Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Friday, August 31, 2018, 12:16 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) Foreign Minister Kono’s Visit to 3 Caucasus Countries and Germany
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: From September 2-7, I am going to visit Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Germany.
In Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, I plan to pay courtesy calls and hold talks with each country’s government officials, including their presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, etc.
I heard that this will be the first visit by a Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs to Armenia and Georgia. It seems this will be the first such visit in 19 years to Azerbaijan since Foreign Minister Komura’s visit. I intend to further reinforce the relations through my visits to each country and also to bolster Japanese initiatives in the Caucasus region.
In Germany, in addition to paying a courtesy call to Chancellor Merkel and holding a talk with Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Maas, I plan to attend a meeting of the CDU/CSU parties.
(2) Grand Opening of Japan House London
Minister Kono: The Grand Opening ceremony of Japan House London, which opened in June this year, is planned for September 13.
His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge is planning to attend this ceremony. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso is planning to attend from Japan.
At the Grand Opening ceremony, a presentation is planned to be made on the “Japan-UK Season of Culture” to be held during the period starting at the Rugby World Cup 2019 and ending at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
(3) Appointment of the Secretary in Charge of the Promotion of Summer Vacation Tabi-Regi Registration and the Campaign using Social Media and More
Minister Kono: Kendo Kobayashi has been appointed Secretary in Charge of the Promotion of Summer Vacation Tabi-Regi Registration. Today is the last day, and the number as of this afternoon was 497,634 people, just under 2,400 people reached the status of Ambassador, and I hope they work hard on this. Registration for Tabi-Regi is effective as a safety measure overseas, so I would certainly like everyone traveling overseas to register.
(4) Request to Japanese Nationals to Not Visit North Korea
Minister Kono: The Government of Japan is now requesting Japanese nationals to refrain from traveling to North Korea. Although this is a voluntary request, I would certainly like to ask for your understanding for the reason the Government of Japan is making such a request. We do not have diplomatic relations with North Korea or a consulate there, so if an incident or accident were to occur, it is expected that the Government of Japan would not be able to quickly respond. Thus, we are requesting Japanese nationals to abide by our request for refraining from traveling to North Korea.
Russia’s Military Exercise in The Far East
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: Recently, the Government of Russia announced that it would implement its annual large-scale military exercise in the country’s Far East. The time period for the military exercise coincides exactly with Prime Minister Abe’s planned visit to Russia. I would like to ask for your thoughts regarding the holding of such a large-scale military exercise near Japan during that time period, as well as regarding the fact that China will participate for the first time in the military exercise during that period.
Minister Kono: Japan will closely monitor Russia’s military exercise. We recognize that the security environment surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly severe, and will firmly pay attention to various developments.
2019 Ministry of Foreign Affairs Budget Request
Mainichi Shimbun, Tanabe: There was an announcement on the budget. The previous budget announcement came soon after your appointment to Minister for Foreign Affairs, so you were not able to show your individuality much. How do you evaluate the budget this time? Please include your thoughts on the increased amount of ODA and appropriation for charter flights.
Minister Kono: Amidst the extremely severe financial situations, the budget related to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has appropriately undergone a careful examination.
I hope to use a private Cabinet Minister airplane for Foreign Ministers’ overseas trips if possible, but due to financial restraints, etc., we are asking the increase in the budget for charter flights next fiscal year.
In addition, currently experts are holding discussions regarding themes such as the way to use ODA, its efficacy, including whether to utilize e international organizations, a different method, or JICA. We will increase consideration of the way to use ODA.
On the other hand, in view of the fact that the United States has frozen funds for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and the growing humanitarian issues that the number of refugees has reached its highest level in the postwar period, I believe that Japan must appropriate the necessary budget for a firm response in the areas that it must act. We are going to have discussions on this going forward with the financial affairs authorities toward December.
Asahi Shimbun, Tajima: You mentioned charter flights just now, which will receive a considerably increased amount. The explanation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that the amount was calculated on the basis of your overseas trips, and you do rank as top class among successive generations of Ministers of Foreign Affairs for the considerable amount of times you have gone on trips. However, frankly speaking, we do not know who will be Minister for Foreign Affairs next fiscal year, so do you have any concern that the budget request could become excessive?
Minister Kono: The explanation was that the amount is based on my overseas trips as Minister for Foreign Affairs, but it is likely that the next Minister for Foreign Affairs will also use this as a basis.
As international issues increase amidst the progression of internationalization, I believe that diminishing the role of Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs to the minimum level and decreasing his or her overseas trips would weaken Japan’s diplomatic influence. Going forward, I believe that regardless of who becomes Minister for Foreign Affairs, decreasing below the current level would be impossible.
Announcement of the Concluding Observations on the Periodic Reports of Japan by the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
NHK, Ishii: Regarding the comfort women issue, the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has issued its recommendation that Japan’s initiatives for comfort women are insufficient. The Government of Japan has made efforts to seek understanding until now, so what are your thoughts on the issuance of such a report and the reaction that there has been insufficient understanding?
Minister Kono: It is clear that this is not an appropriate matter for the Committee to address, and that this has happened repeatedly affects the meaning of the existence of this Committee, I believe.
NHK, Ishii: In that case, what response will be taken?
Minister Kono: The UN Secretary-General and the President of the UN General Assembly have enthusiastically spoken about UN reform and revitalization. Amidst this, I believe the necessary reform includes precisely concentrating on the mandate of this Committee and holding firm discussions.
NHK, Ishii: What are your thoughts on the reaction to the comfort women issues themselves?
Minister Kono: What is required in this issue is that Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) exert all efforts to firmly implement the Japan-ROK agreement regarding comfort women.
