Press Conference by Foreign Press Secretary YOSHIDA Tomoyuki
Wednesday, August 4, 2021, 3:45 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Request for an Asylum by a Belarusian Olympic Sprinter (Departure from Japan)
NHK, Watanabe: It was confirmed that the Belarusian athlete who participated in the Tokyo Olympic Games departed from Narita Airport today on an Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna. She is heading to Poland, where she has been granted of an asylum. Please tell us if MOFA has confirmed this. Also, Poland was the country to grant her asylum, but Japan was the setting where all of this unfolded. To the extent that you can speak publicly, please tell us what activities or support the Government of Japan engaged in and provided. Please also tell us your reaction to this case. In addition, I believe that the political system of Belarus under President Lukashenko had a huge effect to this case. Please tell us your current view.
Mr. YOSHIDA Tomoyuki, Press Secretary: I am aware that Ms. Krystina Timanovskaya, the Belarusian Olympic sprinter you asked about, departed from Japan to a third country this morning after requesting for an asylum.
You mentioned a specific country name in your question. If you listen to the thinking and responses of MOFA which I am about to explain, I believe you can understand why we choose not to provide information such as her specific destination at this point.
Firstly, MOFA ensured Ms. Timanovskaya’s physical safety. We gave maximum priority for her safe travel to the country she requested. Based on such policy, since this incident occurred, we have been responding by working with related organizations and authorities. The related organizations included firstly the organizing committee which was responsible for bringing Ms. Timanovskaya into custody, as well as the diplomatic corps in Tokyo of the related destination countries.
She has just departed from Japan and I believe the priority should be her safety until she reaches her final destination. Thus, I would like to refrain from going into details beyond what I have just stated due to the nature of this issue.
In regard to the political system and situation in Belarus which you asked about, there is no change to the basic understanding which I have answered in response to several questions during my press conferences since last year.
I issued a statement in August 2020. Japan has been strongly concerned about the situation of on-going large-scale protests and clashes with security forces that have led to many casualties and detention of protestors since the presidential election was held in Belarus.
Japan has been urging Belarusian authorities to immediately cease the acts of violence and arbitrary detention of participants of peaceful protests, as well as ill-treatment of those who have been detained. For this incident involving Ms. Timanovskaya as well, I believe that there are aspects of the basic understanding I have just stated.
Japan will continue to strongly call for a dialogue among a wide range of domestic political groups in Belarus, and for there to be adherence to the principles of democracy which reflect the collective will of the Belarussian people and the rule of law.
The Government of Japan would like to continue to monitor the situation in Belarus.
East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: I would like to change the subject. The EAS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will be held tonight. It seems that Japan will cooperate with like-minded countries and mainly communicate about regional affairs. What kind of position will the Government of Japan take at the meeting?
Press Secretary Yoshida: The series of ASEAN-related Foreign Ministers’ Meetings have been held online. The EAS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will be held tonight from around 8 p.m. Japan time in the similar format. The Chair is Brunei, and Foreign Minister Motegi is of course scheduled to attend from Japan.
The discussions at the EAS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will begin later today, so I would like to refrain from predicting the content and result at this point. Basically, I believe that the response and international initiatives on the novel coronavirus, a problem which the modern world is currently facing and which is especially problematic in this region, will be a major theme of discussion.
I also believe that there will be various discussions on regional affairs. I believe there will of course be discussions particularly about the situations in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, as well as weapons of mass destruction and the abductions issue in North Korea, and the situation in Myanmar for which initiatives are being taken by Southeast Asian countries.
I believe this has already been stated, but the Government of Japan will urge and support relevant countries, especially ASEAN which is at the center, based on our basic positions on these issues.
As a common issue for the EAS participating countries, one of the themes will be to strengthen cooperation in the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP),” which has been expanding centered on Japan, and the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP)” which ASEAN has been advocating at the center of the Indo-Pacific region.
The details and results will be announced to you all in an appropriate manner after the meeting.
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: I would like to ask another related question. During the Japan-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting yesterday, Foreign Minister Motegi mentioned that Japan highly appreciates and supports the AOIP. The Japan-ASEAN joint statement also notes that the FOIP concept and AOIP share fundamental principles. Is it correct to understand that Japan believes that the FOIP and AOIP are the same concept at the fundamental level?
Press Secretary Yoshida: The FOIP vision you pointed out places fundamental values and concepts such as the rule of law, freedom of navigation, and a free and open economic system at the core.
I believe that the AOIP issued by ASEAN also includes the concepts I have just mentioned.
Therefore, Japan recognizes that the FOIP and AOIP basically share the same direction in terms of what we aim to achieve.
In addition, international coordination and cooperation are necessary precisely because this region is currently facing the difficulty of the novel coronavirus. If we think about realizing fair and equitable access to vaccines, I believe that it would be necessary to respect the rule of law, openness, transparency, and inclusivity so that no one is excluded.
Therefore, when we face such challenge, I believe that the concept and vision of the FOIP and AOIP is timely and will provide a common foundation.
First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)
Kyodo News, Asada: I would like to ask about the TPNW and participation as an observer in the meeting of states parties to the TPNW which is planned to be convened in January 2022. The TPNW entered into force in January 2021. The day after tomorrow, August 6, will be the first anniversary of the atomic bombing after the TPNW entered into force. Please tell us again the Government of Japan’s views on the TPNW and participation as an observer.
