Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Friday, February 19, 2021, 12:20 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Japan-U.S. Relations (One Month Since the Inauguration of the Biden Administration)
Yomiuri Shimbun, Fukuda: Tomorrow will mark one month since the inauguration of the Biden administration. Please tell us your impression about Japan-U.S. relations as well as diplomacy and security policies so far.
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Tomorrow marks one month since the inauguration of the Biden administration. Immediately following the inauguration, the Biden administration clearly indicated its strong commitment to the Japan-U.S. Alliance at the summit and ministerial level, and Japan appreciates this.
I have held two Japan-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Meetings during the one month since the inauguration of the Biden administration. I believe this is probably the fastest pace ever. Also, the Japan-Australia-India-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Meeting was held yesterday. I believe that through close communication with Secretary of State Blinken, we are able to firmly cooperate on responding to various issues.
In particular, I believe it is extremely significant that right after the inauguration of the Biden administration, Secretary of State Blinken and I have firmly conducted coordination on responding to regional and international issues, including initiatives toward realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) and responding to China.
In addition, Japan and the United States agreed on Host Nation Support (HNS) for the U.S. Forces Japan this week. During my first telephone talk with Secretary of State Blinken, we confirmed that we would quickly conclude the negotiations, and later on February 17, we agreed on the protocol to amend the current Special Measures Agreement (SMA) and extend its term of validity for one year.
I highly appreciate that reaching this agreement at such an early timing following the Biden administration’s inauguration shows our countries’ strong commitment to the solidarity of the Japan-U.S. Alliance, and that it sends a message to the international community of the heightened credibility of the Japan-U.S. Alliance.
Secretary of State Blinken and I have been calling each other Toshi and Tony from the beginning. I remember that it took a considerable amount of time for U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer and I to call each other by our first names. I will further strengthen my personal relationship of trust with Secretary of State Blinken, and deepen cooperation toward further strengthening the Japan-U.S. Alliance and advancing FOIP. Japan and the United States will also cooperate to lead the international community in responding to global issues such as novel coronavirus measures and climate change.
Although the negotiations with U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer were tough, we had mutual trust in one another and ultimately we reached a good agreement with the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement.
Situation in Hong Kong (Re-arrest of the Founder of Apple Daily)
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about the situation in Hong Kong. Hong Kong media outlets reported that Mr. Jimmy Lai, the founder of the Apple Daily, who was prosecuted for violating the national security law, has been arrested again by the police for supporting an attempt to smuggle democratic activists out of Hong Kong. Please tell us your reaction.
Minister Motegi: My serious concerns are growing regarding the effects of the series of incidents, including the re-arrest of Mr. Jimmy Lai, on the freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which have been the foundation for the democratic, stable development of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is an extremely important partner for Japan with which Japan maintains close economic ties and people-to-people exchanges. It is the long-standing position of Japan to attach great importance to upholding a free and open system and the democratic and stable development of Hong Kong under the “One Country, Two System” framework.
Japan has been repeatedly conveying its concerns and views to China at various levels, including myself. We will continue to appropriately respond while cooperating with related countries.
Situation in Syria
Pan Orient News, Azhari: Last week Japan donated about 6 million dollars to help the medical system in Syria. What is the status of Japan-Syria relations? Especially, regarding the status of the Japanese Embassy in Syria, is it open, is it functioning well? Or do you have any plan to open it again?
Minister Motegi: Thank you. If you recall, Damascus in Syria was the central area of the Middle East during the Middle Ages. For example, during the Third Crusade, Saladin stationed the Islamic side’s forces that he led in Damascus when confronted by the Crusaders who boasted overwhelming military strength. Saladin’s younger brother Al-Adil was responsible for replenishing supplies in Alexandria. I believe that Damascus was truly the central area of the Middle East.
Damascus and Syria are completely changed now. 10 years have passed since the crisis in Syria began. As we have not seen any improvement in the humanitarian situation or any progress in the political process in Syria, I am concerned that the current situation is becoming permanent and movements to resolve it are receding.
Japan has been implementing humanitarian support for the Syrian people facing poverty regardless of the influence. We have provided assistance worth over $2.9 billion to Syria and neighboring countries since 2012. We have now decided to provide additional support of about $200 million.
Japan will continue to closely cooperate with the international community to resolve the crisis in Syria by improving the humanitarian situation in the country through humanitarian support and developing the political process under the United Nations.
Also, in regard to the Embassy of Japan in Syria which you asked about, it is closed temporarily mainly due to the worsening security situation in Syria. I believe we will make a decision on resuming the operations of the embassy in Damascus while monitoring the local situation. There is no outlook on reopening the embassy as of now.