Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Friday, December 4, 2020, 10:48 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Visit to Africa by Foreign Minister Motegi
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Firstly, in regard to my overseas visits, if various circumstances permit, I plan to visit Tunisia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Mauritius in Africa from next week.
Through this visit, I would like to strengthen cooperation toward realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and business relations, looking ahead to the post-coronavirus era, and strongly promote “diplomacy with both tolerance and strength” in Africa through cooperation toward TICAD8.
As stated, Tunisia will host TICAD8. South Africa, Mozambique, and Mauritius are positioned at the western verge of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” I would like to have various discussions on bilateral relations with these countries as well as realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” as I stated before.
Japan-U.K. Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA)
NHK, YAMAMOTO: I would like to ask two questions. Firstly, the Japan-U.K. EPA is expected to be approved in the plenary session of the House of Councillors today. Please tell us your thoughts reflecting on the deliberations during this Diet session as well as future issues and other matters.
Minister MOTEGI: Reflecting on the Diet session, the negotiations for the Japan-U.K. EPA began on June 9. I visited the United Kingdom in August, and spent two full days negotiating in-person with Secretary of State for International Trade Truss. We agreed on the major points in question at that time, reached agreement in principle on September 11, and signed the EPA on October 23. Following that, it was submitted to the Diet, and I hope that the House of Councillors will approve it today. The Japan-U.K. EPA negotiations were extremely difficult negotiations involving conflicting national interests. However, we firmly established the shared recognition that Japan and the United Kingdom would stipulate rules at the highest level as possible while avoiding the negative effects of Brexit, and that we would lead rule-making in the international community as global strategic partners. That is why I believe we were able to come to an agreement and sign the EPA in the exceptional speed of four and a half months after the start of negotiations.
The Japan-U.K. EPA is expected to ensure the continued business of Japanese companies in the United Kingdom even after the end of the transition period for Brexit, in other words when this year ends, and promote trade and investment between Japan and the United Kingdom under high-level rules.
Japan has led international efforts to expand the free and fair economic sphere, including concluding the TPP11, the Japan-EU EPA, and the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement through now. I believe that it is of major significance that Japan was able to send a strong message to the international community of further advancing free trade through concluding the Japan-U.K. EPA.
Situation in Hong Kong
NHK, YAMAMOTO: I would like to change the subject to ask about Hong Kong.
The founder and others from the Apple Daily of the newspaper company, which is known for its critical tone regarding China, were arrested by the police on suspicion of fraud, and were later prosecuted. The day before yesterday, the democratic activist Ms. Agnes Chow and others were sentenced to imprisonment. If you have any opinions about this, please tell us.
Minister MOTEGI: Japan has been repeatedly conveying that its serious concerns are growing about the recent situation in Hong Kong. We have serious concerns about the effects that the series of cases thus far, such as the sentencing of three people including Ms. Agnes Chow and the imprisonment of Apple Daily founder Mr. Jimmy Lai, will have on freedom of speech, the press, association, and assembly. These have been the foundation of the democratic and stable development of Hong Kong. We are monitoring the movements concerning this.
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.
In various opportunities, we have conveyed Japan’s concerns and thoughts about this. I of course conveyed this during the recent visit to Japan by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as well as the Prime Minister conveying this. We will continue to respond appropriately while cooperated with related countries.
Importance of In-Person Diplomacy
Japan Times, SUGIYAMA: I would like to ask about in-person diplomacy. In-person diplomacy stopped this year due to the novel coronavirus, and you have participated in trade negotiations with the United Kingdom online, as you mentioned earlier, as well as international conferences online. What are your thoughts about online diplomacy, such as the advantages and disadvantages? Also, please tell us again your thoughts on the significance of conducting in-person diplomacy compared to online.
Minister MOTEGI: Amidst the spread of the novel coronavirus in China from January and its spread in Europe including Italy from March, my last overseas visit during the first half of this year was for the Munich Security Conference. Following that, this year I have probably attended close to 90 video teleconference meetings and telephone talks, such as the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting that was held online.
It is relatively easy to hold meetings even while physically distant. Also, although there are issues of time zones and time differences, it has been relatively easy to schedule bilateral telephone talks. Still, there tends to be time limitation for them. It is quite difficult to hold telephone talks for two or three hours, so it is necessary to narrow down the themes for discussions.
