Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Friday, December 25, 2020, 2:49 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) Conclusion of the Negotiations on the Future Relationship Between the EU and the United Kingdom
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I have several announcements to make. Firstly, in regard to the conclusion of the negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, to briefly re-state the content of the “Statement by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu” that was already issued, the EU and the Government of the United Kingdom concluded the negotiations on their future relationship on December 24. The Government of Japan welcomes that issues such as the introduction of tariffs between the EU and the United Kingdom have been averted. The Government of Japan hopes that the EU and the United Kingdom will swiftly take necessary measures, including the approval by their respective parliaments.
The Government of Japan remains committed to further strengthening relations with the EU and the United Kingdom based on cooperative frameworks including economic partnership agreements. The Government of Japan will also closely monitor the implementation of the agreement on the future relationship with a view to ensuring the smooth operations of Japanese businesses.
(2) Visits to the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) Region as well as Africa by Foreign Minister Motegi
Minister Motegi: The second announcement is about my overseas visits at the beginning of the New Year. From January 4-14, 2021, I plan to visit a total of eight countries. I will visit five countries in the LAC region – Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil – as well as three countries in Africa – Senegal, Nigeria, and Kenya.
This will be my first visit to the LAC region and my second visit to Africa as a Japanese minister since the global spread of the novel coronavirus. Together with strengthening bilateral relations with all of the countries and confirming cooperation on the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” I will promote “diplomacy with both tolerance and strength.”
Furthermore, in regard to Nigeria among the countries that I will visit, I am aware that the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the detection of a novel coronavirus variant yesterday, December 24. However, there are also reports that the variant was detected in summer and October. We will take steps to make the final decision about visiting Nigeria based on factors such as how infectious the variant is and the latest conditions.
In the LAC region, I plan to hold exchanges of views regarding cooperation to maintain and strengthen the free and open international order based on the rule of law, as well as economic relations including improving the business environment of Japanese companies, with countries with which we share fundamental values. Furthermore, there are countries in the LAC region with large numbers of Nikkei people, and I will strengthen cooperation with Nikkei communities.
In Africa, I will confirm cooperation with the various countries regarding development toward TICAD8, business relations, and regional peace and stability based on the results of my first visit to Africa this month.
(3) Appointment of Japanese Ambassador to the United States TOMITA Koji
Minister Motegi: The third announcement is about the appointment of an ambassador. As of today, Japanese Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (ROK) TOMITA Koji has been appointed as Japanese Ambassador to the United States through the Cabinet decision this morning. Ambassador Tomita has built strong relations with the United States through now by serving as the Director-General of the North American Affairs Bureau, Minister of the Embassy of Japan to the United States, and other positions.
I expect that he will leverage his experience and personal connections in order to closely cooperate with the new Biden administration that will be inaugurated on January 20, and promote cooperation toward further strengthening the Japan-U.S. Alliance and realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” rule-making in the post-novel coronavirus era, and more,
(4) Maiden Names in Passports
Minister Motegi: My last announcement is about maiden names in passports. Writing maiden names in passports has been approved under extremely strict conditions through now. However, those conditions will be relaxed for applications from April 1, 2021, and the entry method will be changed in passports.
Specifically, writing maiden names will be approved if the maiden name can be confirmed in an official copy of a family registrar, certificate of residence, or My Number Card in which the name is written.
Also, maiden names used to just be written in parentheses until now. However, the meaning of putting the name in parentheses was not understood overseas, so an explanation will be added in English saying “Former surname” to make it easy for immigration bureaus and others in foreign countries to understand that the name in the personal information page of the passport is the maiden name.
In addition, approval will be granted for writing alternative surnames besides maiden names due to international marriages and other reasons if prescribed conditions are met, and explanations such as “Alternative surname” will be added.
I expect that smoother travel and activities will become possible through these changes. That is all from me.
