Press Conferences

Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono

Tuesday, May 21, 2019, 10:30 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs

This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only.

Opening Remarks

(1) Foreign Minister Kono’s Attends the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting and WTO Meetings

Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I plan to attend the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting held in Paris on May 22 and 23. I believe Japanese Ministers for Foreign Affairs have not attended this meeting for quite some time, but since there will be discussions on the expansion of the OECD and also on the WTO, I believe this is an extremely important meeting. At the OECD Council Meeting, I would like to have discussions regarding various policy matters such as economics, trade, development and innovation, focusing on rapidly progressing digitalization. Also, Japan is the chair for this year’s G20 Summit, so I would like to convey Japan’s positions regarding matters of importance such as priority issues regarding development.

In addition, I plan to attend Informal WTO Ministerial Meetings. I will firmly convey Japan’s recognition of issues regarding WTO reforms.

Issue of Former Civilian Workers from the Korean Peninsula

NHK, Okuzumi: Yesterday, you announced that the Government would change direction away from proposing inter-governmental discussions, which had been done until now, to requesting an arbitration panel be established. I apologize for asking this question as this was covered in your answers in the Diet yesterday, but I would like to know the reason for the change in the direction at this point. Also, until now, the Republic of Korea (ROK) has shown absolutely no will to respond to the proposals for discussions, so what are your thoughts on the prospects for the ROK agreeing to establish an arbitration panel?

Thirdly, in the announcement made yesterday, it was stated that the ROK has the obligation to accept the arbitration under the Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Co-operation. However, in the text of the Agreement, it is not written that there is an obligation. You might say that it is clear from the text, but can you please explain why you think there is an obligation?

Minister Kono: On January 9, we proposed discussions related to the Agreement on the Settlement of Problems to the ROK. In the ROK side, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon has the role of facilitating the response to this issue, so Japan had given somewhat restrained responses in the sense of supporting in some aspects the response consolidated by Prime Minister Lee.

We were prepared for this to take some time, and I waited for more than four months. However, Prime Minister Lee recently made a statement to the effect that “there is a limit to what the Government of the ROK can do.” When we heard this, because we cannot wait any longer, we had to convey to the ROK our commitment to the arbitration process and the referral to an arbitration. This case can be called the most important legal matter at the basis of the diplomatic relations between Japan and the ROK, so I cannot help but say that the fundamental damage to the relations can create an extremely grave situation for the Japan-ROK relations.

I believe that the ROK would also be thinking that a further deterioration of the Japan-ROK relations is undesirable. In this situation, I would like President Moon Jae-in to determinedly represent the Government of the ROK, as this is a diplomatic issue, and to take the full responsibility by handling this case. In short, if it is the case where domestically there is a limit to what ROK can do, then naturally the arbitration process would have to be accepted. We, where necessary, would like to properly resolve this issue in the arena of international jurisdiction.

Please direct any inquiries regarding the details of the Agreement on the Settlement of Problems to the International Legal Affairs Bureau.

Kyodo News, Niwa: To add to the earlier question, when you said you want to resolve this in the arena of international jurisdiction if necessary, do you have the International Court of Justice in mind?

Minister Kono: As I said, if necessary, I would like to resolve this in the arena of international jurisdiction. But I would like the ROK to agree to the arbitration process, and to completely resolve this issue within the framework of the Japan-ROK Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Co-operation.

Japan-U.S. Foreign Ministers' Telephone Talk

Kyodo News, Niwa: A State Department announcement says that in your telephone talk yesterday with the Secretary of State Pompeo, you talked about Japan-Iran relation and about Huawei. Could you please tell us specific exchanges, and whether you discussed cooperation toward sustaining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which Foreign Minister Zarif requested you?

Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from commenting on the detailed contents as it was a diplomatic exchange.

Northern Territories Issue

Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: I have two questions. For my first question, yesterday, Prime Minister Medvedev of Russia made a statement, in regard to the Shikotan Island in the Northern Territories that Russia designated as a special zone in 2017, that the special zone would be expanded to expand tourism facilities. How will the Government of Japan respond to this? Also, director-general level working group and director level working group are being held right now in the view of accelerating joint economic activities, so what are your thoughts on this announcement from Russia amid this?

