Press Conference by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida
Tuesday, July 25, 2017, 9:08 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Current Situation of the Abe Administration
Freelance, Kamide: I have a question about recent developments related to the Abe administration. In the Sendai mayoral election held on July 23, the candidate supported by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost to the candidate endorsed by opposition parties. Just prior to this, a public opinion survey conducted by Mainichi Shimbun recorded the lowest Cabinet approval rating in recent surveys at 26%. I believe the situation has become even more challenging since then. As leader of the Kochikai, please once again explain your view of recent developments, including your cautious opinions that have already been expressed regarding the Constitution. Also, please once again comment on the situation in the context of the Diet deliberations that are taking place again today.
Mr. Fumio Kishida, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I think we must humbly and seriously take the results of the public opinion surveys you mentioned and various points raised about the Government and ruling parties. We have to humbly take these assessments and points and make efforts to restore trust from the public.
However, there is of course no easy solution that will allow us to overcome this situation at once. We can only continue to make efforts one by one to restore the trust of the general public. The House of Councillors’ Budget Committee is holding deliberations again today. It is important to answer each question in a courteous manner in these deliberations, and the day-to-day government activities should be conducted one by one with a sense of urgency. Furthermore, I believe the Cabinet reshuffle and personnel changes that are expected to take place next week are part of these efforts.
You also mentioned the Constitution. It is vital to continue to engage in careful discussion of the Constitution and proceed with related activities while obtaining the understanding of the Japanese people. In any event, the Government will continue efforts to humbly and carefully restore trust of the public.
Freelance, Kamide: I would like to ask about your understanding of the current situation. Cabinet approval normally would bottom out at a certain level, at least until now. We have not seen this kind of steady downward trend recently. Do you see a turning point to change this situation? Or do you expect current tough conditions to persist for a while?
Minister Kishida: I agree that we need to recognize and take the difficult situation that exists at this point seriously. We will make efforts upon taking the situation seriously. What happens to the Cabinet approval rating is important for us.
Therefore, as I have stated earlier, every effort we make will be critical. Although it is difficult to say with any certainty at this stage what will happen with the Cabinet approval rating and the political environment, we recognize that what happens next will be the outcome of each of our efforts and that it is necessary to continue to make efforts patiently, carefully, and humbly.
Resignation of the Head of the Foundation to Support Former Comfort Women
Asahi Shimbun, Sasakawa: My question is related to the agreement between Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) regarding the comfort women issue. The head of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation in the ROK, which was established under the Japan-ROK agreement, announced her resignation. There is also a possibility that the Foundation will be disbanded. It has furthermore been suggested that this action might halt the steady implementation of the Japan-ROK agreement. Please explain your thoughts about this situation.
Minister Kishida: I am aware from media reports that the head of the Foundation announced her resignation. However, I am not aware that the activities of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation have been terminated.
In any event, the Japanese Government has been working to steadily carry out the agreement, including its provision of about 1 billion yen to the Foundation in August 2016. The Foundation has utilized the 1 billion yen provided by the Japanese Government to conduct various activities to support former comfort women. It is my understanding that 36 of the 47 former comfort women who were alive at the timing of the Japan-ROK agreement in 2015 have received the supports.
The Japan-ROK agreement in 2015 was one that has been confirmed between the two countries, and this agreement was highly appreciated by the international community. I believe it remains important to steadily implement the agreement.
Tribune News, Susilo: The comfort women issue is very heart-wrenching. Why can’t the two countries get along? You mentioned the agreement. The ROK has raised a variety of issues relating to comfort women. These include inscribing comfort women in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, establishing a memorial day in 2018, setting up a research center in 2019, and opening a history museum in 2020. There does not seem to be any way of resolving the situation. What actions should Japan take? Please comment on the best solution.
Minister Kishida: The Japan-ROK agreement in 2015 confirmed that the comfort women issue between the two countries is “resolved finally and irreversibly.” We confirmed that we would not criticize each other on this issue in the international community. It is very important to steadily implement the agreement. Many other countries in the international community have appreciated the agreement. Japan considers that the Japanese and ROK Governments must steadily implement the agreement. We will continue to steadily communicate this view to the ROK Government and continue to urge the ROK to implement the agreement. I think it is important to continue these efforts.