Conclusion of the Negotiations on the Future Relationship Between the EU and the United Kingdom
NHK, Yamamoto: I would like to ask about the conclusion of the negotiations between the United Kingdom and the EU. There were considerable concerns in financial circles about the effects on Japanese businesses due to Brexit. The Japan-U.K. Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) will enter into force on January 1. Can it be said that the outlook is that the conclusion of the negotiations between the United Kingdom and the EU will minimize effects on Japanese businesses to a certain extent? Also, conversely, please tell us if there are any other issues.
Minister Motegi: I do not believe there are any particular major issues remaining. Amidst Brexit, it is firstly necessary to maintain continuous business relations between Japan and the United Kingdom. So, the Japan-U.K. Comprehensive EPA has been signed and approved in the Diet, and it will enter into force in January 2021.
What remained was what will happen with the new agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU. This could affect the activities of Japanese businesses that have entered the European market and have global supply chains. Japan has been urging both the EU and the United Kingdom to quickly conclude a new agreement. The EU and the United Kingdom have now reached a conclusion of their difficult agreement negotiations, including on fishing rights, and will now advance their domestic procedures. I believe that if this proceeds quickly, basically the economic activities during the time of the Japan-EU EPA will be mostly maintained between Japan and Europe, and between Japan and the EU as well as the United Kingdom.
While closely monitoring the implementation and other aspects going forward, we will properly raise the issues if there seem to be any with the countries concerned.
Timing of Foreign Minister Motegi’s Visit to the United States
Asahi Shimbun, Sato: I would like to change the subject and ask about Japan-U.S. relations. In regard to the timing of your visit to the United States, you responded in a media interview today that coordination has been conducted aiming for you to visit the United States one to two months after the inauguration of the Biden administration on January 20. What are your current thoughts on your visit to the United States?
Minister Motegi: The new U.S. administration has not been inaugurated at the present point, but I stated that I would like to meet Mr. Antony Blinken, the next Secretary of State, as soon as possible after the administration is inaugurated and he is officially appointed.
Of course, I believe that it will be necessary to ascertain the situation of various preparations from the inauguration of the new U.S. administration, the novel coronavirus situation, and other matters. I stated that appropriate coordination of the schedule will be conducted, while estimating that it would generally take about one to two months for the earliest possible timing.
Situation in the Middle East (Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit)
Pan Orient News, Azhari: There have been press reports that the GCC summit will be held on Jan 5th. There are also some reports that the emir of Kuwait Sheikh Nawaf mentioned the achievement of reaching a final agreement to resolve the Gulf crisis between these countries. What is Japan's view on this issue given Tokyo's close relations with GCC countries, and the importance of providing each other with energy security and market security.Minister Motegi: Firstly, in regard to energy security, Japan relies on the Middle East for about 90% of its crude oil imports, and peace and stability in the Middle East are extremely important. Thus, I believe that improvement of relations between various Gulf countries would be desirable.
There are reports that the issue of the break-off of relations with Qatar could be brought up at the GCC Summit. It is my understanding that there have been positive developments in relation to the issue with Qatar, such as the Government of Kuwait’s statement on achieving a final agreement toward resolution of the issue. The Government of Japan highly appreciates the efforts by related countries such as Kuwait, and expects that these efforts will lead to resolution of the issue.
Fifth Anniversary of the Japan-ROK Agreement on the Comfort Women Issue
Kyodo News, Nakata: I would like to ask about the 2015 Japan-ROK agreement on the comfort women issue. December 28 at the beginning of next week will mark the fifth anniversary of the agreement. Please tell us your evaluation of the ROK’s response during this time period through now, as well as your thoughts on requests for the ROK going forward.
Minister Motegi: The Japan-ROK agreement on comfort women confirmed the “final and irreversible resolution” of the comfort women issue through the consensus on the agreement at the Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in December 2015 five years ago following major diplomatic efforts by the governments of Japan and the ROK. It was confirmed at the Summit Meeting immediately following the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and it is my understanding that it constitutes a pledge by the Government of the ROK.
