Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Thursday, November 2, 2017, 3:37 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) Remarks upon Reappointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I am Taro Kono and I have just been reappointed as Foreign Minister in the 4th Abe Cabinet. I look forward to working with you.
As I have explained previously, I want to continue to focus on six priority areas.
The first is strengthening the Japan-US Alliance as the security environment surrounding Japan, including the North Korea issue, is becoming increasingly severe.
The second is bolstering cooperative ties with neighboring countries, including China, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and Russia.
The third is moving forward as a proponent of free trade amid the emergence of protectionist trends.
The fourth is firmly addressing global issues, such as disarmament and climate change.
The fifth is contributing further to peace and stability in the Middle East.
The sixth is ensuring that the Indo-Pacific region remains free and open as a global commons.
I intend to emphasize these areas in pursuing foreign policy.
(2) Attendance at the APEC Da Nang Ministerial Meeting in Vietnam
Minister Kono: I will attend the APEC Ministerial Meeting being held in Da Nang, Vietnam on November 7 and 8. I look forward to seeing all of you there.
I hope to deliver a message of taking the lead in promoting free trade in APEC, based on the outcomes of the G7 and G20 meetings, at the APEC Ministerial Meeting.
I will hold bilateral meetings with chair Vietnam and other participating countries, and intend to exchange views broadly on international affairs.
Visit by US President Trump
Yomiuri Shimbun, Goto: President Trump will visit Japan from November 5. I assume that discussions at the Japan-US Summit Meeting on November 6 will touch upon security and economic areas. What outcomes are you anticipating in terms of security and foreign policy?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from commenting about outcomes at this stage because the schedule details and other aspects are still being coordinated.
Asahi Shimbun, Tajima: I have a related question. President Trump and Prime Minister Abe are planning to play golf together. While some observers suggest that this could strengthen trust between the two leaders, others are critical of playing golf amid tensions in the situation relating to North Korea. What are your thoughts about the significance of golf diplomacy?
Minister Kono: As Foreign Minister, I have found that in my many bilateral and multilateral meetings with the Foreign Ministers of other countries, ultimately human relationships are extremely important. I cannot share specific cases but, for example, with the draft resolution on nuclear disarmament recently submitted by Japan, I felt in telephone talks and other interactions that personal relations in some respect were a key factor in getting some counterparts to change their attitude toward Japan’s resolution. At the Foreign Ministers’ level as well, I believe whether or not good personal relations exist is very important in determining how smoothly matters progress.
I think the relationship between top leaders in terms of the extent of trust they have at the personal level, is even more likely to strongly influence various matters.
I meet with Foreign Ministers from a variety of countries. For example, the Tunisian Foreign Minister will be coming today and I recently met with the Foreign Minister from the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On these occasions, I try as much as possible to have a dinner or lunch together. Whether it is dinner or golf, if there is time, the main point is building trust. I expect the two leaders to discuss a variety of matters on the golf course.
If Japan or the Japanese Prime Minister curtailed their behavior because North Korea might launch a missile or conduct a nuclear test, it would mean that we were capitulating to the threat. I do not see any problem with playing a round of golf given Japan’s robust crisis management structure.
Speech by a Japanese Atomic Bombing Victim at the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony
Freelance, Kamide: This is related to nuclear disarmament, which you touched upon briefly in the opening sentence. Japan opposes the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. At the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) there will be a speech by a Japanese atomic bombing victim. Some people in Hiroshima are very pleased with this opportunity. Please explain your thoughts, as Foreign Minister, about the fact that a Japanese atomic bombing victim will deliver a speech at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony.
Minister Kono: I think it is extremely important to inform people about what happened in Hiroshima. It is very valuable to communicate the experiences of war and nuclear weapons to the next generation, which never experienced war, including myself. To that end, we strongly encouraged former President Barack Obama to visit Hiroshima. The Japanese Government is highly pleased with the fact that atomic bombing survivors have opportunities to explain their experience in various fora.
RIA Novosti Press, Naka: I have a question about the Japan-Russia relations. Please explain any future plans, including a possible visit by you to Russia. Recently, some progress can be seen with regard to the joint economic activities. Could you share your thoughts on this as well?
Minister Kono: I would like to visit Russia as soon as possible in November or December. I need to consult about and reach decisions on various matters with various counterparts, including Foreign Minister Lavrov, and at a meeting of the Japan-Russia Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Issues, and hope to make such consultations at an early timing.
Based on the results of the field surveys, discussions between the co-chairs of the working groups regarding the way forward and other matters will take place today and tomorrow. I hope that the working groups too will make swift progress. I have heard that the surveys were very meaningful.
Visit by US President Trump to Japan
Kyodo Press, Fukuda: You said that you could not comment on the meeting outcomes but please offer your thoughts about the significance of reconfirming the bonds between Japan and the United States at this timing.
