Press Conference by Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi
Wednesday, September 11, 2019, 9:01 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only.
Inauguration Speech of Foreign Minister Motegi
Mr. Toshimitsu Motegi, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I am Toshimitsu Motegi, and I have been appointed the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, and I will also continue to be in charge of Japan-U.S. trade negotiations. I will exert all efforts to handle various issues faced by Japan’s diplomacy, and I look forward to working with everyone in the press club.
With regards to Japan-U.S. trade negotiations, I am currently exerting all efforts toward the goal of signing an agreement by the end of September. I would like to perfect a win-win agreement for both Japan and the United States.
In terms of my connection with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I served as State Minister for Foreign Affairs for about one year from October 2002. In the following year, the Iraq War broke out in March 2003. Although I worked during such a period, compared to then, I believe the security environment surrounding Japan has become even severer and the international situation has undergone major changes. Amidst the ongoing acceleration and complication of changes in the power balance in the international community, uncertainty is increasing further with regards to the existing international order.
Against this background, in order to further advance a “foreign policy that takes a panoramic perspective of the world map” developed from the position of “proactive contribution to peace” that has been exercised by Prime Minister Abe, I would like to conduct diplomacy with both tolerance and strength.
Firstly, I will further deepen the Japan-U.S. Alliance, the linchpin of Japanese diplomacy, and take new steps based on the efforts of my predecessors up until now focusing on: (1) responding to various pending issues concerning North Korea including abductees, nuclear, and missile issues; (2) diplomacy with neighboring countries including China, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and Russia; (3) responding to tensions in the Middle East; (4) economic diplomacy in which Japan leads the creation of new common rules; and (5) responding to global issues.
The United Nations General Assembly will be convened soon at the end of this month. I would like to take this occasion to mark the first step of opening a new frontier of Japanese leadership in the international community while building relationships of trust with the foreign ministers of other countries I am going to work with.
Situation in Iran (Strait of Hormuz, Japan-U.S. Alliance)
TV Tokyo, Sakaida: You mentioned “diplomacy with both tolerance and strength.” There is tension particularly concerning the situation in Iran, and I believe Japanese-style diplomacy will be best conducted there. How would you like to conduct such Japanese-style diplomacy?
Minister Motegi: In my opening remarks, I mentioned “diplomacy with both tolerance and strength.” By tolerance, I mean respecting diversity and demonstrating coordination capacity, and strength means demonstrating capacity to take actions by showing leadership. That is how I would summarize them.
With regards to the current situation in the Middle East and the issue concerning the Persian Gulf, the Japan-U.S. Alliance, which is the linchpin of Japan’s security, is playing a major role for the peace and prosperity of the international community. Japan has been closely communicating with the United States regarding the situation in the Middle East. I was also in charge of various issues concerning the Middle East when I was Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. The Middle East is in a geopolitically important location, and it is an important region that supplies energy resources including oil and natural gas to the world. Japan relies on the Middle East for over 80% of its oil import.
In particular, ensuring navigation security in the Strait of Hormuz is extremely important for Japan’s energy security. I believe this is an urgent issue for the peace and prosperity of the international community including Japan.
Against this backdrop, Japan has built relations with countries in the Middle East notably in the fields of resources and energy, and we are now promoting the construction of multilayered relations in fields including not only economic cooperation but also politics and security as well as cultural and people-to-people exchange. When it comes to relations with Iran, our traditionally friendly relations have been maintained and strengthened, and various anniversary projects are being conducted particularly this year to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Iran. I will continue implementing Japanese initiatives toward peace and security in the Middle East while taking advantage of such friendly relations with Middle Eastern countries as well as the relationship of the Japan-U.S. Alliance.
Toward easing tensions and stabilizing the situation in the Middle East, we will continue Japan’s diplomatic efforts, including Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Iran in June this year as well as the meeting with President Rouhani being coordinated for the end of this month. I will firmly work with this as the foundation going forward.
Situation in Hong Kong
TBS, Kusakabe: What are your thoughts regarding the situation in Hong Kong? As you know, many people have been protesting for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong for over three months. They are appealing to the international community for the understanding and support for the situation in Hong Kong. Do you think Japan should proactively raise its voice to support them? Or do you believe this is ultimately a domestic issue, as the Government of China puts, and that it would be best not to interfere? Please give us your answer regarding that point.
Minister Motegi: With regards to the recent developments concerning the amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and other matters in Hong Kong, I am very concerned about the intensifying clashes between the demonstrators, police officers and others just over these past few weeks and the large number of injuries, as we can see even on TV screens.
We take note of the recent announcement by the Hong Kong administration to officially withdraw the proposed amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. We strongly hope that through peaceful talks among the people concerned, the situation will swiftly come to a conclusion and Hong Kong’s security will be maintained.
At the recent Japan-China Summit Meeting, Prime Minister Abe indicated the importance of the prosperity of a free and open Hong Kong under “one country, two systems.” We will continue to monitor the situation with great interest.
