Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Friday, December 21, 2018, 5:49 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) Minister Kono to Visit Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I am going to visit Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria from December 23 to 29.
This will be my first visit to North Africa since I was appointed Foreign Minister. The three countries have overcome the Arab Spring, and the region has achieved a certain level of stability. Given its geographical superiority and abundant young workforce, coupled with its position as a gateway to Africa, I believe this region has enormous potential for Japanese companies.
This will be the first time for a Japanese Foreign Minister to visit these three countries in a single trip. During the visit, I intend to conduct Japanese diplomacy targeted at the entire region. In particular, with regard to Morocco, the last time a Japanese Foreign Minister visited the country in a bilateral context was Foreign Minister Kuranari 31 years ago.
Japan has been implementing concrete cooperation in the Middle East and Arab states in accordance with the “Kono Four Principles,” and I hope to confirm its progress. We will strengthen Japan’s supports wherever possible towards the stability of each country, as well as Japan’s initiatives to improve the environment for promoting the activities of Japanese companies in the region.
In addition, as the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7) will be held in Yokohama next year, I hope to coordinate with the three countries towards the successful holding of TICAD7.
(2) Fifth WAW!
Minister Kono: The fifth WAW! (World Assembly for Women) will be held in Tokyo on Saturday, March 23 and Sunday, March 24 of next year. Japan has hosted this conference since 2014 in order to achieve “a society where women shine,” one of the top priorities of the Abe administration, in and outside of Japan.
At the fifth conference, we intend to hold discussions from a wide range of perspectives, such as technology transformation, education, human resource development, rural development, media, peace and security, women and entrepreneurship, diversity in companies, and redistribution of unpaid work. The program is available on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MOFA) website so please take a look.
From the viewpoint of promoting the economic empowerment of women, the conference will be held in collaboration with Women 20 (W20), one of the G20 engagement groups established to make recommendations to the G20. We will broadly disseminate information on Japan’s related initiatives to the world by holding WAW! and W20 simultaneously.
Anyone may attend the fifth WAW! as a general audience member at no cost. We will be accepting applications from early January. We will provide updates as necessary on MOFA’s website and other mediums. Eight women foreign ministers have already indicated their intention of attending this meeting.
Japan-ROK Relations (Visit to the ROK by Director-General Kanasugi of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau)
NHK, Okuzumi: I would like to ask two questions related to the Republic of Korea (ROK). It was announced today that Director-General Kanasugi would visit the ROK. Could you please share with us your expectations for the Japan-ROK director-general level consultations, the first such consultations to be held following the Supreme Court decisions on requisitioned civilian workers? Secondly, over 1,000 ROK nationals who claim to have been requisitioned and their family members have filed a lawsuit in Seoul seeking compensation against the Government of the ROK. Could you please share your views if any?
Minister Kono: Director-General Kanasugi will attend a meeting of diplomatic establishments, including the Japanese Embassy and Consulate in the ROK. The Director-General will exchange various views with the ROK. While there are extremely difficult issues between the two countries, I have asked the Director-General to conduct a thorough exchange of views with the ROK regarding current Japan-ROK relations.
While there is the issue of lawsuits filed in the ROK, the Government of Japan has made its position clear and has conveyed it to the ROK. The ROK is reviewing its responses under the leadership of Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, and Japan expects that the ROK would take steady responses.
MOFA’s Budget for the Next Fiscal Year
Jiji Press, Echigo: I have a question regarding the budget. The draft budget for FY2019 approved at today’s Cabinet meeting includes 420 million yen for costs such as your visits and charter flights. While this amount is lower than the amount in the budget request, it is six times this fiscal year’s amount. Can you please share your comments?
Minister Kono: The budget includes next year’s TICAD. There are still regions that are difficult to visit by transiting on commercial flights, including the Pacific Island countries. We have asked for a budget for charter flights in order to be able to visit such countries. I am committed to continuing to fully engage in Japanese diplomacy next year.
Jiji Press, Echigo: You have previously requested a Foreign Minister’s plane. Do you intend to continue to request the acquisition of such a plane?
Minister Kono: I believe there could be a minister’s plane from the standpoints of ensuring confidentiality and making visits more efficiently and effectively. Since the current government plane is very large, I believe there could be a minister’s plane that allows visits to be made in a less costly manner. I will continue to have various discussions with financial authorities regarding this matter.
Resignation of U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis
Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: I would like to ask two questions. Firstly, the resignation of Secretary of Defense Mattis of the United States has been announced. I believe Japan has considered Secretary Mattis to be a key figure given that Japan and the United States are allies. Could you please share your thoughts regarding the resignation? My second question is slightly related to my first question. It is said that the resignation has to do with the withdrawal of the U.S. Forces from Syria. Some have noted that the withdrawal could lead to destabilization in the Middle East. What are your comments in this regard?
Minister Kono: I have exchanged views extensively with Secretary Mattis, including at the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (2+2) meeting and when I visited the U.S. Department of Defense. More recently, I exchanged views with the Secretary on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue. Secretary Mattis is a very sincere person, and I have expressed my respect for him. We have just begun exchanging views regarding Japan-U.S. relations, issues that the two countries will face for some time, such as the North Korean issues, as well as long-term issues. I had hoped to continue to hold various discussions and exchange views with Secretary Mattis, so this sudden announcement has come as a surprise. I am not aware as to who would be his replacement. While I do not know if an individual of the Secretary’s stature can be found easily to replace him, I will continue to hold good discussions with Secretary Mattis’ replacement.
