Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Tuesday, September 10, 2019, 10:33 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
I nitiatives on Commemorating the Achievements of the Late Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mr. Yukiya Amano
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Good morning. I am not sure how many times I have conducted press conferences. Anyway, I would like to begin by talking about the initiatives on commemorating the achievements of the late IAEA Director General Amano, who passed away recently. In addition to “Atoms for Peace”, Director General Amano advocated “Atoms for Peace and Development.” This initiative is widely supported around the world, and I believe that many countries link Director General Amano’s name with the phrase “Atoms for Peace and Development.” It has been decided to allocate 1 million euros to support the completion of the renovation project of nuclear applications laboratories in Seibersdorf, the symbolic IAEA laboratories with eight research buildings established in Seibersdorf on the outskirts of Vienna.
In addition, we would like to carry out an initiative to foster international human resources well-versed in the fields of disarmament and non-proliferation like Director General Amano. On the initiative of willing countries, coordination is being conducted to name one of the research buildings of the IAEA laboratories after Director General Amano. There is also a movement at James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), which I believe is annexed to Middlebury College in the United States, to establish a scholarship program named after Director General Amano.
The IAEA laboratories have gathered financial support from many countries up until now, and I would like to welcome these supports. I hope that through various initiatives going forward, Director General Amano’s ambitions and achievements will long be passed down to posterity and lead to the promotion of peace and stability in the international community.
Minister Kono’s Initiatives and Impressions over Two Years
NHK, Takashima: I think you are conducting your last press conference today. What are your thoughts now while waiting for the Cabinet reshuffle tomorrow? Can you please also reflect on fields you have fully engaged in and those you left undone during these two years?
Minister Kono: I have not heard anything yet and I am not certain if this will be my last press conference, so I believe it will be in an embargo-like form. There have been many events, so I am not sure where to begin. With the spirt of “no country shall be left behind,” I visited 123 countries and regions in total, including Vladivostok recently. I visited 77 countries, and the countries and regions I visited include Hong Kong and Palestine. When I think about matters such as the United Nations Security Council reform, various international elections, the Tokyo International Conference of Africa’s Development (TICAD), and the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM), I believe that the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs must make more foreign visits. I was shocked when I was told that I was the first Japanese Foreign Minister to visit countries like Palau. Looking at a map, the country is truly our neighbor, so I believe we should focus more on such countries. I received invitations to many international conferences, and while I was unable to attend some, there were some conferences I attended on a tight schedule with the approval and understanding of ruling and opposition parties. As I have been reiterating, it is important for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to continue to take the lead and work in this era where the amount of ODA has been reduced to half from 1.1 trillion yen to 550 billion yen, and Japan being unable to exercise military power, our pure diplomatic ability is currently being tested.
In that sense, I regret that a minister’s plane was not included in next year’s budget request. However, the request included a greatly increased budget for charter plane flights, so it should be used to cover what it can.
Personally, I am grateful to Prime Minister Abe that I was allowed to be in charge of the negotiations when the peace treaty negotiations between Japan and Russia entered a new stage. This is a matter that has been going on for over 50 years, so I believe the negotiations will not be settled easily, but I am grateful I was able to work on them when the negotiations started at a new stage.
Regretfully, until around summer last year, with the aim of promoting Japan-ROK relations to a future-oriented new stage, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and I established mutual meetings of experts and task forces, had many discussions, received excellent proposals, and was looking forward to carrying them out. Particularly last year marked the 20th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on “A New Japan-Republic of Korea Partnership towards the Twenty-first Century” concluded by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and President Kim Dae-jung, and on that truly excellent timing, Foreign Minister Kang and I had a relationship of mutual trust and were able to understand each other smoothly, and were full of enthusiasm for building a new age between Japan and the ROK looking into the same direction. It is truly regrettable that such movements came to a complete halt due to the judgement by the Supreme Court of the ROK.
Since I was elected for the first time, I have visited the ROK many times, created many friends in the ROK’s political sphere, and hoped to promote these projects together with them. It is tremendously regrettable that we are in the current situation.
Also, I have deeply committed myself to diplomacy in the Middle East with the Kono Four Principles . Now Japan is invited to a number of meetings. I was asked to be joint chair of the Ministerial Meeting on United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and was also co-chair of the Aqaba Process Meeting of King Abdullah of Jordan. I believe we have “set up shop at Ginza 4-chome” as Mr. Taro Aso had put it, so to speak, and I believe it will soon enter the stage to think how to increase yields.
When it comes to Japan-U.S. relations, I also believe that I have been able to build excellent relations with Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of State Pompeo. In that sense, although we have entered a very difficult era, I believe Japan has a firm foundation with the Japan-U.S. Alliance as the cornerstone in these trying circumstances. Secretary of Defense Mattis and I had agreed to have more discussions going forward just as he resigned, but Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan and after had continued on, and everything that could be done was duly carried out including the recent revision of the guidelines regarding the inner and outer cordons of restricted areas of accident sites.
