Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Friday, September 14, 2018, 12:22 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Minister Kono’s Statements on Blogs and Elsewhere
Asahi Shimbun, Kurashige: I am sorry to trouble you, but I will not ask a question on foreign policy at the beginning. I am interested in your newsletter and blog content released during August and September, and I would like to ask some questions to confirm some points. In your blog and elsewhere, you wrote that because reporters from the Kasumi Club belong to the politics division, the subject of their reporting is not diplomacy. However, I would like to state that this is clearly not true. The subject of our reporting is Japanese diplomacy and policies. Moreover, you wrote asking about the cooperation between the Kasumi Club and correspondents and the international division and stated that implicitly there is no cooperation. However, if you read the newspaper articles, you will see that correspondents and politics division reporters collaborate to write our articles. To give a recent example, this was true of the Japan-Russia Summit Meeting as well as the Japan-China Summit Meeting. We invariably have that kind of cooperation to aim for versatile journalism, so I hope you will read our newspaper articles. Furthermore, in short you stated that our politics division reporters thoughtlessly ask politics-related questions, and that their questions on diplomacy are overwhelmingly on North Korea and the Japan-North Korea Summit Meeting. However, I think that indicates a lack of understanding, because just like any other company, if there is news we cover it and report on it. In my humble opinion, we unequivocally cover the Abe administration’s foreign policy. We carefully cover the Rohingya displaced persons issue in Myanmar, which you have a very strong interest in, over North Korea and the Japan-North Korea Summit Meeting. This is also true of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). We place special importance on such issues, and if there are announcements of Japanese independent measures and policies, we carefully cover and write articles on them. We do this carefully, including taking notes. Recently when you went to Hanoi as well, although there was also a statement by President Putin on that day as well as the Japan-China Summit Meeting leaving extremely little space for anything else, we carefully followed the Myanmar issue and precisely published an article on it. I would like to request you to first carefully read these articles and then make statements about them. I believe it was very regrettable that you unilaterally labeled our reporters from the politics division and international division, and I wanted to take this opportunity to convey that.
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Thank you very much. I heard your comment, and I am very pleased to hear the decision that two reporters from the international division of the Nikkei Shimbun will be assigned to the Kasumi Club. I look forward to the day when newspaper readers can see these comments now.
I would like to make one request. I received a request from Kasumi Club personnel that they would like me to speak in Japanese rather than English during the beginning of foreign ministers’ meetings. However, although I do not have the ability to speak Chinese or Burmese, I would at least like to speak in English at the beginning of these meetings, and I would like to request Kasumi Club personnel to understand this.
Kyodo News, Fukuda: Do you believe that the issue is that under the current conditions, the Japanese media is fixated on only the North Korean issue, and that it is not properly following important issues that must be faced by Japanese diplomacy, such as the Rakhine State situation and the Cambodian general election? Could you please explain in detail?
Minister Kono: That is true.
Kyodo News, Fukuda: Organizations of the families of abductees are worried that the abductees will be forgotten and are seeking information from the Government. Do you believe that there is excessive reporting on North Korea and that it is bad that the Japanese media only seems interested in that?
Minister Kono: That is an issue of comparison. If reporting on North Korea were to disappear, that might happen. However, the world is moving with the 193 United Nations (UN) countries, and I believe there should at least be necessary information transmission on respective issues.
President Putin’s Statement Regarding Concluding a Peace Treaty
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: I would like to ask about the statement by President Putin of Russia the day before yesterday at the Eastern Economic Forum. His statement was that a peace treaty would be concluded with Japan without preconditions by the end of the year. However, I believe that this approach is the opposite of the one Japan has been taking, which has been to finally solve the territorial issue and conclude a peace treaty through trust-building measures such as the joint economic activities. I would like to ask about your recognition of these points, and if it is the Government of Japan’s policy to continue the current approach with measures such as the joint economic activities even in the current situation.
Minister Kono: I believe that Japan and Russia are aiming for the same direction to quickly conclude a peace treaty. The issue of the attribution of the Four Northern Islands is a major theme in the conclusion of a peace treaty for Japan, and economic activities with Japan are a major theme for Russia. We both have different respective themes, so putting together a situation that is as advantageous as possible in the middle, and thinking of this mutually, is one strategy.
Japan will firmly advance the joint economic activities, draw up the future of the Four Northern Islands, solve the attribution issue, and conclude a peace treaty. We will firmly advance in that way, and I have heard that discussions at the summit meeting were also conducted in that way. There is no change in particular at this stage.
Kyodo News, Saito: I have a question in relation to the peace treaty. Do you support President Putin’s call to conclude the peace treaty within the year, or if you do not can you please explain the reason?
Minister Kono: Concluding a peace treaty has been an outstanding issue between Japan and Russia, and it would be good to be able to have a conclusion as quickly as possible. However, at that time it is necessary for Japan to have a resolution of the issue of the attribution of the Four Northern Islands, and the Russian side is concerned with how much economic cooperation with Japan is possible to develop its economy. Thus, I believe that both the Japanese side and the Russian side are aiming for the same direction resolving this in a way that is agreeable to both countries in terms of what they are thinking of, and want to conclude the peace treaty as quickly as possible.
NHK, Nishii: Earlier, Prime Minister Abe made a statement at a panel discussion that the summit meetings in November and December this year have become important. Is it likely that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will also accelerate coordination on certain matters more than before toward these next summit meetings?
