Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Friday, February 26, 2021, 11:19 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Situation in Myanmar
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: I would like to ask about the response to Myanmar. You have explained that Japan will play its own unique role through now. One month will have passed since the coup d’état. Can you please tell us what results and significance Japan’s unique role has had?
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Currently in Myanmar, demonstrations are frequently occurring and the tense situation is continuing. In fact we are becoming increasingly concerned that the situation will worsen. It has even led to the death the day before yesterday of one of the men who was shot by security forces on February 20. Japan has serious concerns about the situation in Myanmar.
Amidst this, Japan has been using various channels to strongly request three items: for the Myanmar military to immediately stop its violent response to civilians, release those who have been detained including State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and swiftly restore Myanmar's democratic political system.
We have also held exchanges of views and shared recognition on this issue with various countries. During the Japan-UK Foreign and Defence Ministers’ Meeting (“2+2”), Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab asked me about the situation in Myanmar, and I provided a detailed explanation of the situation, Japan’s response, and other matters.
Furthermore, an Australian man is among the detainees in Myanmar, and Foreign Minister Payne is extremely worried. I have also confirmed cooperation with various countries, including during my Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk with Foreign Minister Retno of Indonesia, the Japan-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk, and the Japan-U.S.-Australia-India Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk.
I also held a telephone talk yesterday with the foreign minister of Brunei, which is the current Chair of ASEAN. Various developments are occurring within ASEAN. I received an explanation of ASEAN’s efforts concerning the situation in Myanmar, and am paying attention to the developments in ASEAN.
ASEAN is now an association of 10 countries, and we will see how ASEAN urges Myanmar and what developments that will lead to. At the same time, it is widely recognized in ASEAN countries that, among the international community, Japan has been particularly supporting the democratization process in Myanmar thus far in various ways, and there are high expectations for Japan’s role.
Unfortunately I do not believe that the situation will drastically change quickly in a day or a week. However, we are considering what would be the best course of action in order to firmly advance democratization in Myanmar while taking advantage of any opportunities, and firstly stabilize the situation.
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: I would like to ask a further question. As you just stated, I understand that Myanmar is in an increasingly worrying situation. There are some countries that have begun to impose sanctions on Myanmar. What is Japan’s current view on the option of imposing sanctions?
Minister Motegi: Through now, Japan has been advancing various forms of economic cooperation and so on. We will make a decision on how to respond while monitoring the developments in the situation going forward.
The United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries have imposed sanctions. I believe these are not sanctions which place a full-fledged embargo, but rather, something that sends a message to Myanmar while monitoring the current situation. There are such developments, and we will also conduct consideration going forward from the perspective of how we can urge Myanmar.
Border Enforcement Measures Against the Novel Coronavirus and Resumption of Cross-Border Travel
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about the resumption of cross-border travel. During the state of emergency, the Government of Japan has suspended the Business Track and Residence Track, and stopped new entry into Japan by foreign nationals. In addition, the Government has not relaxed the measure requiring a 14-day waiting period following entry into Japan by Japanese nationals and foreign nationals with status of residence in Japan re-entering the country such as through the Business Track.
Please tell us your thoughts on whether the Business Track and other frameworks will be restarted after the state of emergency is lifted, or whether the suspension will be extended from an infection prevention perspective.
Minister Motegi: In January, it was decided to suspend the Business Track and Residence Track during the period of the state of emergency. It was explained that this measure and the announcement of the suspension were implemented from the perspective of preventatively alleviating the concerns of the people of Japan, among other reasons. In regard to the status of cross-border travel frameworks and border enforcement measures if the state of emergency is lifted, of course we will make a decision while ascertaining infection conditions inside and outside Japan at that point in time. There has not been a decision at the present point.
China’s Coast Guard Law and Intrusions into Japan’s Territorial Waters by Chinese Coast Guard Vessels
Yomiuri Shimbun, Fukuda: One month has passed since China’s Coast Guard Law entered into force on February 1. Please tell us the problems you believe the Coast Guard Law has, as well as how Japan will respond to China’s intrusions into Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands.
Minister Motegi: My answer will be a little long. I believe it is truly regrettable and completely unacceptable that vessels belonging to the Chinese Coast Guard have been repeatedly intruding into Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands and seem to be making movements as if trying to approach Japanese fishing boats.
