Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, November 5, 2019, 9:30 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Communication between the Leaders of Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) (ASEAN-Related Summit Meetings)
NHK, YAMAMOTO: I would like to ask about Japan-ROK relations. Prime Minister Abe and President Moon Jae-in had a conversation for about 10 minutes during their visit to Thailand. It seems that this was the first time for them to sit down and talk since September 2018, so can you please tell us your frank reaction and if this conversation can be an opportunity for improving relations?
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Yesterday in the leaders’ waiting room, Prime Minister Abe spoke for about 10 minutes with President Moon of the ROK alone before the ASEAN Plus Three Summit Meeting. It seems that when Prime Minister Abe entered the waiting room, he shook hands with the country leaders, including President Moon. They then sat down on a vacant sofa in a natural manner and had a conversation. Prime Minister Abe conveyed his condolences for the passing of President Moon’s mother, as well as gratitude for the attendance by Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon at the recent Ceremony of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor at the Seiden (State Hall). In response, President Moon expressed gratitude for Prime Minister Abe’s condolences, congratulations for the enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor, and gratitude for the hospitality shown toward Prime Minister Lee. Furthermore, Prime Minister Abe firmly conveyed Japan’s principled positions regarding bilateral issues to President Moon. As I have stated, the Government of Japan will continue to seek mutual understanding through diplomatic channels, including the foreign ministers.
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement Negotiations
Yomiuri Shimbun, ABE: I would like to change the subject and ask about the RCEP negotiations. The joint statement yesterday stated that the RCEP agreement would not be concluded within the year, and that the aim is to sign it next year. On the other hand, India has indicated that it will not participate. What policy will Japan, which is aiming to conclude the agreement with 16 countries including India, take in participating in negotiations going forward?
Minister MOTEGI: Yesterday, at the Third RCEP Summit Meeting held in Bangkok, Prime Minister Abe expressed the determination to continue to play a leading role to aim to achieve the world’s largest free and fair economic sphere that is future-oriented by the early conclusion of the negotiations with the 16 countries, and realize the signing of the RCEP in 2020. In addition, the recently-issued Joint Leaders’ Statement took note that 15 countries have concluded text-based negotiations for all 20 chapters and essentially all their market access issues, and tasked legal scrubbing to commence for signing the RCEP agreement in 2020 . All of the counties that participated in the negotiations also agreed to work together toward resolving the pending issues with India. That is what was stated. Based on the Joint Leaders’ Statement, Japan will continue to play a leading role toward having the RCEP agreement signed with 16 countries in 2020.
Japan’s Contributions toward Peace in the Middle East
PanOrient News, AZHARI: I would like to ask about Japan's policy in the Middle East. There was a survey recently by Arab News which showed that the majority of Arab people view Japan as a very good mediator for the Middle East Peace, almost over 56%. Also, the Arab News said that most of the Arab people favor Japan as a very positive country, and they hope for an increased role of Japanese diplomacy in the Middle East. Would you like to comment on this survey result?
Minister MOTEGI: I think 56% was the result of the public opinion poll. I believe that this result in the public opinion poll is due to major appreciation for the role Japan has been playing for peace in the Middle East thus far. Japan considers realizing peace through cooperation between the two states, Israel and an independent Palestine, to be extremely important. At my recent meeting with President Abbas, he told me that he has major expectations for the role of Japan. While firmly fulfilling these expectations, Japan will carry out its role as much as possible toward a peaceful resolution with cooperation with the countries concerned including countries in the Middle East.
Results of the Investigation Concerning the U.S. Forces Plane Crash Off the Coast of Kochi Prefecture
Kyodo News, TAKAO: I would like to ask about the issue of widespread rule violations that potentially would have led to a serious accident of the fighter jet unit belonging to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. The U.S. military’s report discloses circumstances such as flying planes without hands on the controls, reading while flying, and taking selfies. This fighter jet unit has caused numerous midair collisions, and then the crash occurred. Are MOFA and the Government of Japan aware of this? Also, can you please tell us if any sort of protest was lodged with the U.S. side, or if it is planned to lodge a protest going forward?
Minister MOTEGI: The report on the results of the investigation of the midair contact and crash of two U.S. Forces aircraft belonging to Air Station Iwakuni that occurred off the coast of Kochi Prefecture in December 2018, was submitted to the Japanese side on September 26, 2019 and uploaded to the U.S. Marine Corps website. According to the report, detailed examination showed that one of the causes of the accident was that rules violation had become normalized in the unit that caused the accident. There are descriptions of various rules violations. It also refers to a similar midair collision caused by the same unit in 2016, stating that if that accident had been investigated, appropriate corrective measures would have been taken to prevent the occurrence of similar accidents such as the accident in December 2018. We have received an explanation from the U.S. side that based on the results of the investigation, they have dismissed several of the leaders of the unit, and is working on improving the management system by reviewing the programs and manuals. Ensuring safety of U.S. aircraft aviation is the major premise for the stationing in Japan of the U.S. Forces, and I believe that there must not be anything that would be a concern of the local people. Japan has issued repeated protests to the U.S. side to prioritize ensuring safety when using U.S. Forces aircraft. When Commander Davidson of the U.S. Pacific Command paid me a courtesy call last week, I lodged a protest. We will continue to strongly request the U.S. side to pay maximum consideration to safety.
