Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Thursday, September 13, 2018, 1:20 p.m. Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: This morning, I participated in the panel discussion titled Asia’s Geopolitical Outlook of the World Economic Forum. I believe it was able to have a wide reach through the internet. It began with a question about three areas of concern, to which I raised climate change, attempts at unilateral changes to the status quo in Asia, and challenges to multilateralism. I also gave an explanation of Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy in a question-and-answer form. After this, I held the 10th meeting of the Japan-Viet Nam Cooperation Committee and a Foreign Ministers’ Meeting as a working lunch with H.E. Mr. Pham Binh Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. The concerned government ministries and agencies also participate in the Japan-Viet Nam Cooperation Committee, which is an opportunity for discussions on extensive bilateral cooperation in general, and in recent years it has become very active with mutual visits by officials, leading to extremely close Japan-Viet Nam friendly cooperative relations. In order to further promote this, we had a specific, frank discussion on extensive areas, including economic cooperation, fostering human resources, and people-to-people exchange. After this, I held a working lunch with Minister Minh. This was my third meeting with Minister Minh this year, and I have met with him a total of five times including last year. As Viet Nam has become the coordinating country for ASEAN-Japan, I held various exchanges of opinions with him on ASEAN, Japan-ASEAN cooperation, Japan-Mekong cooperation, and the regional situation including the South China Sea and North Korea. I believe it was a very meaningful meeting. That is all from me.
Reporter: Regarding the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with Minister Minh, you mentioned that you exchanged opinions on the South China Sea. Specifically, what did you discuss?
Minister Kono: We exchanged opinions on both countries’ current analysis of the South China Sea, and agreed on mutual cooperation on future initiatives for ASEAN and other areas.
Reporter: Regarding yesterday’s President Putin’s statement again, is Japan considering confirming the true intention of the statement or lodging an objection?
Minister Kono: Not in particular. There is no change to Japan’s policy of resolving the territory issue and the issue of the attribution of the Four Northern Islands, and concluding a peace treaty.
Reporter: Regarding the territory and sovereignty issue, the Government of Japan would issue a protest if China entered the territorial waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands. Why was there no protest this time?
Minister Kono: Why would there be a protest?
Reporter: I meant regarding the statement by President Putin that seemed to undermine the preconditions up until now.
Minister Kono: No, I do not believe there is a particular need for that.
Reporter: In relation to that, do you feel that general negotiations will proceed going forward regarding the basic stance on the territory issue and the peace treaty at the Japan-Russia Vice-Ministerial-Level Consultations?
Minister Kono: That has often been discussed at summit meetings, and various discussions related to the Four Northern Islands issue were also conducted at the summit meeting in Vladivostok. Japan hopes to continue discussions without changes as conducted so far. President Putin also needs to cooperate with Japan to develop Russia’s economy and thus probably strongly understands the need to conclude a peace treaty for that. We mutually agreed on resolving the issue of the attribution of the Four Northern Islands and concluding a peace treaty, and further deepening Japan-Russia exchange, so I would like to do this without making a fuss.,/P>
Reporter: During your Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with Minister Minh, I imagine that you meant that you discussed China’s maritime advances in relation to the South China Sea. Did you agree to cooperate on a response to the maritime advances, or did you confirm it again?
Minister Kono: I do not know how confirming is different from agreeing. However, Japan and Viet Nam are important partners that agree on many strategic areas, and there is no change to that situation. We confirmed continued very strong cooperation.
Reporter: Specifically, what did you convey? Regarding areas of cooperation, what statements did you make?
Minister Kono: We held an exchange of opinions on our analysis of the recent situation.
Reporter: Regarding President Putin’s statement yesterday, the opposition parties have criticized that Prime Minister Abe did not voice an objection on the spot. What is your opinion and the opinion of the Government of Japan on this?
Minister Kono: There was no particular need to voice an objection about concluding a peace treaty together, and the Japan side stated that the issue of the attribution of the Four Northern Islands should be resolved and a peace treaty should be concluded. The attribution issue is certainly taking a considerable amount of time with difficult negotiations, so I understand well President Putin being in a hurry. However, I believe we have no particular reason to complain that Russia wants to conclude a peace treaty, and Japan wants to conclude a peace treaty with Russia and strengthen our bilateral relations. We agreed that our expectations for this were the same as before, so President Putin made a natural statement.
Reporter: Even if our goals are the same, Japan has conducted negotiations thus far that the process would begin with resolving the issue of the attribution of the Four Northern Islands, and I believe President Putin’s statement overturned the direction of the negotiations. Was there no objection to that?
Minister Kono: If we said we would not conclude a peace treaty, then Russia would say, “Hey, wait a minute.” I understand the wish to conclude a peace treaty as quickly as possible. This is a negotiation, so it should be conducted with an understanding of what each side must do. If we were to say we wanted to stop negotiating, I think Russia would say, “Wait a minute. Let’s do our best to negotiate,” so we need to do our best to negotiate. Negotiations are difficult, and there will probably be some areas where we can move forward and some where we cannot, but we confirmed that we are both heading in the same direction. In this case, I believe it is good that we understand again that we are headed in the same direction and that Russia has a strong wish to conclude a peace treaty.