Press Secretary Yoshida: The TPNW which you asked about entered into force in January 2021. Firstly, the Government of Japan, the only country to have experienced wartime atomic bombing, recognizes that we are in the position to lead international efforts toward realizing a world free of nuclear weapons. The aim of course is the abolition of nuclear weapons, which is also the goal of the TPNW.
In terms of how to actually realize the abolition of nuclear weapons, in reality, I believe that nuclear-weapon states would have to proceed with disarmament in order to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, none of the five countries that are so called nuclear-weapon states support the TPNW. That is the reality.
On the other hand, if we look at Japan’s surroundings, the security environment surrounding this region and particularly East Asia is growing increasingly severe. Needless to say, there is of course North Korea’s nuclear missile development, and there are few nuclear-weapon states around Japan. The current situation is characterized by a highly unpredictable military circumstances, including extremely opaque, uncertain geopolitical elements and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The current trend is gaining momentum.
The nuclear deterrence of the United States is essential to ensure Japan’s security as well as regional peace and security no matter what. The TPNW’s provisions limit the activities and actions related to all forms of nuclear weapons. Therefore, I cannot help but say that the treaty negates the nuclear deterrence I have just mentioned.
Japan believes that it is suitable to seek a path that promotes realistic nuclear disarmament while responding to the real security threats in an appropriate manner. Therefore, to respond to your question, Japan does not intend to sign the TPNW.
You asked whether Japan will participate as an observer in the meeting of states parties to the TPNW which will be convened in January 2022. In light of the Government of Japan’s position that I have just stated, and given that it is still not clear how the meeting will be convened, and taking into consideration of future internal and external circumstances, I believe it is necessary to ascertain our participation.
Kyodo News, Asada: I would like to ask another related question. The Japan Association for Public Opinion Research, whose membership includes Kyodo News, national newspapers, and others papers, held a national opinion survey regarding peace via mail from June to July. The association found that 71% of respondents thought Japan should sign the TPNW, and 83% thought that Japan should participate as an observer in the meeting of states parties to the TPNW. The result suggests that a certain number of Japanese people share the view that Japan should sign the TPNW or Japan should participate as an observer even if it chooses not to sign the TPNW. What is the Government’s reaction to this?
Press Secretary Yoshida: This is my first time hearing about the results of the public opinion survey you have mentioned. We are not aware of the details of the survey such as what specific methods were used, what kind of questions were asked, and who the respondents were. The level of awareness of the respondents regarding the Government’s views that I have just mentioned is also an issue. Of course, some of it has to do with the lack of Government’s efforts to raise awareness, but because we are unaware of the respondents’ level of awareness, I would like to refrain from responding to the specific numbers from the public opinion survey.
As I have stated before, there are many different groups of countries with different stance regarding the abolition of nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament in the international community. I believe that it would be difficult to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons unless there is an environment where all the relevant countries can move forward based on consensus. Therefore, we must consider how to build a bridge between countries with different positions. A shared foundation for a dialogue must also be created so that discussions on how to realistically promote nuclear disarmament could be held. Different states, especially nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states, must participate together in such efforts. Japan will promote such efforts in a persistent manner.
With regards to the meeting of states parties to the TPNW, it is still not certain what specifically will happen. For your reference, in regard to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference, which has been postponed several times due to the novel coronavirus, a letter by the candidate for the chair of the NPT Review Conference was recently issued, to go on with preparations so that the meeting could be held in January 2022. We do not know what will happen with this.
Therefore, as I have stated at the outset, at this point, it would be fine to understand that there is no change to the Government of Japan’s view on the participation in the meeting as an observer.
Vaccine Passports (Use Within Japan)
Jiji Press, Kondo: I would like to ask about vaccine passports. It seems that the number of countries which accept vaccine passport issued by Japan has been steadily growing. However, countries that Japan has negotiated with have been requesting Japan to respond by changing the quarantine measures when entering Japan. The business community in Japan has also been requesting that passports be utilized in Japan. I understand that there are factors such as infection conditions, the Olympic Games, and others, but please tell us whether the Government of Japan is thinking positively about utilizing the vaccine passports within Japan and when people enter or re-enter Japan in the future.
Press Secretary Yoshida: Firstly, we have been sequentially announcing the countries where vaccine passports issued by Japan are valid, and providing notifications on MOFA’s Overseas Safety Website. MOFA will continue to be on the frontline in coordinating with various countries, and I believe the number of such countries will grow. We will continue to provide information.
Now, you asked about the utilization of vaccine passports within Japan. Currently, vaccine passports are being issued with the aim of allowing people traveling overseas to benefit from the relaxation of infection control measures and the like. They are being issued in order to facilitate exemption from measures that are based on each country’s systems, such as requirements to present negative PCR test results as well as quarantines and re-tests after entering a country.
I believe that whether or not people can receive benefits by showing the proof of vaccination in Japan depends on the domestic initiatives which will be in place in the future. Vaccination itself is based on people’s own decisions, and is not something to be forced upon. Some people have the view that there should not be unjust discrimination. I believe that we are at the stage of conducting various forms of consideration within the government on how to utilize the passport within Japan.
MOFA alone is not in the position to state whether vaccine passports can be used regarding border enforcement measures when people enter or re-enter Japan. Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato was also asked a similar question before, and has explained that we have not yet reached a situation in which we can specifically state at this point.
On the other hand, I believe that vaccine passports can actually be an important means which would lead to the resumption of international travel in the future. I believe that we should monitor what kind of discussions will arise within and outside of Japan. We should also pay close attention on how various countries and regions respond, and gather knowledge in order to proceed with internal consideration within the government.