For Japan-China relations as well, compared to my first Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Manilla, the recent Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Foreign Ministers' Meeting had a very different atmosphere. Japan-China relations have improved considerably over these past two years and President Xi Jinping will even visit Japan as a State Guest. I believe this has led to considerable improvement. Besides this, in addition to TICAD, PALM, and many more, I represented Japan as it assumed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council.
I believe that enabling the human resources of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to fully exhibit their strengths through work style reform in MOFA and in all governmental agencies is an urgent issue. Interviews for prospective candidates were recently held at government agencies, and fortunately MOFA is still attracting a relatively large number of people. Nonetheless, I believe how the Government of Japan will attract necessary excellent human resources will be a considerably difficult issue, and that workstyle reform throughout the government must be carried out as a high priority for the entire government.
This morning, North Korea launched flying objects again. In that sense, I cannot necessarily say that the security environment in Northeast Asia has changed for the better. Considerable tensions are expected going forward, so I believe Japan must play a firm role to ease tensions and build trust by making efforts for diplomacy and supporting the U.S.-North Korea process. That is all from me.
Situation in Iran
PanOrient News, Azhari: Japan has been more visible in the Middle East in the last couple of years, especially there was a Japanese initiative on Iran recently, and it seems to be going well in terms of diplomacy. I would like to ask if there are any developments on this issue. There are some reports that Prime Minister Abe might meet President Rouhani of Iran at the United Nations, and also Supreme Leader Khamenei. Any updates on this subject?
Minister Kono: Japan and Iran have traditionally been good friends and have maintained good diplomatic relations. We will continue to talk to the Iranian people and Iranian Government. Prime Minister Abe and President Rouhani are trying to schedule another meeting in New York City during the United Nations General Assembly, so if schedule permits, I think they will meet there and discuss issues concerning peace and stability in the Middle East. Hopefully the meeting will help ease tensions in the region.
Outcomes of Minister Kono’s Diplomacy
Kyodo News, Fukuda: I apologize for asking this as nothing has been announced yet. You have just provided a summary of various matters. What do you think was the greatest achievement of your diplomacy, including many including the commitment to the situation in the Rakhine State and Japan’s first presidency of the United Nations Security Council?
Minister Kono: I believe it would take three to four hours if I were to speak in earnest about the outcomes of diplomacy. Anyway, Japan represents Asia in the G7 and is also the only country representing regions outside Europe and North America, which allowed us to be involved in various discussions on, for instance, the issue of Rakhine State or how to view Russia. Although it can be argued what the current relative status of the G7 is, at least Japan has brought about different viewpoints alongside those of the west to the discussions within the framework of the G7. In addition to meetings, Japan has also exhibited considerable leadership, for instance at the dinner at the G7 Summit in Canada, where we voiced various perspectives from Asia and were met with reactions from other members showing they understood the viewpoints. In that sense, I believe it is important to firmly convey Japan’s voice, representing non-western views, not only in the G7 but on other occasions as well . I believe Japan has been able to firmly carry out that highly-anticipated role of Japan.
Budget Request and Japan-China Relations
Sankei Shimbun, Harakawa: I would like to ask questions regarding the budget request and Japan-China relations, both of which you touched upon in your response to the first question.
First, regarding the budget request, you also asked for a budget increase for having more Japanese staffs at international organizations. This is something you mentioned and emphasized in the ending of your foreign policy speech in January. Can you once again tell us why this is important for the national interests of Japan, as well as the achievements made so far and the remaining challenges?
Another question concerns Japan-China relations, more specifically, the situation in Hong Kong. Three months have passed since demonstrations began over Hong Kong’s Fugitive Offenders Ordinance . Demonstrations are showing no sign of calming down, even after the Chief Executive formally announced the withdrawal of the Ordinance. What is the Government of Japan’s view on the situation? In addition, while Japan-China relations have turned favorable, I think Japan should send stronger messages to Chinese authorities over the Hong Kong issue. What are your thoughts on this?
Minister Kono: Let me first answer the question regarding the Hong Kong issue. I raised the Hong Kong issue at the recent Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and the Japan-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, where I stated the view and the arguments of the Government of Japan. It can perhaps be said that Japan is taking the lead in this issue by directly referring to the Hong Kong issue at the level of foreign ministers’ meetings. Speaking based on the premise that this Hong Kong issue is China’s internal affair, there are over 25,000 Japanese nationals living in Hong Kong and they are engaged in businesses. There are also a number of tourists who visit Hong Kong from Japan. In this light, the Government of Japan and MOFA must give high priority to ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals and monitor the situation. In this sense, I believe we need to maintain strong interest in the situation of Hong Kong.
Under such circumstances, it is vital that Hong Kong prospers economically under “one country, two systems,” not only for the benefit of China but also for the region. Therefore, amid the ongoing situation, the parties concerned need to resolve their differences and issues through peaceful dialogue. We would like to seek self-restraint and dialogue from both sides.
With regards to Japanese staffs, international organization staffs are international public servants and are not working to promote Japanese interests on behalf of the Government. That said, Japanese nationals assuming the top or executive posts of international organizations demonstrates Japan’s presence. Also, in the sense of bolstering confidence in Japan, it is extremely important that Japanese staff exercise leadership in various regions and settings.
