Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Thursday, August 3, 2017, 9:04 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Inauguration speech of Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Foreign Minister Kono: My name is Taro Kono and I have been appointed as the new Minister for Foreign Affairs. I look forward to working with you. I was elected to the Diet in October 1996 and was immediately appointed to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives. I chaired this Committee for quite a significant period of time. Although I served as the Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, I have never served as Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs or State Minister for Foreign Affairs. This will be my first time working as part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). As I mentioned in the press conference earlier, apart from Mr. Shigeru Yoshida, who served concurrently as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, Mr. Kishida was probably the longest-serving Foreign Minister in the post-war period. As the successor to Mr. Kishida, I will approach my role with rigor and earnestness, and do my best.
In particular, I believe that, in light of North Korea’s missile and nuclear development, the security environment surrounding Japan has become very severe. When the Cold War came to an end in 1989, I did not imagine this state of affairs would continue for close to 30 years and the current situation would have been highly inconceivable at the time. Under such circumstances, I intend to engage in diplomacy that fully ensures the peace, safety, and prosperity of the people.
In light of these security conditions, it is above all essential that we first ensure the robustness of the Japan-U.S. Alliance. I intend to take firm steps to strengthen the alliance. Furthermore, I also intend to establish a robust network of allies and friendly nations that extends across the Asia-Pacific region, comprised of Australia, India, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), among others.
In diplomacy, we must work together with our neighbor the ROK in a variety of fields. This will yield benefits for the people in both our countries. I believe it is extremely important to deepen Japan-ROK relations, not only in security areas, but also economic and other areas as well. As for China, this year will represent personnel affairs of the country. This is also a milestone year in that it is the 45th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. We will continue to be neighbors at least for the next several hundreds of millions of years, so we must place broad importance on Japan-China relations.
With regard to Russia, I believe the Governments of Japan and Russia share the recognition that we will resolve the issue of the attribution of the Northern Territorries and conclude a peace treaty. In particular, from my perspective, Japan-Russia relations are, in many ways, special to me. This is because my grandfather, Ichiro Kono, who passed away when I was two years old, and of whom I have hardly any recollection, received, or you might say appropriated or took home with him, a paper knife that belonged to then Premier Khrushchev. Furthermore, my father, when he was Foreign Minister, was also in charge of Japan-Russia relations. I intend to make thorough efforts to advance our relations.
Thirdly, I have long explained the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as being very important, even in my home constituency. Although I faced much criticism for it, I eventually gained the understanding of a great many people for the TPP. At the same time, the United States recently declared its withdrawal from the TPP and certain elements of protectionism are emerging. In this context, now more than ever, Japan must continue to fly the flag of free trade. When I studied in the United States, it was a time when people said that Japanese exports were stealing American jobs. Shortly afterwards, there was even a time when a members of US congressmen smashed a Toshiba radio with sledgehammers. Nevertheless, I intend to reemphasize that free trade will contribute to economic development.
In addition, a few days ago, even Ebina in my home constituency of Kanagawa Prefecture suffered heavy rains of 100 mm per hour. The effects of climate have steadily emerged and climate change is not a challenge for the future, but the reality that we are facing right now. When I was Minister of State for Disaster Management I said that we must change our mindset and recognize that this is not an abnormal climate but rather our new climate. Climate change is a major issue that all the countries in the world must work together to stop.
I also intend to firmly promote the kind of diplomacy that makes the world say that Japan is proactively contributing to solving various major global issues, including the eradication of poverty, and disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear, and that Japan is exercising its leadership in tackling these issues.
Fifthly, I believe that Japan must make a firm commitment to addressing the issues in the Middle East. Japan can be said to have a highly neutral position when it comes to religion. Japan also has no ties to the colonialization of the Middle East. Furthermore, in its history, MOFA is proud of the efforts of Mr. Chiune Sugihara and others who saved the lives of many Jewish people. In addition, because of its implications for Japan’s energy supply, the peace and security of the Middle East is truly directly connected to Japanese economy and the stability of Japanese society. I believe Japan must make a far greater commitment to addressing the issues in the Middle East.
