Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Friday, March 29, 2019, 2:05 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) FY2019 Ministry of Foreign Affairs Budget
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: The FY2019 budget was formulated on March 27. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs budget increased from the beginning of FY2018 by 33.9 billion yen to become 730.6 billion yen. There will be major international conferences including the G20 Summit, TICAD, and the Ceremony of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor, so the budget for this was secured. The core budgets related to diplomacy were also firmly secured and I believe the foothold was put into place. In addition, I believe it was a major achievement to secure the budget related to NGOs to support their activities.
(2) Establishment of the Japan Visa Information Hotline for Foreign Visitors to Japan
Minister Kono: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is going to establish the Japan Visa Information Hotline for foreign visitors to Japan from April 1. The name is long so I believe it is necessary to shorten it somehow. In recent years there has been a surge of visa-related inquiries from people in countries who are required to have visas as well as those who do not need visas, so these consultations and inquiries by phone regarding visas will be handled through outsourcing. The establishment of the hotline will enhance services for visa applicants, and at the same time consulate duties will be firmly conducted including strengthening visa inspections. Service will be provided at the time of establishment in 49 countries and regions in English, Russian, and Vietnamese, three languages which have the most needs. The English service will be provided 365 days a years, 24 hours a day. The services in Vietnamese and Russian will be provided in conjunction with the weekday hours of diplomatic missions.
Announcement of the New Era Name
Nikkei Shimbun, Hayashi: Can you please explain if there has been consideration about how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will inform other countries when the new era name is announced? Also, many head of states will visit Japan for the Ceremony of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor in October, so can you also please explain the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ response, preparation status, and pending issues?
Minister Kono: The announcement of the new era name will be made on April 1, but as the new Emperor will be enthroned on May 1, and as the era will change then, there is plenty of time. I believe explanations will be conducted for the 195 countries Japan recognizes as well as international organizations through our diplomatic missions and their embassies in Tokyo etc.
We are still at the stage of working to grasp how many guets will attend the Ceremony of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor. I still cannot comment on the status, but I believe that there will probably be more guests at the summit level than last time, so I will exert all efforts so nothing goes amiss.
NHK, Okuzumi: I believe you will attend on the day all the Cabinet meetings and the extraordinary Cabinet meeting to decide the Cabinet Order to change the era name. What are your feelings now on attending these? Also, although this question is a little abstract, what are your thoughts on what the era name means to Japanese people?
Minister Kono: The new Emperor will be enthroned on May 1. Although the new era name will be announced, the new imperial reign will start on May 1, so I believe I will actually be most moved then.
Era names have been used for thousands of years, so I believe they hold an extremely important position within Japanese traditional culture. 2019 will be the first year of the new era, so I will provide a firm response so there are no mistakes such as the method of calculation and the relationship between the Gregorian calendar and the Japanese eras.
Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS)
Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: The Government of Japan announced its views and position regarding LAWS last week in conjunction with the meeting of the CCW Group of Governmental Experts this week. Amidst this, recognition was shown for the first time that it would be difficult to conclude a document with legally binding force and that the subjects of regulations should be narrowed down to fully autonomous robots. There were quite negative positions for the aim in this area and creating a pact, so what are your thoughts on concluding a political document at the experts meeting in summer this year?
Minister Kono: I truly wanted to make various statements about this at the press conference last Friday, but I was a little unsuccessful in managing my health, so I apologize.
Japan is calling for no development of completely autonomous lethal weapons that do not require human participation, and believes such things should not be developed. It is absolutely not the case that Japan is completely turning its back on regulations. However, there is still a gap between many countries at the current point regarding definitions and other aspects, so it is our recognition that the current situation is that it would be quite difficult to suddenly implement regulations.
I believe the development of AI should not be hampered by regulations. AI can reduce various human errors by replacing humans, and it is also a fact that there are various implications for safety connected to reducing manpower and saving labor. There is no intention to say it is all bad as a rule.
It is true that the significant engagement of humans is necessary. However, when we speak about significant engagement of humans, there are naturally questions like what kind of participation is needed, if there would be some sort of decision making for giving the green light, or if there would be a participation method that would stop everything like an elevator emergency button if AI ran amok.
I believe human society more than the international community needs to firmly discuss this including such matters, and should create minimum rules, but the reality is that there is still a gap in various ways of thinking while aiming for this.