On the other hand, I resumed in-person diplomacy with my visit to the United Kingdom in August, and met face-to-face with dignitaries of each country where we discussed strengthening bilateral relations and issues faced by the international community. These took place in the UK, so we were able to take our time to thoroughly discuss issues and deepen our understanding. This made me feel the importance of in-person diplomacy.
By visiting the partner country, it is possible to spend plenty of time holding in-depth exchanges of views compared to video teleconferences and telephone talks held with limited time. It also provides opportunities to hold exchanges of views directly with dignitaries besides your counterpart, including heads of governments. In that context, I believe that it is also significant in terms of widely expanding bilateral relations.
Particularly for trade negotiations such as for the Japan-U.K. EPA, that involve national interests and communication for diplomatic subtleties, I believe that it is surely necessary to hold the final discussions in-person rather than by telephone or online. As I stated before, I believe it was possible to sign the Japan-U.K. EPA in the unprecedented speed of four and a half months after the start of negotiations because I visited the United Kingdom and held lengthy, in-person discussions with Secretary of State for International Trade Truss, including bilateral meetings and tête-à-tête meetings. We also built a relationship of mutual trust in that process. I believe this is important.
Furthermore, in addition to my overseas visits, the Japan-U.S.-Australia-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (Quad) was held in Tokyo on October 6. The Japan-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was also held in Tokyo during the recent visit to Japan by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang. I believe that Japan’s diplomacy is taking the lead within the entire international community now as a considerable number of direct visits are conducted and various meetings are held in Japan. Although there are certainly constraints, we will continue to conduct necessary diplomatic activities, including in-person diplomacy.
“Special Committee on Okinawa and Northern Problems” in the House of Representatives (Request for Questions by the Opposition Parties)
Ryukyu Shimpo, ASATO: Excuse me. The opposition parties held a press conference yesterday in protest of the fact that the Diet would no longer take questions from the Special Committee on Okinawa and Northern Problems in the House of Representatives. The reason was your diplomacy schedule. Can you please tell us your reaction to this?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe the Diet schedule is decided in the Diet.
Visit to Africa by Foreign Minister Motegi
Nikkei Shimbun, KATO: I would like to ask about the schedule for your visit to Africa, which you announced earlier. In Mauritius, which you will visit, the incident involving the oil leak from a ship owned by a Japanese company took place in July. During your recent telephone talk with the Prime Minister of Mauritius, I believe you conveyed that Japan was considering support of an unprecedented scale. Do you intend to convey the specific cooperation measures during this visit?
Minister MOTEGI: Mauritius is located in an important geopolitical position in the Indian Ocean, and I believe it is an important maritime, democratic country for realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” If I visit, I will convey the status of implementation of medium- and long-term cooperation, as Japan already implemented short-term support, due to the oil leak incident in August. I will also confirm cooperation in extensive fields.
Asahi Shimbun, SATO: I would like to ask a question in relation to your visit to Africa that you announced today. I would like to ask about the significance of making direct visits to realize a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” I believe you have visited Europe and Southeast Asia to call for realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” You will go to Africa following on from that. What is the significance for realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” of making direct visits amidst the novel coronavirus crisis?
Minister MOTEGI: Your question was slightly complicated and I did not understand it.
Situation in Hong Kong
Independent Web Journal, HAMAMOTO: I would like to ask about the situation in Hong Kong. I heard that Ms. Agnes Chow, one of the three activists sentenced to imprisonment, said that she would like to visit Japan again before the decision was made on her sentence. Do the Government of Japan and MOFA plan to issue a statement formally criticizing the judicial decision? Also, do you plan to take any specific action toward the three activists being granted bail? Thank you.
Minister MOTEGI: In regard to the judicial decision, imprisonment, and other matters concerning the three activists in regard to the situation in Hong Kong, it is as I thoroughly answered earlier.
Comfort Woman Statue in Berlin
Kyodo News, NAKATA: I would like to ask about the installation of the comfort woman statue in Berlin, Germany. As Japan advances efforts toward the removal of the statue, recently there was a resolution supporting the permanent installation of the statue in the Mitte District. What efforts will the Government of Japan undertake toward the removal of the statue going forward?
Minister MOTEGI: Mitte District recently decided to retract the order to remove the comfort woman statue issued on October 7. This recent decision is incompatible with the Government of Japan’s position and efforts thus far, and I believe it is extremely regrettable. We will continue to approach various people concerned to explain the Government of Japan’s position, and request the swift removal of the statue.