Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Thursday, November 15, 2018, 5:30 p.m. Port Moresby, Independent State of Papua New Guinea
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: The leading countries of the Asia-Pacific gathered and exchanged views regarding the liberalization of trade and investment in this region. In this sense, today’s Ministerial Meeting was extremely significant. I stated that the Asia-Pacific region, which prospers through the liberalization of trade and investment and strengthening of connectivity, forms the core of the free and open Indo-Pacific that Japan aspires towards. I noted Japan’s determination to expand trade and investment order at a high level in order to promote free trade. It can be said that member countries generally shared the view that we must further advance liberalization of trade and investment in the APEC region, and that to this end, it is necessary to reform the World Trade Organization (WTO), which plays a central role in the free trade system. This merits high praise.
In addition, I held a number of bilateral meetings on the margins of the Ministerial Meeting. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh of Viet Nam and I held our sixth foreign ministers’ meeting. I welcomed that Viet Nam also concluded the TPP11 Agreement, becoming the seventh signatory to the Agreement. We fully shared the view that Japan and Viet Nam, the country-coordinator for Japan-ASEAN relations, intend to share each other’s views and cooperate on South China Sea and North Korean situations.
There are many Vietnamese people who come to Japan on study or technical intern training programs. The two countries have always shared the view that Japan must maintain an agreeable environment for such Vietnamese people who come to Japan with hopes. Japan is taking measures against malicious brokers, such as disclosing the names of brokerage businesses on the website of the Japanese Embassy in Viet Nam. There are also language schools and other entities in Japan engaged in malicious activities that accept Vietnamese students. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is requesting the Ministry of Justice to fully address the situation. We will explain this to Viet Nam, and at the same time, improve the environment to enable many Vietnamese people to lead lives full of hope in Japan.
In my meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Chile, I urged Chile to complete its domestic procedures for the TPP11 Agreement as soon as possible. We exchanged a variety of views regarding the relationship between Japan and Chile, which are strategic partners.
In my meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia, ahead of tomorrow’s summit meeting between Prime Minister Abe and Prime Minister Morrison of Australia, we confirmed that Japan and Australia are coordinating to make further progress on the items we discussed at the 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministerial Consultations in October. We also exchanged views regarding infrastructure cooperation and regional cooperation, including the South Pacific.
Tomorrow, I will first hold a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Papua New Guinea. I hope to confirm that the two countries will strengthen their cooperation to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific. I also hope to exchange views concerning regional situations, including North Korean situations.
I am scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with the Minister for Foreign Relations of Peru. I will urge Peru to complete its domestic procedures for the TPP11 Agreement. I also hope to confirm bilateral cooperation on the Japan-Peru Friendship Year next year, which will mark the 120th anniversary of the systematic immigration of Japanese nationals to Peru.
I would like to note one other item, which is that I briefly discussed the international solidarity levy in my speech today. I received feedback from several countries saying that it is desirable to discuss such new proposals at the APEC forum. Going forward, I hope to foster various debates at international fora. I will now take your questions.
Reporter: My question slightly overlaps with the remarks you made at the beginning. The APEC meeting was held amidst the rise in so-called protectionism around the world. Could you please share your comments in this regard? Secondly, you discussed about promoting the free trade system in your speech today. Could you explain how exactly Japan will promote the free trade system?
Minister Kono: Many countries have prospered following World War II under the free trade system centered around the WTO. Amidst the numerous challenges facing this system, it is very favorable that at today’s APEC meeting, members were able to reaffirm their commitment to further advancing the liberalization of investment and trade and the importance of the WTO based on the shared recognition of the need for the modernization and reform of the WTO. Japan has continued to raise the banner of free trade towards the entry into force of the TPP11 Agreement. Japan has also reached an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), and we are now just waiting for the ratification procedures. Regrettably, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations will likely continue into next year. We will advance negotiations on such major free trade agreements, while also proactively pursuing Fee Trade Agreements (FTAs) with small economies one by one. We have commenced negotiations with economies such as the Faroe Islands, and we will speed up such developments.
Reporter: You mentioned the international solidarity levy in your opening remarks. Could you please further elaborate on the reactions of the countries that were attending the meeting?
Minister Kono: During the coffee break, some countries said they heard about this for the first time. Some countries also referred to Japan’s remarks in their speeches during the meeting. Due to the number of refugees and internally displaced persons which is now the highest since the end of WWII, and largely due to the impacts of climate change—natural disasters occur frequently around the world and everyone is feeling the effects of climate change, there is an extremely large financing gap between the assistance that is needed and the assistance that can be provided by Official Development Assistance (ODA) or Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). Everyone probably recognizes this gap. Against this backdrop, we proposed the international solidarity levy, and I believe many countries expressed positive views towards discussing such innovative methods of financing.
Reporter: At yesterday’s Japan-Russia summit meeting, the leaders affirmed that the two countries would accelerate negotiations on a peace treaty based on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956. What is your assessment of its significance? How does MOFA intend to deal with this matter?
Minister Kono: President Putin made very positive remarks towards concluding a peace treaty, and the two countries agreed to accelerate the negotiations on a peace treaty. MOFA will make steady efforts to ensure that an agreement is reached.
Reporter: I have a related question. The Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration notes the return of Habomai and Shikotan Islands. Does this mean that the return of two islands ahead of the other two islands is a possibility?
Minister Kono: The position of Japan is to conclude a peace treaty through the resolution of issues concerning the attribution of the four islands. This has not changed.
Reporter: Could you please further explain how I should understand “based on the Joint Declaration”?
Minister Kono: Since the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956 represents the starting point of the current Japan-Russia relationship following the war, it is a matter of fact that the Joint Declaration serves as the basis.
Reporter: I understand that member countries shared the view on the need for a free trade system. However, it is reported that the finalization of the text is running into difficulties. Is it the case that countries support the overall ideas but are opposing the details?
Minister Kono: I believe it is now being finalized and will be released shortly. With regard to the atmosphere of the meeting, everybody was very positive. It was very favorable that under such circumstances, countries shared the view that they were all heading towards the same direction. I expect that the text to be released will state to this effect.