In addition, as a rather unstable situation remains throughout the Middle East, the Government of Japan will exchange views and work with a range of governments, including Japan-U.S. cooperation. With regard to Syria, Japan will continue to strive to sustain all of its supports for the people of Syria who require assistance.
Kanji (Chinese Character) of the Year
Nikkei Shimbun, Hayashi: With this year drawing to a close, could you tell us what kanji (Chinese character) you think best represents 2018? Please also tell us the meaning of the kanji.
Minister Kono: The kanji is the character “hi” (meaning “to fly”) that I wrote at the Japan National Press Club recently. Since a ship is often not an option for making an overseas visit from Japan, I feel that I have flown a lot this year. I have become accustomed to getting a good sleep inside a plane, and I intend to steadily conduct Japanese diplomacy next year as well. It is with this meaning that I have chosen “hi” as the kanji for this year.
Japan-ROK Relations (Former “Requisitioned Civilian Workers” from the Korean Peninsula)
Dong-a Ilbo, Kim: A group of lawyers for “requisitioned civilian workers” in the ROK may request seizure of the assets of Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corporation in the ROK if the group does not receive a response from the company by 11 a.m. of December 24 next week. What measures will Japan take in response?
Minister Kono: We perceive that the ROK is reviewing this issue carefully under the leadership of Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon. Therefore, we trust that the Japanese company would not incur unjustifiable damages and costs over this issue.
Cyberattack Group APT10 Based in China
Kyodo News, Fukuda: The Department of Justice of the United States has indicted two members of APT10, a hacker group noted to have associations with the Ministry of State Security of China. China has protested the indictment. Japan is also a target of APT10’s cyberattacks. Could you please tell us your views?
Minister Kono: It is important that international law is fully applied even to cyberspace and that international order is maintained. Japan has identified continuous attacks by this group known as APT10 based in China against various domestic targets. The Government of Japan expresses resolute condemnation of such acts. Japan strongly supports the United States’ resolute determination to maintain a rules-based order, even in cyberspace.
Japan-ROK Relations (Japan-ROK Agreement)
Sankei Shimbun, Rikitake: The 28th of this month will mark exactly three years since the Japan-ROK agreement on the comfort women issue was reached. The agreement has become almost immaterial with last month’s announcement of the dissolution of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation. It seems that recent events, including the decisions on “requisitioned civilian workers,” have significantly deteriorated Japan-ROK relations. Could you please share your views on the current Japan-ROK relationship and how Japan intends to improve the relationship going forward?
Minister Kono: The Japan-ROK agreement is highly appreciated by the international community. Japan has faithfully fulfilled its obligations under the Japan-ROK agreement, and will continue to urge the ROK to fully implement the agreement.
As this year is a milestone year marking the 20th anniversary of the Obuchi-Kim Dae-jung partnership declaration, Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha and I have spent a considerable time discussing the development of a future-oriented Japan-ROK relationship. Specifically, a taskforce and an advisory council were launched, and their members consisting of a range of people conducted discussions and compiled recommendations. The members of the taskforce and the advisory council have met with each other and held discussions. Unfortunately, the activities have slowed down recently due to the subsequent emergence of difficult issues, and I must say this is extremely regrettable.
However, the exchanges between the people of Japan and the ROK have strengthened tremendously. The number of people traveling to and from the two countries has increased, and we must not lose this momentum. While there are difficult issues between the two Governments, the exchanges between people and local governments as well as sports and cultural exchanges should be continued, and I ask that such exchanges be continued. Next year, while it will be the year after the milestone year, I hope that circumstances will enable the development of a future-oriented Japan-ROK relationship.
Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement and Situation in Syria
Mainichi Shimbun, Akiyama: I have two questions. My first question concerns the implementation of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The Japan-U.S. Joint Committee has discussed the specifications of the facilities and areas of the U.S. Forces, and information on the agreed items has been released. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to get a clear picture of the discussions of the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee. Is SOFA being implemented in such a way that, if the United States were to make a request and Japan finds the request to be unacceptable based on its circumstances, Japan can stop the United States from carrying out the request? That is my first question. My second question is in regard to a completely different matter. Going back to the situation in Syria, the withdrawal of the U.S. Forces would create a power vacuum once again. This has already resulted in various developments. Looking at the overall situation in Syria, the Assad regime has considerable control of the areas with large concentrations of people. While Japan currently does not have an ambassador in Syria, what are Japan’s intentions for its diplomatic relationship with the Assad regime under the existing circumstances?
Minister Kono: The Joint Committee based on SOFA carries out a variety of discussions. Japan will fully engage in efforts that contribute to the Japan-U.S. Alliance. If there are activities that the Government of Japan regrettably cannot carry out, then the Government cannot carry them out regrettably. We would like to disclose the discussions of the Joint Committee as much as possible and provide explanations. However, there are also discussions that cannot be disclosed externally. We need to continue to carefully consider the method of information disclosure.
With regard to the situation in Syria, I cannot comment based on speculation. We expect that the U.S. circumstances will have an impact on the situation in Syria, as a matter of course. Discussions have begun at a variety of processes regarding ideal state building for Syria. Japan will carefully follow the progress of the discussions.
Japan has begun to accept Syrian refugees who aspire to study at graduate schools or other schools in Japan and contribute to Syria’s state building in the future. Japan has provided supports to Syria in various ways. We need to give serious consideration to Japan’s response to the situation in Syria in the context of Japan’s Middle East policy. As soon as we determine a clear approach, we will announce it as quickly as possible.