Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Sunday, May 5, 2019, 5:08 p.m. Addis Ababa, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I am visiting Ethiopia following my visits to Angola and South Sudan. This is my first visit to Ethiopia in two years. Today, I paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Abiy. We confirmed matters such as the bilateral relations between Japan and Ethiopia, the regional situation, and cooperation in the international arena.
I welcomed the re-establishment of the diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea last July for the first time in 20 years and the extremely strong leadership shown by Prime Minister Abiy in domestic economic reforms and peacebuilding in the Horn of Africa. I delivered Prime Minister Abiy an invitation from Prime Minister Abe to this year’s Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). The invitation expresses Prime Minister Abe’s hope that Prime Minister Abiy will attend. I was able to confirm that Prime Minister Abiy will attend TICAD.
In addition, with regard to Ethiopia’s financial situation, views were exchanged concerning Japan’s dispatch of financial experts towards resuming official development assistance (ODA) yen loans for Ethiopia.
I expressed condolences for the loss of life of five people, including foreign nationals—an Indian national and a Japanese woman—in the shooting incident in Ethiopia in March. As the Japanese woman was also among the victims of this incident, I requested a full investigation and punishment of the necessary people, to which the Prime Minister made very reassuring remarks. I understand that the Government of Ethiopia is working to uncover the full truth of this incident as early as possible.
Afterwards, I met with H.E. Amb. Quartey, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), at the African Union (AU) headquarters. We confirmed our cooperative relations and the status of preparations towards TICAD7.
I also met with Amb. Wais, Special Envoy for South Sudan of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). I welcomed the decision made on May 3 with unanimous agreement by the parties to extend the Pre-Transitional period by an additional six months. I stated that the Government of Japan remains fully committed to the peace process in South Sudan. The Government of Japan hopes that not only Japan but many countries fully commit to and support the ongoing peace and political processes and will therefore urge the international community to this end. I will now take your questions.
Reporter: While there may be slight overlaps with your opening remarks, can you please explain the reason you chose to visit Africa during the latter half of Japan’s end of April-early May holiday? What was your objective in selecting these three countries?
Minister Kono: Since Japan will host TICAD7 in Yokohama this year, I visited Africa to prepare for the meeting. First, with regard to Ethiopia, it is home to the AU headquarters. Japan and Ethiopia confirmed our cooperative relations and status of preparation towards TICAD7. Prime Minister Abiy has shown strong leadership in re-establishing diplomatic relations with Eritrea and implementing domestic economic reforms, and Japan intends to steadily foster cooperative relations with Ethiopia.
With respect to South Sudan, as Japan, together with IGAD, are supporting the ongoing peace and political processes, Japan’s commitment to the processes was fully confirmed. The two sides also exchanged views regarding the situation of the meeting held here in Addis Ababa on May 3.
As for Angola, it has the third largest economy among Sub-Saharan African countries, following Nigeria and South Africa, and has abundant natural resources. It is therefore a country with an extremely high potential for economic growth, and we intend to steadily develop our bilateral relationship. For such reasons, I have visited the three countries of Angola, South Sudan, and Ethiopia.
Reporter: Both Angola which you just visited and Ethiopia face the issue of considerable loans from China. Recently, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Aso stated that China’s loans are equivalent to loan sharks. Leaving aside terminology, do you have a similar view as Minister Aso?
Minister Kono: It is true that the international community has concerns that China’s loans for developing countries are creating a “debt trap.” At the recent Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, President Xi Jinping remarked on international standards and debt sustainability. As such, we will closely follow the situation.
Reporter: I would like to change the question to North Korea. It was recently reported that North Korea launched several flying objects. With no developments being observed towards a third US-North Korea Summit Meeting, what is your view on the fact that North Korea went ahead with such actions? In addition, what is your analysis of North Korea’s aims in taking such actions?
Minister Kono: I immediately held telephone talks with Secretary of State Pompeo of the United States and Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha of the Republic of Korea (ROK). The three countries are now collecting information and conducting analyses regarding these flying objects. First, we will fully confirm what actually occurred and how. As of now, the situation has not changed that the ball is on North Korea’s side. We will deal with this issue while fully maintaining the Japan-U.S.-ROK trilateral cooperation.
Reporter: In connection with North Korea, I would next like to ask about the abductions issue. Recently, Sankei Shimbun conducted an exclusive interview with Prime Minister Abe. In the interview, the Prime Minister stated that a Japan-North Korea Summit Meeting will be conducted without any prerequisites, according to the newspaper article. Whenever the issue of the Japan-North Korea Summit Meeting was raised at the Diet or elsewhere, Prime Minister Abe had stated that such a summit meeting, if held, must contribute to the resolution of the abductions issue. Should we construe the Prime Minister’s latest comment as a change in policy? How should we view the Prime Minister’s remark?
Minister Kono: The abductions issue is one that must be resolved between Japan and North Korea, and Prime Minister Abe has been positive about holding a summit meeting. While discussion of the abductions issue is not an entry point for the summit meeting, our stance remains unchanged that the outcome of the meeting must be the comprehensive resolution of the nuclear, missile, and abductions issues, as enshrined in the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration.
Reporter: My question is in regard to the abductions issue. I apologize for not asking this earlier. According to reports, during the previous U.S.-North Korea Summit Meeting, Chairman Kim Jong-un expressed an intention to eventually hold a Japan-North Korea Summit Meeting regarding the abductions issue. Can you tell us what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows about this matter?
Minister Kono: While there are various reports regarding the U.S.-North Korea meeting, I would like to refrain from commenting on each report.
Reporter: I would like to change the topic again and ask about the ROK. With regard to the requisitioned workers issue, the plaintiffs recently initiated procedures to convert the shares it seized into cash. What is your view of these developments? Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha has indicated that the ROK Government will respect the judgment of the judiciary and will not intervene. What is your opinion of such responses of the ROK Government? I believe the Government of Japan has been considering countermeasures from before. As procedures are taken to convert seized assets into cash, when does the Government of Japan intend to put the countermeasures into motion and what kind of countermeasures do you have in mind?
Minister Kono: At the very root of this issue is the risk of overthrowing the legal foundation of the bilateral relations under the Japan-ROK Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Co-operation. As this is an issue for the ROK side, the ROK Government must address it in a responsible manner. It is not a matter of intervening in judicial affairs. Rather, the ROK Government needs to steadily resolve this issue, and I worry that the Minister’s remarks may lead to somewhat of a misunderstanding. The ROK must address the matter in a responsible manner. There is no change in what the Government of Japan will do. Should the responses of the ROK Government cause “real harm” to Japanese companies, the Government of Japan will swiftly take the necessary measures. This remains unchanged.