Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Tuesday, December 18, 2018, 1:43 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only.
(1) Statement at the Press Conference on December 11
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: At the previous press conference, as there were questions that I was not able to answer, I should have said, “I cannot answer” when I was supposed to give an answer. I have reflected on how it may have seemed like I was ignoring the questions, and would like to apologize.
Amidst the acceleration going forward of negotiations between Japan and Russia, it is the same situation in which I must refrain from answering questions that could influence the negotiations, and I would like to ask for your understanding. Because questions regarding the Government of Japan’s response policy, the Government’s position, or asking for comments in response to a comment from the Russia side could influence the negotiations, I would like to continue to refrain from answering them. I would like to ask for your understanding.
(2) Winter Safety Campaign for Overseas Traveling
Minister Kono: It is expected that the number of people making overseas trips will greatly increase from today to the end of January, so we will hold the Winter Safety Campaign for Overseas Traveling. Although there has of course been a spread of safety measures for protecting Japanese nationals from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and overseas consulates, in principle people firstly need to be prepared to protect themselves. In addition to confirming the safety information on their destination on the overseas safety website, it is of the same importance that they should not forget to register on Tabi-Regi just like they would not forget their passport. I would also like them to be sure to sign up for overseas travel insurance.
It is planned to change Japanese passports to make them safer, aimed at March 2020. The new passport will feature 24 prints from the 36 Views of Mount Fuji on the opposing pages. I believe this will greatly increase security, and safety will be strengthened through an IC chip and other methods.
Kendo Kobayashi, Ambassador in Charge of the Promotion of Tabi-Regi Registration, and the members of ‘Okazu Club” from Yoshimoto Kogyo will encourage Tabi-Regi registration, and the video of their appearance is planned to be released soon.
(3) Decision on the Winners of the Twelfth Japan International Manga Award
Minister Kono: The MOFA confers the Japan International Manga Award each year on manga artists who contribute to the spread of manga culture overseas and international cultural exchange through manga. I believe this was started during the time of Foreign Minister Aso.
This is the 12th time the awards will be conferred, with entries by 331 artists, the highest number ever, from 68 countries and regions.
As a result of the impartial judging by the jury conducted last month, Yang Hao and his four compositions by Tang Xiao (pen-name: Dani) was selected for the Gold Award, and a total of 15 works were given awards including the top three works.
The award ceremony for the 12th Japan International Manga Award is planned to be held on February 26, 2019 in Tokyo and the winners of the Gold Award and the Silver Award will be invited.
Manga and anime now stand alongside washoku (Japanese cuisine) for sparking interest in Japanese culture and the Japanese language in many countries, so from this perspective I would like to welcome their spread.
(4) Young Politics-Oriented Cambodians to Visit Japan
Minister Kono: From December 2-8, we invited a total of 10 young politics-oriented people from the Cambodian People’s Party (the ruling party), the former Cambodia National Rescue Party, and opposition parties to visit Japan.
This invitation was for Japan to support the development of Cambodia as a democracy, and invited the generation that will support Cambodia’s future to learn about Japan’s democracy with various political parties.
The 10 participants met with members of the Diet and learned about regional elections, specifically the prefectural assembly election in Ibaraki Prefecture by visiting the actual location, and I believe they deepened their understanding of practicing democracy. In addition, while Cambodia is having trouble coming to a consensus, I believe that the 10 participants received a good impression by being able to speak with each other while spending a long time in Japan.
I would like to continue this invitation and support democratization in Cambodia.
Statements at the Press Conference on December 11
Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: I would like to ask a question in relation to the previous press conference. You spoke about this in your opening remarks and I also read your blog. This time, you said you stated, “I cannot answer” when you needed to give an answer, but why did you say, “Next question, please” last time? Also, you said earlier, “It may have seemed like I was ignoring the questions,” but do you believe you were not ignoring them?
Minister Kono: As you have seen through our regular informal talks, repeatedly at press conferences, and when I answer questions in the Diet, I have repeatedly stated, “I cannot answer” regarding Japan-Russia relations. The reporters who came to this press conference knew this well, and I believe they asked the questions about Japan-Russia relations while knowing I would say, “I cannot answer.”
Despite that, I have reflected and believe that I should have said, “I would like to refrain from answering.”
Sankei Shimbun, Rikitake: I understand that you are refraining from answering because it could influence the negotiations. However, although you are responding by refraining from answering questions from reporters like last time, Foreign Minister Lavrov stated publicly yesterday that recognizing that Russia has effective control of the Northern Territories and this is legal is an essential first step. If Japan’s position has not changed from what it was up to now, some people think that it would be good to issue a similar message and not invite doubts among the Japanese people. What are your thoughts on this point?
