Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Wednesday, August 21, 2019, 3:00 p.m. Gubei Water Town, People's Republic of China
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Today, I attended the ninth Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and the Japan-China-ROK foreign ministers’ working lunch. In the afternoon, we held a Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha. In the Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, as I stated at the joint press statement, we held discussions over the three items on the agenda: trilateral cooperation; regional and global situation; and the preparation for the next trilateral summit meeting. During the working lunch, we exchanged opinions regarding North Korean affairs taking into account the recent situation. I intend to coordinate with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha to fully ensure that the outcomes of today’s Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will lead to the Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Summit Meeting.
I held a Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha. I stated that the Government of Japan urges the Government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to firmly address the issue of former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, which is a matter of greatest concern for Japan and the ROK. I would like to refrain from disclosing the details of the meeting, but in any event, the two sides agreed that we will continue to seek to resolve the issue by maintaining close communications between our diplomatic authorities, including at the foreign minister level, and work together closely on the issue of North Korea and other international affairs. That is all from me.
Reporter: Do you think that today’s meeting made progress on the issue concerning Japan-ROK relations, including the issue of former civilian workers?
Minister Kono: The two sides made each other’s position clear, and on this basis, we share the view that this issue is a matter of greatest concern for the two countries, and we agreed that the two countries will continue to maintain communication between diplomatic authorities so that the issue can be fully resolved. I intend to make steady progress on this issue.
Reporter: What exactly was discussed regarding the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), or was it not discussed?
Minister Kono: The GSOMIA did came up as a topic. I would like to refrain from disclosing the content.
Reporter: Did you make any remarks regarding the GSOMIA?
Minister Kono: The topic of the GSOMIA came up during the meeting.
Reporter: Leaving aside the contents of today’s meeting, could you please explain the significance of the GSOMIA and how Japan should act?
Minister Kono: I believe that this is a vital framework between Japan and the United States as well as among Japan, the United States, and the ROK. Japan believes that the GSOMIA should be fully maintained.
Reporter: With regard to the issue of former civilian workers, did the ROK make any proposals that will help remedy its breach of international law?
Minister Kono: I believe I should not disclose today’s discussion externally. We will continue to maintain close communication between our diplomatic authorities.
Reporter: You stated that North Korean affairs were discussed at today’s lunch. President Trump of the United States has stated that he does not see the short-range ballistic missiles as a problem. Were short-range ballistic missiles discussed during today’s meeting?
Minister Kono: Today’s working lunch was held on the basis that the content would be kept completely confidential. Therefore, I would like to refrain from responding to your question.
Reporter: Did the topic come up during the trilateral meeting held in the morning?
Minister Kono: At this morning’s meeting, we discussed only the three items which were mentioned during the joint press statement.
Reporter: Leaving aside the response of the ROK or the content of the discussion, did you notice any change in the ROK’s response? Or did you perceive no particular changes?
Minister Kono: The diplomatic authorities of Japan and the ROK have been sharing the recognition from quite some time ago that the issue of former civilian workers must be resolved. In this sense, I intend to make firm progress on this issue for its resolution.
Reporter: Did you sense any sign of progress coming from the ROK? Or is this still not the case?
Minister Kono: I believe the two countries have a shared recognition of the issue and have a shared view that this issue must be resolved.
Reporter: Japan-ROK relations have worsened, including over the issue of former civilian workers, and it has impacts on people’s lives. There are negative influences on people-to-people exchanges, and in the ROK, there is a movement to boycott Japanese products. How do you intend to overcome this situation?
Minister Kono: I have consistently stated that exchanges between the people are important, especially in these difficult times. I assume that the ROK also shares the same view as the diplomatic authorities. It is up to each person to decide what to buy and where to travel. The Government is thus not in a position to make any comment on that point. However, I believe that there is no need for exchanges between people to be impeded just because our two governments are facing challenging issues. Rather, people-to-people exchanges should be conducted actively, notably in such times.
Reporter: Foreign Minister Wang Yi mentioned the Japan-ROK relations during the joint press statement after the Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. I heard that Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed hope that the issue will be resolved between the two countries. What is your reaction? What are the chances that Foreign Minister Wang Yi or China will mediate between Japan and the ROK or make any kind of commitment?
Minister Kono: There is none.
Reporter: What is your reaction to Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s comments regarding Japan-ROK relations at the joint press statement?
Minister Kono: Several foreign ministers made comments regarding the Japan-ROK relations at the recent ASEAN-related Foreign Ministers’ Meetings in Bangkok. Many foreign ministers are aware that the Governments of Japan and the ROK are facing challenging issues.
Reporter: The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety of the ROK announced that it would strengthen inspections on Japanese food products for radioactive substances. Did you raise this issue and convey anything to the ROK during today’s bilateral meeting?
Minister Kono: At this morning’s Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, I provided a full explanation based on scientific evidence regarding Japan’s food products. Many countries, including the United States, have significantly eased or lifted their restrictions. Therefore, I requested the ROK and China, as neighboring countries, to also lift their restrictions as quickly as possible based on scientific evidences.
Reporter: So you raised the issue during the trilateral meeting. What about during the Japan-ROK bilateral meeting?
Minister Kono: Japan and the ROK also held discussions at the trilateral meeting. As such, I do not recall making any particular comments during today’s Japan-ROK meeting.
Reporter: At yesterday’s Japan-ROK director general-level meeting, Japan requested the ROK to address concerns over anti-Japanese protests in the ROK and anti-Japanese movements including the boycott movement. Did this discussion take place between the ministers?
Minister Kono: I expressed concern over ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals and the proposal of ordinances by some local assemblies that could lead to unreasonable and unjust discrimination. The ROK diplomatic authority has been working to protect the safety of Japanese nationals and other affairs, and therefore, I believe they will continue such efforts. Japan will also fully deal with the situation to ensure that the ROK nationals visiting Japan will not be harmed in any way.
Reporter: The two sides have been discussing about holding an exports meeting. Was this issue included in today’s agenda? Beyond that, what discussion took place regarding such matters?
Minister Kono: The ROK raised this matter. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan has been reiterating that it would hold talks if the conditions are met. I would like to entrust this matter to the talks between the export control authorities.
Reporter: The ROK announced the strengthening of radiation inspections on the day of the Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. While it is possible to imagine that this was done intentionally, what are your thoughts on this?
Minister Kono: Japan has no knowledge of when the ROK would make such an announcement. Please inquire with the ROK.
Reporter: Last night, you watched a projection mapping or a kind of show in this area with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang. How was the atmosphere? Did it make a positive contribution to today’s meeting?
Minister Kono: Yesterday’s dinner was a social dinner.
Reporter: Can you share your view once again on what caused the Japan-ROK relations to deteriorate to this level?
Minister Kono: The most important issue is the Supreme Court decision regarding former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula. We view that the greatest challenge is to fully resolve this issue.
Reporter: Today’s meeting followed the meeting held on August 1. What do you perceive as the significance of today’s meeting?
Minister Kono: The fact that very close dialogues and discussions can be held between the foreign ministers and diplomatic authorities, even under the current challenging circumstances, means significant progress can be made towards resolving the issue. I intend to continue to cooperate closely and promote dialogue with the ROK.