Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Saturday, February 16, 2019, 6:33 p.m. Munich, Federal Republic of Germany
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I attended the Munich Security Conference following on from last year. I attended a panel discussion on “The Future of Defence Cooperation: Joining Forces?” and advocated that like-minded countries, including Japan, the United States, and European countries, should further strengthen their cooperation in order to secure rules-based international order. During the discussion regarding security in Europe, I believe I fully sent out Japan’s message, which is to consider security by taking a panoramic perspective of the world map, albeit the discussion tends to focus inevitably on the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, I was able to hold bilateral meetings with the foreign ministers of many participating countries, including Japan-Russia and Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) meetings. Today, I held meetings with the foreign ministers of Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Spain. Yesterday, I held meetings with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Latvia, and Lithuania, and in the evening, there was an informal dinner among the foreign ministers of four countries, namely, Japan, France, Germany, and Canada. The Japan-Slovenia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was held for the first time in 11 years. In this sense, it is critical to take advantage of opportunities like the Security Conference, which brings together many foreign ministers, and hold bilateral meetings.
Furthermore, I just held the second round of negotiations regarding a peace treaty with Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov of Russia, following on our meeting in Moscow in January. At the first round of negotiations, we discussed the views of Japan and Russia in detail. Today, we held an in-depth discussion towards creating a solution acceptable to both sides, taking into account the first round of negotiations and the subsequent meeting between the leaders of the two countries that was held at length. We shared the view that a meeting or negotiations would be held in the near future between the special representatives of the two leaders, and that afterwards, the two countries would coordinate on Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to Japan as soon as possible to hold negotiations. We also shared the view on holding security consultations in the near future and will start making its arrangements. Additionally, we agreed that the 15th Japan-Russia Strategic Dialogue would be held on April 2 in Japan between Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Akiba and First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Titov. As the two sides are shouldering national interests in these negotiations, heated discussions will take place at times. However, today was our ninth meeting; it was the third time I met Foreign Minister Lavrov this year and the ninth time since I was appointed Foreign Minister. Therefore, I expect that heated discussions would take place but that we would be able to hold a candid and frank dialogue.
Reporter: I have a question regarding the Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Were the two sides able to bridge the divide over issues such as the perception of history regarding sovereignty over the Northern Territories or security?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from disclosing the content of the negotiations. The two sides have agreed that the discussions at the meeting would not be disclosed externally. It was extremely regrettable that, following our January meeting, Russia made various comments concerning the discussions at the meeting. The two sides have agreed to hold discussions in a quiet environment without disclosing the content externally.
Reporter: Could you please share your thoughts or impressions following the meeting?
Minister Kono: As these are negotiations that have been held for 70 years, a solution will not be reached overnight. The two sides will work together and make efforts to reach the goal together through persistent negotiations.
Reporter: I would like to ask about the Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. The ROK announced that, during the meeting, Japan did not mention the comments of the Speaker of the ROK National Assembly. Could you please comment on this point?
Minister Kono: During the Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, I took some time describing that, around the time that I was first elected to the House of Representatives, I often visited the ROK with House of Councillors member Ichita Yamamoto. He took me to see our elders in the ROK who were extremely knowledgeable about Japan, including Mr. Kim Min-seok, who was a National Assembly member at the time, members of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union, and Mr. Park Tae-Joon, a former Prime Minister, and we listened to their stories. In particular, Mr. Park Tae-Joon went to Shibukawa High School in Gunma Prefecture where House of Councillors member Ichita Yamamoto also attended in subsequent years. Mr. Yamamoto listened to Mr. Park Tae-Joon while standing upright in front of him. The members of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union had distinguished personalities and opinions. When difficulties emerged between Japan and the ROK, they came forward and made efforts to solve the issues. Because I had seen them firsthand, I had perceived that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the ROK and the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union are mutually supporting Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, who is handling the issue of former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula. Against this backdrop, the Speaker made these remarks. I stated that I was very surprised by the remarks and that it was regrettable, and requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to fully address this matter. As we have repeatedly requested an apology and a retraction of the remarks, I believe the ROK fully understands what we are saying. I hope that the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union steps forward during challenging situations as it used to, and I hope to see such people come forward. I stated that in this sense, the recent remarks were truly regrettable.
I made such comments during the meeting. As the ROK delegates were listening carefully, I believe that my message has been fully communicated. I hope to restore the kind of Japan-Korea and Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Unions we used to have, where they respectively stepped forward to discuss with each other in challenging situations. Chair Nukaga of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union recently went to the ROK and held various discussions with his counterpart. I intend to fully manage the bilateral relationship under these circumstances.
Reporter: With regard to the Japan-Russia negotiations, you stated earlier that the two countries would coordinate on Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to Japan. Perhaps you cannot disclose it since it is still being coordinated, but is it possible for you to tell us when the visit would take place? For example, as Foreign Minister Lavrov has usually visited Japan in March, his birthday month, are you considering arranging the visit for around that time period?