Kyodo News, Fukuda: I have a question regarding issues between Japan and the ROK. With regard to the issue of former civilian workers, the ROK’s breach of the Agreement has not been remedied. Even under such circumstances, do you intend to actively communicate with your ROK counterpart on multilateral meeting occasions including those during international conferences?
Minister Motegi: Setting aside how active it will be, I will maintain communication.
Japan-Russia Relations (Northern Territories)
Sankei Shimbun, Rikitake: I would like to ask a question regarding Japan-Russia relations. Recent negotiations have not led to concrete progress on the issue of Northern Territories. Amidst this ongoing situation, Prime Minister Abe expressed his expectations at his press conference earlier today that you will demonstrate your capacity in your negotiations with Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov and advance the negotiation. What are your plans for negotiations with Foreign Minister Lavrov for overcoming the stalemate?
Minister Motegi: First of all, slightly going back to the Japan-Russia summit meeting held in Singapore last November, the two leaders agreed to accelerate negotiations for a peace treaty on the basis of the 1956 Joint Declaration. Prime Minister Abe and President Putin fully share the strong determination to absolutely resolve the issue themselves, which has remained for more than 70 years since the end of World War II, without leaving it to the next generation. On this basis, at the Summit Meeting on September 5, the two leaders candidly exchanged views regarding the issue of concluding a peace treaty and reaffirmed that they will work in a future-oriented manner. On that occasion, the two leaders once again instructed the two foreign ministers, who are responsible for the negotiations, to advance joint efforts to find solutions that are acceptable for both sides.
I had informal talks with Prime Minster Abe today, who told me to talk with Foreign Minister Lavrov as early as possible. I hope to talk with Foreign Minister Lavrov as soon as possible, and Japan and Russia have rightly agreed that the two leaders will hold their next meeting on the margins of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, which will be held in Chile in November. The Government of Japan will engage in the negotiations persistently under our basic policy of solving the territories issue and then concluding a peace treaty.
NHK, Watanabe: My question concerns this Japan-Russia matter. I believe the agreement to conduct negotiations based on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956 pursues a different approach than before. However, even between the two foreign ministers responsible for the negotiations, there remain significant differences in views over the historical recognition and the Four Northern Islands, and the negotiations have stalled. What is your view on how such differences can be overcome and how the negotiations can reach a new dimension?
Minister Motegi: As I was just appointed today I have never talked with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I would like to begin by holding candid exchange of ideas regarding our basic views. There are of course differences in our positions, and overcoming them is a part of diplomacy and negotiation.
I held ministerial consultations seven times with United States Trade Representative Lighthizer. Differences in our views were not bridged from the beginning. We had considerable differences, and we went through tough negotiations in which national interests clashed with each other’s. We were ultimately able to find common ground because of the relationship of trust between Japan and the United States and the personal relationship of trust between Prime Minister Abe and President Trump. If I am not mistaken, Prime Minister Abe and President Putin have held 27 Summit Meetings, which means they have a similar relationship of trust. I hope to start discussions based on such relationship.
Japan-U.S. Trade Negotiations
Mainichi Shimbun, Akiyama: The Japan-U.S. trade negotiations you have just mentioned all began with the United States or the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The situation in Iran was also triggered in large part by the United States’ withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). While you mentioned the relationship of trust between Japan and the United States, what are your thoughts on how you should approach the United States, which has been strengthening its inclination towards unilateralism?
Minister Motegi: The Japan-U.S. Alliance is the cornerstone of peace, prosperity, and freedom not only of Japan, but also of the Indo-Pacific region and the international community. The importance of the Japan-U.S. Alliance has increased further amidst the ever increasing severity of the regional security environment, including the North Korea situation. The Japan-U.S. Alliance has become stronger than ever through active mutual visits and meetings between the two leaders, as highlighted by the visit to Japan by President Trump and Mrs. Trump as the first State Guests in the era of Reiwa.
While the personal relationship of trust between the leaders is essential, the strong Japan-U.S. Alliance is also the outcome of our steady efforts to enhance the Alliance, including passing the Legislation for Peace and Security. We will continue to make efforts for strengthening the Alliance. Meanwhile, with regards to our economic relations, as I just mentioned, we will be entering the stage of finalizing the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement. My intention is to fully deepen Japan-U.S. relations in such areas as the economy, security, people-to-people exchanges, and cultural exchanges.
Situation of Palestine
PanOrient News, Azhari: There are developments in the Palestinian territory. Yesterday, the Prime Minister of Israel said that he will annex some part of the occupied territories in the West Bank to Israel.
I understand that Japan is concerned about such policy if a country occupies territories, annex them and consider them as a part of their sovereignty. What is your position on this issue?
Minister Motegi: Prime Minister Netanyahu did certainly express the view that the Jordan Valley as well as the Northern Dead Sea in the West Bank shall be annexed into Israel and placed under Israel’s control. While I am aware of this, I would like to refrain from commenting on every remark made during an election period in a country overseas.
On that note, the Government of Japan supports a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, and our position is that peace in the Middle East should be resolved by negotiations between the concerned parties. With regards to the settlements, the Government of Japan has repeatedly urged the Government of Israel to fully freeze its settlement activities.