Previously, when I served as Minister in charge of Government Revitalization, I said that I would unreservedly promote discussion within the Government, and I addressed many different matters. At the same time, as a principle of the parliamentary cabinet system, I believe that as a member of the Cabinet, once the Government has decided on a policy, I must do my utmost to implement that policy. Therefore, I intend to work closely together with the Prime Minister’s Office and produce solid results in terms of Japan’s proactive contribution to peace. Thank you.
Japan-U.S. Nuclear Energy Agreement
Matsui, Asahi Shimbun: Earlier in the press conference at the official residence there was an exchange about the Japan-U.S. Nuclear Energy Agreement and in that exchange you said that the nuclear energy agreement is one of the foundations of Japan’s nuclear energy use today and that we must think about the agreement, including the form it should take. What were you specifically thinking about when you referred to the form of the agreement?
Foreign Minister Kono: Regarding the nature of the Agreement and what, if anything, to do about it, it is not as if we will make any immediate changes to the Agreement. There are many aspects that we must consider and we will work together within the Government to do so. This is ultimately a matter that affects Japan and the United States, and I believe that, as allies, Japan and the United States must work together on a variety of matters. In particular, it is commonly recognized among the world that plutonium is a material used in nuclear weapons and that we must not hold surplus plutonium. We consider various aspects in close cooperation within the Government, and between Japan and the United States.
Saito, Kyodo Press: I would like to ask about ODA. I remember that through your activities as a parliamentarian you were extremely active in calling for a reduction in ODA. I remember that previously, following your basic philosophy of a foreign policy that does not rely on money, you claimed Japan should cut ODA by more than a half. I would like to ask whether or not you still adhere to this basic philosophy now that you have become the minister and about how you will tackle this problem going forward.
Foreign Minister Kono: With regard to the reformulation of the ODA budget, it is almost time to submit the budgetary request and we will hold careful discussions within MOFA. When it comes to ODA, it is essential that we have the firm understanding of our countries’ taxpayers. The Japanese people contribute to the world in many ways through ODA and we must therefore ensure that the people recognize that it is used to produce concrete results that contribute to solving global issues such as the eradication of poverty and world peace, which ultimately also benefits Japan. That is how I intend to advance ODA policy.
Relations with neighboring countries
Lee, Hong Kong Phoenix TV: In your speech earlier, you stated that Japan must work with China to comprehensively build up the Japan-China relations. I think that in recent years there has been continuous friction between Japan and China, and the relationship has not been a very good one, including the issue of the Diaoyu Islands, called the Senkaku Islands by Japan. I am interested in what issues you perceive that there are between Japan and China, and what views you hold about China and the Republic of Korea, including past matters. If possible, could you please tell me?
Foreign Minister Kono: When working to build friendly relations with neighboring countries, I believe that it is first of all important to think about the kind of future we can build together, rather than what problems exist between us. Although there currently exist a variety of concerns relating to Japan-China relations, our relations can also pave the way to the future. We must keep this recognition firmly in mind. It is not as if the Japanese Archipelago will suddenly move elsewhere in five years’ or ten years’ time. The geography of East Asia will not change for a while. There are over a billion Japanese, Chinese, and South Korean people living here, and each of our countries must think about what we can do to foster peace and prosperity in this region.
Comfort women issue
Azumi, Freelance: I would like to ask about the comfort women issue. Firstly, earlier you said the important issue is what kind of future we build, but regarding the problem of the Japan-ROK relations, despite the fact that a final and irreversible agreement was reached at one point, the Republic of Korea is currently attempting to destroy this agreement. Furthermore your father, Mr. Yohei Kono, issued the Kono Statement and I feel that this, how can I put it, has been quite provocative or an obstacle to understanding between the two countries. How do you plan to handle this Statement?
Foreign Minister Kono: Japan’s position on the comfort women issue is as the Prime Minister expressed in his statement upon the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Moreover, there exists the Japan-ROK agreement, which both of our Governments have confirmed. There is nothing more for me to add. It is my hope that the Japan-ROK agreement is steadily implemented.
Sugimoto, Sankei Shimbun: I would also like to ask about the comfort women agreement. Minister, you stated that you would work hard for the Statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the Japan-ROK agreement but I would like to ask two questions about this. Firstly I would like to ask about the role played by the Statement of your father Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, and its impact and historical evaluation. In addition, in the press conference in which he announced the Kono Statement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono was asked whether there was forceful taking away of comfort women, and in response he said that is right, that is all that needs to be said. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga has stated that there is a large problem with this statement. May I ask how you evaluate it yourself?
