Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Friday, February 8, 2019, 5:37 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) Minister Kono’s Visit to the Philippines
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: From tomorrow, February 9th, to February 11th, I am going to visit Davao in the Philippines. Davao is President Duterte’s home city and has strong historic ties with Japan, and I will visit the city for the first time, including before I became Minister for Foreign Affairs. In addition to attending the inauguration ceremony for the opening of the Consulate-General of Japan in Davao, I am scheduled to meet Filipino government officials including Secretary of Foreign Affairs Locsin, who succeeded Secretary of Foreign Affairs Cayetano in October 2018. I would like to take the opportunity of the progress of the Mindanao peace process to strengthen cooperation with the Duterte administration much more and deepen various cooperative systems with the Philippines.
(2) Activities by Chefs for Ambassadors and Consul-Generals
Minister Kono: As I brought up during my diplomacy address, recently Washoku (Japanese food) has been a major tool for Japanese diplomacy, and I believe that it is extremely important to secure skilled chefs for ambassadors and consul-generals. I would like to raise recognition of the occupation of chef for ambassadors and consul-generals among the young generation of chefs, and had posts begun to be made from the actual working locations of these chefs on Twitter and Facebook from October 2018. The Twitter account has roughly 10,000 followers. For next year’s draft budget as well, improvement of working conditions was directly requested to the Minister of Finance and will be incorporated in the draft budget.
What I wanted to say today is that chefs for ambassadors and consul-generals received coverage – I believe it was the Mainichi Shimbun – and I would like to request everyone in the media to certainly focus on the activities of these chefs.
(3) Article in Reuters
Minister Kono: I have one more point regarding the media. In an article dated February 6, Reuters reported that during the Budget Committee I answered, “It is that way” in response to the question, “Is there a possibility that the islands of Habomai and Shikotan could not be returned when a peace treaty is concluded?” However, that is a completely incorrect report and I would like Reuters to issue a correction. What I stated was that the wording of the 1956 joint agreement “is that way” as shown on a panel there. I stated, “I would like to refrain from replying with speculation about the negotiations that are ongoing now,” so this is clearly an incorrect report. I would like to request Reuters to issue a correction of their incorrect report without fail.
(4) Mutual Visits by People from Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in 2018
Minister Kono: Another point is that as a result of the increase in visits to the ROK by Japanese people and visits to Japan by people from the ROK, the number of people who made visits between Japan and the ROK in 2018 exceeded 10 million. I welcome that despite the severe situation of Japan-ROK relations, people-to-people exchanges among our two countries increased further in activity. I believe that people-to-people exchanges are extremely important for mutual understanding between Japan and the ROK, and would like them to steadily continue going forward.
People from the ROK who visited Japan increased by 5% from 7.14 million to 7.54 million, and Japanese people who visited the ROK increased by 28% from 2.31 million to 2.95 million. I am very pleased that although Japan-ROK relations are certainly in a severe situation, many people thought about visiting the other country and then actually visited. Despite various issues between our countries’ governments, I would also like people-to-people exchanges between municipalities and various organizations to firmly continue.
The Issue of the Former Civilian Workers from the Korean Peninsula
Kyodo News, Fukuda: I would like to ask about Japan-ROK relations. In regard to the issue of the former civilian workers from the ROK, can you please tell us your reaction to the current situation in which the ROK still has not answered Japan’s request for inter-governmental discussions, as well as your current thoughts regarding the proposal to establish an arbitration panel as the next step?
Minister Kono: I believe that the ROK will attend discussions quietly.
Kyodo News, Fukuda: What about an arbitration panel?
Minister Kono: I believe the ROK will attend discussions.
2019 National Rally to Demand the Return of the Northern Territories
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: I would like to ask two questions concerning the peace treaty between Japan and Russia and the Northern Territories issue. In your speech at the 2019 National Rally to Demand the Return of the Northern Territories yesterday, you used the phrase “The Northern Territories are inherent territories of Japan.” My first question is about your reason for making that decision.
My other question is that during your speech, you made a statement that Japanese citizens need to have a consensus of opinion and the diplomatic negotiations need to progress. Other local people who spoke also made similar statements. However, you have repeatedly stated that you would like to refrain from making statements because they could potentially negatively affect the ongoing negotiations, so amidst that what are your thoughts on how to form a consensus of opinion among Japanese citizens? To put it another way, at what point in time will you be able to discuss this?
Minister Kono: I do not repeat the same wording every year in the speech, so naturally the speech content changes by year.
I believe that probably few people use that phrase (inherent territories) in their speeches. I would like that to be studied. Currently the negotiations toward concluding a peace treaty are being conducted, so this process entails creating an agreement that both countries can accept and receiving the approval of the legislative body of both countries. If we can achieve an agreement, I will naturally firmly provide explanations both inside and outside the Diet on the content of the agreement.
Issue of the Former Civilian Workers from the Korean Peninsula
Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: I would like to return to the question at the beginning. You have been stating since before that the ROK would respond to discussions based on the Japan-ROK Agreement on the Settlement of Problems. However, as 30 days have passed without a reply, if they do not respond to discussions, I believe that an arbitration panel would have to be established. What are your thoughts on if the ROK does not respond? Also, how are you urging the ROK to respond?
Minister Kono: I believe the ROK will accept and attend discussions, so there is no need to worry.
U.S.-North Korea Relations
Handelsblatt, Koelling： Today former diplomat Mr. Yabunaka said at the Foreign Press Center that he is concerned about the North Korea-US summit, especially there might be a half-baked compromise that is falling short of CVID, in return for North Korea a lot of economic sanction relief or maybe further diplomatic concessions. I wonder what your position on the upcoming summit between United States and North Korea is, and what position you conveyed to the United States.
Minister Kono: US and Japan have been in agreement that North Korea need to CVID in missiles of all ranges, all the nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. Nothing has changed.
Description on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Website Regarding the Northern Territories
Jiji Press, Echigo: I would like to return to the Northern Territories issue. This was mentioned before in a question, but the MOFA website has descriptions including “The Northern Territories are an inherent part of the territory of Japan, which have never been held by foreign countries” and “The Northern Territories have been under illegal occupation by the Soviet Union, and then Russia.” However, despite the fact that you and Prime Minister Abe have stopped using these statements in the Diet, they are still published on the MOFA website, which I believe has the potential to cause confusion among Japanese citizens. Will these statements continue to be on the website without being changed?
Minister Kono: There is no change to the legal position of the Government of Japan.
Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting
Sankei Shimbun, Rikitake: I would like to ask about the negotiations on the peace treaty between Japan and Russia. The second meeting in which you are in charge of negotiations has been coordinated to be held in Munich next week. I would like to ask about the results you hope to achieve and your thoughts on the meeting next week based on the first Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and then the Summit Meeting.
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from discussing the content of the negotiations.
U.S.-North Korea Relations
NHK, Okuzumi: I would like to return to U.S.-North Korea relations. There was a question earlier in English, but I would like to ask you to state your expectations for the meeting again in Japanese. Also, Director-General Kanasugi departed for Seoul today, so what instructions did you give him? In addition, the day before yesterday, you mentioned in your answer to the House of Councillors Budget Committee that if possible you would like to have a Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with the United States to firmly discuss and cooperate in advance, although I do not know where that would be. What is the status of that coordination?
Minister Kono: I would like to expect that North Korea will make a firm promise toward the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of its nuclear development and missiles. There are various exchanges between Japan and the United States regarding this, so it is fine to think of this as the position shared by Japan and the United States.
I would like to hold a Foreign Ministers’ Meeting before the U.S.-North Korea meeting. That is still being coordinated.