Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Saturday, June 23, 2018, 4:45 p.m. Thimphu, Kingdom of Bhutan
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: This is the first Japan’s Ministerial level visit to Bhutan.. As Bhutan is a country that has traditionally amicable relations with Japan, as well as significant geopolitical importance, I intend to take this opportunity to further develop our bilateral relations. Bhutan will soon complete its 11th Five Year Plan and commence its 12th Five Year Plan. Japan will strongly support the economic and social development of Bhutan. We were able to talk about the details of our exchanges, including promotion of economic cooperation, supporting Bhutan’s efforts in Japanese language education while Bhutan is focusing on this area, as well as the construction of a judo hall.. Furthermore, in order to support the human resources development of Bhutan, we held a signing ceremony for the Project for Human Resource Development Scholarship, which is a grant aid project. I definitely intend to help train the outstanding young administrative officials of Bhutan so that they can advance their country’s nation-building and strengthen friendly relations with Japan. We also exchanged views about the North Korea issue and other regional situations. Regarding the North Korea situation, I conveyed to the Bhutan side that we have held various discussions in the Japan-U.S. and Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meetings in response to the U.S.-North Korea Summit Meeting. Then I asked for continued support and cooperation regarding the economic sanctions based on United Nations Security Council resolutions, and received understanding regarding the abductions issue as well. I also made a courtesy call to His Majesty the King and to His Majesty the Fourth King, and then held a variety of quite candid talks with His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen in a very private setting. Furthermore, while holding the earlier exchanges of views regarding the global situation with His Majesty the King, we had lunch, and I was truly given a warm welcome by the Royal Family. I hope to strongly develop these warm relations between Japan and Bhutan further going forward.
Reporter: I believe you touched upon this in your open remarks, but could you please give your candid impressions of your first visit to Bhutan as a minister of Japan?
Minister Kono: Mr. Nishioka, an expert in agriculture was dispatched to Bhutan in 1964, before diplomatic relations had been established, and subsequently lived in Bhutan for 28 years before passing away here in Bhutan. All of the people in Bhutan know Mr. Nishioka, who they call “Dasho Nishioka,” very well, so the human relationships between our two countries have been built steadily. Many members of the Imperial Family of Japan have also visited, and the current King of Bhutan also visited Fukushima after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Furthermore, many people in Bhutan recall the visit by Her Imperial Highness Princess Mako of Akishino very fondly, and there are extremely high-level human relationships between the Imperial Family and the Royal Family. I intend to strengthen the Japan-Bhutan relations even more. Moreover, I hope to cooperate with Bhutan in a variety of fields and strongly collaborate in international fora including the United Nations as well. Also, Japan will also strongly support the 12th Five Year Plan.
Reporter: Following this first visit, how do you specifically intend to develop the Japan-Bhutan relations going forward?
Minister Kono: Firstly, more than 700 Bhutanese students are in Japan currently. We are now steadily advancing preparations to start a proficiency test for the Japanese language in Bhutan, and I intend to strongly build these kinds of relationships between young people. Furthermore, we are constructing a judo hall, we have invited Bhutan’s Paralympic coaches to Japan, and in my hometown of Oiso, there are already three athletes from Bhutan training in track-and-field and archery while aiming to compete in the Olympics. I intend to strongly develop a variety of human relationships between Japan and Bhutan. Upon actually visiting Bhutan, I can see firsthand what a great country it is. In terms of human relations, there is a warmth and friendliness to the people of Bhutan. There is an excellent natural environment as well. I hope many people from Japan will come to visit Bhutan, and that not only Mr. Nishioka but also many Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers leave their mark on Bhutan in a variety of ways. I strongly hope that young Japanese people will learn more about Bhutan.
Reporter: At the same time, currently, Japan and Bhutan still do not have embassies in each other’s countries. What do you think about that situation? I think that some time ago there was momentum towards addressing this issue when the Government of Japan requested a budget to build an embassy. Please tell us the reason why an embassy has not yet been built.
Minister Kono: Japan has held thorough exchanges of views with Bhutan and preparations have been made by both countries. Our aim is to build both embassies at the same time, and move forward while continuing to engage in comprehensive exchanges of views about a variety of matters.
Reporter: Changing the topic a little, there was a situation last year in which tensions rose between Bhutan and China near their border, and India was also involved. Did you talk about that topic in the series of meetings this time? What does the Government of Japan, which places importance on the rule of law, think about the current situations in which China projects its power outside its borders?
Minister Kono: I held exchanges of views about the regional situation and international situation with a variety of people. Democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are already firmly established in Bhutan, so I think that Japan and Bhutan can cooperate in a variety of areas in the international arena and I intend to carefully strengthen our diplomatic relations.
Reporter: Today, the Memorial Ceremony to Commemorate the Fallen of Okinawa was held in Japan. Could you please share any thoughts you may have? Also, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has attended the Memorial Ceremony every year, but this time you decided not to attend. I think that one reason for this is that you were engaged in diplomatic activities but please tell us the reasons you did not attend.
Minister Kono: This time it was partly due to my diplomatic schedule, so State Minister for Foreign Affairs Masahisa Sato attended the Memorial Ceremony in Okinawa on my behalf. Okinawa is important geopolitically. At the same time, we have really placed a variety of impacts on Okinawa and caused trouble for all the residents of Okinawa since the war, so I think this current situation cannot be allowed to become entrenched as it is. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will undertake a variety of efforts and firstly I intend to steadily make progress toward ensuring that the operations of the U.S. Forces are being carried out safely, and that we can move toward alleviating the burden on Okinawa. There has also been the return of large bases, such as the return of the Northern Training Area, and I intend to continue to make strong efforts to alleviate the burden on all of the people of Okinawa going forward.
Reporter: In addition, regarding the Doklam incident, I think this was an event in which the rule of law was truly threatened. I think on your present tour in Indonesia and other places as well you will declare that Japan will support the rule of law at sea. Do you intend to support the rule of law with respect to Bhutan, which is on the front lines regarding the rule of law?Minister Kono: Regarding the fact that Bhutan made a variety of requests in the 12th Five Year Plan, I think that Japan will sincerely do what it can. The requests we are receiving at the present time are more concerned with matters such as hospitals, the provision of medical care, and human resources development. Japan will provide its thorough support based on the order of priority of the requests.