Minister Kono: As there will also be the negotiations between Senior Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Mori and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Morgulov, the visit will be coordinated taking into account such circumstances.
Reporter: You are not ruling out the possibility of Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to Japan in March?
Minister Kono: We shared the view that Foreign Minister Lavrov would visit Japan to hold the next round of negotiations. The schedule will be decided based on the negotiations between the special representatives.
Reporter: How about the meeting between Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Mori and Deputy Foreign Minister Morgulov? For example, are you aiming for the end of this month?
Minister Kono: We hope to hold the meeting in the near future.
Reporter: Foreign Minister Lavrov stated at his press conference just now that there is no deadline for concluding a peace treaty. Did this matter come up during the meeting today?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from externally disclosing what was discussed during the meeting.
Reporter: What is your view regarding Foreign Minister Lavrov’s earlier comment that there is no deadline?Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from externally disclosing the position and policy of Japan regarding the negotiations.
Reporter: Negotiations between the foreign ministers, special representatives, and leaders have been held continuously. By continuing to hold the negotiations, do you perceive that you have been able to move even one or two steps forward?
Minister Kono: As this issue has lasted for 70 years, it may not be easy to move forward in a single leap. The two leaders shared the view on accelerating the negotiations, and discussions have been held steadily between the leaders and foreign ministers. Leaving speed aside, I believe it can be said that we are steadily moving forward.
Reporter: I have a question regarding the former civilian workers. So far the ROK has not given a response about the intergovernmental consultations. Does the Government of Japan intend to move to the next step involving an arbitration committee?
Minister Kono: I requested again today that the ROK engages in the discussions. I expect that the ROK will engage in discussions.
Reporter: At the meeting, did you give a deadline for the ROK’s response?
Minister Kono: At this point in time I do not wish to externally disclose what Japan will do going forward.
Reporter: I would like to go back to the topic of Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to Japan. Is it correct to understand that Foreign Minister Lavrov agreed to hold the next round of negotiations in Japan?
Minister Kono: As a general rule, we have originally agreed that the negotiations would be held alternately in each other’s country. Foreign Minister Lavrov thus said that he would visit Japan for the next round of negotiations. The visit will be coordinated based on the negotiations between the special representatives.
Reporter: Is it correct to understand that Russia also hopes to hold the negotiations as soon as possible?
Minister Kono: First of all, we will have to see the outcome of the negotiations between the special representatives. Upon ascertaining the outcome, we will coordinate the visit at the earliest possible timing.
Reporter: At the beginning, you referred to the trade amount between Japan and Russia. Did the trade amount come up during today’s meeting?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from disclosing the content of the meeting externally.
Reporter: Has the location been decided for the negotiations between the special representatives?
Minister Kono: I believe anywhere is fine. I imagine it will depend on where they are on the finalized date.
Reporter: My question concerns the issue of the Speaker of the ROK National Assembly. Listening to your explanation, I was not clear as to whether you requested an apology and retraction during yesterday’s meeting. Is it your understanding that you lodged a protest?
Minister Kono: The Government of Japan has repeatedly requested an apology and a retraction over this matter to the Government of the ROK. Therefore, the ROK must fully understand that we seek the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the ROK to fully address this matter. I do not expect the ROK to state that they were unaware. What comes before disputing this or that about this matter is the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, which is the greatest issue between Japan and the ROK at this time. Although the ROK states that this is an emotional and legal issue, this is a legal issue. We are requesting the ROK to fully deal with this matter legally, leaving the emotional part as a separate matter. This is the biggest issue between Japan and the ROK at this time. I therefore requested the ROK to fully engage in the discussions and for Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon to compile firm response measures. I believe this was the biggest message communicated by Japan during the latest Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
Reporter: Your previous meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov took place ahead of the Prime Minister’s summit meeting on the following week. You stated after the meeting that it built momentum. What about today’s meeting?
Minister Kono: As I stated earlier, as the negotiations have taken 70 years, I do not expect to reach the goal in a single leap. However, we are at least making steady progress.
Reporter: A Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was held shortly after the previous first U.S.-North Korea Summit Meeting. Given the current Japan-ROK relationship, do you hope to hold a Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting following the second U.S.-North Korea Summit Meeting?
Minister Kono: I hope that Japan-U.S.-ROK and Japan-U.S. meetings could be held as early as possible. With regard to the 28th, as there are also the Diet’s budget deliberations, I would like to fully discuss it with the Diet Affairs Committee and others.
Reporter: I would like to return to the topic of the decision regarding former civilian workers. Did Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha mention that it is difficult to address this or make progress because it is an emotional issue?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from disclosing the details. I requested that the ROK separate the emotional and legal issues and fully address the legal issue.
Reporter: Did Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha state that it is an emotional issue?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from commenting on my counterpart’s remarks.