Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister HAYASHI Yoshimasa
Monday, March 20, 2023, 2:57 p.m. Cook Islands
Mr. HAYASHI Yoshimasa, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I am visiting Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands as the first Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Pacific Island countries have long been friendly relations with Japan, also one of the Pacific nations and have maintained various connections. These countries also have extreme strategic importance for ensuring the peace and stability of the region.
The Pacific Island countries, which regained their regional unity with the rejoining of Kiribati to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in February, have had a new start with the Cook Islands recently becoming this year’s chair country for the PIF. Through these visits, I supported such regional movements and directly conveyed to the dignitaries of various countries Japan’s commitment to the stability and prosperity of this region. I also had lengthy discussions on the situations of Pacific Island countries, and we concurred on closely cooperating for regional stability and peace.
In addition, while mentioning the progress of Japan’s support since the Ninth Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM9) in 2021, I conveyed that Japan will continue to cooperate the Pacific Island countries based on their needs, and we concurred on further strengthening bilateral relations. Moreover, I explained and gained understanding that, amidst the most severe and complex security environment surrounding Japan since World War II, Japan will formulate a new national security strategy to fundamentally strengthen its defense capabilities, and will cooperate with developing countries, including the Pacific Island countries, and strengthen support in the field of climate change.
Furthermore, I conveyed that through Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Plan for Peace, which was announced by Prime Minister Kishida, who is currently visiting India, Japan will work towards realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) and widely promote transparent and inclusive cooperation with island countries. I also confirmed to further strengthen cooperation.
In addition, based on the strengthening of dialogue with Pacific Island countries, including the visit to Japan by the PIF delegates in February, with regard to the discharge of ALPS treated water, I firmly conveyed to the leaders and foreign ministers of Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands Japan’s position that we will never approve discharge for which safety cannot be assured and that the environment and human health will not be harmed.
I also took the opportunity to hand over an official letter from Prime Minister Kishida regarding strengthening bilateral relations and Japan’s position on the discharge of ALPS treated water.
For Solomon Islands, after I arrived on the morning of March 19, I held a meeting with Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade Manele, paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Sogavare, and participated in a lunch meeting with Minister Manele. After this, I visited the war memorial on Guadalcanal island, had conversations with Japanese residents, and conducted other such activities.
During my courtesy call on Prime Minister Sogavare, I explained Japan’s support such as maintenance of Honiara International Airport and unexploded ordnance disposal, and Prime Minister Sogavare expressed gratitude for Japan’s support over the years. In addition, we discussed security and development finance. I conveyed Japan’s interest in the security cooperation agreement between Solomon Islands and China, and expressed strong support for the principle of “Family First” that security and public safety issues should first be addressed by the entire region.
Minister Manele and I reaffirmed close cooperation regarding international affairs, including responses to climate change, North Korea, and the situation in Ukraine.
As for the Cook Islands, I paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Brown this morning (March 20).
First, I stated that I would like to invite Prime Minister Brown, the Chair of the PIF, to the Outreach Meeting at the G7 Hiroshima Summit this May, and sincerely welcomed the participation of the Cook Islands as a partner in promoting FOIP. Prime Minister Brown stated that he was honored and grateful for the invitation and that he would like to contribute positively to the discussions. In addition, in terms of our bilateral relations, I explained Japan’s support for strengthening health and medical system and assistance for the water and sewerage infrastructure, and Prime Minister Brown expressed gratitude for Japan’s effective support thus far, including at the grassroots levels. Furthermore, Prime Minister Brown confirmed cooperation so that substantial discussion is conducted with a view to PALM10 scheduled to be held next year, as he and I will serve as co-chairs at the Ministerial Interim Meeting of PALM scheduled to be held this year. We also exchanged views regarding responding to North Korea and Ukraine, and concurred to closely cooperate.
Japan will take this visit as an opportunity to further promote cooperation with the Pacific Island countries and strengthen our cooperation towards realizing FOIP.
That is all from me.
Reporter: With regard to the invitation to the Cook Islands for the G7 Hiroshima Summit which you just introduced, and how Japan will cooperate with the Pacific Island countries including the Cook Islands, what kind of roles and contributions are you expecting for the Cook Islands to make during the discussions at the Summit?
Minister Hayashi: As I stated at the beginning, I conveyed that I would like to invite Prime Minister Brown, the Chair of the PIF, to the Outreach Meeting at the G7 Hiroshima Summit this May, and sincerely welcomed the participation of the Cook Islands, our partner in promoting FOIP. Minister Brown stated that he was honored and grateful for the invitation and that he would like to contribute positively to the discussions. In responding to the issues of energy, food security, climate change, health, and development, it is essential to cooperate with wide-ranging partners of the international community, including not only G7 members but also countries in the so-called Global South. From this perspective, I would like to have beneficial discussions with such points in mind with the Cook Islands.
