Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Friday, February 1, 2019, 5:27 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) The Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) Entering Into Force and the Beginning of the Adoption of the Japan-EU Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA)
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: The Japan-EU EPA entered into force today. In addition, a portion of the SPA began to be adopted. Amidst the various protectionist movements beginning in the world, the creation of this free trade zone, which encompasses one third of the world’s GDP and one quarter of its trade, and major advanced economic zone clearly shows the economic significance of Japan and the EU together promoting free trade. I believe that this can have a major effect not only on Japan and the EU but also the entire world. I expect that the SPA will contribute to building strategic relations going forward between Japan and the EU, which share fundamental values, as well as the member countries of the EU. I would like to steadily advance Japan-EU relations.
(2) Beginning of Acceptance of Applications for the Screening Test for Applicants for the FY2019 Junior Professional Officers (JPO) Dispatch
Minister Kono: As already mentioned in the diplomacy speech, in order to support Japanese people who want to work in international organizations, the JPO dispatch system is implemented to dispatch Japanese people under the age of 35 to international organizations. Today, February 1st, the applications are now being accepted for the next screening test. We are waiting for young people full of enthusiasm for making the world a better place by working as international public servants. The application deadline is March 4, but it is necessary to complete the special pre-registration online by February 28. The application conditions are to be under 35, have a master’s degree as well as over two years of work experience, English ability, the intention to work at an international organization in the future, and to have Japanese citizenship. The details are published on the website for the Recruitment Center for International Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), so I certainly hope people apply energetically.
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)
NHK, Okuzumi: I would like to ask about the INF Treaty. Although discussions took place between the United States and Russia, they could not resolve their differences, and there are reports to expect the announcement of the suspension of the treaty. What is your view of this situation? Also, if there is a suspension announcement, will Japan support the United States’ decision and what response will be taken?
Minister Kono: I believe that the INF Treaty has played a vital role. I understand the issues of the situation that has led to the United States indicating that it will suspend the obligations of the treaty, but I believe that the situation in which the treaty must be ended is not desirable for the world.
Going forward, Japan will firmly hold exchanges with the United States and Russia, as well as related countries such as China, and will contribute to creating a framework that will be conducive to international disarmament. China will contribute to creating a framework that will be conducive to international disarmament.
Japan-Germany Relations, Including Chancellor Merkel’s Visit to Japan
Handelsblatt, Koelling: I would like to ask about the visit of Chancellor Merkel of Germany. You wrote an editorial, I guess it was an editorial, to our new paper. So I guess you know well about the German-Japanese relations. I wonder the bigger meaning of this particular visit of Chancellor Merkel to Japan. What do you hope for this meeting?
Minister Kono: Thank you. I would not have guessed what you ask. But it would be the first high level visit from EU member country after this Japan – EU EPA goes into effect and how we can elevate the strategic partnership between two countries to the next level would be one of the major topics, as we as how we can corporate in the field of advanced technology such as AI and other fields. Particularity I am very interested in what kind of role Germany could play in promoting the free and open indo pacific vision. I am aware of Germany’s intention to take part in this vision. And we are working closely with the country in the region to promote this vision. So I am very much looking forward to having dialogue between two countries about this issue.
Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: I have two questions. The first is in relation to the first question. You stated that you understand the situation that led the United States to indicate it will withdraw from the INF as well as the issues, but do you mean the United States’ assertion that Russia is violating the obligations of the treaty and China’s missile development? Also, including China and Japan, what do you think the effect will be on the security environment of East Asia?
Minister Kono: Japan does not participate in and has not concluded the INF Treaty, so I would like to refrain from saying if any country violated the treaty. However, amidst the development of various technologies, I believe that we must energetically have discussions on what the next stage should be after the INF Treaty, which has made a major contribution to disarmament. I believe that such discussions will be actively held in Asia and Europe in particular, so Japan will be firmly involved in forward-looking discussions.
Situation in Venezuela
Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: I have one more question. In regard to the situation in Venezuela, the United Kingdom, France, and others have indicated that they will recognize the President of the National Assembly unless there is a decision to hold a reelection aimed at this weekend. Does Japan intend to keep pace with this? Or does Japan intend to monitor the situation more?
Minister Kono: From the viewpoint of monitoring the situation, we will continue adopting a flawless system for protecting Japanese citizens in Venezuela, as there are Japanese citizens who are residents in the country or are there for short-term or mid-term periods who have mostly already left or are preparing to leave.
Amidst this, we believe that it is a major problem that there is a lack of accountability regarding whether the presidential election in Venezuela took place in accordance with the constitution and that the inauguration ceremony was forced. We also believe that it is extremely problematic that over two million Venezuelans have had to escape to neighboring countries. As I stated recently, Japan will do what it can for the neighboring countries taking in Venezuelans, and will cooperate with related countries on how to respond to the issues of Venezuela. We believe that it is important for democracy in accordance with the constitution to be restored as quickly as possible.
The United Kingdom’s Withdrawal from the EU
Freelance, Hurst: I want to ask about the Brexit. The Japanese government has consistently said that they want predictability and certainty in this process, but the withdrawal agreement is having troubles in the British parliament, and Britain is now asking for renegotiation. So my two questions are, how concerned are you that the prospect of no deal might be increasing, and secondly what are you and your officials doing to ensure that there is stability and predictability.
Minister Kono: We have asked UK government to give us legal stability and the predictability about leaving EU, or not leaving EU. Specially, I think the Prime Minister raised the issue of no Brexit and I think Prime Minister Abe asked Prime Minister May that no deal Brexit would have a devastating effect on Japanese companies operating in the UK, so that need to be avoided. We are very concerned that there is a possible no deal Brexit that would really have very a negative impact on Japanese companies in the UK. We have already set up a task force at the Prime Minister’s office with all the Ministries concerned how we can assist the Japanese company at the face of Brexit or no deal Brexit. And the Japanese embassy in the UK is planning to provide some kind of workshop with Japanese companies in the UK. We really do hope that British people and the British Government have some sense not to leave the EU without any deal.
Conference of the Ambassadors to Asian and Oceanian Countries and International Organizations
Mainichi Shimbun, Akiyama: The Conference of the Ambassadors to Asian and Oceanian Countries and International Organizations was held this week. In regard to international organizations in particular, although the same conference was held last year, going forward what activities will the Government of Japan emphasize through international organizations, what viewpoints should it take in enriching activities, what discussions took place, and what instructions did you give?
Minister Kono: Regarding international organizations, I am not in the position to say what should be discussed and how at this conference of ambassadors, but I did request to international organizations that the number of Japanese personnel and leaders be increased. Voluntary donations have been quite directly linked to the number of Japanese personnel and leaders, so I stated that that policy would continue.
On the other hand, like the UNRWA, the withdrawal of the United States has led to a very major funding gap. We have responded as much as we can in the short-term, and discussions on the mid-term response have to be held going forward. I believe that each international organization must be examined carefully.