Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Tuesday, February 12, 2019, 5:45 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) The Youth Invitation Program from Israel and Palestine
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: From tomorrow, February 13, to February 19, a total of 10 young people, five each from Israel and Palestine, will visit Japan as part of the Youth Invitation Program from Israel and Palestine. This initiative will be held for the 21st time this year. It is one of Japan’s lasting initiatives concerning the Middle East peace process, and invites people who will shoulder the future from both Israel and Palestine toward a two-country solution in which Israel and the future state of Palestine coexist in peace. Through the participants conducting exchanges of views and various events together, I would like them to build mutual relationships of trust. At the same time, I would also like this to deepen extensive understanding regarding Japan’s initiatives concerning the Middle East peace process.
(2) Regional Revitalization Support: Joint Reception with the Governor of Ehime Prefecture
Minister Kono: On February 19, for the “Regional Revitalization Support Utilizing the Iikura Guest House for External Communication Project,” which is a rather grand name, a joint reception will be held with the Governor of Ehime Prefecture at the Iikura Guest House. It will next take place in Ehime.
It aims to communicate the charms of regional culture, history, and industries, as well as foods and drinks recently, to people including diplomatic corps in Japan, foreign chambers of commerce in Japan, and overseas press.
Ehime received major damage during the heavy rain disaster in July last year, and I would like the agricultural and marine products as well as the charming sightseeing areas of the prefecture, which is still undergoing reconstruction, to be widely introduced.
Situation in Myanmar
Channel News Asia, Ishida： Minister Kono, if I may ask a question in English. I am from Singapore Channel News Asia. You have just returned from the Philippines and I believe you exchanged notes with your counterpart on the real development project and conflict areas in Mindanao and now also separately on Myanmar’s newspaper we believe that Japanese ambassador to Myanmar maintained providing aid to Rakhine state. I was wondering what is Japan’s position of providing aid to conflicted areas and what do you wish to achieve and if you can explain Japan’s strategy on this area. Thank you.
Minister Kono: Japan has been involved in Mindanao peace process for more than a decade. We actually invited then Filipino President and the chairman of MILF to meet in Narita, and I think that led to this peace process. There was a Marawi incident where IS influenced the terrorists which had sort of uprising and there maybe still some IS influence. As for foreign fighters returned to Asia from Syria, Iraq or other places, it is very important to sort of rehabilitate them. Japan is hosting many international events, G20, TICAD, Rugby World Cup, and the coronation ceremony this year, and 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games next year, 2025 Osaka Expo. It is very important for Japan to implement very strict counter-terrorism measures, not only for Japan but also for the prosperity and stability of Asia. Counter-terrorism is one of the major issues we need to coordinate with other countries. If we could show the people in Mindanao that their economy is developing, we can actually have them feel the peace dividend and I think it would help foster this peace process. As for the state of the Rakhine, the Myanmar government and Bangladesh government are now working together to expedite the repatriation process of those refugees near Cox’s Bazar camps. We will be very happy to work with both governments to help them come back to where they used to live. It is important for Asia to develop democracy, but there is an Asian way to develop democracy, so Japan is willing to work with each country and support their ways of developing democracy. I think it is good for Asia in a long term.
The Comfort Women Issue (Statements by the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea (ROK))
Sankei Shimbun, Rikishi: Recently in an interview with Bloomberg News, in regard to the comfort women issue, the Speaker of the National Assembly of the ROK called His Majesty the Emperor the “son of the main culprit of war crimes” and requested that he give a direct apology to the former comfort women. Can you please explain again your view and the response of the Government of Japan?
Minister Kono: The National Assembly Speaker first made remarks on February 7, and after this his office issued various explanations and the Government of the ROK also gave the explanation that the reports did not reflect the Speaker’s true intent. However, he again made the same kind of statement. The first statement was exceedingly impolite and unacceptable. At the very least, Japan’s position is that the Japan-ROK agreement regarding the comfort women issue has already finally and irreversibly resolved the issue, and the Government of the ROK is not requesting re-negotiations, so I would like the National Assembly Speaker to understand those points when he makes statements. The Government of Japan strongly requests an apology and retraction of these impolite statements.
Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: I would like to ask about Japan-Russia relations. At the recent Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, it was agreed that you would meet with Minister Lavrov again in February. If such an opportunity is arranged again, what results would you hope for? Also, amidst Minister Lavrov’s recent statements, in association with the dissolution of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, if this is linked to the deployment of Aegis Ashore in Japan, there are renewed concerns regarding nuclear force expansion in this region. If such issues are raised during your next meeting with Minister Lavrov, how will you respond?
Minister Kono: If circumstances permit, I am planning to hold a Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Munich during the Munich Security Conference and conduct negotiations for the second time. I would like to refrain from discussing what kind of negotiations will be conducted while they are ongoing.
Issue of the Former Civilian Workers from the Korean Peninsula
Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: In regard to Japan-ROK relations and discussions based on the Japan-ROK Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning the former civilian workers, Director-General Kanasugi strongly requested a reply during his statement today. Can you please explain again the reason for the strong request, and your views on the current response by the Government of the ROK and your forecast for the future?
Minister Kono: We are using a verbal note to propose discussions based on the Japan-ROK Agreement on the Settlement of Problems. The ROK is still conducting consideration and has not replied, so a strong request was made.
U.S.-North Korea Summit Meeting
Kyodo News, Niwa: I would like to ask about U.S.-North Korea relations. There have been observations that the United States might receive a declaration of the end of the Korean War at the next U.S. North Korea Summit Meeting. What do you think will be the effect on Japan’s security if a declaration of the end of the war is issued?
Minister Kono: I have not heard much about issuing a declaration of the end of the war. It is not the case that there is a side that would particularly adhere to the end of the war. At the very least, a declaration of the end of the war would be issued after various things end, and there would be various discussions based on international laws for the United States and North Korea to issue a declaration. So at the very least, I am aware that it will not be an important topic at the meeting in Viet Nam.
Kyodo News, Niwa: Is it correct to understand that various issues would mean after denuclearization has ended?
Minister Kono: I believe there would be various things before a declaration of the end of the war.
Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting
NHK, Koizumi: I would like to ask another question regarding Japan and Russia from earlier. In relation to what results are being hoped for, the differences between Japan and Russia’s historical awareness and security aspects became clear during the previous negotiations. How do you intend to handle these issues at this meeting?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from answering about the contents of the negotiations and our policy for them.