Press Conference by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida
Tuesday, December 20, 2016, 11:27 a.m. Front Entrance Hall, Prime Minister’s Office
This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only.
(1) The truck crash incident in Germany
Mr. Fumio Kishida, Minister for Foreign Affairs: On December 19 at approximately 8:00 p.m. local time, an incident occurred in Berlin, the capital of Germany, in which a truck crashed into a Christmas market, killing at least 12 people and injuring many others. No harm to Japanese nationals has been confirmed so far, but we continue to spare no effort in securing the safety of Japanese nationals, confirming the facts, and other efforts.
Japan expresses its solidarity with the Government of Germany and the people of Germany. We express our heartfelt condolences toward the deceased and their families, and pray for the earliest possible recovery of the injured.
(2) Dispatch of the Prime Minister’s special envoy to South Sudan
Mr. Fumio Kishida, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Mr. Yoshifumi Okamura, Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, has recently been dispatched as the Prime Minister's special envoy to the Republic of South Sudan with the main objective of exchanging views aimed at the improvement of the political and security situation and the humanitarian situation in South Sudan. I have received the report that Special Envoy Okamura had meetings with President Kiir, First Vice President Taban Deng, and others on the 19th and had useful exchanges of opinions regarding the political and security situation and the humanitarian situation in South Sudan, among other matters.
Japan-Russia Summit Meeting
Kamide, Freelance: I have two questions about the recently held Japan-Russia Summit meeting. While various assessments have been given, former island residents are expressing considerable disappointment in regard to the possibility of a return of the Northern Territories. What is the explanation you would offer them? As to the other point, there have been a variety of media reports, and some suggest that President Putin succeeded in putting a wedge between Japan and the US and European countries that are levying sanctions against Russia. Some reports assert that the US and European countries, meanwhile, are looking severely at Japan regarding its relationship with Russia, including critical comments from related parties. Please indicate your view on these two points.
Minister Kishida: Beginning with an overall assessment of the Japan-Russia summit meeting, the leaders of the two countries had very frank exchanges of views, including summit meetings in Yamaguchi and Tokyo, with a meeting lasting one hour and 35 minutes between Prime Minister Abe and President Putin in Yamaguchi, attended by just the two leaders. Discussions took place for over five hours in Yamaguchi and over two hours in Tokyo. I believe the combined more than seven hours of discussions between Japan and Russia provided a very meaningful discussion of opinions.
Regarding Japan’s fundamental policy, it intends to resolve the attribution issue for the Northern Territories and conclude a peace treaty within the context of improving the overall Japan-Russia relationship in a wide range of areas, including the economy, in a manner that contributes to national interests. This has been Japan’s fundamental stance. The eight-point cooperation plan covers business activities, and while these initiatives are purely for mutual benefits, they have very important implications in improving the overall relationship between the two countries.
For the four northern islands of the Northern Territories, an agreement was reached this time to engage in joint economic activities. Discussion of such joint economic activities previously could not move forward because of legal positioning. Given this background, this time it is planned to introduce a special system for joint economic activities in the four northern islands and the two leaders agreed to this direction in their meeting. An agreement was also reached on taking measures to enable visits freely so that former island residents may visit the graves of their family members more freely. The ability of Japanese companies to conduct activities and more Japanese people to visit the four northern islands without harming Japan’s legal position in the four northern islands is a very important step to resolving the four islands issue and concluding a peace treaty. I think it was an extremely significant meeting in terms of the two leaders confirming this important step.
You pointed out that such efforts could put a wedge between Japan and the US and European countries. First, Japan has not in any way changed its stance of emphasis on G7 solidarity. The eight-point cooperation plan does not conflict with sanctions against Russia in any areas. Additionally, Japan strongly appealed to Russia at this meeting to play a constructive role in dealing with issues facing the international community, including not only Ukraine, but also Syria, terrorism, and North Korea. Furthermore, the situation is that a peace treaty has not been concluded yet even though it has been 71 years since the war ended and Japan has to go into a negotiation with the strong sentiment of former island residents who are now at an average age of 81 years. Japan has explained these views to the US, European countries, and related countries at summit meetings, foreign minister meetings, and meetings at other levels. I believe these parties understand our explanation, and we intend to continue to carefully explain our position, views, and specific efforts.
Kobayashi, NHK: How do you plan to proceed in discussions with each ministry regarding joint economic activities following the summit meeting? Do you plan to establish a council or team?
Minister Kishida: We naturally have to prepare for the negotiations, and the content is likely to extend across various ministries. The main point is creation of operations, with the Prime Minister’s Office playing the central role, to make efforts on these activities as an all-Japan initiative by the entire government. We intend to establish specific operations with the Prime Minister’s Office playing the central role.
Kobayashi, Asahi Shimbun: I have another two questions about joint economic activities. The first is, what do you think was different this time compared to the situation 10 years ago when joint economic activities were under consideration on the premise that it would not harm the positions of either side and no conclusion was reached then? The other point is that President Putin fundamentally does not recognize the existence of the territories issue or at most mentions the names of two islands. Does Japan think that the agreement to adopt a special system for the four islands this time means that it has gained confirmation from the Russian side of the existence of a territorial issue regarding the four islands?