It is a pledge between countries, even if the administration changes. I believe that responsibility must be taken to implement the Japan-ROK agreement. The agreement is also highly appreciated by the international community, including the United States. I believe the Government of the ROK has a responsibility to steadily implement the agreement not only to Japan but also to the international community.
Japan has been implementing all the measures it committed to under the Japan-ROK agreement. The international community is monitoring the ROK’s implementation of the agreement. Japan will continue to strongly request the ROK to steadily implement the Japan-ROK agreement.
Special Declassification of Diplomatic Records (The Tiananmen Square Incident)
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about the diplomatic records declassified on December 23. It has been disclosed that as various western countries considered joint sanctions due to the Tiananmen Square Incident in 1989, Japan opposed this for reasons such as that it would not be beneficial from a long-term, broad viewpoint. China has not shown any of the changes that Japan hoped for after this, and there are now serious human rights issues concerning Hong Kong, the Uighurs, and other matters. What is your assessment of Japan’s diplomatic stance at the time, speaking in your present post as Minister for Foreign Affairs? Also, what stance will you take in regard to China’s current human rights issues?
Minister Motegi: Firstly, the main objective of declassifying these diplomatic records is to provide opportunities for study of the historic results of past diplomatic activities of the Government of Japan. I believe that matters such as the significance of specific records disclosed now and assessment determinations should be left to historians.
Additionally, to answer the question you asked, as indicated in the Chief Cabinet Secretary’s statement released on June 5, 1989 immediately after the Tiananmen Square Incident, I believe that it must be said that it was truly regrettable that the use of military force resulted in such tragic circumstances and the loss of so many lives.
Freedom, respect for fundamental human rights, and the rule of law are the universal values of the international community. I believe that it is important for China as well to ensure these values.
Resumption of Cross-Border Travel (Effects of the Variant of the Novel Coronavirus)
Nikkei Shimbun, Kato: I would like to ask about border enforcement measures. The Government of Japan has implemented new measures that temporarily suspend new entry into Japan by foreign people due to the recent discovery of the new variant of the novel coronavirus in the United Kingdom. Following this, there have been new developments such as the discovery of the new variant in Germany as well as the discovery of a different variant in Nigeria, which you mentioned. Please tell us your thoughts on whether the border enforcement measures, in other words the measures temporarily suspending new entry into Japan, could be expanded going forward.
Minister Motegi: According to the WHO report issued on December 21, the novel coronavirus variant has been confirmed in seven countries: the United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark, Italy, Iceland, the Netherlands, and South Africa. Furthermore, according to reports and other sources, the same variant has been confirmed in Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany, and Nigeria.
In addition, it is my understanding that the Department of Health of South Africa indicated on December 18 its view that several cases of the new variant in South Africa have been confirmed in the country. Amidst this, in regard to cross-border travel, Japan is currently only allowing new entry into the country in the case of special circumstances in principle from countries and regions that are at Level 3 of the Warning on Infectious Diseases Levels. We are also implementing responses such as suspending visa exemption measures for countries and regions at Level 2.
Furthermore, due to the recent novel coronavirus variant issue, on December 23 the Government of Japan strengthened border enforcement measures for people entering Japan from the United Kingdom, and will not allow new entry into the country by foreign people arriving from the United Kingdom for the time being. In addition, we have also decided to implement measures such as not allowing relaxation of the 14-day waiting period after re-entering Japan following short-term business trips to the United Kingdom, requiring Japanese nationals to provide proof of a novel coronavirus test within 72 hours before departing from the United Kingdom back to Japan, and again calling on foreign residents of Japan to refrain from making short-term trips to the United Kingdom.
The new variant is considerably spreading in the United Kingdom now, but in consideration of the situation in other countries as well, which I mentioned, we must prevent the spread of domestic infections. We will consider taking the same necessary measures depending on the situation.