Communication between the Leaders of Japan and the ROK (ASEAN-Related Summit Meetings)
Sankei Shimbun, RIKITAKE: I would like to return to Japan-ROK relations and ask a question. During Prime Minister Abe’s 10 minute talk with President Moon yesterday, it seems that President Moon did not specifically indicate a solution for issues such as that of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula. In that sense, is it correct to view this talk as not representing progress for Japan-ROK relations? Or is it correct to view this as a step forward in progress in the sense that a talk between the leaders was achieved after a long time? What is your evaluation of this?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe it is difficult to have such a high evaluation of a 10 minute conversation.
Japan-Russia Relations (Sightseeing Pilot Tour, Outlook for the Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting)
Asahi Shimbun, NARAZAKI: I would like to ask about Japan-Russia relations. The sightseeing pilot tour was shortened by one day due to the weather, and the group safely returned to Nemuro on November 2. Could you tell us your thoughts on this? Also, there are many former islanders who are strongly calling for negotiations on the territories alongside the joint economic activities. Please tell us your thoughts on work on the joint economic activities, including the sightseeing tour.
Minister MOTEGI: This sightseeing pilot tour was the first tour in which Japanese tourists visited the Four Northern Islands, and I believe it is significant that the agreement at the Japan-Russia Summit Meeting in June was steadily implemented. I would like to have discussions with the Russian side going forward to firmly examine the issues from the tour and possibilities going forward to connect this to future activities.
Asahi Shimbun, NARAZAKI: I would like to change the subject slightly. There are some reports that a meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia is being coordinated to be held in Moscow after the Asia–Europe Meeting being held on December 15 and 16 in Spain. Can you please confirm if this is true?
Minister MOTEGI: I was invited by Foreign Minister Lavrov to visit Russia during the Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting during the United Nations General Assembly in September. If various circumstances permit, I would like to visit Moscow within the year. That is what has been decided in terms of the schedule thus far.
Communication between the Leaders of Japan and the ROK (ASEAN-Related Summit Meetings)
Asahi Shimbun, OTA: I would like to return to Japan-ROK relations. According to the explanation of the Office of the President of the ROK, President Moon proposed high-level discussions if necessary during the conversation with Prime Minister Abe.
Minister MOTEGI: Sorry?
Asahi Shimbun, OTA: Is it true that President Moon proposed high-level discussions, and Prime Minister Abe replied that they should work to find a solution using all possible methods?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe that the ROK side is speaking about high-level discussions. As Prime Minister Abe has stated thus far, he confirmed the importance of coming to a mutual understanding between the diplomatic authorities including the foreign ministers of both countries. Frankly speaking, I believe that the content would be more important for the discussions than them being high level.
Asahi Shimbun, OTA: Are you saying that Prime Minister Abe did not have such a conversation?
Minister MOTEGI: What?
Asahi Shimbun, OTA: Was there no conversation about the necessity for higher-level discussions?
Minister MOTEGI: I said that in the first part of my answer. Should I repeat it?
Asahi Shimbun, OTA: Sorry.
Minister MOTEGI: The ROK side mentioned high-level discussions. As Prime Minister Abe has stated thus far, he expressed that it is important to come to a mutual understanding between the diplomatic authorities including the foreign ministers of both countries.
Adoption of the Draft Resolution on Nuclear Disarmament
Asahi Shimbun, TAKESHITA: I would like to ask about the draft resolution on nuclear disarmament adopted last weekend, about which a Statement by the Foreign Minister was issued. The number of co-sponsoring countries for the draft resolution fell by 12 countries compared to the last vote in the Committee, and the United States abstained. It seems that experts pointed out that the number of co-sponsoring countries majorly declined and criticized the resolution content. Can you please tell us again your thoughts on the evaluation and adoption of the draft resolution?
Minister MOTEGI: The number of countries declined compared to last year but was larger compared to the number two years ago. On November 2, the draft resolution entitled “Joint Courses of Action and Future-oriented Dialogue towards a world without nuclear weapons ,” submitted by Japan was adopted with the support of 148 countries including 56 co-sponsoring countries. The adoption of this draft resolution will prompt creating common ground enabling the countries to work together, and increased momentum is expected for the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference next year. In addition to the United Kingdom, a nuclear-weapons country that co-sponsored this year’s draft resolution, France, which had abstained last year, also gave its support. Furthermore, I believe it was adopted with the support of many countries with various positions, including countries that support the NPT. I believe that the initiatives and ideas of Japan, which has worked to build bridges, received a certain level of support and understanding.