Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Friday, August 2, 2019, 9:10 p.m. Bangkok, Kingdom of Thailand
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Today the East Asia Summit (EAS) and ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) ministerial meetings were held. I strongly promoted Japan’s position regarding the security issues in the region and aimed to strengthen collaboration with relevant countries.
Regarding the issue of North Korea, I emphasized that the launch of ballistic missiles by North Korea was regrettable, that along with the ASEAN countries we intend to strongly support the U.S.-North Korea process toward the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges, and that maintaining full implementation of Security Council resolutions, including efforts for addressing ship-to-ship transfer, is essential.
At ARF, I also stated that we would like to work hard for the resolution of outstanding issues of concern between Japan and North Korea, including the abductions issue, toward normalization of Japan-North Korea diplomatic relations.
Regarding maritime security, I shared with the participating countries our serious concern regarding the worsening situation in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. I expressed strong opposition to attempts to unilaterally change the status quo as well as acts of intimidation against other parties, and called for demilitarization and peaceful resolution of disputes.
Furthermore, I emphasized that the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) must not prejudice the interests of third parties or the rights and freedoms of all states under international law.
In addition, I welcomed the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific adopted by ASEAN, and advocated that ARF bring forward concrete cooperation in accordance with international standards as confirmed in the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment.
In the ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Minister Kang Kyung-wha of the Republic of Korea (ROK) expressed the position of the ROK concerning Cabinet decisions regarding the export controls of Japan, so I explained the position of Japan.In addition, I held five bilateral meetings and the Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers' Meeting, and confirmed close coordination with each country. In the Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, we exchanged views, including those about the recent developments in the situation regarding North Korea, coordinated our future policies, and confirmed that the three countries would continue to coordinate. That is all from me.
Reporter: I would like to ask a question about Japan and the ROK. This evening the Government of the ROK announced retaliatory measures. Please tell me your reaction to this and, if you mentioned that issue during today’s Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, please tell us about that.
Minister Kono: During the Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, there was a statement from Minister Kang of the ROK concerning this issue. I explained the position of Japan. Regarding these export controls, as a responsible member of the international community, Japan, led by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, has to strongly carry out what must be done, so I think that these export controls do not obstruct trade in particular, and therefore that they are not something against which retaliatory measures have to be taken.
Reporter: Just to confirm, are you saying that Minister Kang only talked about the export controls and there was no explanation about the retaliatory measures and others?
Minister Kono: There was an expression of the position of the ROK side regarding Japan’s export controls, so I said that Japan had to impose the export controls as a responsible member of the international community, and that the export controls did not have a character of obstructing trade.
Reporter: I have heard that in the same Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a statement to the effect that he would like to encourage Japan and the ROK to cooperate and move forward. How did you react to this?
Minister Kono: Secretary Pompeo made a statement to the effect that both countries are valuable partners of the United States and that he would thus like the two countries to make efforts to talk to each other to resolve the issues.
Reporter: What is your reaction to this?
Minister Kono: Of course, I think that it is important for Japan, the United States, and the ROK to firmly cooperate given the situation in Northeast Asia. Firstly, I explained regarding this issue of former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, that the biggest issue at present between Japan and the ROK is getting the ROK to thoroughly remedy its breach of international law. I would like to ask the ROK side to take this step urgently.
Reporter: Regarding the earlier statement by Secretary Pompeo, he said he would like to encourage Japan and the ROK to make efforts to talk to each other to resolve the issues, but does this mean Secretary Pompeo would himself serve as a mediator between the two countries?
Minister Kono: No, that is wrong. He is not engaging in mediation or anything like that at all; he just said “please talk to each other to resolve the issues between your two countries.”
Reporter: The ROK side mentioned that United States made a statement that it has a role to play, that it would do what it could. Does the facts stand this way?
Minister Kono: I am saying there was no statement of that kind in particular.
Reporter: Did Secretary Pompeo express his concerns out of worries?
Minister Kono: I think he is concerned that this issue of export controls would have ripple effects in other areas. This is not an issue on which the United States would comment in particular.
Reporter: In that context, was there an exchange of views among Japan, the U.S. and the ROK regarding the North Korean flying object launched today, and was the statement that it was seemingly a short-range ballistic missile shared among each of the ministers?
Minister Kono: We coordinated our views regarding our initiatives concerning North Korea going forward, rather than the issue of today’s missile.
Reporter: In that context, did Foreign Minister Kang mention General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) or anything alike?
Minister Kono: There were several matters that became topics of discussion between Japan, the U.S. and the ROK. The issue of North Korea was discussed, and I presented the issue of the INF and Minister Kang brought up the issue of Japan’s export controls, so there were several items on the agenda, or rather topics of discussion.
