Press Conferences

Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono

Saturday, August 4, 2018, 7:02 p.m. Singapore

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

Opening Remarks

Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: The East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Ministerial Meeting were held today. I strongly advocated the position of the Government of Japan regarding regional security issues in particular and sought to strengthen the cooperation between Japan and the relevant countries.

With regard to North Korea, I urged for close coordination, including measures to tackle ship-to-ship transfers, towards the realization of North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of all weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and ballistic missiles of all ranges.

As for the South China Sea issue, I shared with other countries serious concerns over the situation, and I expressed strong opposition to attempts to unilaterally change the status quo and stated that such moves may undermine freedom of navigation.

I also urged that the efforts of ASEAN lead to the non-militarization of the site and to peaceful and open South China Sea.

In addition, I advocated for enhanced collaboration between Japan and the countries given that the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy promoted by Japan and the various visions relating to the Indo-Pacific of the relevant countries share common fundamental principles.

The ASEAN Plus Three (APT) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was also held. I expressed Japan’s appreciation for APT’s advancement of cooperation over 21 years and hoped for the swift conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations. I introduced Japan’s various initiatives, such as the Asia Health and Wellbeing Initiative (AHWIN).

Today, there were also bilateral meetings with the United States and Cambodia, as well as the Japan-U.S.-Australia ministerial meeting of the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (TSD).

At the Japan-U.S. meeting, we coordinated our policies regarding the North Korean issues and confirmed Japan-U.S. cooperation towards the realization of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. We furthermore exchanged views regarding regional affairs, among other matters.

At the TSD, we confirmed that we would cooperate towards the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific and work together closely on regional affairs including North Korea and the South China Sea. We also compiled a joint statement.

At the Japan-Cambodia meeting, we discussed mainly our bilateral relations in the future, taking into account last month’s general election in Cambodia. Hoping that the election last month would be conducted in a way that appropriately reflects the will of the people, Japan had extended necessary supports and reached out to the Government of Cambodia. I noted that the outcome of the election was regrettable, including the large number of invalid votes. I stated that Japan, as Cambodia’s friend, has supported its path towards reconstruction, development, and democratic advancement since the Cambodian peace process and that Japan hopes Cambodia would proceed along this path. I urged that the parties concerned with Cambodia’s domestic politics hold dialogues, protect the freedom and rights of the people of Cambodia and promote a democratic process so that all people unite and that the Government of Cambodia further strengthen its efforts to advance the development of the country. I stated that based on today’s meeting, we hope to continue to promote the Japan-Cambodia relations in an appropriate manner.

The series of ASEAN-related meetings have included five multilateral meetings, namely, the Japan-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the Japan-Mekong Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, the APT Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, the EAS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and the ARF Ministerial Meeting.

I have also held 14 bilateral and trilateral meetings combined, with Turkey, Iran, China, Brunei, Canada, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Viet Nam, Timor-Leste, Australia, EU, Indonesia, the U.S., Cambodia, and the TSD. Tomorrow morning, I am going to have a breakfast meeting with the Foreign Minister of Singapore.

Japan and ASEAN were able to agree on further deepening our friendship and cooperation as this year is the 45th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation.

Most countries made remarks regarding North Korea and the South China Sea at the respective meetings. I stated Japan’s position regarding regional affairs such as North Korea and the South China Sea as well as international affairs, and coordinated policies with many countries. We were also able to send out a strong message towards the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific based on the rule of law. I would not say all but many participating countries made remarks regarding the Indo-Pacific region.

Last year, I attended the ASEAN-related meetings in Manila on around my fourth day in office. I was meeting with most of the foreign ministers for the first time, and I was doing my best getting through the schedule while still learning the ropes. It has now been exactly one year since then. As I had already had several prior meetings with nearly all of the foreign ministers and worked together with them on various matters, it was very good that I was able to hold a range of discussions based on the personal relationship of trust that has been developed. It was very good that frank discussions were held with a variety of countries and sides regarding regional affairs, including Cambodia and Myanmar. I will now take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Reporter: I have a question regarding the Japan-Cambodia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. What was Cambodia’s reaction to the requests made by Japan?

Minister Kono: They stated the official view of the Government of Cambodia, and we noted that it was slightly different from the view of the Government of Japan. I will not disclose what we stated, but we as a friend of Cambodia conveyed the view of the Government of Japan directly to our counterparts. We stated our view directly in a clear manner.

Reporter: Will this difference in views not become a problem going forward?

Minister Kono: I stated that we need to consider the Japan-Cambodia relations going forward, and we would like Cambodia to take measures to bring the country fully together and ensure that the Cambodian people can be united once again, rather than just being satisfied with the conclusion of the election.

Reporter: Today, there were many multilateral meetings in particular. The Government has consistently advocated that the sanctions against North Korea be maintained and implemented so as not to provide for loopholes. If there is cooperation among the countries, what are your thoughts on what made this possible?