We have been lodging severe protests to China that the activities of the Coast Guard vessels, based on China’s unique claim within Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands, are in breach of international law.
Unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force are absolutely unacceptable. We have serious concerns in particular that China’s Coast Guard Law entered into force amidst China’s continuing unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
As I have stated many times through now, China’s Coast Guard Law includes stipulations that are problematic from the perspective of conformity with international law, including being vague about the maritime areas it applies to and providing the authority to use force. We believe that China’s Coast Guard Law must not infringe upon the legitimate interests of related countries including Japan. I will continue to firmly convey Japan’s serious concerns to China.
It is extremely important to strengthen cooperation with our ally the United States, and we are conducting close communication at all levels including the summit and foreign minister levels. During the recent Japan-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk, we shared serious concerns about China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea, including through the Coast Guard Law. The United States has the same strong awareness of the issue as related countries including Japan. I would like to welcome again the recent U.S. statement of concern about China’s Coast Guard Law, which is truly the same as Japan’s view on the matter.
Furthermore, it is important to strengthen cooperation with willing countries. During the recent G7 Summit Meeting, Prime Minister Suga firmly stated serious concerns about unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Also, during the Japan-Australia Summit Telephone Talk yesterday, the prime ministers shared serious concerns about unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea and South China Sea, and agreed to continue to closely cooperate.
As for me, I have clearly voiced strong opposition to unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea and South China Sea, including China’s Coast Guard Law, and agreed to continue cooperation with various countries during the Japan-UK Foreign and Defence Ministers’ Meeting (“2+2), my Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talks with Australia and the United States, the Japan-U.S.-Australia-India Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk, as well as my Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk with Brunei yesterday.
We will continue to strongly oppose attempts to change the status quo by force in cooperation with the international community, including with the United States and the rest of the G7 as well as ASEAN countries, and urge China to take a positive response.
Mountain Forest Fire in Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture
NHK, Yamamoto: Although this is not a diplomatic matter, I would like to ask about the mountain forest fire in Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture. There is still not even an outlook on when it will be extinguished. I believe Ashikaga is your home city. Are you responding somehow?
Minister Motegi: A mountain forest fire broke out in Nishinomiya-cho in Ashikaga City this Sunday. The west wind is considerably strong in my home city during this time of year. Firefighters, Tochigi Prefecture personnel, and the eight Self-Defense Force helicopters dispatched yesterday are working desperately to fight the fire.
The extent of the fire has spread considerably to the east, west, and south. I believe the local people must be very worried, and some people have evacuated. Firstly all efforts are being made to extinguish the fire as soon as possible.
As for the Government of Japan, an Information Liaison Office was established at the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday. In between my duties yesterday evening, I visited the Information Liaison Office, confirmed the information, and made a request about the response going forward.
Dry leaves tend to accumulate considerably in forests with mixed trees. Also, because the fire location is on a mountain, albeit not a tall one, the firefighters have to work quite desperately. There are areas that are on fire that firefighters cannot get to, and although firefighting helicopters are spraying water from the air, they have not been able to completely extinguish the fire.
In the case of the mountain forest fire of about the same scale that broke out about 10 years ago in Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture, which borders Tochigi Prefecture, it took about two weeks to put out the fire. Although everyone is exerting all efforts to put out the fire as soon as possible, I believe it is important to firmly respond while being prepared for a similar time span.
Of course my office in Ashikaga City is listening and responding about evacuation centers, various requests from local residents, and about the current situation, and is appropriately contacting the Ashikaga City Hall as well as related departments.
Air Strikes on Iranian-Backed Militant Groups in Syria by the United States
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about the situation in the Middle East. The U.S. Department of Defense announced that it conducted air strikes on facilities of non-government groups supported by Iran in eastern Syria. Please tell us the Government of Japan’s position and view on this.
Minister Motegi: I have still not ascertained all the details such as the damage situation. However, the Government of Japan is monitoring the situation in the Middle East with a high sense of urgency, including the effects caused by this matter. Japan will continue its diplomatic efforts toward easing tensions in the region and stabilizing the situation while closely cooperating with related countries.