Reporter: Am I correct in assuming that there were also exchanges concerning GSOMIA and the missiles?
Minister Kono: I would like to refrain from saying anything about the statements made by other countries, but we did exchange views on several topics.
Reporter: At your doorstep interview-style press conference yesterday, you said GSOMIA was a security issue and it should not be confused with other issues. However, listening to various statements made today by Ms. Kang Kyung-wha and the ROK side, I did have a strong impression that they are linking them together. How are you going to respond to this, and how do you intend to try to persuade or rather to give an explanation?
Minister Kono: In today’s ASEAN Plus Three meeting I said that there are three issues between Japan and the ROK. The first is the breach of international law concerning the 1965 agreement. Another is the issue of the import regulations of the ROK. And then there is the issue of the present export controls of Japan. I said that each of them is separate, independent matters that should not be confused. I think that it is necessary for Japan and the ROK to solve each of these issues.
Reporter: With regards to the statement you mentioned earlier made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that both Japan and the ROK are valuable partners so he would like the two countries to make an effort to talk to each other to resolve the issues, was it a statement about the issue of the export controls, or a statement about Japan-ROK relations in general?
Minister Kono: I think it was about Japan-ROK relations in general.
Reporter: It is reported that the situation in the Middle East also became a topic of discussion in today’s Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. What kind of statement did you make about the situation in the Middle East, such as the current situation in the Strait of Hormuz, including Iran?
Minister Kono: Mainly Secretary Pompeo explained the situation in the Middle East. We exchanged various views based on his explanation.
Reporter: Did he give any kind of explanation regarding the so-called maritime security initiative that is being talked about?
Minister Kono: I think it was about the situation in the Middle East rather than the maritime security initiative.
Reporter: Did Secretary Pompeo directly ask you about the coalition of the willing, to which you answered?
Minister Kono: No, nothing.
Reporter: You said earlier that Mr. Pompeo possibly expressed his concern that current Japan-ROK relations would have ripple effects in other areas. Did Mr. Pompeo express the concern that due to the worsening of Japan-ROK relations, GSOMIA would be repealed or adversely affected?
Minister Kono: He was not talking about any specific issue, but since both the ROK and Japan are important partners and allies for the United States, naturally the United States would be worried about the worsening of relations between two allies.
Reporter: President Moon Jae-in is criticizing Japan with quite a strong language, and says the ROK is considering to take retaliatory measures. Anti-Japanese feelings are intensifying in the ROK. What kind of response are you considering in order to improve Japan-ROK relations?
Minister Kono: I think there are three things. The most important in Japan-ROK relations is the remedy of the breach of international law by the Government of the ROK with regards to the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula. Next, talking about the import regulations, these need to be based on scientific ground. Finally, since this issue of export controls does not obstruct trade, I think it is necessary for the ROK to understand this properly.
Reporter: Did you have any contact with the North Korean side in the series of events on your itinerary?
Minister Kono: The foreign minister of North Korea did not attend on this occasion, and the waiting room for North Korea was directly opposite the waiting room for Japan, so to be honest I was thinking that perhaps there would be some contact, but there was not much sign that he was there. There was no statement from the North Korean side at today’s ARF either, so it is a little uncertain whether he ever attended the forum.
Reporter: It is reported that Prime Minister Medvedev of Russia has visited the Four Northern Islands again. Please tell us your reaction. Also, I think you have protested, but what will your response be afterwards?
Minister Kono: This visit is inconsistent with the position of the Government of Japan. As you would expect, I think that the solution to this issue is to conclude a peace treaty and thoroughly resolve this territorial issue, so I intend to endeavor to ensure that the negotiations for the peace treaty surely proceed.
Reporter: What impact do you think this landing on the islands will have on the Japan-Russia peace treaty negotiations going forward?
Minister Kono: That is precisely why I think we have to firmly conduct negotiations for the conclusion of the peace treaty, so that this kind of issue will not arise. I would like both Japan and Russia to hold firm consultations in this area.
Reporter: In today’s meetings, in the multilateral meeting, the export regulations was touched upon for about four times, and each time you explained the position of the Japanese side. Did any of the participating countries express their views to you about your explanations?
Minister Kono: The foreign minister of Singapore said that he had realized that Singapore was not on the “white list” either, but there are no current issues concerning trade between Japan and Singapore in particular, and our free trade is not being obstructed. I think that probably the ASEAN countries and the countries that attended today’s meetings understood that Japan’s current export controls do not obstruct trade and do not set back free trade.