Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Thursday, August 15, 2019, 3:25 p.m. Belgrade, Republic of Serbia
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I visited Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia over four days from August 12.
These countries each have various strengths in the field of economics, and I believe the region has a potential to be a destination of investments or expanded investments by Japanese companies. The governments of the countries also have very high expectations about investments from Japan.
During my visit, while visiting successful examples of Japanese companies that have entered the local markets, I held various exchanges of views with the foreign ministers of these countries with regards to strengthening their economies and investment.
In addition, promotion of the “Western Balkans Cooperation Initiative” was also an important objective of my visits. The Western Balkan countries, namely Serbia, which can be said to be the hub of the Western Balkan region, as well as Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Croatia, which are promoting the accession of Western Balkan countries to the European Union, each welcomed Japan’s involvement and support to the Western Balkan countries, and we also exchanged views on concrete cooperation projects.
With the respective countries, I also confirmed cooperation on global issues including the importance of establishing the rule of law in the seas and cooperation to respond to North Korea.
I believe that strengthening cooperation with these countries will contribute to strengthening the stability and unity of Europe, an important partner for Japan, and solidarity under fundamental values.
I will go to Venice after this, and would like to fully participate in the “Dialogue” starting tomorrow.
Reporter: I believe you have been asked about this before. You highlighted the support for four Western Balkan countries this time. What are your thoughts about the significance for Japan to do so?
Minister Kono: For Japan, I believe it is extremely important that Europe is united and stable, and that the unity be strengthened under the fundamental values which are shared with Japan. Amidst this, these Western Balkan countries are still not members of the EU. I believe it is extremely important for the unity of the EU that these countries carry out various economic and social reforms towards their accession to the EU or NATO. If these Western Balkan countries do not make progress in becoming members of the EU, I believe it could become the origin of what can be called a small crack within Europe. In this context, Japan will firmly support such countries’ accession to the EU and other international frameworks.
Reporter: Concerning this region, I believe China is also making major advances here. What is your recognition of this, and as Japan and China are doing business cooperation in third countries, what are your thoughts on the possibilities of cooperation in this region?
Minister Kono: As Japan has been consistently stating, it is important that with regards to China’s infrastructure projects, careful considerations be made for international standards, openness, transparency, economic efficiency regarding life-cycle cost, and the soundness of the other country’s debt. I believe the exact same things can be said for infrastructure in this region. With regards to business cooperation in third countries between Japan and China, keeping in mind the realization of high-quality infrastructure, there are various arguments about whether this is a good region or not for carrying out such projects. However, at the very least, regarding business cooperation in third countries between Japan and China, we would like to think about a worthy project that firmly promotes high-quality infrastructure.
Reporter: I would like to ask about Japanese companies. Toward the expansion of Japanese companies into the vast Balkan region, how will the Government of Japan specifically provide support? Is there some sort of vision?
Minister Kono: For one thing, this region is abound in high-quality manpower. That is true of Bulgaria’s information technology (IT)-related human resources, Slovenia’s high-quality manpower, Croatia’s well-developed infrastructure, and Serbia also has a high-quality and yet low-priced labor market compared to other European countries. They all have their respective strengths. This region can also become the initial entrance to Europe for goods coming from Japan through the Suez Canal. In that sense, it is possible to improve the infrastructure as the gateway for Japan, and employ IT human resources at a very low price, who are steadily becoming scarcer in Japan. We would like to make it a priority to encourage the countries in this region to provide information on those strengths to Japanese companies. There are already numerous examples of success. Using such examples of success as reference, I believe that having many Japanese companies’ investments to this region would be very significant in the sense of stopping the ongoing brain drain among the young generation from the Western Balkan countries.
Reporter: I would like to change the subject away from your visits and ask about the Republic of Korea (ROK). As I have not yet posed you this question, I would like to ask again for your reaction regarding the removal of Japan by the ROK from its whitelisted countries considering Japan’s export control.
Minister Kono: I have nothing to say because I do not fully understand the reason for ROK’s measure. I believe the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan is requesting for information at the working level.
Reporter: I believe the root of the confrontation between Japan and the ROK is the breach of international law concerning former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, and that Japan has been requesting the ROK to remedy the situation for a long time to the ROK. Meanwhile, some has pointed out that sticking to just these actions will not lead to any progress. How is the Government of Japan thinking about responding in the future?
Minister Kono: The greatest problem in the worsening of the current situation of Japan-ROK relations is the Supreme Court judgment regarding former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, I believe it is necessary for the Government of the ROK to swiftly remedy their breach of international law.
Reporter: I think that restart of dialogue is necessary toward resolving the problem. Recently, there were reports from the ROK side on a plan to hold a vice-ministerial meeting. What are your thoughts on the possibility of holding one?
Minister Kono: I am aware of the reports, but they are not true at all.
Reporter: Is there a need to hold such a vice-ministerial meeting going forward?
Minister Kono: The diplomatic authorities of both countries have continuously had considerably close exchanges, including Foreign Ministers’ meetings, and I would like to continue that.
Reporter: Have you not heard about President Moon’s statement on National Liberation Day in the ROK?
Minister Kono: I am aware of the main points. I would like President Moon to show leadership to firmly remedy the breach of international law.
Reporter: Lastly, the Japan-Arab Political Dialogue is held once every two years, and I believe one is probably soon to be held. If it were held, what are your thoughts on setting the agenda?
Minister Kono: I would like to firmly hold the Japan-Arab Political Dialogue, but nothing has been decided on the schedule or other details for holding the next one.
Reporter: Is it planned to discuss about the Strait of Hormuz?
Minister Kono: Nothing has been decided yet.