Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Tuesday, February 5, 2019, 5:37 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Situation in Venezuela
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I have a topic to speak about first. I would like to speak about the situation in Venezuela. Japan has been repeatedly expressing worries about the worsening of the economic and social conditions in Venezuela as well as the humanitarian crisis. In regard to the presidential election implemented in May 2018 and doubts in the international community about its legitimacy, Japan has been repeatedly requesting the Government of Venezuela to take accountability. In spite of this, the Government of Venezuela has not responded to these requests, and Japan condemns the worsening of the political, economic, and social conditions in the country.
Mr. Juan Guaidó, President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, took an oath to serve as interim President of Venezuela to hold a presidential election. Japan supports the wishes of the citizens of Venezuela who seek a return to democracy in accordance with the constitution. We are requesting again that this be respected. We are requesting with the international community for a free and fair presidential election to be quickly implemented. We would like to express again our worries about the serious effect of the worsening economic and social conditions in Venezuela on the Venezuelan citizens who are in particularly dire circumstances, as well as the effect of the outflow of refugees on the entire region including neighboring countries.
Japan will continue civilian support for the citizens of Venezuela including refugees, and also continue support for the neighboring countries that are being affected.
The same content is planned to be issued in a “Statement by Foreign Minister Taro Kono” later.
Situation in Venezuela
Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: In regard to your opening remarks just now, an emergency meeting of the Lima Group issued a statement of support for National Assembly President Guaidó. In your opening remarks, in regard to interim President Guaidó, you stated that you support wishes to restore democracy, but does this mean that Japan recognizes and supports National Assembly President Guaidó?
Minister Kono: It is as I stated earlier. To state that portion again, National Assembly President Guaidó has taken an oath to serve as interim president to hold a presidential election. Japan supports the wishes of the citizens of Venezuela who seek to restore democracy in accordance with the constitution, and is requesting again that this be respected. We are requesting with the international community for a free and fair presidential election to be quickly implemented. That is all.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)
Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: I would like to ask a question in relation to the INF Treaty. The United States announced to Russia that it will withdraw from the INF Treaty. You have previously mentioned the effect on Japan’s security environment as well as creating a new framework to contribute to international disarmament. What are your thoughts on Japan’s role?
Minister Kono: I believe that the INF Treaty has played a major role in disarmament until now. On the other hand, there are other countries besides the two INF Treaty countries that have been conducting corresponding missile development, and China already possesses similar missiles. Thus, Japan believes that the expansion of the INF Treaty to multiple countries is necessary for disarmament not only in East Asia but also the entire world. However, various countries are continuing missile development and China opposes expansion, so the future is very unclear. Japan will actively urge for expansion of the INF Treaty to countries that already possess such missiles as well as countries that are developing them.
Situation in North Korea
NHK, Okuzumi: I would like to change the subject and ask two questions in relation to North Korea. Yesterday, North Korea's Red Cross Society expressed gratitude for Japan’s humanitarian support. Can you please give your thoughts and reaction regarding North Korea’s intention with this unusual statement at this timing? Also, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun will hold a working-level discussion in Pyongyang tomorrow, so can you please tell us your expectations?
Minister Kono: Beginning with your second question, I would like to expect North Korea to declare its intention to take specific actions toward abolition of its nuclear weapons and missiles.
The drifting ashore of North Korean people who are probably fishermen is not limited to this year, but rather is continuing from last season. Japan is taking sincere measures to return such people to North Korea. I believe the statement was gratitude for those measures. There are also people who lost their lives at sea, so I would like North Korea to firmly ensure safety for these operations.
Kyodo News, Niwa: I have another question regarding Special Representative for North Korea Biegun. In an address on January 31, Special Representative for North Korea Biegun stated that if North Korea implements denuclearization, the United States and other countries would advance with investment in North Korea and are prepared to strengthen economic participation. Japan is also supporting denuclearization by North Korea, so is it prepared to promise future humanitarian aid or economic support?
Minister Kono: To repeat what I have said before, if the nuclear, missile, and abduction issues are resolved, diplomatic relations will be normalized and Japan is prepared to provide economic support to North Korea. I have been stating this thus far.
Order to a Japanese Citizen to Return His Passport
Asahi Shimbun, Kihara: I would like to change the subject and ask about passports of Japanese citizens. There are reports that journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka received an order to hand over his passport. Can you please explain the facts of the matter and the reason he was ordered to hand over his passport?
Minister Kono: On Saturday, February 2 at 11:16 p.m. at Haneda Airport, a Japanese man was issued a directive to return his passport. I would like to refrain from disclosing anything beyond that on behalf of the Government of Japan as this is a discrete case and involves personal information.
Asahi Shimbun, Kihara: The person himself has commented that this violates his constitutional right to freedom of travel. What is the view of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on this?
Minister Kono: In regard to adverse disposition, he has the right to file an administrative appeal or lawsuit, so he can take those measures if he feels it is necessary.
Reform of the Diet
Kyodo News, Fukuda: I would like to ask about reform of the Diet. There was also an exchange about this at the Budget Committee yesterday. Can you please give your thoughts on what the maximum priority topics are for reform of the Diet as well as your reasons?