Minister Kono: The East Asia Summit (EAS) and G20 Summit are approaching, and coordination will be conducted going forward on whether bilateral meetings will take place at them. If President Putin says that he would like to conclude a peace treaty within the year, then we would also like to conclude it as long as the preconditions can be firmly resolved. If the Russian side makes any suggestions, then I believe summit meetings would be important. Because Japan has been conducting the preparatory work to firmly advance the joint economic activities, I believe it is important to confirm this work at summit meetings at each important juncture.
Unmanned Ocean Research around Takeshima by the Republic of Korea (ROK) National Oceanographic Research Institute
Sankei Shimbun, Ohashi: There are reports that an autonomous ocean vehicle from the ROK conducted ocean research around Takeshima. What are your thoughts on this?
Minister Kono: At the time of the long-awaited 20th anniversary of the Japan-Republic of Korea Joint Declaration when we say that we want to move forward, somehow such backward-facing matters come up, and our two countries do not positively move forward. We deliver objections and proposals each time this happens, but I believe at a certain time, we will have to request our counterpart to move forward if they are saying they want to move forward because it is the 20th anniversary. There are probably people within the ROK government as well who want to move forward, so I would like them to firmly work on promoting Japan and the ROK moving forward together, toward October 8, the critical juncture of the 20th anniversary. I held a Japan-ROK advisory panel of experts on this issue this morning. Japan will also carefully work out what we need to do toward the 20th anniversary. I would like the task force members on the ROK side to cooperate together so that our two countries can somehow move forward positively in a future-oriented manner.
Prime Minister Abe’s Statement that He Will Run in the General Election
Tokyo Shimbun, Oosugi: When Prime Minister Abe stated that he will run in the general election, he said that he will sum up the post-war diplomacy. I believe that this shows tremendous fighting spirit, and I had the impression that it is a significant decision. I think this will become an immense job for you, so could you please tell us your thoughts?
Minister Kono: There are an extremely large number of matters that must be handled, including Japan and the ROK moving forward positively, and concluding a peace treaty with Russia. In addition, if we look at the G7 situation, Japan speaks on behalf of Asia in a way. We also consider that UN Security Council reform is another item for the complete assessment of post-war diplomacy. The Prime Minister may become angry if we look at only one or two, but we will firmly conduct this to advance ahead even with one or two.
North Korean Situation (The Abductions Issue)
Kyodo News, Fukuda: September 17 will mark the 16th anniversary of the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration. Since the return of five abductees, the return of not even one abductee has been realized since then. Can you please explain again your determination toward the rescue of the abductees?
Minister Kono: There is no change to Japan’s stance toward the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration. We would like to firmly resolve the nuclear and missile issues as well as the abductions issue, and establish diplomatic relations. North Korea recognizes that there is no change to our policy, so I would like North Korea to show concrete actions for denuclearization and missile abandonment, and for Japan and North Korea to firmly face each other and resolve the abductions issue.
Minister Kono’s Statements on Blogs and Elsewhere
Kyodo News, Saito: In relation to the statement from the Asahi Shimbun in the beginning, I would like to ask for an explanation of the reason for why you speak in English in the opening statements of foreign ministers’ meetings. I would like to ask because both former Minister for Foreign Affairs Kishida and the minister before him during the time of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) administration, although I do not know if it was all ministers, could speak English but spoke in Japanese. Could you please explain why you speak in English and do not use Japanese, the native language of the Japanese people?
Minister Kono: Because they are foreign ministers’ meetings, and you all in the mass media listen to the discussion with my counterparts. Currently many of my foreign ministers’ meetings are conducted in English, so I would like my counterpart to hear my own words directly from the opening statement.
Asahi Shimbun, Kurashige: Do you believe that it is important for the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs to have English ability?
Minister Kono: Yes, I believe that.
President Putin’s Statement Regarding Concluding a Peace Treaty
Asahi Shimbun, Yanada: Earlier, you indicated the statement by President Putin is one of his tactics. At the panel discussion earlier, Prime Minister Abe stated that the joint economic activities are not going smoothly. Do you believe that President Putin’s statement that set the time period to within the year was to cause some sort of shake-up?
Minister Kono: Rather than shaking things up, I believe that the wish to conclude a peace treaty within the year is considerably positive. Currently there is no peace treaty between Japan and Russia, but as it is economic exchanges and people-to-people exchanges are being conducted, although the level we hope for is far away. However, Japan considers resolving the issue of the attribution of the Four Northern Islands for concluding a peace treaty, while the Russian side has expectations that it will be tied to promoting further economic exchange and is thus saying it would like to conclude a peace treaty. Thus, in that sense I believe that President Putin’s call to quickly conclude a peace treaty came through the sentiment of wanting Japan and Russia to do many things together going forward, and we will fully respond to this.
However, as you all know well, for Japan, the precondition is resolving the attribution issue of the Four Northern Islands, and the precondition of the Russian side is expanding economic exchange. I believe that it is necessary for the conclusion of the peace treaty to achieve respective agreement on the form of the other side’s preconditions, and both countries will conduct firm coordination toward this.
ROK-North Korea Summit Meeting
Mainichi Shimbun, Tanabe: The Inter-Korean Summit Meeting is scheduled for next week, and there are reports that the North Korean side is aiming for a declaration of the end of the war. Based on the current situation in which we cannot clearly see denuclearization progress by North Korea, how does the Government of Japan perceive a declaration of the end of the war?
Minister Kono: I believe a declaration of the end of the war would be premature. Unfortunately, we cannot see any progress toward denuclearization after the summit meeting in Singapore, and I believe that ideally a declaration of the end of the war should come after specific actions have been taken toward denuclearization. I would like to expect that the Inter-Korean Summit Meeting will be connected to specific actions toward the path of denuclearization agreed upon at the summit meeting in Singapore.