Reporter: As you mentioned earlier, the Government of Japan has been stating that developed countries should respond to the issues faced by the Global South. Through your visits, what issues of the Pacific Island countries would you like to address, and what efforts would you like to make? In addition, what is specifically being considered in terms of the cooperation in the field of maritime security announced at the meeting in Solomon Islands?
Minister Hayashi: What I felt through my visits is that climate change is an existential issue for the Pacific Island countries, and that they have unique challenges such as their very large, extensive territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZs) compared to their small territorial land and populations. Japan has been providing support to the island countries closely based on each country’s needs and building relationships of trust through PALM and bilateral initiatives.
Through my meetings with dignitaries of various countries during my visits, I confirmed that Japan’s initiatives are actually appreciated, that there are great expectations for the initiatives, and that the initiatives have the potential for future development to address the respective needs and challenges of the countries. Through my visits to the local areas, I confirmed that Japan’s assistance is being well utilized for the lives of the people.
For example, in Solomon Islands, Prime Minister Sogavare indicated that there are needs concerning unexploded ordnance disposal and maritime security. I confirmed this by visiting an actual site of unexploded ordnance disposal as well as the maritime police. Particularly, with regard to maritime security, which you mentioned, there are extremely major challenges of measures against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing as well as monitoring and control of the countries’ large territorial waters and EEZs. Japan is considering support to contribute to the capacity development of Solomon Islands from the perspective of FOIP.
As for the Cook Islands, Prime Minister Brown indicated that there are needs in fields such as medical care and renewable energy. Earlier, I visited a hospital that Japan has been supporting. I am scheduled to visit a firefighting and rescue brigade after this. I have confirmed, and will continue to confirm actual sites where cooperation that make use of Japan’s strengths is being implemented based on local needs.
I would like Japan to implement support that is firmly in line with such needs of island countries.
Reporter: I would like to ask about the discharge of ALPS treated water. During your visits, you provided explanations to the leaders and others of Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands concerning the Government of Japan’s position of discharging ALPS treated water while ensuring that there is no harm to the environment or human health. How did the leaders and others from both countries react? In addition, please tell us your impression on whether your visits led to progress in terms of the understanding of Pacific Island countries that have concerns about the discharge.
Minister Hayashi: During my visits, I exchanged views regarding the discharge of ALPS treated water. I explained to Prime Minister Sogavare that Japan has a responsibility to the international community, and would conduct the discharge after firmly ensuring that there is no harm to the environment and human health, based on Japan’s commitment at PALM9. Prime Minister Sogavare stated that he appreciated my explanation, and expected that Japan would continue to provide information in a transparent manner and that the safety would be scientifically ensured including through reviews by IAEA.
In addition, I explained to Prime Minister Brown of the Cook Islands, who is the Chair of the PIF, that Japan will enhance dialogue with Pacific Island countries based on the visit to Japan by the PIF delegates in February and the PIF Special Leaders Retreat. Prime Minister Brown expressed his appreciation for Japan stepping up its efforts as well as his desire for continual cooperation. On these occasions, I handed over official letters from Prime Minister Kishida to the leaders of both countries.
Reporter: It has been pointed out that China’s influence on island countries is increasing, including the conclusion of the security cooperation agreement between Solomon Islands and China which you mentioned earlier. What kind of cooperation in the field of security would you like to conduct with such island countries?
Minister Hayashi: Japan strongly supports the principle of “Family First” for regional peace and security set forth by the PIF.
Pacific Island countries face challenges including economic recovery from COVID-19, the effects of climate change and natural disasters, and fragile infrastructure. It is important for effective support concerning these challenges to be implemented by reliable partners. Furthermore, in the field of security, I believe that Japan must work on cooperation for capacity building assistance while strengthening collaboration with like-minded countries such as the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.
In addition, Pacific Island countries recognize that climate change is their single greatest threat. Due to this, I believe one important matter for Japan is to promote its own climate change countermeasures, but we must also provide assistance to the Pacific Island countries.
With regard to sea level rise due to climate change, taking full consideration of the PIF Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-related Sea-Level Rise, Japan has conveyed to the leaders and foreign ministers of Pacific Island countries that it takes the position that even if coastlines recede due to climate change, it is acceptable to maintain the existing baselines and maritime areas established in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.