Questions Regarding the Detainment of a Japanese National by North Korea
Kyodo News, Ikeda: I would like to ask about the recent detainment of a Japanese national by North Korea. At a recent press conference, you stated that the Government of Japan will question the detained Japanese national himself about the circumstances. Did the Government of Japan question him about the circumstances after that?
Minister Kono: He was questioned on the circumstances.
Kyodo News, Ikeda: What did you learn about his actions that prompted his detainment, and about the conditions during his detainment?
Minister Kono: There were questions on various subjects, but I would like to refrain from speaking about the content as it is not appropriate to be made public.
Kyodo News, Ikeda: Is it correct to consider that the questioning has already finished?
Minister Kono: He was questioned.
Visit by Foreign Minister Kono to Three Caucasus Countries
Hokkaido Shimbun, Togame: I would like to ask about your trip to three Caucasus countries. What is your evaluation of this region and what kind of relations would you like to build in the medium- and long-term?
Minister Kono: The region is the core of the junction connecting Asia and Europe, and also opens a window into the Islamic region, the Middle East region of Iran and Turkey. Because of this, I believe it will become extremely important in a geopolitical sense going forward.
In that sense, although the current situation will probably not mean the Caucasus region in general, Japan will work to enhance the bilateral relations with each of these three countries in the region. In particular, as I will hold a meeting within the framework of GUAM+1 (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) at the UN General Assembly, I would like to firmly show this initiative to receive the cooperation of these three countries.
FY2019 Ministry of Foreign Affairs Budget Request
Tokyo Shimbun, Osugi: Regarding the budget request, rather than the diplomacy schedule, many international conferences will be held in Japan next year, and the Tokyo Olympic Games will be held the year after next, so there will be increased opportunities for many foreign officials to visit Japan in the next two years. Can you explain the views of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this point?
Minister Kono: There will also be the G20 Summit and the Emperor Enthronement Ceremony, as well as the World Cup, so I believe that many foreign officials will visit Japan for these. Thus, we will seek to arrange summit meetings as well as foreign ministers’ meetings in conjunction during these short time periods.
Because we must hold meetings during such short periods of time, the burden placed on various departments will probably increase. However, because this is an excellent opportunity, we will work precisely and earnestly. Regarding reception, we have made a budget request so we can firmly accomplish this, and we would like to firmly respond.
North Korea Situation (Progress of Denuclearization)
NHK, Ishii: Regarding the denuclearization of North Korea, recently U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo cancelled his visit to North Korea, and I believe during the period since then various exchanges have taken place between the United States and North Korea and they are continuing now. It has been assessed that so-called denuclearization is not progressing so what is your reaction? Also, I believe Japan would like to participate in denuclearization, so what sort of participation can be accomplished in this situation?
Minister Kono: At the current point in time, it is of the utmost importance for denuclearization that the international community cooperates and implements the UN Security Council Resolutions. In particular, North Korea is actively conducting ship-to-ship transfers. Thus, I believe that the international community must conduct operations to respond to ship-to-ship transfers in a firm manner.
I discussed this during my recent visit to the U.S. Pacific Fleet Command. During my telephone talk with Secretary of State Pompeo when I was in San Francisco, we agreed that we must rigorously step up this operation.
In addition, I have had discussions on increasing the rigorousness of this operation with the various countries concerned with it until now, including the new Foreign Minister of Australia, so I believe we have become able to respond more firmly.
NHK, Ishii: I believe the current situation is a deadlock, so what do you believe is necessary to break through this?
Minister Kono: It is likely that the international community has a shared understanding that the negotiations with North Korea are this way. In order to break through the deadlock, we must exert all efforts to substantially implement the UN Security Council Resolutions.
North Korea Situation (Interaction Between Officials of Japan and North Korea)
Nikkei Shimbun, Hayashi: Recently, the Washington Post reported that Shigeru Kitamura, head of the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, interacted with North Korean officials in Viet Nam. Can you please give your views on an intelligence organization official engaging in diplomatic negotiations?
Minister Kono: We conduct various exchanges through various routes with North Korea. Beyond that, I would like to refrain from affirming or denying anything related to this.
Nikkei Shimbun, Hayashi: What do you think about an intelligence agency, with no connection to the case and which is not a foreign affairs authority, setting out to do this?
Minister Kono: As I stated before, until now we have conducted various exchanges through various routes.
Visits to Nikkei During Overseas Trips
Mainichi Shimbun, Tanabe: You visited Nikkei during your recent overseas trip as well as during the G20 Summit in South America, so I believe exchange with Nikkei is one focus. Were there any aims related to bilateral relations, diplomatic strategy, and economics in your setting aside time for these meetings recently?
Minister Kono: In South America and the U.S., where many Nikkei people live, the trust Nikkei have built up towards themselves in their countries is also projected into trust in Japan. In that sense, I believe the Nikkei communities in various countries are truly major assets for Japanese diplomacy. I believe that robustly rebuilding and strengthening the bonds between Nikkei communities and Japan will lead to the reinforcement of Japanese diplomacy. I would like to continue to conduct activities to build up the bonds with Nikkei communities in various regions in a firm manner.
Suspension of Iranian Oil Imports by All Oil Companies
NHK, Ishii: I would like to ask about the issue of Iranian oil imports. There are reports of movements by private oil companies to suspend imports of Iranian oil. I believe that negotiations between Japan and the United States are continuing on this, so what is the current situation? There were movements to seek a sanctions waiver, but I believe this turned into a deadlock after all. Based on the fact that the sanctions implementation period in November is drawing closer, what do you think the response will be?
Minister Kono: Japan did not particularly increase the import volume of oil before or after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), so I believe that we ought to naturally receive a sanctions waiver. Currently, negotiations are being conducted with the Government of the United States that Japan ought to receive a sanctions waiver under the situation, and we will persistently pursue this.