Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Tuesday, February 19, 2019, 4:34 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) World Assembly for Women (WAW!)
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: On March 23 and 24, the 5th WAW! will be concurrently held with Women 20 (W20) in Tokyo. The grand theme of WAW! this year will be “WAW! for Diversity.” I would like firm discussions to be held regarding issues of the day Japanese society as well as the international community face toward realizing a society that ensures nobody is left behind, which is aimed for by the Sustainable Development Goals.
The keynote speakers will be Ms. Malala Yousafzai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, and H.E. Ms. Michelle Bachelet Jeria, Former President of the Republic of Chile, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights by the UN General Assembly. Ms. Gabriela Michetti, Vice President of the Argentine Republic, is planned to give a special address. In addition, female foreign ministers from over 10 countries will be welcomed, and attendance is planned by high level people from international organizations, representatives from Japanese and overseas companies, and people in the press.
All people can participate in the meeting free of charge as general audience. Solicitation of participants has already started, and going forward information will be distributed on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, the WAW! Facebook page, and other places.
(2) Situation in Venezuela
Minister Kono: Japan has repeatedly been strongly expressing its concerns regarding the deterioration of the political, economic, and social situations in Venezuela as well as the humanitarian crises. Amidst this, Mr. Juan Guaidó, President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, swore himself as interim President of Venezuela to hold a presidential election. From the perspective of restoring democracy, Japan has been urging the early implementation of a presidential election, but unfortunately currently an election has not been held yet.
Based on the situation that has occurred, Japan expresses its clear support for Interim President Guaidó. Japan urges that a free and fair presidential election should be expeditiously held.
In addition, Japan will continue its humanitarian support for the people of Venezuela including those fleeing the country, as well as neighboring countries affected.
Recommendation for the Nobel Peace Prize
Economic Monthly, Susilo: I would like to ask a question about the Nobel Prize. Within the history of Japan, have the Government’s nomination letters been released? For example, if in the past the Government asked for the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to President Obama, and if the Japanese Prime Minister submitted a nomination letter to the Nobel Committee.
My second question is about a television program last Saturday that asked who the most popular Japanese person is in Singapore. The result was Prime Minister Abe. He is number one. I believe Prime Minister Abe is probably also the most popular Japanese person in Indonesia as well. I would actually like to ask this question to Prime Minister Abe himself, but why do you think that Prime Minister Abe is the most popular Japanese person in not only Indonesia and Singapore but also all of ASEAN? Thank you.
Minister Kono: In regard to the Nobel Peace Prize, the recommendation and non-recommendation will not be made public for 50 years, so I do not have any comment in particular. Regarding why Prime Minister Abe is popular in ASEAN, I would like you to ask that question in ASEAN.
Navigation by a Maritime Research Vessel from the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the Area Around Takeshima
Nikkei Shimbun, Ebuchi: In regard to the incident in which an ROK maritime research vessel navigated Japanese territorial waters around Takeshima until yesterday, in this morning’s press conference by the Chief Cabinet Secretary it was stated that an objection was lodged and an explanation was requested to the ROK side, but was there an explanation after this? Also, there were reports of the ROK conducting maritime research such as collecting mud around Takeshima several years ago, so how will this incident be handled?
Minister Kono: Currently, I have not heard that there was an explanation. Mud was collected several years ago, so Japan has lodged an objection to the ROK regarding this incident as well.
Situation in Venezuela
Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: I have two questions. The first is that I believe clear support for Mr. Guaidó was expressed for the first time in your opening remarks regarding Venezuela, so was support expressed for the first time because it seems that an election will not be held as the deadline draws near?
Minister Kono: In regard to the Government of Venezuela, the international community has widely expressed doubt about the legitimacy of the recent presidential election, which I believe was held in May last year. Requests have been repeatedly made for full accountability to be shown regarding these doubts, but unfortunately accountability has not been shown. Amidst this, based on the situation in which a presidential election has not yet been held, Japan decided to express clear support for Interim President Guaidó.
Recommendation for the Nobel Peace Prize
Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: I would like to ask one more question. Although I believe recommendations for the Nobel Prize cannot be made public, given the situation that progress for denuclearization has not been made following the first U.S.-North Korea Summit Meeting, do you believe that President Trump is deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize, and what is your view of the current state of denuclearization?
