Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Friday, January 8, 2021, 8:43 p.m. Brazil
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I have visited the five countries of Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil in the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region, which I had been considering visiting at the earliest possible opportunity since my appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs. LAC countries have long-standing friendly relations with Japan, including through the bond of the Nikkei community, and are partners with which we share fundamental values. During my visits, I held lengthy exchanges of views with each country regarding maintaining and strengthening a free and open international order based on the rule of law, strengthening bilateral relations and cooperation in the international arena, improving the business environment for Japanese companies, and cooperation with the Nikkei community.
In Mexico, I held meetings with Secretary of Foreign Affairs Ebrard and Secretary of Economy Clouthier. During the meetings, I held exchanges of views on the importance of cooperation for multilateral frameworks such as the TPP11, which Japan and Mexico cooperated on for the agreement and entry into force. I also confirmed cooperation on matters such as responding to North Korea as Mexico will be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council from this year. We also discussed the importance of improving the business environment for Japanese companies, as Mexico is the country with the highest number of Japanese companies in the LAC region.
In Uruguay, I paid a courtesy call to President Lacalle Pou and held a meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Bustillo. During the meeting, we agreed to strengthen bilateral relations through the celebration and commemorative projects of the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Uruguay this year. During my visit, I also signed the Agreement Regarding Mutual Assistance and Cooperation in Customs Matters that will contribute to facilitating trade.
In Argentina, the third country I visited, I paid a courtesy call to President Fernández and held a meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Solá. During the meeting, we discussed strengthening relations with the new administration in Argentina that was inaugurated last year, strengthening cooperation in the G20 which Argentina and Japan held the Presidency for in 2018 and 2019 respectively, and other matters. The Argentina side also elaborated on the importance of Mercosur, for which Argentina will serve as the Pro Tempore President in the first half of 2021.
Next, I made the first visit by a Japanese Foreign Minister to Paraguay besides past visits to participate in international conferences. I paid a courtesy call to Abdo Benítez and held a meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs González. During the meeting, we discussed strengthening relations between Japan and Paraguay, which especially places importance on values such as the rule of law.
In Brazil, the last country I visited in the LAC region, I paid a courtesy call to President Bolsonaro and held a meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Araújo. During the meeting, we discussed strengthening strategic cooperation between Japan and Brazil, which places importance on cooperation with Japan and the United States and promotes a new type of diplomacy, including establishing the Japan-U.S.-Brazil Exchange in November 2020. In addition, as specific results, we signed the memorandum of cooperation on biodiversity and the memorandum of cooperation on promoting applications of niobium and graphene. Furthermore, Brazil will become the Pro Tempore President of Mercosur in the second half of 2021, and the Brazilian side elaborated on the importance of Mercosur.
I believe that Japanese diplomacy needs to firmly respond to the expectations of the international community, including for the various new developments that are anticipated for this year such as the inauguration of the new Biden administration in the United States on January 20, and about the ideal post-coronavirus international order. Amidst this, although the LAC countries are located on the other side of the globe from Japan, they have deep relations with the United States where the new Biden administration will be inaugurated, and are countries that we need to closely cooperate with in the United Nations and the international arena on matters such as responding to North Korea and the international order.
Through this visit to the LAC region, I believe I was able to achieve a dynamic start to “diplomacy with both tolerance and strength” toward maintaining and strengthening a free and open international order based on the rule of law.
From tomorrow, I will visit the two African countries of Senegal and Kenya. Through these visits, I would like to confirm cooperation focused on TICAD8 as well as cooperation on the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” and appeal by exhibiting Japan’s leadership on forming the post novel-coronavirus international order.
Furthermore, I have decided to cancel my visit to Nigeria, taking into comprehensive consideration matters such as the extremely severe conditions of the novel coronavirus both within Japan and overseas, including the fact that the Government of Japan designated Nigeria as a country subject to strengthened quarantine measures on January 6.
Lastly, on the Republic of Korea (ROK), I would like to speak about the lawsuit of a claim for damages against the Government of Japan by former comfort women and others in the ROK. In regard to the recent judgment, it is of the view that it is extremely regrettable that an absolutely unthinkable, abnormal situation has occurred from the viewpoints of international law as well as bilateral relations. Japan has been repeatedly expressing our position that this lawsuit must be dismissed because it is not acceptable for Japan to be subject to the jurisdiction of the ROK in accordance with the principle of State immunity under international law. Furthermore, the issue concerning property and claims between Japan and the ROK, including the issue of comfort women, was settled completely and finally with the Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Co-operation between Japan and the ROK of 1965. Furthermore, it was confirmed that the issue of comfort women was “resolved finally and irreversibly” with the agreement between Japan and the Republic of Korea in 2015.
Despite this, it is extremely regrettable that a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs was rendered which denies the principle of State immunity under international law. This is absolutely unacceptable to the Government of Japan. Under my instructions, Mr. AKIBA Takeo, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, immediately summoned H.E. Mr. NAM Gwan-pyo, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Japan, on January 8 in Tokyo. And also, I have just directly telephoned and lodged a strong protest to Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha of the ROK just now, strongly urging the ROK to swiftly take appropriate measures to remedy its breach of international law as a country. That is all from me.