LDP Presidential Election
Tribune News, Susilo: I have a question about the LDP. You enjoy strong support within the LDP. I think there is a presidential election coming up. Are you prepared? Do you feel that you are personally ready to become the party president in the next LDP presidential election?
Minister Kishida: As noted in a previous question, the general public is taking a very tough view of the LDP in public opinion surveys. I think it is essential for the LDP as well as the Government and ruling parties to unite and humbly take the situation and work toward restoring trust. Given this situation, as a member of the Abe administration, I must obviously make diligent efforts to support the administration.
You just mentioned the LDP presidential election. The election is still more than a year from now. I have not thought about it. It is vital to first take the current difficult situation seriously and make efforts to support the government in order to regain trust.
TBS, Kubo: I have a question about relations with China. A Chinese military vessel sailed north through the Tsushima Strait recently, and Chinese bombers flew between Miyako Island and the main island of Okinawa, triggering a scramble. Moreover, yesterday, Chinese aircraft came extremely close to a US reconnaissance plane. While it is very difficult to know the intention behind these actions, what are your thoughts on the continuation of such actions that escalate tensions? Also, has Japan sent any messages to the Chinese side about these incidents?
Minister Kishida: For example, regarding the maritime survey by Chinese maritime survey vessels, it is very regrettable that maritime scientific research and other activities by Chinese vessels are being conducted in a manner that is not in accordance with the framework of mutual advance notification. You mentioned activities by Chinese military aircraft as well. Japan has expressed concern over these activities, such as Chinese military aircraft flying between Miyako Island and the main island of Okinawa and triggering a scramble by Self-Defense Force fighters on July 24, to the Chinese side through diplomatic channels. Japan will continue to pay attention to such activities. We will continue to respond firmly with unchanging resolve to resolutely protect Japanese territorial land, waters, and airspace.
TBS, Kubo: Do you expect these activities to pick up as August approaches or tighter control ahead of the Communist Party Congress in autumn?
Minister Kishida: I would like to refrain from speculating about future Chinese actions. While I do not think it is appropriate for me to make comments, Japan must continue to closely monitor these trends and respond appropriately. I mentioned earlier that Japan has expressed concern over these various moves to the Chinese side. Japan communicated to China that it is paying close attention in light of the recent situation. We will continue to monitor China’s activities.
LDP Presidential Election
Jiji Press, Ichikawa: You were asked earlier about the LDP presidential election. Recently you have repeatedly stated your intention to support the Abe administration. Will you refrain from running and lend support to Prime Minister Abe if he decides to run in next year’s presidential election?
Minister Kishida: This year I have been stating that while Prime Minister Abe is an excellent leader, we cannot rely endlessly on Prime Minister Abe alone from the perspective of Japanese politics. Naturally the era of Prime Minister Abe will not continue endlessly, and I have been stating that we need to be prepared from now in terms of what should and can be done after it finishes. That is all I have said. I have not mentioned anything specific about the presidential election. The election is more than a year from now and I do not have any specific plans at this point.
Current Situation of the Abe Administration
TBS, Kubo: You noted at the outset that while the Government does not have an easy solution to restore trust, personnel changes are one type of effort. Prime Minister Abe has stated that he is not thinking about changes to core members. Do you expect this stance of not making much change to be acceptable as an effort to restore trust? Or do you believe that freshness through making major personnel changes would be recognized as a stronger effort?
Minister Kishida: It is up to the Prime Minister, who holds the authority on personnel matters, to make specific personnel changes and appointments. Fortunately, the LDP and ruling parties have many talented human resources. The right person for the right position will be selected from this pool of talented people. Needless to say, this is preferred, generally speaking. In my position, I can only give you general statements about personnel decisions. My understanding is that specific personnel decisions will be made next week. I will await the Prime Minister’s decisions.