Minister Kono: Unfortunately, I believe the current state is that there has still been no progress for denuclearization. However, if the U.S.-North Korea process advances and North Korea implements denuclearization and abandon all of its missiles, I believe President Trump would naturally be deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize.
Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union
NHK, Koizumi: I would like to ask about Brexit. There are reports that Honda is coordinating toward closing its factory in the United Kingdom. There are companies that are considering withdrawing amidst the unpredictable situation in the EU, so can you please explain your reaction to this situation and how the Government of Japan will respond to the EU side and the companies’ side?
Minister Kono: I am not aware of the specific details about Honda, so I do not have any comment. However, if Brexit occurs without a deal, it is not known how customs inspections would be conducted, so this would greatly affect automobile companies that conduct manufacturing using many parts that come from outside the United Kingdom. This would also affect areas besides car manufacturing, and naturally it is easy to imagine that it would no longer be possible to conduct just-in-time manufacturing. Amidst such a situation, I believe it is natural that companies would enter into considerations to make judgments about their needs.
The Government of Japan has repeatedly stated at various levels that a no-deal Brexit must absolutely be avoided, and that transparency and legal stability should be ensured. At the recent Munich Security Conference, I raised Japan’s concerns about these issues with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and requested that the EU side firmly do what it can to respond. However, I believe that will majorly have to do with how the United Kingdom responds.
In the case that a no-deal Brexit occurs, the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement would not apply to the United Kingdom and there would be a return to WTO rules, which I believe would majorly affect Japan-UK economic relations. Thus, Japan will continue to clearly convey that a no-deal Brexit should be avoided. Currently, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Nishimura is conducting consideration and explanations for countermeasures from the ministries and agencies at companies. The Government of Japan will do all it can to minimize the effect on companies.
U.S.-North Korea Summit Meeting
Kyodo News, Fukuda: I would like to ask about the U.S.-North Korea Summit Meeting. Can you please tell us how you plan to conduct coordination before and after the Summit Meeting with your counterpart Secretary of State Pompeo?
Minister Kono: There have been discussions on meeting and talking before and after the Summit Meeting, and I will continue to pursue that.
Nikkei Shimbun, Hayashi: In relation to this, allegedly, North Korea said that it will request the United States to take suitable measures at the U.S.-North Korea Summit Meeting. You have previously stated that economic sanctions should be maintained until North Korea takes specific actions. Have you conveyed this idea to Secretary of State Pompeo during a telephone talk or meeting, and how do you plan to take up the issue of Japanese abductees?
Minister Kono: I am not holding the U.S.-North Korea meeting, so the question of how this will be taken up would be in a discussion with Mr. Pompeo. As I have repeatedly stated, Japan and the United States agree on the position of economic sanctions, so instead of repeating myself, it is correct for you to understand that this position is shared by Japan and the United States.
Situation in Venezuela
Tokyo Shimbun, Osugi: I would like to confirm a point regarding Venezuela. You made a statement about clear support as well as continuing humanitarian support. Is there any change in terms of what Japan will do for clear support, such as expanding the scale of support?
Minister Kono: This time, I wanted to clearly state our position. Japan has been providing various forms of support, and that will be continued. Going forward we will conduct considerations on quantitatively or qualitatively making changes in response to changes in the future situation, but at the present time I would first like to clearly express support.
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: Returning to the U.S.-North Korea meeting from earlier, amidst the various issues between Japan and the ROK right now, you have always referenced Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation. In that sense, can you please explain how you want cooperation to be conducted within that framework with Minister Kang Kyung-wha and the Government of the ROK, based on current Japan-ROK relations?
Minister Kono: Recently in Munich as well, I saw that the view was shared that firm Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation is important. Just as before, I would like to have firm cooperation, swift information sharing, and precise cooperation between our three countries for countermeasures.
Situation in Syria
PanOrient News, Azhari: Thank you. My question is about the Middle East. I would like to know what Japan’s latest policy toward opening embassy in Syria is. Some countries are opening there but your embassy is still closed. Do you think you might have more programs for the support of the Syrian people and humanitarian issues?
Minister Kono: Thank you very much. You are always welcome to this press conference. We moved the Syrian Embassy because of the security issues. As Syrian domestic situation subsides, we will eventually bring the embassy back to Syria. We will continue to provide necessary support to all the Syrian people. That is our continuous policy, so we are looking at the Syrian security situation and then we will eventually decide when to go back to Damascus with our embassy people.