Foreign Minister Kono: Japan’s position is represented by the statement made by Prime Minister upon the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which built on the various statements issued by previous Cabinets in the post-war period, and the Japan-ROK agreement. There is nothing for me to add.
Constitutional Amendment / Impression of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Koike, TV Asahi: I have two questions. About your previous statements, or I should rather say what you have written in your blog, firstly before you said you would work together with the office of the Prime Minister but regarding the problem of the Constitution in your own blog in June you stated that revision of the Constitution is not an urgent issue and that reforms to improve the potential growth rate of the economy and reforms of the social security system were more important political issues. My first question is what you think about the content of the constitutional amendments Prime Minister Abe is promoting and the schedule for those amendments. Secondly, in exactly the same blog you often criticized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying that in the past the Ministry had been insensitive to human rights and privacy. Please tell me what impression you have of the Ministry and how you intend to interact with it going forward.
Foreign Minister Kono: Constitutional amendment is something that is initiated by the legislative body and as a member of the administrative body, I would like to refrain from commenting. While I have expressed various views to date regarding MOFA, now, as the Minister in charge of MOFA, it is my responsibility to ensure that MOFA makes a positive impression and demonstrates that it is working hard. I intend to show everyone that MOFA is working hard. That is my responsibility and I thoroughly intend to fulfil this.
Zhang, China Youth Daily: I would like to ask two questions. Firstly, going forward what specific cooperation related to the One Belt, One Road Initiative will you advance based on the shared understanding at the Japan-China Summit Meeting in the G20 Summit in July? My second point is that the relations between the two countries are now on an improvement path. Please tell me how you will take the opportunities of the 45th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations and next year’s 40th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China to enhance understanding and improve feelings between the citizens of the two countries going forward.
Foreign Minister Kono: With the successive occurrence of the 45th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations and the 40th anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China, I will endeavor to build momentum for firmly fostering the friendly Japan-China relations. I am aware that China witnesses personnel affairs changes this year and that it may be difficult to accomplish immediate results. Nevertheless, I intend to take each opportunity that presents itself and carefully advance the Japan-China relations. Regarding your other question, I believe that advancing various matters in an open manner and in line with international conventions is a positive thing. I encourage the Chinese side as well to advance this initiative in a manner that is fully acceptable to the international community.
Disarmament and non-proliferation
Tanaka, Chugoku Shimbun: Minister, I understand that previously you have worked extremely passionately on disarmament and non-proliferation through the activities of the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. I would like to ask once again what stance you will adopt and what your basic thinking will be when tackling this area as minister going forward. In relation to this, recently the legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons was adopted, and it has content that denies nuclear deterrence measures. How do you react to its adoption? Also the government will start opening the treaty for signing in the autumn. Please tell me whether or not there is a possibility of you being involved in any way or signing it.
Foreign Minister Kono: I have made various commitments to nuclear disarmament to date through the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament and other parliamentary associations. The inhumanity of nuclear weapons is widely recognized around the world. It goes without saying that such weapons should not be used, but I also believe that they should not be used as threats either. It is therefore necessary to consider how to realistically reduce the threat of nuclear weapons to the human race. Regarding the drafting of a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, I believe that there is somewhat of a gap between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states. In the past, Japan supported the various initiatives promoted by the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament and I believe that we must think carefully about how to involve each and every nuclear-weapon state and non-nuclear-weapon state and ensure that together we move steadily towards the reduction of nuclear threats. As the only country to have ever suffered an atomic bombing, Japan must clearly state what it should state based on its experience. At the same time, it is necessary to move forward in a realistic and practical manner. I have long been involved in this issue and intend to consider various aspects of it going forward as well.
Kirill Agafonov, ITAR-TASS: The Abe administration is placing importance on development of the Japan-Russia relations. Will you continue that policy regarding the Japan-Russia relations? Furthermore, do you plan to hold a meeting with your Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov? Do you plan to meet with Minister Lavrov on the occasion of the ASEAN meetings in Manila?
