Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Thursday, August 1, 2019, 9:45 p.m. Bangkok, Kingdom of Thailand
This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only.
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: This was my third ASEAN-related Foreign Ministers’ Meetings since I became Minister for Foreign Affairs. At the Japan-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, we agreed to promote Japan-ASEAN relations which celebrated their 45th anniversary of Friendship and Cooperation last year, and to strengthen our strategic partnership. The ASEAN side expressed expectation and gratitude for Japan’s cooperation in a wide range of fields, including disaster prevention, human resource development, and people-to-people exchange. I communicated Japan’s position regarding the regional situation, namely North Korea and the South China Sea, and at the same time confirmed that Japan would collaborate with the ASEAN countries.
In addition, I held ten bilateral meetings, including the Japan-United States-Australia meeting, and confirmed that Japan would work closely with each country. In the Japan-United States-Australia Trilateral Strategic Dialogue, we discussed the regional situation including North Korea and the South China Sea and confirmed that we would collaborate toward tomorrow’s East Asia Summit (EAS) and ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). That is all from me.
Reporter: I would like to ask a question about Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) relations. In relation to today’s Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Minister Kang Kyung-wha made it clear that she strongly opposed Japan’s policy of removing the ROK from the “white list” countries and asked for Japan to stop the policy. What kind of explanation did you give about this?
Minister Kono: I said that the issue of former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula is an extremely serious issue, which has significantly undermined the legal foundation of relations between Japan and the ROK. I stated that I would like the Government of the ROK to make strong efforts to remedy this situation. I did not talk much about anything other than this in particular.
Reporter: Just to confirm, are you saying you did not give any answer in particular to the demand from Minister Kang Kyung-wha to stop removing the ROK from the “white list” countries?
Minister Kono: As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we stated that the issue of former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula is the largest issue with regards to the relations between our two countries right now, so it is necessary for the Government of the ROK to properly respond to this issue. Regarding export controls, this is a matter for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, so I did not say anything about it in particular.
Reporter: In relation to this, today U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed that he had a brief conversation with you, and he expressed his expectations for the improvement of Japan-ROK relations in that conversation. Please tell us what kind of exchanges took place with Secretary Pompeo and what explanations you gave.
Minister Kono: We talked a little while walking, perhaps after the Japan-United States-Australia trilateral strategic dialogue, but the main topic was the sudden resignation of Ambassador Hagerty and his successor. We did say one or two things about Japan and the ROK but nothing particularly noteworthy.
Reporter: Was there any switch or change to the policy concerning Japan’s trade and commerce policy through today’s Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting? Was there any change to the policy of removing the ROK from the “white list” countries?
Minister Kono: The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is in charge of export controls, so please ask the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Reporter: It is being said that the United States has presented a mediation plan for Japan-ROK relations. Has a mediation plan been presented to Japan?
Minister Kono: There is no such fact at all.
Reporter: I have heard that Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha referred to General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). Did you respond to that in any way, or did you give an explanation that Japan would exclude the ROK from the “white list” countries for security reasons?
Minister Kono: The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is in charge of export controls, so I cannot say anything about that.
Reporter: Did Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha say anything about GSOMIA?
Minister Kono: Today, I did not say anything about that in particular.
Reporter: Did the other party mention it?
Minister Kono: I will refrain from commenting on the statements of the other party.
Reporter: Up until today, has there been any contact, including at the working level, between Japan and North Korea, or any meetings?
Minister Kono: Japan and North Korea are conducting exchanges through a variety of routes. There was no contact in Bangkok in particular.
Reporter: Are you planning any contact after this?
Minister Kono: I do not know what will happen after this.
Reporter: Was there a suggestion from Secretary of State Pompeo that the Japan-ROK issue should be brought up in some way at tomorrow’s Japan-United States-ROK meeting?
Minister Kono: None in particular.
Reporter: What do you intend to discuss at the Japan-United States-ROK meeting?
Minister Kono: I think the confirmation of cooperation of the three countries regarding North Korea.
Reporter: At the press conference after the meeting, Minister Kang Kyung-wha told the press corps that there would be an effect on ROK-Japan security cooperation, which I think is linked to GSOMIA. Setting aside the question of whether or not there was a statement about GSOMIA, what do you think about the significance of GSOMIA?
Minister Kono: I think it is an extremely important part of Japan-ROK cooperation.
Reporter: If Minister Kang Kyung-wha were to say there is an effect on GSOMIA, do you think that Japan would call on ROK not to withdraw from it?
Minister Kono: This is a security issue, so I think it would never be confused with other issues.
Reporter: During her doorstep interview-style press conference, Minister Kang Kyung-wha stated that it would be possible for the ROK to take some retaliatory measures if the removal of the ROK from the “white list” countries would be decided at Japan’s Cabinet meeting. Setting aside the question of what kind of retaliatory measures they would be, what do you think now about the fact that Japan-ROK relations have become like this and the risk that they could end up in a situation of reacting with retaliatory measures towards each other?
Minister Kono: The only issue between Japan and the ROK now is that the judgment by the Supreme Court concerning the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula has created a situation in which the ROK breaches international law, so I would like the Government of the ROK to take prompt remedial measures.
Reporter: Has the ROK side shown any sign of considering such remedial measures in any way or of implementing any improvement measures?
Minister Kono: There was no sign of that in particular today.