Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, November 2, 2021, 10:48 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Summary as Minister for Foreign Affairs
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Thank you very much for your support over the past two years. Two years have passed since I assumed the position of Minister for Foreign Affairs in September 2019. There have been major changes in the international community particularly during this time, including the global spread of the novel coronavirus, the situation in Myanmar, and the situation in Afghanistan. Even amidst the limited opportunities of face-to-face diplomatic activities, since I became Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have held almost 200 meetings online and through other means. I have also visited 52 countries in Europe, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, and other regions, including my visit to London for the negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). I have built personal relationships with the foreign ministers of various countries, and was able to advance “diplomacy with both tolerance and strength.”
The visit to London I mentioned earlier was my first visit after the global spread of the novel coronavirus. My first overseas visit as Foreign Minister was the United Nations General Assembly in New York. During the past two years, novel coronavirus countermeasures have definitely been the greatest challenge. I believe that MOFA and our diplomatic missions worked as one to smoothly provide repatriation support for Japanese nationals abroad, including the repatriation operations of Japanese nationals from Wuhan, China. Japan also cohosted the COVAX AMC Summit and helped secure more than the needed amount of funding. Japan has also become the world’s third top vaccine donor by providing vaccines to Southeast Asian and Pacific Island countries.
Furthermore, Japan has been providing “Last One Mile Support” as its own unique support. Although Japan has not yet developed a domestic vaccine, I believe our efforts in various aspects have been highly appreciated by the international community.
In regard to our relations with the United States, I have held nine foreign ministers’ meetings, including five telephone talks, with Secretary of State Blinken, and worked to build strong relationship of mutual trust and strengthen the Japan-U.S. Alliance, which is the linchpin of Japan’s diplomacy and security. In addition, there have been three foreign ministers’ meetings between the Quad consisting of Japan, Australia, India, and the United States toward realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP), and I was also able to deepen cooperation with relevant countries, including ASEAN and European countries, regarding FOIP.
Furthermore, together with our effort to build stable relations with neighboring countries, I believe Japan has shown leadership toward expanding free and fair economic zones, including by concluding the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement and the Japan-EU EPA, as well as the Japan-U.K. EPA and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
I have worked with determination that Japan will lead the international community, international order, and rule-making, while always keeping ahead of various issues and opportunities. As a result, I believe that I was able to develop diplomacy that bolster Japan’s presence and strengthens its position in the international community.
I feel proud to have been able to do a good job as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, working as one team with my colleagues who are extremely capable and have a high sense of duty. I will remember this for my entire life. I feel sincere gratitude to all MOFA personnel, and have high expectations for their further successes. I would also like to thank everyone in the press club for their support during my time as Minister for Foreign Affairs. That is all from me.
NHK, Yamamoto: I would like to ask about the COP26 World Leaders Summit. Prime Minister Kishida departed for the United Kingdom this morning. What results are expected for the Summit? It seems that several bilateral meetings will be held. Will Prime Minister Kishida have a meeting with President Biden of the United States?
Minister Motegi: COP26 began yesterday in Glasgow in the United Kingdom. I believe that COP26 is an important opportunity for the entire international community to increase momentum for climate change countermeasures.
Japan is advancing its efforts in a robust manner toward becoming carbon neutral by 2050. As an ambitious target in line with these efforts, Japan also aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by FY2030, and is continuing the challenge to reach the reduction target of 50%. We will also advance our efforts to communicate about the implementation of these efforts, and advance efforts to provide support to developing countries in relation to global-scale climate change countermeasures.
Prime Minister Kishida departed at 6 a.m. this morning, the day after the general election. At COP26, he plans to send a forward-looking message that Japan will lead the international community toward realizing decarbonization, a goal set by the Paris Agreement. From this perspective, I believe that various countries understand that Japanese Prime Minister is attending COP26 soon after the election in Japan, and it is extremely significant for Prime Minister Kishida to quickly go to Glasgow on a tight schedule right after the election and send a message on Japan’s commitment.
Since his time in Glasgow will be limited, I believe that Prime Minister Kishida will have bilateral meetings with a very limited number of dignitaries, probably including Prime Minister Johnson of the United Kingdom, which holds the Presidency this year. In regard to a Japan-U.S. Summit Meeting with President Biden of the United States, it would be desirable to have an unrushed summit over plenty of time if possible. Since various meetings will be held at the venue, Prime Minister Kishida could have an informal conversation with President Biden during an interval or other such time. We are not particularly coordinating with the US side for a lengthy bilateral meeting this time.
Novel Coronavirus (Border Measures)
Reuters, Swift: Japan is one of the few major economies that isn't using the type of vaccine passport and is still requiring lengthy quarantine measures at the border. Foreign and domestic business groups have been pleading with the government to ease these measures. Is there any plan or movement in Japan to ease its border restrictions and bring them in more parity with its major trading partners?
Minister Motegi: I believe there are not that many countries that fully use vaccine passports or certificates of negative test results. There are countries that partially use them, but still only a limited number of countries use them for all activities. In any event, vaccine rollout is now making a global progress, and the declaration of a state of emergency in Japan has been lifted. With factors such as these, I believe that vaccine passports and certificates of negative test results will be important in advancing economic activities while ensuring safety for measures on people entering Japan, as well as promoting measures on safe use of commercial facilities and participation in events in Japan. I hope that we can proceed with consideration on such measures.
Novel Coronavirus (Resumption of Entry into Japan by Foreign Exchange Students)
Radio France, Nishimura: Thank you for your service for the past two years. I would like to ask about border measures. There are various reports suggesting that the Government of Japan is considering relaxing the current measures. What form of new entry into Japan are you considering particularly in regard to exchange students? Will there be any conditions to entry or will there be an order for entry?