Foreign Minister Kono: I believe that Japan and Russia share the recognition that we will resolve the issue of the attribution of the four islands and conclude a peace treaty. This is something that we must do. When the opportunity arises, I would like to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov and hold in-depth discussions with him on a variety of matters. It is essential that we advance the Japan-Russia relations, and I will endeavor to resolve the issue of the attribution of the four islands and conclude a peace treaty.
Middle East issues and acceptance of immigrants
Takemoto, Kyodo Press: Minister, in your opening remarks you stated your commitment to the Middle East. Currently opposition between forces close to Saudi Arabia and forces close to Iran is deepening in the Middle East. I think that perhaps Japan will need a lot of wisdom to deepen its commitment in this context. How do you picture the situation at the present time? In addition, there are large numbers of refugees, including internally displaced persons, immigrants, and evacuees in Syria. This has been a global problem. It was reported two years ago that you made a statement to the effect that perhaps Japan should actively consider accepting immigrants. Please tell us your thoughts regarding the acceptance of immigrants at the present time.
Foreign Minister Kono: I believe that there are many layers to the issues in the Middle East, such as the issues between the Arabs and the Israelis, and the issues between the Shias and the Sunnis, but Japan is in a unique position in that it is not involved in any of these layers. In addition, as an ally of the United States, Japan is able to hold in-depth dialogue with the United States. In light of this position, Japan cannot remain uninvolved. Setting aside the implications for Japan’s own energy concerns, given Japan’s position, I believe we must commit to doing what we can to address the complex issues in the Middle East. When the opening presents itself for Japan to demonstrate what it can do to contribute, we must firmly demonstrate our wisdom, leveraging the knowhow not only of MOFA, but also Japan’s Middle East experts and Japanese businesses that are active in the Middle East. We must think about what we can do as part of an all-Japan effort, while also leveraging the abilities of Japanese people working for international organizations. The Abe administration has taken the first step by accepting Syrian students into Japan. Japan is actively accepting Syrian people who will be able to play a part in the reconstruction of Syria once the civil war is over. I am aware that various issues exist as part of that process and believe that first of all it is important for Japan to carefully train and develop people who can contribute to the reconstruction of Syria. I intend to fully carry this out.
Japan-U.S. relations in the areas of climate change and the TPP
Akiyama, Mainichi Shimbun: You mentioned this in passing earlier, but regarding climate change and the TPP, since the Trump administration came to power the United States has moved to a policy of withdrawing from multiple agreements and I think this is a problem. Will you firstly please tell me a little about your thinking regarding the direction to take when Japan and the U.S. discuss these problems with each other going forward? Will you search for a new approach between Japan and the U.S. or will you make efforts to pull back to the former multilateral meetings?
Foreign Minister Kono: There is the Paris Agreement, which each country is aiming to implement, and which many states and municipalities in the United States have demonstrated their intention to fulfil. Thus I believe it is important for the international community to encourage the United States to recognize the importance of addressing climate change and acting together. With regard to the TPP, currently there is also talk of the TPP 11, but if the United States were to resume discussions then it would become the full TPP again. To be honest, I believe there are many related issues, such as the situation surrounding the Trump administration at present. I will not give up and intend to continue to work persistently and rigorously to address this matter.
Kubo, TBS: Minister, regarding relations with the Republic of Korea, you gave an extremely positive message in your opening remarks. On the other hand, despite the fact that Japan and ROK concluded a final and irreversible agreement and moreover despite the fact that the leaders of the two countries agreed to pursue a future-oriented approach, in the message coming out of the ROK at the current time there is a striking move towards bringing up past history once again. I think this issue will also be examined in the meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the ROK on the occasion of ASEAN. What kind of message would you like to transmit as minister in that forum? Furthermore, I think that basically the ROK constantly changes its demands regarding what Japan should do. I think that just saying this will not change the situation. What are your thoughts about how you can draw specific and positive moves out of the ROK?
Foreign Minister Kono: The Japan-ROK agreement was confirmed by both of our Governments and both sides understand that it should be steadily implemented. Japan hopes that the ROK will steadily implement the agreement. That is all there is to the matter.
Kubo, TBS: You will talk about this in the meeting with the Foreign Minister?
Foreign Minister Kono: It is as I have just explained.