Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Thursday, May 23, 2019, 6:20 p.m. Paris, French Republic
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I attended the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting (MCM) yesterday and today. Discussions took place regarding topics such as digital economy, trade, development, and OECD operations. On the margins of the MCM, WTO meetings, B20-related meetings, and several bilateral meetings were also held. At the MCM, I communicated the views of Japan regarding trade, digital economy, development, and other issues, as the country to chair the G20 summit this year. In addition, I stated that Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) are currently the only OECD members from Asia and that it is important to expand the OECD membership to countries in Southeast Asia. In the area of trade, I was able to clearly convey the views of Japan regarding the importance of WTO reform, including improving transparency, strengthening notification system, reforming the dispute settlement system, rulemaking, and the handling of special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions for developing countries, among other issues.
In a small-group meeting hosted by the Government of Canada, discussion took place regarding concrete measures for WTO reform. During the WTO informal ministerial meeting hosted by the Government of Australia, candid discussion took place regarding the status of the negotiations on fisheries subsidies, the importance of WTO reform efforts, among other issues.
With regard to the recent judgment of the WTO Appellate Body on import regulation measures on Japanese fishery products imposed by the ROK, I stated that it was extremely regrettable that the Appellate Body did not judge whether these measures are inconsistent with WTO agreement, which was a key point at issue, and that as a result, the dispute settlement system failed to fulfill its intended function. On this basis, I advocated the importance of advancing discussions towards fundamentally reforming the dispute settlement system. In addition, I requested that countries maintaining import restrictions on Japanese food products lift their restrictions.
On the margins of the MCM, I exchanged views with Prime Minister Pellegrini of Slovakia, the Chair of the MCM, as well as with WTO Director-General Azevêdo, United States Trade Representative Lighthizer, Minister for Foreign Relations Popolizio of Peru, Minister of Foreign Affairs Søreide of Norway, OECD Secretary General Gurria, Minister of Foreign Affairs Araujo of Brazil, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha of the ROK, respectively.
At the Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, with regard to the issue of former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, the Government of Japan recently notified the Government of the ROK of our decision to refer the matter to an arbitration in accordance with the Japan-ROK Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Co-operation, and this time I strongly urged the ROK to swiftly take concrete measures towards a solution at their responsibility. Furthermore, I requested the ROK to lift its import restrictions on Japanese fishery products as early as possible. That is all from me.
Reporter: At the beginning of your meeting with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, you lodged a protest over the comments made by the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the ROK. Was there any response or reaction from Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha?
Minister Kono: My counterpart made remarks, and in regard to the decisions made by the Supreme Court of the ROK and how they have significantly undermined the legal foundation of the Japan-ROK relationships, I believe that it is important that the ROK correctly realizes the graveness of this issue and fully resolves it. The comments of the ROK Foreign Ministry seemed to suggest that they lack recognition of the gravity of the matter, and if so, it will become difficult to maintain the Japan-ROK relationship. We would like to ask the Government of the ROK to address this issue swiftly.
Reporter: Were any mutual concessions made at today’s meeting over issues on which Japan and the ROK have different positions, including the “requisitioned civilian workers” issue?
Minister Kono: The ROK side cannot neglect this breach of international law forever. We would like the ROK to swiftly take full measures or finalize their measures, if possible before the G20 Osaka Summit.
Reporter: The ROK announced the content of the meeting. In its announcement, it states that the ROK refuted by stating that Japan should make efforts to heal the pains and wounds of the victims and exercise caution in its words and deeds. What was your response to this? What are your thoughts on the ROK’s view?
Minister Kono: This issue is a matter concerning international law. This breach of international law must be corrected from the perspective of the bilateral diplomatic relations. Rather than prioritizing personal sentiments, it is necessary to swiftly correct this breach of international law, which forms the cornerstone of bilateral diplomatic relations.
Reporter: Is that what you stated?
Minister Kono: That is what I stated.
Reporter: In your press conference, you stated that as Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said there is a limit to what the Government of the ROK can do, President Moon Jae-in should exercise leadership or that the matter should be dealt with at a higher level. Did you mention this point today?
Minister Kono: Since Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon is considering solutions to this issue as the person in charge, Japan had given restrained responses in the sense of supporting in some aspects Prime Minister Lee in this effort. However, Prime Minister Lee recently stated that there is a limit to their response. If the Prime Minister cannot take responses, then as a matter of course lower-level officials cannot take any responses. For this reason, there cannot be any solution unless President Moon Jae-in who is above the Prime Minister takes responsibility and consider responses.
Reporter: You conveyed this to Minister Kang?
Minister Kono: I did.
Reporter: Regarding the establishment of the arbitration committee, what did you request and what was their response?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from disclosing the comments made by my counterpart. We would like to ask the ROK side to appoint members of the arbitration committee as quickly as possible. However, our notification to refer the matter to arbitration does not preclude the ROK from fully taking responses prior to arbitration. I stated that it was desirable for the ROK to take responsive measures as quickly as possible.
Reporter: You stated that you cannot cite your counterpart’s comments. Are you saying that the ROK did not accept Japan’s wishes to convene an arbitration committee?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from disclosing my counterpart’s comments.
Reporter: In any case, the ROK did not respond by saying it would agree to convene an arbitration committee?
Minister Kono: I will refrain from disclosing my counterpart’s comments.
Reporter: According to some reports, as a new solution, the ROK intends to establish a fund, and as its basis, to have Japanese companies pay compensations for the cases on which court judgments have already been given. Did this matter come up today?
Minister Kono: No, it did not.
Reporter: What do you think about this proposal to have Japanese companies pay damages compensation and then have the Government of the ROK pay for the remaining portion?
Minister Kono: This issue has already been settled under the Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Co-operation.
Reporter: You stated earlier that you hope the ROK would present some form of response before the G20 Summit. What is your intention for giving this timeframe of before the G20 Summit?
Minister Kono: Since President Moon Jae-in will attend the G20 Summit, I believe it will be good if responses are taken by then.
Reporter: Are you saying that, if Japan-ROK relations remain as they are now, the circumstances will not permit the two leaders to hold talks with each other even if President Moon attends the G20 Summit?
Minister Kono: The G20 Summit will be attended by 27 countries and 10 international organizations, and Prime Minister Abe will be chairing the summit the entire day. Therefore, slots for bilateral meetings will be extremely limited.
Reporter: Is it your hope that the ROK makes some moves by the G20 Summit and arrive at the Summit under improved relations?
Minister Kono: I believe President Moon will attend the G20 Summit, and it will be desirable for the Japan-ROK relations if this issue is resolved by then.
Reporter: I understand that today’s meeting went significantly beyond the initially scheduled time and lasted around 1 hour and 20 minutes. What was the reason for holding the meeting for such a long time?
Minister Kono: In addition to this issue, there are also the North Korea issue and various other issues. We discussed for the necessary length of time.
Reporter: Did the ROK indicate today any thoughts on responses to the “requisitioned civilian workers” issue?
Minister Kono: I requested the ROK to fully take responses.
Reporter: Could you tell us what you meant in the bacon tweet?
Minister Kono: I have no comments on it.