Minister Motegi: As I have just stated, vaccine rollout is making progress and the declaration of a state of emergency has been lifted in Japan. The number of new cases of infection has also fallen to a level of below 100 people. We will of course have to monitor the future developments, but due to such factors, it is true that there are requests to relax the border measures, including allowing resumption of acceptance of foreign exchange students and shortening the waiting period for people entering Japan.
The Government of Japan is ascertaining aspects such as infection conditions in Japan and abroad as well as the progress made in vaccine rollout, and is advancing phased review of our measures. There are two aspects to consider. One is that we must consider the extent of need or urgency of people entering Japan. The other aspect is to what extent the infections have been wound down and vaccine rollouts have been making progress in countries which people will depart. We would like to flexibly respond by taking into consideration of these aspects.
Ensuring Safety and Evacuation of Japanese Nationals Abroad
NHK, Watanabe: You mentioned in your opening remarks that the evacuation operations from Wuhan went well. Evacuation from Afghanistan was also recently conducted, and many people have come to Japan from Afghanistan since then. Based on your experience of leading this series of evacuation operations of Japanese nationals and others, please tell us your impression, what you think went well, and what you feel the future challenges might be.
Minister Motegi: I believe that ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals, including Japanese nationals who are abroad, as well as measures for their departure when necessary and other such measures, are one of the most important duties of MOFA. Based on such understanding, we have carried out the repatriation operations from Wuhan, as well as the repatriation operations from Afghanistan for people such as embassy staff, JICA staff, and locally employed staff. We have also been providing departure support for Afghan people, and are still in the midst of carrying that out. We will continue to advance our support.
I believe that the basis of crisis management is to assume the worst situation. At the same time, it is important to coordinate an early response based on what could happen going forward. For example, in the case of Wuhan, in early stage there was a lockdown, and it would have become quite difficult to rescue Japanese nationals as time passed by. Therefore, I made a considerably early decision. At the same time, it is also important for MOFA and the diplomatic missions to cooperate closely and work as one team. During the Wuhan operations as well, as stated, there was no consulate-general in Wuhan, so embassy staff traveled by land from Beijing to Wuhan and proceeded with the work including preparation for the departures. For the operation in Africa as well, we conducted various simulations on how to rescue few Japanese nationals in each country, and prepared thoroughly for the operation in which we had Japanese nationals gather temporarily in Addis Ababa before safely repatriating them to Japan via Ethiopian Airlines, the only airline operating between Japan at that time. I strongly feel that the local staff worked very hard.
Based on such experiences, we will work harder so that we could respond in the best possible manner, given that various things could happen beyond our expectations in this real world.
Negotiations on Host Nation Support (HNS) for the U.S. Forces in Japan
TV Asahi, Sawai: Given that it is now November, heading towards budget compilation, I believe that the negotiations on HNS for the U.S. Forces in Japan, which was temporarily extended for one year, will reach its peak. I believe that there is also preparation to hold a “2+2” in not so distant future within this year. You have developed favorable Japan-U.S. relations, and a new Minister for Foreign Affairs will be appointed. What sort of person do you believe would be suitable as your successor, and in particular, what approach do you expect he or she to take in the HNS negotiations?
Minister Motegi: As for the type of person suitable to be my successor, I would like to refrain from commenting on that question because I am not authorized to make personnel decisions. Regarding HNS, we made a temporary one-year agreement, and negotiations are currently in progress toward a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA) from April 1, 2022. In terms of our approach to the negotiations, as I have been saying, there are two points. The first is how we respond to the increasingly severe regional security environment and the second is Japan’s extremely severe financial situation. We will continue to respond in an appropriate manner based on such approach.
In addition, it is not the case that a decision was made to hold a “2+2” within the year.
Foreign Policy of the Kishida Administration
Pan Orient News, Azhari: Thank you minister for the support for the foreign media in Japan by the Foreign Ministry. My question is with the endorsement of the Liberal Democratic Party coalition of the voters on Sunday, what is the main challenges or threats facing Japan on the diplomatic front and need immediate action? Also as Corona infection rate seems to have been decreasing recently. Do you think face-to-face diplomacy will increase or necessary?
Minister Motegi: During this general election, there were discussions on the recovery from the novel coronavirus of course, as well as other policy issues. Another major point of discussion was of course diplomacy and security.
Amidst these discussions, it is a fact that the Kishida administration received a huge confidence. Given such reality, we would like to develop a diplomacy that further protect the safety and security of the people of Japan, protect Japan’s territorial land, sea, and airspace, and increase Japan’s presence.
NHK, Watanabe: I would like to ask about Japan-Russia relations. During the Munich Security Conference, you mentioned that the peace treaty negotiations entered a new phase. Please tell us about the difficulty you have felt since then toward resolving the long-standing Northern Territories issue, and what direction the discussions should take. Please tell us your future outlook on the peace treaty negotiations.
Minister Motegi: The Japan-Russia peace treaty negotiations have been a difficult issue for over 70 years with not even one millimeter of move made. We have advanced efforts in the hope of doing something about this issue.
Beginning with my first meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov during the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019, I had a considerably in-depth discussions with him over eight hours in two days during my visit to Moscow in December 2019. It was planned for Foreign Minister Lavrov to visit Japan in the following year of 2020 in order to advance the discussions following further coordination. Unfortunately, we could not make that happen due to the novel coronavirus. It is true that we wanted to advance the discussion at once, but will take some time. Building on the results of the discussions we have advanced thus far, I expect the next Minister for Foreign Affairs to persistently advance the negotiations under the basic policy of resolving the attributions issue and concluding a peace treaty while developing general Japan-Russia relations.