Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Sunday, April 28, 2019, 4:12 p.m. Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: During this visit, I made a courtesy call to His Majesty King Salman, and held meetings with Minister of Foreign Affairs Assaf and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Jubeir. In the evening, I am scheduled to make a courtesy call to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed.
I believe that the reforms Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in for its future generations are essential for the country’s stability, and extremely important not only for the Middle East but also for the international community. Based on this recognition, I conveyed that Japan will firmly support Saudi Arabia’s reforms through the steady implementation of Japan-Saudi Vision 2030 and that Japan’s stance is unwavering. Furthermore, we reaffirmed the strategic partnership between Japan and Saudi Arabia.
The June G20 Summit is approaching, which is being held under the Japanese Presidency. Next year, Saudi Arabia will hold the G20 Presidency. We agreed to work together to thoroughly ensure the success of the G20 meetings this year and next year.
In addition, on April 26, at the meeting of the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade (WTO) Organization, there was discussion regarding import restrictions by the Republic of Korea (ROK) on Japanese fisheries and other products. At the meeting, Saudi Arabia explained that, as a result of an inspection conducted by an expert it dispatched to Japan, it has confirmed the safety of Japanese food products and therefore lifted import restrictions on them, and stated that Japanese food products are safe. I expressed my gratitude for this to Saudi Arabia.
I also exchanged views on the situation in the Middle East, as well as other regional circumstances with Saudi Arabia, a cornerstone of stability in the region.
Reporter: Regarding your current visit to Saudi Arabia, this marks the 100th country you have visited as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Countries in the Middle East account for around 20 of those you have visited. On the occasion of the 100th country you have visited, could you once again explain the significance of visiting the Middle East so many times and of engaging so proactively in Middle Eastern diplomacy?
Minister Kono: With regard to the diplomacy towards Middle East, the Middle East is the cornerstone for ensuring the stable supply of energy to Japan and is the source of energy not only for Japan but for many other countries in the world as well. Peace and stability in the Middle East are therefore extremely important for the stable development of the global economy.
I believe Japan enjoys a very special position in the Middle East. It is our hope to make full use of this and contribute to peace and stability in the region.
Ultimately, when engaging in diplomacy, visiting the country and building up relations of trust are essential. With Japan’s Official Development Assistance being cut in half and Japan being unable to exercise military power, our pure diplomatic ability is currently being tested. At such a time, I believe it is important for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to firmly exercise diplomatic leadership in this way. You mentioned that this is the 100th country I have visited, but that is the total number of visits I have made and the actual number of different countries I have visited is probably only around 70. There are 193 member countries in the United Nations alone, so I will continue to make careful and steady efforts to convey to each country their importance to Japan, without leaving any countries behind.
Reporter: Earlier you mentioned the matter of the ROK and the WTO. Could you please provide further details about the discussions and tell us whether or not you discussed Japan-ROK relations?
Minister Kono: At the WTO, an Appellate Body Report and a Panel Report excluding the section in question were adopted. Upon their adoption, Japan raised the concern that the WTO’s Appellate Body had failed to resolve the dispute. Over 10 other countries made statements expressing agreement with the concern that Japan raised. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries stated that Japanese food products are safe and expressed their support for Japan’s position in relation to the ROK’s import restrictions.
Reporter: When you expressed your gratitude to Saudi Arabia, did you do so to Minister of Foreign Affairs Assaf?
Minister Kono: I did so during my meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Assaf.
Reporter: You spoke about regional affairs, which I imagine might include subjects such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, sanctions by the United States, the issue of the termination of diplomatic relations with Qatar, and the Middle East Peace Process. What specifically did you discuss?
Minister Kono: We held a very wide-ranging exchange of views on Middle Eastern affairs as a whole, include Palestine and the Middle East Peace Process, Syria and Iran.
Reporter: What discussions did you have with Minister of Foreign Affairs Assaf regarding Iran?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from sharing the details. We exchanged views on a wide range of subjects in relation to regional affairs.
Reporter: Japan will be hosting the G20 Summit in June. Was there any discussion of who would attend from Saudi Arabia? For example, might the Crown Prince attend?
Minister Kono: We hope that a high-level representative will attend from Saudi Arabia. Ahead of next year’s G20 Summit in Saudi Arabia, we affirmed that Japan and Saudi Arabia will work closely together to ensure the success of this year’s Summit in Osaka and next year’s Summit in Saudi Arabia.
Reporter: Regarding Iran, did you exchange views on economic sanctions?
Minister Kono: We exchanged views on a very broad range of subjects, not just economic sanctions.
Reporter: Regarding the issue of the killing of a Saudi Arabian reporter, I believe you already made such a request at last week’s press conference, but during today’s meeting, did you once again request an investigation of the truth? Also, do you intend to raise this issue in your meeting with the Crown Prince?
Minister Kono: The judicial authorities in Saudi Arabia have already taken steps to investigate the truth and prevent the occurrence of similar incidents. I stated that Japan trusts those efforts.
Reporter: Did you say that to the Minister of Foreign Affairs?
Minister Kono: Yes, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Reporter: I believe Saudi Vision 2030 includes the establishment of special economic zones and that Japan has recommended that the relevant authorities ease various regulations. Did you discuss the progress made in relation to these measures or the possible timing?
Minister Kono: I expect such detailed discussions of individual matters to take place at the joint ministerial meeting in June.
Reporter: Just now, in relation to the issue related to the Saudi reporter, you stated, surprisingly, that you trust the steps being taken by Saudi Arabia. Did the Saudi side respond in any way?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from disclosing what was said by my counterpart.
Reporter: You just mentioned the joint ministerial meeting being held between Japan and Saudi Arabia in June. Have any details been decided, such as the timing or topics for discussion?
Minister Kono: I expect that the meeting between Japan and Saudi Arabia to confirm the status of progress towards Japan-Saudi Vision 30 and other matters will take place in Japan in mid-June.
Reporter: With regard to Japan-Saudi cooperation towards the holding of the next G20 Summit in Riyadh, did you discuss whether or not the Prime Minister or some other high-level official will be attending from Japan?
Minister Kono: It is the Summit, so of course the Prime Minister would attend.