Minister Kono: Unfortunately, a portion of my statement was cut off, which is that I believe it is not desirable to influence public opinion in Russia. Although I think that statements are not precisely reported from beginning to end in context, and unfortunately that cannot be ensured completely, my understanding is that it is precisely because the Russian side is actively making statements that we must be more discreet. We will firmly assert our positions in the negotiations.
Because our positions are different, we have not been able to conclude a peace treaty over these many decades, and that is something both sides accept. I have repeatedly stated our position until now, and we have not been able to reach a place where we both agree. I will continue to firmly state this in negotiations and will precisely externally explain what we agree on. I will continue that approach.
NHK, Okuzumi: You stated earlier, “It may have seemed like I was ignoring the questions.” Is it correct to understand that you did not have the intention of ignoring them?
Minister Kono: I believe that the reporters who asked me the questions probably knew I could not answer and yet asked anyway. Communication was conducted in that sense. But for people who did not know this, such as people watching the video on YouTube or people reading the minutes, they might have perceived it as ignoring the questions, and that would be unsuitable. I would like to apologize for that.
Future Japan-U.S. Relations
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: I have two questions, one about Japan-U.S. relations and the second about Japan-Russia relations. I would like to ask this regarding Japan-U.S. relations because this is probably the last press conference within this year. Until now good relations between Japan and the United States have been built based on the relationship of trust between Prime Minister Abe and President Trump. However, amidst friction over various issues such as trade, what are your thoughts on how you would like to develop Japan-U.S. relations from next year?
Minister Kono: Both leaders are building extremely good relations, so I believe it is a very good situation from the perspective of friendly relations and the alliance between our countries. Naturally we have various differences because we are two countries, and beginning various negotiations over something absolutely does not mean our relations would be harmed.
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: As my second question, you mentioned Japan-Russia relations in your opening remarks, but the Russian army has announced it created new military housing on Etorofu Island and Kunashiri Island, and this was reported in Japan as well. I believe that until now the Government of Japan has objected, but is the Government objecting this time too?
Minister Kono: We plan to lodge a protest.
Yomiuri Shimbu, Yanada: But you still have not at the current point.
Minister Kono: I am sorry, but I cannot confirm what has happened at the current point. At the very least we had not done so as of the current point a little earlier, and plan to protest.
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: Is it correct to understand that by protesting, the Government is holding onto its position that these islands are territories of Japan?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from answering.
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: You stated earlier that it is precisely because Foreign Minister Lavrov and others are actively making statements that Japan should be discreet. I believe that you think that being frank regarding those statements would not contribute to negotiations, so can you please tell us your thoughts on this again?
Minister Kono: The prerequisite of the negotiations for the peace treaty this time is resolving the attribution issue and concluding a peace treaty. From a general standpoint, the attribution issue is stirring various public opinions in the people from the countries concerned. Amidst this, for concluding the peace treaty which has not been done for many decades and both sides have different positions on, both sides are accelerating negotiations for concluding it, so assertions should be made precisely at the negotiations. We would like to avoid stirring up public opinion in various forms and influencing the negotiations as much as possible, so we will be as careful as possible so that does not happen.
Meeting of the Japan-Russia Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Issues
Nikkei Shimbun, Hayashi: The Meeting of the Japan-Russia Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Issues will be held from this evening. In comparison with other countries such as China, what fields do you think Japan and Russia can have economic cooperation in? Also, what merits do you think economic cooperation will mutually have for both countries?
Minister Kono: I believe there can be cooperation in various fields between Japan and Russia. Cooperation can naturally be conducted in the fields of energy and agriculture, and I also think that cooperation can be promoted for infrastructure. In that context, Minister Oreshkin is visiting Japan from Russia today, so I would like to have firm discussions and further strengthen economic cooperation and cooperative relations between Japan and Russia.
Statements at the Press Conference on December 11
Kyodo News, Saito: I would like to return again to the previous press conference. You apologized earlier in your opening remarks, but who was that apology addressed to? I would like to clearly know if it was the press clubs, the reporters who asked the questions, or the people of Japan. For my second question, what role do you think the press conferences by the Minister for Foreign Affairs should play? What is the most important role of your statements here? Could you please give an explanation on this?
Minister Kono: It is fine for my apology in my opening remarks to be perceived as one addressed to the reporters here today, the reporters who came to the previous press conference, or the people of Japan who watch the press conference in various forms.
I believe that these press conferences are to deepen the understanding of the people of Japan about Japanese foreign policy. I believe that the MOFA must make greater efforts so that the people have a firm understanding of Official Development Assistance (ODA) in particular. So the department in charge of this at the MOFA, or various departments, are repeatedly testing how to deepen understanding of ODA. I will continue to exert efforts so that the people of Japan have a firm understanding of diplomacy, including such matters.