Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Tuesday, September 18, 2018, 5:16 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Overseas Voting via the Internet
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs hoped that overseas voting could be conducted online for next year’s House of Councillors election. To this end, we exchanged various views with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC). However, introducing internet voting by next year’s House of Councillors election seems difficult now, so we will continue to coordinate with MIC in seeking to introduce internet voting by April 2020.
I discussed this briefly with Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Noda this morning. I requested directly to the Minister that internet voting be introduced by April 2020.
Kyodo News, Saito: I would like to ask two questions related to the Inter-Korean Summit being held in Pyongyang. First, denuclearization negotiation is considered to be a major discussion item of the Inter-Korean Summit. What progress in the denuclearization discussion are you expecting? This is my first question. Secondly, attention is on whether holding a Japan-North Korea summit meeting for the resolution of the abductions issue of Japanese nationals would be raised at the Inter-Korean Summit. What discussion are you expecting from the Summit?
Minister Kono: First, the abductions issue. The Republic of Korea (ROK) has raised the abductions issue with North Korea in the past. This is an issue that will require various discussions between Japan and North Korea going forward.
Regarding denuclearization, the international community would welcome any outcome where the Inter-Korean Summit leads to North Korea taking concrete actions towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula agreed upon between the United States and North Korea, such as a declaration of relevant facilities.
Mainichi Shimbun, Tanabe: Alongside the denuclearization discussion, the discussion on economic cooperation seems to be making progress. What is your view at this stage regarding balancing advancing denuclearization and economic cooperation?
Minister Kono: As United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions are being implemented, there will be no economic cooperation unless North Korea makes progress towards denuclearization and a new agreement is reached regarding the UNSC resolutions. Meanwhile, in the sense of pushing North Korea to make progress, there is significance in painting a picture that a bright future awaits North Korea if there are no more economic sanctions of the UNSC resolutions and various economic cooperation and supports are provided to North Korea. It would be desirable for the ROK and North Korea to discuss what is possible following the sanctions and what kind of future awaits North Korea and for this to build up momentum within North Korea for working hard towards denuclearization.
Asahi Shimbun, Tajima: In response to your comment at your recent press conference that it is too early for a declaration ending the Korean War, the Korean Central News Agency issued a commentary condemning your comment as “nothing but a cry of distress of those being isolated.” What is your reaction to this commentary?
Minister Kono: I have received various criticisms from the North Korean media in the past, and I do not have any strong feelings in particular.
Prime Minister Abe’s Comment During the LDP Presidential Election Campaign
Asahi Shimbun, Kihara: We are in the midst of the election campaign for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party. Seizing this opportunity, can you tell us your candid assessment of the diplomacy of the Abe administration? I understand of course that you are the minister in charge of diplomacy. Also, during the election campaign, Mr. Abe has referred to postwar Japanese diplomacy reaching the pinnacle. However, some have noted that concrete progress or outcomes have not been made on the abductions issue or the Northern Territories issue between Japan and Russia. How would you respond to such comments at this stage? These are my two questions.
Minister Kono: There is no doubt that a stable administration offers a significant advantage for diplomacy. In this sense, I am very grateful that I am able to conduct diplomacy backed by the stable administration. Thanks to this, Japan can contribute to the issues of the Middle East and the various development issues of Southeast Asia and work to strengthen our relations with Latin America and the Caribbean as well as the Caucasus. If the administration was not stable, our energy would be spent on matters such as managing the Japan-U.S. Alliance and we would not be able to do anything else. Such a scenario is possible. Therefore, I am very grateful for the stable administration.
While it is true that the abductions issue and the Northern Territories issue still remain, considerable progress has been made in other issues. A Japan-ROK agreement was reached with the ROK, and our relationship with China has been improving. Alliance ties under the Japan-U.S. Alliance have greatly strengthened. Furthermore, it is becoming such that if a trade dispute arises, the European Union (EU) or other parties to the dispute first consult Japan. Although it may be the case that the two issues remain, major progress has been made in other issues.
Japan Times, Yoshida: Yesterday, the Ministry of Defense (MOD) announced that it conducted a submarine exercise in the South China Sea. It is unusual for Japan to make such an announcement regarding a submarine at this timing when the Japan-China relationship has continued to improve. The announcement could impact the Japan-China relationship to some extent. Even if the exercise did not particularly have a country in mind, it could send a message of some kind to China. On this point, what was the intention of the Government? Or was there not an intention?
Minister Kono: Please ask MOD regarding the details. Such exercises have been conducted from over 10 years ago, and various announcements have been made about conducting the exercises. Therefore, my understanding is that this is nothing new that was started just now. For more information, please direct your questions to MOD.
Situation in Syria
Nippon TV, Amano: Regarding Syria in the Middle East, on September 17, Russia and Turkey agreed to establish a demilitarized zone in Idlib province, and large-scale attacks will be avoided for the time being. What is your assessment of this agreement? In addition, freelance journalist Junpei Yasuda is thought to be detained by an armed group in this region. Will the avoidance of large-scale attacks have any impact on the release of Mr. Yasuda? How does the Government of Japan analyze the situation?
Minister Kono: A large-scale attack, should it occur, would have an immeasurable impact on the region, including Mr. Yasuda. In this regard, we appreciate the agreement on the establishment of a demilitarized zone.
Efforts must be made to ensure that progress can be made quickly in the Syrian situation through a political process. I recently held telephone talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs Çavuşoğlu of the Republic of Turkey, and I expect to meet the relevant foreign ministers at the United Nations General Assembly session. Japan will extend its full cooperation wherever possible.
President Putin’s Remarks Regarding the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: I would like to ask a question concerning the Japan-Russia relationship. With regard to President Putin’s remarks last week at the Eastern Economic Forum regarding the peace treaty, some experts speculate that President Putin envisions a peace treaty which does not involve territorial decisions. Does the Government of Japan consider compiling such a legal instrument as a possibility? If not, can you please tell us the reasons?
Minister Kono: As I stated at a recent press conference, the two sides have different intentions, namely, Japan intends to resolve the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands and conclude a peace treaty, while Russia intends to ensure economic cooperation and conclude a peace treaty. I expect that the two sides will reach an agreement in a manner that is satisfactory to both sides and conclude a peace treaty. There is no change in Japan’s policy to resolve the issue of the attribution of the four Northern Islands and conclude a peace treaty.
Asahi Shimbun, Tajima: The Prime Minister stated in a recent NHK TV program that after President Putin made his proposal, the two of them talked with each other and the Prime Minister conveyed the principle of Japan. Meanwhile, the Presidential Press Secretary of Russia has stated that the Prime Minister did not announce his position. There is a discrepancy between the two sides. Can you please confirm the facts?
Minister Kono: I believe the comments made by the Prime Minister, a party to the discussion, are correct.
Asahi Shimbun, Tajima: Are you stating that Russia’s explanation is incorrect?
Minister Kono: Since this was a discussion between the Prime Minister and President Putin, I believe the comments made by the parties to the discussion have greater accuracy than comments made by a third party.