Minister Kono: In order to resolve such issues, we are negotiating in order to resolve the Northern Territories issue and concluding a peace treaty, so I will persistently advance the negotiations for concluding a peace treaty.

Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: Additionally, do you have any plan to lodge a protest from Japan?

Minister Kono: Regarding the differences in views, we have, repeatedly conveyed our position to them in a firm manner.

Writing Names of Japanese People Using the English Alphabet

Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: You have been advocating for some time that when writing the full name of Japanese people using the English alphabet, they should be in the Japanese order of surname first and then given name. I believe that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) is currently considering the response to this, so what is the status of the discussion? Also, Minister Shibayama of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) stated at the press conference after the Cabinet meeting that it will disseminate the report published 20 years ago by the National Language Council and that MEXT will ensure this order of writing names. What are your thoughts on this?

Minister Kono: In 2000, the National Language Council issued a report that it is desirable to use the order of “surname-given name” for the romanization of the names of Japanese people. We have entered the new Reiwa period, and are preparing for the Tokyo Olympic Games as well as the Rugby World Cup, the Emperor Enthronement Ceremony, the G20 Summit, TICAD, and major international conferences. Many foreign media use the name order of Xi Jinping or Moon Jae-in, so MOFA believes it is desirable for major international news media to use the Japanese name order of Abe Shinzo in the same way. I would like to issue this request to international press. There are some Japanese media companies that own outlets in English, so I would certainly like them to consider this.

Issue of Former Civilian Workers from the Korean Peninsula

Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: I would like to first ask an additional question in relation to the ROK. You have stated in relation to the issue of former civilian workers that necessary measures would be taken if the interest of Japanese companies were to be harmed. Amidst the request for an arbitration now, is there no change to your thoughts on this? In addition, I believe Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha will also go to Paris, so if you two will be in the same place, do you plan to make some sort of request again?

Minister Kono: In case the interest of Japanese companies were to be harmed, the Government of Japan would take necessary measures. A Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting is planned in the afternoon of May 23, and in addition to the international and regional situations including the North Korea issue, I also intend to take up this issue that is a matter of bilateral concern.

Visit to Japan by President Trump

Asahi Shimbun, Kiyomiya: President Trump will visit Japan from May 25 as the first State Guest of the Reiwa period. While there are various matters such as the trade issue and the North Korea issue, what results do you expect?

Minister Kono: He will visit as a State Guest, so I would like it to be a State Guest visit to show domestically and internationally that the Japan-U.S. relations and the Japan-U.S. Alliance are unwavering.

Northern Territories Issue

Sankei Shimbun, Rikitake: In relation to the earlier discussion about the announcement of Prime Minister Medvedev of Russia to expand the special economic zone in the Northern Territories, amidst the progression now of negotiations for a peace treaty also concerning the territories issue, what is your recognition of the current situation of Russia strengthening its control over the Northern Territories in this way?

Minister Kono: I believe that concluding a peace treaty is necessary for resolving this type of issue as well, so I will persistently conduct negotiations for the treaty.

Diplomatic Bluebook

Mainichi Shimbun, Akiyama: Some members of the Liberal Democratic Party are still unconvinced about the writing style regarding the Northern Territories in the Diplomatic Bluebook. How do you plan to respond to this view?

Minister Kono: As I have repeatedly explained in the Diet, regarding the writing style of the Diplomatic Bluebook, diplomatic activities took place in the year concerned are comprehensively considered and described. If necessary, I believe we will have to consider how to explain to the party.

Northern Territories Issue

Asahi Shimbun, Takeshita: I apologize for coming back to the Northern Territories. Currently, the working groups are working toward the joint economic activities, but the situation is that it is quite difficult to create a special system that will not harm the legal standpoint of both sides. What is your expectation on the role that the joint economic activities will play toward a conclusion of a peace treaty?

Minister Kono: The new approach is for Japan and Russia to draw out the future of the Four Northern Islands through actions such as the joint economic activities, and to find out a mutually acceptable solution, so I would like to shape the joint economic activities in a way that they can be conducted to securely achieve these ends.

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