Minister Kono: The Foreign Minister of North Korea is here and held a number of formal bilateral meetings. Throughout the day today, I had an opportunity to hold talks with many of the foreign ministers who held bilateral meetings with North Korea, and it appears many foreign ministers sent virtually the same message to North Korea. I believe the countries’ message has been fully conveyed to North Korea that the international community urges North Korea to take firm steps towards the CVID of WMDs and missiles in accordance with the relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Throughout the day today, in a variety of formats, the foreign ministers and I reached a shared view that at this stage it is critical that the international community make efforts to fully prevent loopholes, including ship-to-ship transfers, and fully implement the UNSC resolutions.

Reporter: You had contact with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho yesterday. At today’s Japan-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, you stated that Japan will use a variety of means to resolve the abductions issue, including direct talks with North Korea. Based on yesterday, how does the Government intend to make contact with North Korea? What level of contact is the Government seeking and how will it go about realizing this?

Minister Kono: We have communication with North Korea at a variety of levels, and yesterday’s informal talks are no different. The Government of Japan hopes to resolve the various issues. Nothing has changed since the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration which expressed our position to promote the normalization of bilateral relations, and the Government continues to deal with the issue appropriately.

Reporter: Some media outlets have reported that you proposed direct talks between Prime Minister Abe and Chairman Kim Jong-un to Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at yesterday’s Japan-North Korea foreign ministerial informal talks.

Minister Kono: It is an erroneous report. It is completely false.

Reporter: Did you shake hands or speak with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho today during the retreat session of the ARF or any other occasion?

Minister Kono: No I did not.

Reporter: The North Korean delegation that is attending the meetings gave the names of seven countries that it met with yesterday. Japan is not included, and it explained that it only had contact with Japan, indicating its view that concrete discussions were not held. What is your view concerning North Korea’s understanding?

Minister Kono: It is the same as ours. It is not included in the number of Japan’s bilateral meetings as well.

Reporter: I would like to confirm a point with you regarding the Cambodian election. When you say Cambodia expressed its official view, does this mean it stated its principle position that a free and fair election was conducted?

Minister Kono: It stated the principle position of the Government of Cambodia.

Reporter: Earlier you stated that the countries sent out the same message to North Korea. What are your thoughts on how this was tied to the various meetings you have held with each country? You have held a series of meetings. Do you consider that your message has been communicated to the countries?

Minister Kono: The international community has a common view regarding the implementation of UNSC resolutions. Furthermore, the countries that held talks with North Korea sent out a coordinated message to North Korea.

Reporter: You met with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho last year as well. With one year having passed since you took office, did you notice any change this year in the facial expression or attitude of Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho?

Minister Kono: I stated everything there is to say about the Japan-North Korea relations yesterday. I have no further comments.

Reporter: You expressed your determination regarding the abductions issue during your talks with Secretary of State Pompeo today. What was the response and view of Secretary Pompeo?

Minister Kono: We discussed not only the abductions issue but also a variety of issues.

Reporter: In response, did Secretary Pompeo state that the U.S. support or share the same view?

Minister Kono: Japan and the U.S. have consistently worked together closely, and this has not changed.

Reporter: I would like to return to the topic of Cambodia. The Government has taken the approach of refraining from commenting on internal affairs on occasions such as the press conferences of the Chief Cabinet Secretary. What led to the Government’s decision this time to make its position clear to Cambodia at this timing?

Minister Kono: These meetings provided an opportunity to meet directly with high-level officials of Cambodia at this timing. Japan has made various efforts and reached out to the Government of Cambodia to ensure that the recent election be conducted in a way that clearly reflects the will of the people. Perhaps it is not appropriate to announce the view of Japan regarding the general election. We nonetheless felt it was necessary to clearly communicate our view directly to Cambodia, and as Cambodia was attending these meetings, we held a foreign ministers’ meeting.

Reporter: You stated that policies regarding North Korea were coordinated at the Japan-U.S. bilateral meeting. Specifically, what did the two sides coordinate with respect to the implementation of sanctions going forward and on when and what form of denuclearization would be realized?

Minister Kono: There is nothing significantly different from the policies up to now. We coordinated concrete actions that will be taken, including measures to tackle ship-to-ship transfers.

Reporter: What about sanctions?

Minister Kono: It remains unchanged that the international community will continue to cooperate in fully implementing the UNSC resolutions.

Reporter: Today, at the Japan-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, you expressed strong determination to utilize all possible means to resolve the abductions issue. During your contact with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho yesterday, did you sense any indication of progress towards the resolution of this issue? What is your evaluation of your contact with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho?

Minister Kono: I will not say anything beyond what I stated yesterday.

Reporter: The TSD statement mentions that the Japanese, U.S., and Australian ministers called on the international community to maintain pressure on North Korea. A similar agreement was not reached between Japan and the U.S.?

Minister Kono: This was a statement issued by Japan, the U.S., and Australia, so it was approved by the three countries.

Reporter: There was no agreement of this kind between Japan and the U.S.?

Minister Kono: We did not issue a statement on the Japan-U.S. meeting.

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