Women’s Participation in Society
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: This question is also regarding the period when you were absent. The discussion proposals were compiled from the World Assembly for Women (WAW!) held last weekend. Japan will hold the G20 presidency this year, so I recognize that the proposal were compiled with the intention of reflecting them in the G20 discussions. Gender and women’s empowerment are extremely important issues at various international meetings including the G7 and the G20. On the other hand, Japan has the lowest proportion of female legislative body members in the G20, so I believe it is still not quite viewed as a country in which women are empowered. What are your thoughts on how Japan as such a country should improve its situation and communicate this internationally?
Minister Kono: I was very much looking forward to WAW! but unfortunately I was not able to attend it and State Minister Abe and many others covered for me. It is true that, for example, the political advancement of Japanese women in the Diet is slow compared to other countries. However, for example, in my hometown of Oiso Town, women now comprise the majority of the town council and this has continued for a long period. Hiratsuka has had a female mayor, and Chigasaki and Ninomiya have had chairwomen. It is true that there are various discrepancies according to the region.
What is important is to eliminate those discrepancies as much as possible. I believe it is necessary to support the political advancement of women throughout all of Japan in a firm manner. It is also important to create female role models in all fields, not just politics.
I once planned a meeting in my hometown in which women active in various fields came to speak about their experiences to female high school and junior high school students. At that time, there was a statement after the teacher of “Why do we have to focus on such women?” I was surprised. I believe it is necessary to create opportunities for both young girls and boys to see the reality of places and fields where women are active and for them to think in the same way that they too can be active in those places. I wanted to have not only girls but also male junior high school and high school students come to that place, and believe it is important to not have that barrier from the start.
Also, one more aspect, which I also personally need to reflect on, is the division of domestic labor. I’m not sure how to say it, but more needs to be done in various areas. It seems that it comes back completely like a boomerang, in that no matter how much women are active outside their household, there is still a bottleneck in terms of the division of domestic labor. Japan needs to make more efforts in this area, including myself.
Act on Names and Locations of Overseas Diplomatic Establishments and Salary of Diplomats Serving Overseas Diplomatic Establishments
NHK, Koizumi: I apologize for asking about the issue of the Japanese spelling of country names, but the amendment of the Act on Names and Locations of Overseas Diplomatic Establishments and Salary of Diplomats Serving Overseas Diplomatic Establishments was voted on and decided on in the House of Councillors. Can you please tell us your impressions again? Also, the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense of the House of Councillors collected views regarding various countries such as the United Kingdom and Jordan, so can you also please tell us your thoughts on how to respond going forward?
Minister Kono: The House of Councillors Committee identified a specific issue. For example, a notification was received for North Macedonia two days following the Cabinet decision and it will be next time, but I believe that the issue was raised about whether it is truly necessary to go as far as to amend the Act to change country name spellings in Japanese. If it is necessary, then for example, a Cabinet order would be fine for amending a country name. I believe such consideration needs to be conducted. Amending the Act is necessary for monetary values such as work allowances and child education allowances, but I believe there is room for consideration regarding country names going forward.
Discussions are necessary for whether to use kanji characters for the Japanese spellings of the United Kingdom and the United States, or whether to write “Igirisu” or use the kanji spelling for the United Kingdom. Discussions naturally need to be held for whether the Japanese spelling for East Timor should be “East Chimooru” or “Timooru Resuto,” and whether it should be “Timooru” or “Chimooru.” Diet member Ono raised the question of whether the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan should be “Yorudan Hashemetto Oukoku” or “Yorudan Hashemu Oukoku.” I believe that each of these needs to be carefully looked at.
In addition, although currently country name spellings are the focus of discussions, there are also various spellings of names of people and places, such as “Kashogi” or “Haashokuji” in regard to the recent Khashoggi incident, so what should the Ministry of Foreign Affairs do?
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held, but another discussion that should naturally be held is why it is “Moon Jae-in” and “Xi Jinping,” but it is “Shinzo Abe” instead of “Abe Shinzo.” Names from China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) once had the opposite order of first name then last name, but now there is no sense of discomfort with the name order of last name then first name. It’s only Japan now, and is it really all right for it still to be “Shinzo Abe” and “Taro Kono”? There needs to be consideration on matching this with Japanese pronunciation, and if this should be matched with the Ceremony of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor, the Tokyo Olympic Games, or something else. I do not really know, but I believe that there naturally needs to be discussion on this.