share the goal of the TPNW, and has the same aims as the only country to have experienced atomic bombing during war. However, based on the reality that I just described, I believe that Japan’s position is that the path we should follow is to firstly strengthen our deterrence and response capabilities and deal with real threats, as well as seek a path that advances nuclear disarmament steadily and practically. Accordingly, although we earnestly take the views of atomic bomb survivors seriously, the Government of Japan’s view is that we cannot sign the TPNW.
Now, in terms of what to do practically, firstly, as I stated, it is necessary for nuclear-weapon states to advance disarmament. So initially nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states should cooperate, including to realistically decrease nuclear weapons one by one. At the stage when nuclear weapons have been decreased to a certain low level, I believe it would be realistic to introduce a legal framework with highly credible verification measures.
For this, in order to overcome the current distrust and division among nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states as well as among non-nuclear weapon states, I believe the steady path would be to rebuild relationships of mutual trust and form a shared foundation for mutual cooperation and efforts, although this seems a long way off. From this perspective, in order to work on building bridges for that, the Government of Japan has been making efforts in the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) in which non-nuclear weapon states with shared objectives gather, and has received very beneficial proposals by holding meetings of the Group of Eminent Persons for Substantive Advancement of Nuclear Disarmament. Based on this, we will work to build relationships of trust and form a shared foundation.
Japan-U.S. Relations (Post-Novel Coronavirus International Order, Climate Change)
Asahi Shimbun, Kitami: I would like to ask about the statement you just made about cooperating and working together with the new U.S. administration in relation to international cooperation. I believe that Prime Minister Suga also mentioned building the post-novel coronavirus international order in his recent policy speech. What is the Government of Japan presuming for building the post-novel coronavirus international order? Also, in relation to that, I believe that the issue of climate change will probably be a major agenda. As the Biden administration has indicated strong interest in climate change, how will Japan and the United States cooperate on this issue?
Press Secretary Yoshida: In regard to the post-novel coronavirus international order, firstly the international community today faces various global issues and regional unresolved problems. I believe that an international order rooted in law is an important foundation for addressing these issues and problems.
Above all, in the case that it is necessary to have an orderly recovery of the global economy which is collapsing due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, I believe that it will be necessary to have rules and order in terms of how we will establish a fair and equitable world that responds to the new reality.
Such initiatives have not actually been implemented yet. However, for example, we will share the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” vision, which the Government of Japan has been promoting thus far, with the countries of various regions. This is not only limited to the Indo-Pacific region. During his recent visit to the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region, Foreign Minister Motegi confirmed the international order based on law. I believe that advancing such initiatives will be one key matter.
Also, in the post-novel coronavirus era, the so-called remote lifestyle will come to the forefront. Amidst this, there are calls for advancing creation of rules for digitalization, which is currently rapidly progressing. The Government of Japan has been making efforts for this since before, including the Japan-U.S. Digital Trade Agreement and the efforts for the free flow of data in the G20. I believe that work to spread this will become necessary.
Also, in regard to climate change which you asked about, Prime Minister Suga made a statement about substantial carbon neutrality by 2050. President-elect Biden also made a statement that the United States will rejoin the Paris Agreement on the first day of the inauguration of his administration. I believe that it is necessary to advance specific initiatives toward COP26 for urgent issues that the international community must address in this field as well.
Japan and the United States have excellent technical expertise in this field as well as capabilities for developing it. We would like to conduct communication with the United States in order for Japan and the United States to contribute to the world with new initiatives in such fields, through bilateral dialogue at the summit level and the ministerial level.
China’s Coast Guard Law
Mainichi Shimbun, Aoki: I would like to ask a question in relation to the law-based international order which you mentioned earlier. It is being said that China’s Coast Guard Law will be passed on January 22. The law contains wording about China’s jurisdiction, and states that, for example, the Chinese can manage foreign boats, military vessels, and government vessels even if they are outside Chinese territory. What is the Government of Japan’s current view about China’s concept of jurisdiction? Also, is Japan sending any inquiries or other such communication to the Chinese side about this now? Please also tell us how Japan will respond after the law is passed.
Press Secretary Yoshida: China’ Coast Guard Law, which you asked about, is currently undergoing substantial deliberation. It is being said that according to various reports, the law will probably be passed soon. This law is basically still being deliberated and I believe it would not be appropriate at the present point to comment on how to analyze specific clauses of the law and about its possibilities because it would affect future developments. Nevertheless, we will continue to conduct information-gathering about the content of the law with extremely high interest.
Basically, the Chinese Coast Guard has been rapidly increasing its activities near the Senkaku Islands recently. In particular, the Chinese Coast Guard has been pursuing Japanese fishing boats, and we are seriously concerned about the lives and assets of Japanese citizens, as well about Japan’s territorial land and waters. The Government of Japan’s current stance is that we will of course have the ministries and agencies concerned maintain our thorough vigilance and surveillance with a high sense of urgency.
Personnel Change for the Foreign Minister in the ROK
NHK, Watanabe: I would like to ask about Mr. Chung Eui-yong, who has been nominated to be the new foreign minister in the ROK. Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato avoided making a statement about this because it involves the personnel of another country. Although your answer may be a similar one, please tell us your reaction to the change in the top position at the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For example, I believe the change in the top position at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will have major significance amidst the accumulating issues in Japan-ROK relations now. Do you have any expectations for Special Advisor to the President Chung, who will become the new foreign minister? Also, how do you assess the role that Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha has played up until now?
Press Secretary Yoshida: As Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato replied in his press conference, and as previously asked about a different matter, I would like to refrain from commenting about this because it is not customary to comment and evaluate the ministers of other countries, as well as people nominated for ministerial roles for which certain procedures must be conducted before they assume their positions. In regard to the person who will become the new foreign minister of the ROK, I believe it is necessary for him to fully understand the reality of the extremely severe situation currently surrounding both Japan and the ROK, and for him to respond to the Korean Peninsula situation, which was mentioned earlier, based on Japan-ROK cooperation as well as Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation, as Japan and the ROK are extremely important neighboring countries to one another. Based on this, I would like him to fully understand what is necessary to return to a sound state of Japan-ROK relations, which Japan seeks, and for him to swiftly and appropriately respond.
Foreign Minister Kang still holds her position as foreign minister, so I believe it would not be appropriate to comment about her. She has communicated with Foreign Minister Motegi many times, including through telephone talks. We hope that she will continue to contribute to future Japan-ROK relations as a person who fully understands Japan’s position regarding Japan-ROK relations even after she leaves her present position.