Minister Kishida: Regarding the first point, we reached an agreement to review legal positions, including international arrangements, as explained in the statement issued by the two leaders. The statement also clearly says that the use of the special system ensures that legal positions of the two countries are not affected. This is a difference from the previous situation.
The Russia side has made comments on various points, and the essence of your question appears to be that they have a different recognition. Yet the joint statement at the very least clearly mentions the four islands and indicates that the above-mentioned joint economic activities and other initiatives will proceed. Japan hopes to resolve the peace treaty issue based on this new future-oriented approach between Japan and Russia in line with this policy. This point was confirmed, and Japan intends to continue discussions with this clarification as a foundation.
Odanaka, Mainichi Shimbun: I would like to ask you about South Sudan. Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, criticized Japan for showing a negative attitude toward the draft resolution to ban the export of arms to South Sudan that the United States and others are considering. May I ask you about the latest state of deliberations within the Japanese Government and the reasons for its cautious approach?
Minister Kishida: Regarding the resolution that you referred to, it is my understanding that it remains under discussion as of now. It is the view of the Japanese Government that the matter must first of all be considered from the perspective of what is appropriate for the peace and stability of South Sudan, and for now, the South Sudanese Government is currently going forward with various efforts. We are taking part in the discussions from the position that it is important to encourage the efforts of the South Sudanese Government.
The Japanese Government also continues to engage in diplomatic efforts on the basis of this position. The other day, on December 7, I talked directly by phone with South Sudanese President Kiir. I stated as much to President Kiir to that effect, and, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, we have dispatched Mr. Yoshifumi Okamura, Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, as the Prime Minister's special envoy. We intend to continue these diplomatic efforts, and it is our intent to continue to participate with strong interest in these consultations in the UN Security Council as a Council member. In any case, the discussions are still going on. We intend to continue to contribute to the discussions based on the position that I just explained.
Odanaka, Mainichi Shimbun: I have a follow-up question. It is my understanding that the argument is that there is the danger of genocide in view of the situation in South Sudan and that it is therefore better to shut the entryway for weapons. You said in essence that it is important under the situation in South Sudan to support the government. Are you taking part in the discussions under the understanding that this prohibition on weapons has the possibility of not leading to this support?
Minister Kishida: It is the view of the Japanese Government that it is important to support the efforts of South Sudan, as I just explained. It is our current understanding that South Sudan is trying to move forward with efforts to improve the situation, such as cooperation for the early deployment of a regional protection force (RPF), and the holding of a national dialogue. We believe that it is important to support these efforts. I understand that there are various opinions among the Security Council members, but I believe that we have to continue to firmly explain the importance of this mindset of ours to related parties.
Mizuno, Hokkaido Shimbun: I would like to go back to the Russian topic. Please explain the arrangement regarding grave visits in the Northern Territories. As you just mentioned and as noted in the press statement, some proposed ways of alleviating the burden on island residents are setting up additional temporary passage points and simplifying procedures. Please explain specifically what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is targeting as a schedule and measures.
Minister Kishida: Our view on the schedule is that it should be as fast as possible. This is an issue that we want to move forward on rapidly in light of the aging of former island residents. I hope we can proceed with related tasks as soon as possible and promptly make this a reality.
Regarding the content, we have received a variety of specific requests from former island residents. We need to finalize the content in a manner that reflects these requests as much as possible. This is something that we should work on as quickly as possible.
Nozaki, Kyodo News: I would like to ask you about the EPA between Japan and the EU. Mauro Petriccione, the European Union's chief negotiator, held a press conference at the end of last week and stated that they are aiming to achieve an agreement in the coming year, thus suggesting that they have given up on reaching an agreement this year. My first question is what your understanding and what the Japanese Government’s understanding of this is. Also, do you have a meeting at the ministerial level or otherwise scheduled? Could you also tell us what your views are on the impact on the growth strategy of the Abe administration, were this to be delayed?
Minister Kishida: First of all, regarding the Japan-EU EPA, we have been conducting intensive negotiations with the aim of reaching an agreement in principle by the end of this year. As a result, there has been significant progress in many areas in my view. I do believe that we are nearing an agreement in principle, but there remain points that require further discussion. It is my understanding that this is the current state of affairs. It is my understanding that the EU side, under instructions from EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom, has stated that it wishes to take the discussion back to the EU, and decide on the way forward after making adjustments with the EU member countries and others. That is the current state of affairs. Therefore, I do not think that the EU has conveyed to us officially what it will do by year’s end or next year yet. It is my understanding that we just conducted negotiations, and the EU side has said that it wishes to take the discussion back to the EU and done so. It depends on the outcome of the EU’s considerations and how it intends to respond, but as far as the Japanese side is concerned, it is our intention to continue to make maximum effort to achieve an agreement in principle as soon as possible.
Given the stage that we are at, I believe that I should refrain from making a presumptive comment. It is my understanding that the stage that I just described was reached at the end of last week, and we intend to continue to make firm efforts, while keeping a close watch on the response from the EU side. That is my view.
Fujimori, Yomiuri Shimbun: I wanted to ask you about the same point. If the EU side wants to take the discussion back to the EU, are there prospects that the answer will be forthcoming within the year? If there will not be an answer within the year, does that mean that you will be giving up on reaching an agreement in principle within the year?
Minister Kishida: It is my hope and anticipation that we will be hearing that from them.