Minister Kono: Mr Shinjiro Koizumi, a member of the House of Representatives is currently actively tackling reform of the Diet. I stated yesterday regarding revision of the Act on Organ Transplantation that the ruling and opposition parties held discussions and remove the compulsory adherence to a party decision, and that the ruling and opposition parties cooperated to make it easier to attend the Public Safety Commission held every Thursday morning by the National Public Safety Commission Chairman.
Reform of the Diet covers many topics, and a question was also raised about the use of tablets during the plenary sessions. There are various requests for Diet reform in various fields, so I would like the ruling and opposition parties to firmly hold discussions on this in the Diet.
Situation in Venezuela
Nikkei Shimbun, Hayashi: I would like to return to the situation in Venezuela that you mentioned in your opening remarks. What is the reason for not supporting National Assembly President Guaidó as interim president like some European countries and the United States? Is it out of consideration for China and Russia, which support the Maduro administration?
Minister Kono: It does not have anything to do with other countries in particular. I stated Japan’s position earlier.
Mainichi Shimbun, Mitsuda: In relation to the matter in Venezuela, Mr. Maduro is refusing to hold another presidential election, so was this a major element for Japan’s position statement now?
Minister Kono: I would like to issue Japan’s position based on comprehensive judgment in the “Statement by Foreign Minister Taro Kono.” If there are any further developments, Japan will take the necessary measures.
The Situation in Venezuela and the Situation in Myanmar
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: I would like to ask two questions. The first is in relation to Venezuela. You have stated until now that you are monitoring the situation. What caused the decision for the official Statement to be re-issued or newly issued?
Also, there was discussion about nation building in Myanmar and advancing cooperation at the Japan-Germany Summit Meeting yesterday. Various European countries and the United States have taken a quite severe response regarding the Rohingya people, but you have quite actively called for support for Myanmar. What cooperation would you like with European countries and the United States going forward, and what are your opinions based on the results of the meeting yesterday?
Minister Kono: I took a considerable amount of time at last year’s G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting to discuss Muslims in Rakhine State. I discussed writing a bilateral joint statement with Boris Johnson, the U.K. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs at the time, and also spoke about it at the open discussions. I stated that there needs to be consideration that the current Aung San Suu Kyi administration is now being operated on an extremely weak foundation for a democratic administration. I also stated that her administration needs to firmly ensure transparency regarding this issue and show accountability. I believe that various countries have gradually begun to understand that necessity. While cooperating in various ways going forward, I would like Japan and Germany to collaborate to provide support so that Muslims can safely return to Myanmar voluntarily with dignity.
In regard to the matter of Venezuela, I have been comprehensively and continuously watching the situation. Rather than a single cause, it was the changing of the general situation.
Order to a Japanese Citizen to Return His Passport
Japan Times, Yoshida: In regard to the matter of the passport earlier, although I understand that it involves personal information, I do not understand the meaning of showing consideration when he is being open about it. I believe there must have been some decision by the government, and discussion is necessary on what circumstances would apply for preventing a journalist from traveling for news coverage. I do not know what lawsuit or procedures would be taken under such circumstances, and why this cannot be said when the journalist himself is being open about it. I believe it would be proper for the government to quickly have an official discussion if it makes the decision to use force to prevent a journalist from going abroad to do his job. I would like to ask the background for such views, or the reason in the case that you cannot say anything.
Minister Kono: Because this involves personal information in regard to adverse disposition, I would like to refrain from commenting on behalf of the Government regardless of whether the journalist himself is being open about it. If he himself discloses information then the information will be disclosed in that way, but at least the Government would like to refrain from commenting on individual cases of adverse disposition.
Japan Times, Yoshida: I understand what you are saying about the official stance. However, this is not just about him. In effect, the reality was that force was used without saying anything about the entire procedure for treatment in such a situation when a journalist from a newspaper company is forcefully told “No” when going to conduct news coverage. I believe this situation is very concerning for people who conduct news coverage or people who are waiting for that information, so do you not feel there is a need to show accountability for this?
Minister Kono: There are measures for filing administrative appeals or lawsuits regarding adverse disposition, so those measures can be taken if necessary.
Kyodo News, Saito: I would like to ask a question from a different angle regarding this discussion about passports. I would like to ask about the prevailing opinion. It is easy to imagine that journalists and cameramen were facing life-threatening situations if they went to Vietnam in the past or Cambodia during its civil war, similar to Yemen today. Speaking about the past, people like Kyoichi Sawada and Taizo Ichinose, or Robert Capa if we look even further in the past, went to the front lines and can be said to have risked their lives to leave behind photographs preserving history. It is the undeniable truth that much of this was linked to the peace movement and the anti-war movement.
Now Yemen is the problem. The people of Yemen have various methods of communication, but it is undeniable that one aspect is communication through western journalists as well as Japanese journalists who actually enter the country.
I understand that there is naturally a dilemma between so-called war correspondents and the position of the MOFA of having to focus on protecting Japanese nationals. From the standpoint of the general situation as a politician, do you have any thoughts on the consistency that should be taken in terms of the issue of war correspondents versus having to protect Japanese nationals?
Minister Kono: Basically, there are many Japanese journalists conducting news coverage activities overseas. Journalism is not only conducted in safe places, but also in places with various dangers, so it could be said that such journalists are overlooking danger to themselves. I would like to express respect for journalists who conduct news coverage in dangerous places.