Ever since I was appointed Foreign Minister, I have requested forthrightly to heads of international organizations that Japan’s monetary contributions to international organizations correspond directly with the number of Japanese staffs and promotion of Japanese nationals to executive positions in the organization. Even though they may have taken a dislike to such a stance, I believe it is true that international organizations have rightly responded to my requests. It remains the case, however, that Japan is under-represented in international organizations, including in the United Nations (UN), and we thus need to redouble our efforts.
On the other hand, it has recently been a little worrisome as to whether the supply of Japanese human resources that international organizations are happy to employ is catching up with the need. As of the end of 2018, compared to 2017, the number of Japanese staff at UN agencies increased by 32 to reach 882. This is still below the desired number of people, and half of them are former Junior Professional Officers (JPOs). In other words, half of them were hired through a channel in which, with the support of the Government of Japan, they worked at international organizations for a short period of time in a manner similar to an internship and were then hired by these organizations. In this regard, something must be done to Japan’s English-language education, as I have repeatedly said to Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Shibayama; otherwise nothing can be done.
As yet another approach, in order to increase awareness of the existence of such workplaces, we held 214 guidance sessions in Japan and overseas in the last fiscal year, and a total of 13,000 people attended them. We need to fully support JPOs, including through the use of MOFA posts, and also increase the number of Japanese people who go on to work at UN agencies through non-JPO routes.
At the root, there is the question of whether international public service is an attractive profession for Japanese people in this present era, while the employment custom in international organizations is different from that of Japan, and employees are constantly transferred from one fixed-term post to another.
In addition to the issue of English-language education which I have just mentioned, many international organizations require a Master’s degree. I heard that in Japan, for example, the percentage of students who major in arts and go on to receive a Master’s degree is 3%. There is thus the issue of whether this requirement matches the current education practice in Japan.
That said, international organizations are involved in a wide range of domains of work. Some work involve coordination of local forces in countries like Sudan or South Sudan, as well as coordination of national interests of member states. They also address issues such as poverty and refugees while helping local people who are in need. At the same time, international organizations equally need experts in domains such as information technology, finance, human resources, and legal affairs. Therefore, I encourage many Japanese people to consider whether there is something they can do in international organizations, without thinking they have nothing to do with them, and challenge themselves resolutely. I think it is good to work at an international organization for a period of a person’s life. MOFA intends to fully support such work styles, and I would like for many people to consider working at international organizations.
North Korean Affairs and Japan-Russia Relations
Yomiuri Shimbun, Yanada: I would like to ask two questions related to your opening remarks. Reflecting on the past two years, you referred to North Korea. North Korea launched flying objects today. Earlier you stated that Japan intends to support the U.S.-North Korea process. However, such objects were launched, even while the North Korean Vice Foreign Minister stated that North Korea would agree to hold meetings related to the process. Can you once again share with us your views on the current situation and what responses Japan should take? Secondly, you expressed appreciation for the opportunity to become a chief negotiator in the Japan-Russia negotiations. I understand this has a lot to do with the fact that the Kono family has long been involved in this issue, ever since the generation of your grandfather, Mr. Ichiro Kono. Against this backdrop, what is your view concerning the current ongoing stalemate of the negotiations? I believe you had a chance to see and get in touch with Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov during the recent Eastern Economic Forum. Can you tell us what the two of you discussed?
Minister Kono: Ever since I was a young child, I have heard a lot about how my grandfather, Ichiro Kono, went to the Soviet Union and was involved in fisheries negotiations, and that in the following year, he was involved in the peace treaty negotiations and the Joint Declaration. As such, while it may not be appropriate to say that it was gratifying for me, it was deeply moving that the issue still remained and that I was still able to be involved in it when I became Foreign Minister.
As this is an extremely difficult issue, I believe it is not something that can be resolved easily in a short period of time. Still, it was deeply moving that I was actually engaged in the negotiations at a time when they entered a new stage, following the decision and agreement between President Putin and Prime Minister Abe to accelerate the process. This issue must be resolved by steadily pursuing negotiations. We need to ensure that the negotiations lead to the resolution of this issue in the not distant future.
Regarding the issue of North Korea, I have held numerous discussions with Secretaries of State Tillerson and Pompeo. I believe Japan and the United States have taken coordinated responses on this matter. Many countries responded to calls made by Japan and the United States, and UN Security Council resolutions have been fully implemented. We are very grateful that many countries are addressing this issue with the recognition that the North Korea issue is not simply a security issue for Northeast Asia, but a challenge from North Korea against the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime which also affects them.
Regrettably, some loopholes still remain, including ship-to-ship transfers, cyber and workers abroad. Japan intends to support the U.S.-North Korea process while fully closing the loopholes. In this context, flying objects were launched. While it is difficult to fully grasp the decision-making mechanism in North Korea, Japan will continue to provide support to ensure that the U.S.-North Korea process will steadily advance.