Reporter: I would like to ask about the comfort women issue that you just mentioned. During your telephone talk with Foreign Minister Kang, how did she reply to your protest? And also, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato stated yesterday that Japan’s policy for responding going forward will be not to appeal the decision. Will Japan consider bringing a case to the International Court of Justice or other responses? Please also tell us about Japan’s policy going forward in your answer.
Minister Motegi: I conveyed to Foreign Minister Kang that this case is extremely regrettable, and strongly urged the ROK to swiftly take appropriate measures to remedy the ROK’s breach of international law as a country. In response, Foreign Minister Kang explained the ROK’s position and answered that it is necessary to respond in a calm manner. In any event, I reiterated Japan’s stance that the Government of the ROK is to swiftly implement appropriate measures to remedy its breach of international law. In regard to appealing the lawsuit, Japan’s position is that as it is not acceptable for Japan to be subject to the jurisdiction of the ROK in accordance with the principle of State immunity under international law, we do not intend to appeal. Additionally, the Government of Japan will resolutely respond with all options on the table.
Reporter I would like to ask about your overseas visits. I believe that China’s presence in LAC countries is growing through trade and other means. If you perceived China’s high interest or other matters through your visit, please tell us about it.
Minister Motegi: The LAC countries I visited this time are Japan’s partners with which we share fundamental values of freedom, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. In each country, I held lengthy exchanges of views regarding regional situations such as in Asia and the LAC region. We agreed to cooperate to contribute to regional peace and prosperity as well as for the international community. Although I would like to refrain from stating the specific content as it involves diplomacy-related communication, I explained the situations and Japan’s thoughts on matters such as the East China Sea and the South China Sea, as well as the concerns of not only Japan but also the countries I have visited thus far including Southeast Asian countries and African countries. The people I met with listened very earnestly. All of the people in the five LAC countries I visited listened to me and agreed that it is an extremely important issue to maintain and strengthen the international order.
Reporter: I would like to ask about the situation in Venezuela. The new National Assembly supporting President Maduro has been inaugurated, and Mr. Guaidó, who the Government of Japan has supported, has been driven into an extremely delicate position. Can you please tell us the Government of Japan’s position on whether it will continue to recognize the National Assembly led by Mr. Guaidó and support him as Interim President of Venezuela?
Minister Motegi: I held exchanges of views regarding the situation in Venezuela respectively during my visits to the LAC countries. I saw that we shared the view of having strong concerns about the situation. In regard to matters such as the future policy, I would like to refrain from answering about the content of my exchanges of views with the LAC countries as this involves communication related to diplomacy.
Reporter: I would like to ask about strengthening trade relations with Mercosur, including an Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA). Japanese companies that have entered the market are stating that it is necessary for them to survive competition with the ROK. Since you are well-versed in trade negotiations, what are your thoughts on this and what specific policy will you take to handle this? Please tell us if there is anything detailed you can say now.
Minister Motegi: In regard to Japan’s relations with Mercosur, I received explanations from each of the countries I visited on the importance of strengthening bilateral economic relations as well as Japan-Mercosur cooperation. I stated that we recognize the importance of strengthening economic cooperation between Japan and Mercosur, and that we would like to continue to consider and hold exchanges of views regarding the best way to strengthen economic cooperation. We did not have specific discussions on beginning negotiations on a Japan-Mercosur EPA.
Reporter: I would like to change the subject from your overseas visits to ask about the situation in Hong Kong. On January 6, the Hong Kong police arrested 53 democracy proponents, including former members of the Legislative Council, on charges of violating the Hong Kong national security law. Please tell us about your reaction, the future policy for this, and other matters.
Minister Motegi: 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 policy of Japan to attach great importance to upholding a free and open system which Hong Kong has been enjoying and the democratic and stable development of Hong Kong under the ‘One Country, Two System’ framework. Since the enactment of the national security law in June 2020, in relation to the series of developments concerning the situation in Hong Kong, Japan has had serious concerns about the respect for the fundamental values of freedom of speech and freedom of the press which have been the foundation for the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework that has supported Hong Kong’s prosperity. Also, in regard to the arrest of 53 democracy proponents that you asked about, this is incompatible with Japan’s position and our serious concern is growing. We have taken various opportunities to convey Japan’s position and concerns to China. We will continue to appropriately respond in cooperation with related countries. During my recent overseas visits as well, I have repeatedly advanced discussions about matters such as what message the international community can send about this issue with the people concerned in various countries.
Reporter: I would like to return to the comfort women issue discussed in the first question. In regard to the effects of the current lawsuit on Japan-ROK relations and diplomacy going forward, Prime Minister SUGA told the press yesterday that firstly this lawsuit should be dismissed before anything else. Do you also believe that the issue of this lawsuit should firstly be resolved in order to improve Japan-ROK relations and promote diplomacy?
Minister Motegi: Japan-ROK relations have been in an extremely serious state up until now due to matters such as the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, and concerns are growing that this judgment is rapidly worsening the situation. Today, I repeatedly stated that to Foreign Minister Kang. Basically, I believe that it will be a start if there is dismissal of the judgment that breaches international law and is unthinkable in terms of the accepted practice thus far. In any event, I strongly requested for the Government of the ROK to swiftly take appropriate measures to remedy its breach of international law as a country. Going forward, we will continue communication based on our position between the diplomatic authorities of Japan and the ROK.