Press Conferences

Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono

Tuesday, December 19, 2017, 10:38 a.m. Front Entrance Hall, Prime Minister’s Office

This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only.

Opening Remarks

Introduction of a Foreign Minister’s Plane

Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: In the five years since January 2013, Japan’s Foreign Ministers, including my predecessor Minister Kishida and myself, have visited a total of 97 countries. During the same period, meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, for example, has visited a total of 262 countries. This is almost three times as many countries. Given the fundamental difference in the starting point whereby Japan’s Foreign Minister has responsibilities at the Diet while China’s Foreign Minister does not, I believe the time has come to seriously consider ways of resolving this discrepancy. Another reality is that Japan no longer provides outstanding amounts ODA, as it did in past years, and China’s investments and assistance in Africa and other locations is well above levels from Japan. In this context and with such a large discrepancy in the number of visits by the Foreign Ministers, I believe it is necessary to consider doing something about the situation. Setting aside the matter of responsibilities at the Diet, we need to take a serious look at improving the logistics efficiency.

For example, when flying to island countries on private-sector commercial routes, we have to return to hub locations each time. This makes it very difficult to travel to all of the island countries. Using a dedicated plane where necessary would be extremely helpful for increasing the number of countries visited. I also believe it is important to seriously consider ways to enhance flexibility, so as to be able to respond to various schedule changes and other circumstances. When visiting the Middle East, for example, there are sometimes sudden requests for a meeting from a member of the royal family, or meetings of Foreign Ministers of Arab countries might be suddenly arranged, as in the recent case with the Jerusalem situation. I believe, in such situations, the need for the Foreign Minister and related staff to only use private-sector commercial flights when moving around becomes a major hindrance to Japan’s national interests. We need to seriously consider various options, such as buying a dedicated plane, renting or leasing a plane, or paying to rent a business jet owned by Japanese companies that is not being utilized.

I believe journalists who have accompanied me on past foreign trips understand my point. It is extremely regrettable with media reports that ridicule this suggestion as seen in today’s Sankei Shimbun. It is unbelievable to me that the media would use “scrounging for” and other ridiculing language at a time when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working hard as a team to find ways to increase the number of countries visited and meetings held as much as possible while reducing costs within the Ministry’s limited core budget with the aim of strengthening national interests. If the commentary is being written with a genuine understanding of its meaning, I find it questionable from an ethical standpoint, and if it was not fully understood, then I question the ability of the person who wrote it. The Ministry has put considerable effort into obtaining this year’s core budget to support its diplomatic activities that advance Japan’s national interests. It was willing to reduce ODA spending in order to obtain a core budget that ensures that sufficient diplomacy can be carried out from 2018 as well. We wanted to clearly communicate this point.

Japan-Republic of Korea Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

Reporter: Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Kang Kyung-wha is visiting Japan today and you will be holding a Foreign Ministers’ Meeting later. Please share any outcomes you are hoping to achieve.

Minister Kono: As neighbors, the Japan-ROK relations are very important. I hope to discuss ways to enhance the Japan-ROK relations and manage issues between our countries with Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

Reporter: The ROK side is reviewing the Japan-ROK agreement regarding the comfort women issue and the negotiations process. It appears to be planning to disclose results from the review within the year. I imagine that you will receive an explanation of where things stand with the review in today’s meeting. How do you plan to approach this matter?

Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from making any speculative comments about what might be explained at the meeting. As to the Japan-ROK agreement, both governments agreed that it was a final and irreversible agreement, so I do not expect any problems on this point. I would like the ROK Government to faithfully implement the agreement.

Reporter: Regarding explanations of requisition of labor workers at the Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution, such as Gunkanjima, the ROK side is asking Japan to promptly take measures to reminisce about forced labor. I expect that this issue will be discussed at today’s Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ meeting. What response should Japan take?

Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from making any speculative comments about what might be discussed at today’s meeting.

Reporter: I have a related question. What is your view regarding whether or not forced labor took place at the sites, such as Gunkanjima?

Minister Kono: I believe a survey of primary materials is currently taking place and the Japanese Government will provide a thorough explanation of the sites via the center that is to be established in 2019 and other means.

Introduction of a Foreign Minister’s Plane

Reporter: Regarding the dedicated plane, around when do you plan to deploy it? Do you have a specific timeframe in mind at this point?

Minister Kono: We intend to review the best method as part of the next budget request process. When Foreign Ministers travel, staff, security personnel, and others accompany us. I think a variety of methods exist to ensure efficient and effective travel while lowering costs. Cooperation from private-sector companies is a possibility as well. We want to look at various options.

Japan-Republic of Korea Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

Reporter: I expect that North Korea will of course be a topic in the meeting with Minister Kang Kyung-wha. You just presided over the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Ministerial Meeting on this subject. Also, the ROK side visited China and met with President Xi Jinping. In light of this, what type of discussion do you expect to conduct?

Minister Kono: We will naturally exchange views on North Korea, and I hope that we can align our views and apply firm pressure with the aim of denuclearizing North Korea.

Release of the US National Security Strategy

Reporter: The United States released its National Security Strategy today. The emphasis is a strong America. What is your assessment?

Minister Kono: I believe that the United States will exercise its leadership and thoroughly protect the firm international order.

Arrest of Foreign Journalists by the Myanmar Government

Reporter: Two Reuters’ journalists were arrested in Myanmar last week on suspicion of violating the Official Secrets Act. The United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries are calling for their immediate release. Do you have any comments on this situation? Does the Japanese Government plan to raise this matter in its contact with the Myanmar Government?

Minister Kono: The Japanese Government will carefully monitor the situation based on its belief that freedom of the press is very important for the protection of fundamental human rights.

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