Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Friday, May 31, 2019, 4:22 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Japan-Russia Foreign and Defense Ministerial Consultation (“2+2” Ministerial Meeting)
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: With regards to Russia, yesterday you attended the “2+2” Ministerial Meeting and today you attended the bilateral meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov. Firstly, at yesterday’s “2+2” Ministerial Meeting, Minister Lavrov made some considerably severe statements regarding the United States at the beginning. In addition, at least based on what I heard through the interpreter, he stated that the Indo-Pacific concept that Japan is promoting is not exactly open, showing a slightly negative reaction. What are your thoughts on how to manage or overcome these differences in fundamental recognitions of the security situation?
Another question, when the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting ended today, I heard that Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov had said that he hoped the specific contents of the joint economic activities will be revealed at the upcoming summit meeting. Was such an agreement made, and what are your thoughts on the results you hope to see from the upcoming summit meeting, as you have mentioned the depth of the Japan-Russia relations in various aspects including people-to-people exchanges?
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: At yesterday’s joint press conference, I also heard the interpreter speaking about being “not open.” It is not the case that Japan and Russia agree on all viewpoints regarding world affairs, but there is now the ”Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” as well as various similar initiatives of countries, and it has been agreed to hold such discussions on various occasions including the ambassador-level meeting in Indonesia. I would like to continue to exchange views also with Russia regarding the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”
Secondly, regarding the results of the summit meeting, I would like to refrain from making comments at present, but another meeting will be held on June 11 regarding the contents of the joint economic activities on the Four Northern Islands. Both Japan and Russia will think creatively and hold discussions toward a mechanism that will not harm the legal positions of both sides. I will make efforts to make advancement in this.
Sankei Shimbun, Rikitake: I would like to ask about today’s Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. At the joint press conference, Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov mentioned that the Russian side is making propositions to the Japanese side regarding issues including a visa-free system on the Russian side or a visa exemption for Sakhalin and Hokkaido. What is the Japanese side’s position on this? Also, he mentioned that this could be done within the joint economic activities framework, so what is your recognition of whether this should be done within the joint economic activities framework?
Minister Kono: We are currently holding discussions on movement of people. I would like to refrain from commenting on the content. There is still not an agreement about which I can make an announcement, so I would like to refrain from commenting, but Japan and Russia are currently holding discussions on the framework for movement of people.
North Korea Situation
NHK, Okuzumi: There are reports that Mr. Kim Hyok Chol, who was responsible for negotiations between the United States for the U.S.-North Korea Summit meeting, was executed. What is your reaction to this, and how do you feel it will influence future negotiations with the United States? In addition, there are reports that Japan and North Korea plan on making contact at the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue next week. Can you please explain how the facts stand on the matter, and regardless of whether North Korea will be there or not, do you have any intention on conveying the policy of aiming to meet with Chairman Kim Jong-un without preconditions on the occasion of a multilateral meeting?
Minister Kono: I am aware of the reports regarding Mr. Kim Hyok Chol. I would like to firmly analyze and confirm the information including whether it is true or not. There is no official announcement by North Korea at present, so I believe it would be inappropriate for me to comment beyond that.
I believe that personnel from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA) will participate this year in the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue, as is the case each year, about which I am not sure whether it should be called Track 2 or Track 1.5. I do not have any particular comment on anything beyond that.
Kyodo News, Fukuda: I have another related question. There are reports of a purge, and on the other hand, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui, and other diplomatic officials are still on the center stage. Will you still aim for discussions with such North Korean diplomatic officials at international conferences and other occasions going forward?
Minister Kono: I have met and spoken with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at the ASEAN-related Foreign Ministers’ Meetings and the United Nations General Assembly, so I believe it would not be strange for that to happen in the future.
Writing Names of Japanese People Using the English Alphabet
Jiji Press, Echigo: I would like to ask about the romanization of Japanese names. While you and Minister Shibayama of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) are advocating writing names in the order of surname and then first name, currently Prime Minister Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga are using the order of first name and then surname. How do you feel about the difference in response within the Government, and do you think the way of writing names should be standardized?
Minister Kono: Such a question would not arise if we standardize it to surname and then first name. We are in this situation because internationally Japanese names have been written in the order of first name and then surname. I have held a meeting with Minister Shibayama about this matter, and first there needs to be proper coordination between ministries and agencies. If I say “I’m Kono Taro,” but in another ministry they say “I’m Taro Aso,” people will not know if Taro is a first name or a surname. In the past, confusion arose around the issue of Kono Taro and Aso Taro, which I believe was in the Economist. Such cases happen, so I believe that first all the ministries and agencies need to coordinate. The National Language Council’s report was issued 20 years ago, so I would like to respond while having firm cooperation between Minister of MEXT Shibayama and MOFA.
North Korea Situation
Kyodo News, Niwa: I would like to return to the issue of North Korea. Recently, the Government of Japan stated that the missile launched this month by North Korea was a ballistic missile that violates the United Nations sanctions resolutions. However, President Trump of the United States did not mention this and showed an attitude of not viewing it as a problem. I believe neither has the Government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) clearly asserted that it was a ballistic missile. How will this difference in the way of communication between Japan, the United States and the ROK affect the Japan-US-ROK cooperation going forward?
Minister Kono: Japan and the United States are cooperating on this at various levels, and we agreed on the point that the short-range ballistic missile launched on May 9 was a clear violation of the UN Security Council Resolutions, that we shall advance the full implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions, and at the same time we shall cooperate with the international community to firmly prevent any loopholes. There is no difference on these points. President Trump is making various statements from the standpoint of advancing the U.S.-North Korea process, so neither do I believe that there is any particular discrepancy between Japan and the United States on this matter. In addition, the Government of the ROK is entirely consistent on the full implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions, so I do not recognize any sort of particular issue.
Writing Names of Japanese People Using the English Alphabet
Japan Times, Yoshida: With regards to the order of surname and first name discussed earlier, firstly, I do not have an impression that discussions were widely conducted even within MOFA, and as Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga stated, there is also the impression that discussions were not particularly conducted outside MEXT and MOFA. It seems that there is confusion within the Government and the question of why standardization on this is not possible. Additionally, since this is widely related to people who use English in general, rather than simply saying that this is the matter of course, there should be more of a convincing reason on what would be good to do. Otherwise, I still do not see any convincing reasons for conducting a large amount of work for completely replacing computer systems and business cards. Rather than just saying it is because of the Olympics, I think there should be a little more discussion of the advantages for why it should be changed.
Minister Kono: I believe it is a matter of course that Japanese names should be communicated as they are in Japanese, but the reality is that for a long time since the Meiji period, Japanese names have been written in the order of first name and then surname in English. As you said, there would be various work that would have to be conducted for returning to the Japanese order of names, so based on that, I believe there needs to be discussions on what should be done. With MEXT which oversees the National Language Council and MOFA at the center, discussions are being held on how to cooperate now. I believe we must advance this firmly so there are no inconsistencies.
Japan Times, Yoshida: Did only MEXT and MOFA lay the groundwork with discussions? Is the cooperation only extending this far?
Minister Kono: All government offices deal with people’s names, as well as all municipalities and companies, so in the end this is something that needs to be dealt by Japan as a whole.