Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Friday, April 20, 2018, 8:50 a.m. Front Entrance Hall, Prime Minister’s Office
(1) Visit of Minister for Foreign Affairs Kono to Canada, Switzerland, and Belgium
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I am going to visit Canada, Switzerland, and Belgium from April 21 to April 25.
In Toronto, Canada, I am planning to attend the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, where I intend to hold honest exchanges of views about urgent issues faced by the international community, such as North Korea, Syria, terrorism and violent extremism and about the regional situation, and to confirm cooperation with the G7 as a driving force of the international order.
Furthermore, I plan to take that opportunity to hold bilateral meetings with Mr. Heiko Maas, who was recently appointed the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany, and others.
After that, in Geneva, Switzerland, I plan to attend the Statement at the General Debate of the Second Session of the Preparatory Committee of Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference, etc. and input the recommendations of the “Group of Eminent Persons for Substantive Advancement of Nuclear Disarmament.” Furthermore, I plan to hold candid exchanges of views regarding maintenance and strengthening of the NPT regime with Mr. Adam Bugaiski, the Chair of the Second Session of the Preparatory Committee, and in addition, to take that opportunity to meet with Mr. Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva.
After that, in Brussels, Belgium, I plan to attend the Brussels conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” (Brussels 2), communicate the initiatives of Japan with respect to the Syrian issue, and hold exchanges of views regarding the Syrian situation with the foreign ministers of the concerned countries, etc.
(2) Administrative streamlining, etc. at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Minister Kono: Furthermore, from this visit, we are significantly simplifying the task of logistics of the Foreign Minister’s overseas visit to date. I would like you to ask the administrative staff about the details of this simplification.
Also, as it was clear that the maternity leave regulations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were unreasonable, we revised the maternity leave regulations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Please ask the administrative staff about the details of this as well.
Furthermore, we will consider making the entire Ministry building itself smoke-free as quickly as possible. I plan to ban all smoking, including cigarettes and electronic cigarettes, in all areas inside the building. I am planning to set up smoking areas outside the building for people who wish to smoke cigarettes, but I think this will have an impact on everyone, in particular the Kasumi Club, so I ask for your cooperation.
G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting
Reporter: I would like to ask a question about the G7. Including the establishment of an international framework for identifying people who have used chemical weapons, what kinds of proposals does Japan plan to make?
Minister Kono: Japan has proposed in the Security Council an extension of the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), particularly in Syria, but this proposal was rejected. Presently the OPCW is carrying out the investigation and the OPCW investigation will lead to identification of the types of chemical weapons, but the reality is that it is quite difficult to identify the user of the weapons.
Japan believes that the use of chemical weapons must not be accepted, is totally unacceptable and the persons who used them should be punished, so I think it is necessary to make this mechanism permanent in order to improve its effectiveness, and I intend to take every opportunity at the G7, etc. to strongly state this assertion of Japan, in an effort to realize this kind of permanent mechanism.
Administrative Streamlining, etc. at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Reporter: What were you were referring to earlier when you mentioned the simplification of visits to countries and what are the aims of the series of Ministry of Foreign Affairs reforms?
Minister Kono: Explaining in an easy to understand way, using examples, there are boxes colloquially referred to as pigeonholes with letters to various people and they are still installed even now. However, most documents are handled with email, so I wonder if that kind of thing is really necessary.
Also from last time, I decided that the logistics book which records the logistics of the foreign minister with bizarre levels of detail in not necessary. I think that even if the travel of the foreign minister is delayed to some extent it is not that big a deal, so I intend to make it unnecessary to gather together an unnecessary number of people from the nearby diplomatic missions for the foreign minister’s trips and so on.
The number of staff in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also limited, so in order to enable them to focus on administration, their core function, I intend to say that it is acceptable to have some degree of inconvenience on the foreign minister’s trips as long as there is no impact on the substance At any rate, I intend to engage in bold and wide-ranging administrative streamlining.
Reporter: Regarding the smoking ban, I think that previously you moved to ban smoking in Liberal Democratic Party meetings as well, but can you please tell us the aim of moving to ban smoking once again at this time?
Minister Kono: I think that as we approach the Tokyo Olympics a variety of studies regarding smoking will be carried out going forward, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already invited a large number of guests from foreign countries to the buildings of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Speaking in terms of global trends, obviously it is not very good that the smoking rooms inside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are filled with billowing smoke, and the people who come out of the smoking rooms sometimes impose the effect of cigarettes on the people around them for a period of time, so I intend to strongly lead the trend in the world today, although this will mean asking smokers to accept a slight loss of freedom.
Reporter: Regarding the sexual harassment issue that is occurring at the Ministry of Finance, I think gender issues are one of the major themes at the G7 as well. In that context, what do you think about the fact that Minister of Finance Taro Aso and Deputy Vice Minister Koji Yano, who are in the same administration as you, are repeatedly making states that trample the status of women?
Minister Kono: Gender issues are being raised in a variety of places, including in sumo wrestling, and these kinds of issues are part of a strong global trend, so I think it is necessary for Japan to strongly address these issues as well.
Reporter: I think it is unacceptable to raise these issues globally but remain silent about the issues occurring in the same administration as you. What do you think about that point?
Minister Kono: I am properly issuing instructions to ensure that such things do not happen at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I intend to provide strong guideline to ensure that such issues do not occur at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Visits to Yasukuni Shrine
Reporter: Yasukuni Shrine’s Annual Spring Festival is starting. Do you intend to visit the shrine and make a “sakaki” tree offering?
Minister Kono: No.
Reporter: You mean the same as every year?
Minister Kono: Yes, I have not done that before either.
NPT Review Conference Preparatory Committee
Reporter: I think it is quite rare for ministers to attend the NPT Preparatory Committee. What role do you think this will play presently, when there are still tensions between the superpowers the United States and Russia?
Minister Kono: I intend to work hard to ensure that Japan can strongly build bridges between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states and between divided non-nuclear-weapon states.
North Korea Situation (Establishment by the Security Council of a New Committee for Denuclearization)
Reporter: There have been media reports that the governments of both Japan and the United States are considering the establishment of a new committee for nuclear waste systems in the Security Council aimed at the denuclearization of North Korea. Please tell us the relevant facts.
Minister Kono: I think there is nothing specific yet.