Minister Kono: With the North Korea crisis, President Trump has already stated that Japan and the United States are together 100% and this stance has not wavered by even a single millimeter. The entire U.S. Government, including Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis, have maintained a consistent stance. A visit by the leader of our ally in this context sends a message to the world in a variety of ways that the bonds of the Japan-US Alliance are extremely robust.
NHK, Ishii: I have a related question. President Trump will be visiting Asia, his first trip to the region. His stops include Japan and then the ROK, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. What do you see as the significance of this trip?
Minister Kono: The United States spoke about a pivot to Asia during President Obama’s tenure. Setting aside whether “Asia pivot” is the right term or not, I believe the new administration continues to recognize the importance of Asia and President Trump’s trip demonstrates the administration’s focus on the region. Japan is calling for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” extending from Africa, a region with significant potential for growth, through the Near and Middle East and India and across the Pacific Ocean to the United States, to be a global commons, that is open to all countries, as a driver of further economic development. Japan and the United States will continue to take steps to firmly support this initiative.
“Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”
Jiji Press, Otsu: I have a question related to the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” which you just mentioned. You stated that this area should be a global commons. Could you explain whether a joint message on this will be delivered once again at the Japan-US Summit Meeting? Could you also please explain once again the significance of holding strategic dialogue at the Summit level among Japan, the United States, Australia, and India as a specific example of such collaboration?
Minister Kono: I think it is still too early to talk about the outcomes of the Summit Meeting as coordination is still taking place on specific topics of discussion and outcomes.
The “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” contributes to the economic advancement of all countries. It involves cooperation among many countries, including coastal countries and the United States, in anti-piracy measures, ensuring the rule of law, and disaster prevention. Japan will make efforts to ensure that these goals can be accomplished.
We are currently engaged in discussions of trade and other matters through Japan-US-India and Japan-US-Australia frameworks and hope to arrange discussions among Japan, the United States, Australia, and India in some type of format at some point. Since the United States withdrew from the TPP, Japan thinks that it is important to continue to promote the importance of free trade in the Asia-Pacific region, centered on Japan, the United States, and Australia. Furthermore, Japan considers it to be essential, together with Australia, to appeal to the United States to return to the TPP.
For the Japan-US-India framework, infrastructure is a key issue and a high speed rail project will be starting soon. We aim to discuss the importance of infrastructure in Asia.
Nikkei, Hayashi: This is related to the previous question. I think a framework of Japan, the United States, Australia, and India might send a message that aggravates China. What are your thoughts about this aspect?
Minister Kono: This format is not at all focused on China. First, with regard to free trade, which I just mentioned, the question is how to achieve free trade in the region and I imagine that India is likely to ultimately join at a future stage. In the Japan-US-India format, we are looking at infrastructure and how to respond to extensive demand for infrastructure in Asia and with what arrangements. This also entails ensuring that quality infrastructure becomes the international standard. Such talks are certainly necessary.
Reflections on Experience as Minister for Foreign Affairs
NHK, Tsuji: You assumed your post on August 3 and have been reappointed. It has been three months. I think a personal “Kono” style should naturally emerge as you continue to serve as Foreign Minister. As you mentioned at the outset, you have participated in many Foreign Ministers’ Meetings over the past three months. What are your feelings about the job of Minister for Foreign Affairs after three months? Has it been different to how you imagined? What are your impressions?
Minister Kono: I have realized that personal relations are even more important than I had originally anticipated. It has become very clear to me that diplomacy ultimately comes down to people. This is evident in the relations between Foreign Ministers, counterpart governments and our ambassadors, our government and ambassadors of counterpart countries, and the various senior officials and others at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Looking at meetings conducted at various levels, you can see how getting along well strongly affects matters. I thus believe that building personal relations is extremely important.
Another point is the need for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to modernize further given advances in internationalization and use of ICT. For example, the number of visa applications is increasing at an explosive rate. Immigration control is currently under considerable pressure amid growing needs. Visas, the prior stage, are facing a similar situation if things stay the same. During the recent general election, it appears that the overseas voting process was rather difficult. Perhaps because I wrote something in my blog, there have been many comments about difficulty voting, inability to vote, and the need for something to be done. I spoke to Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Noda about the importance of making efforts to ensure that people are able to vote online by the next House of Councillors’ election. While I cannot say for certain at this moment whether this will be accomplished, this should be our aim. Minister Noda actually thinks online voting is important in Japan too, as well and we spoke about the Ministry of Foreign Affairs taking part in a forum being organized by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and also the possibility of a test with overseas voting. I think it is vital to steadily incorporate such new types of technology. Telephone talks are truly conducted by phone, but throughout the world people are using Skype and video conferencing. While in some ways this might make things less relaxed because you can see the other person’s expressions and you would have to wear a tie during the call, I think technology could be used in a variety of ways. In foreign policy, there are traditional elements that have been maintained over the past years but there is also room for new technologies. I think various things can be done, perhaps at a foundational level.