Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Friday, December 27, 2019, 11:18 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) Reflection on the Year 2019 and Outlook for the New Year
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: This will be my last press conference this year. Thank you for everything. Three and a half months have passed quickly since I assumed the position of Minister for Foreign Affairs on September 11. I visited New York soon after becoming Minister for Foreign Affairs, and attended the United Nations General Assembly meeting and held meetings with the foreign ministers of various countries. In addition, in November, Japan held the G20 Aichi-Nagoya Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at the end of its G20 presidency this year. Also, the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement, for which I have advanced negotiations, received approval at the recent extraordinary session of the Diet, and a Presidential Proclamation will be issued today, Japan time, so it has been decided that it will enter into force from January 1, 2020.
As has been stated, since the end of the extraordinary session of the Diet, I have undertaken full-fledged diplomatic activities, making a considerable number of visits in just December. I visited Sri Lanka, which has a new administration that was just inaugurated, as well as Madrid in Spain where the ASEM Foreign Minister’s Meeting was held. In addition, I attended the Budget negotiations in Japan for half a day, and then visited Russia, where I conducted negotiations for the peace treaty between Japan and Russia, as well as China, where the Japan-China-Republic of Korea (ROK) Trilateral Summit was held.
This autumn, I spent a considerable amount of time for deliberations on the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement in the extraordinary session of the Diet, but I have also been able to hold over 50 Foreign Ministers’ Meetings, including multilateral meetings, taking opportunities such as international conferences and the Ceremony of the Accession to the Throne.
2020 is the year of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It is expected that a large number of foreign dignitaries and tourists will visit Japan. Amidst the increasingly severe security environment surrounding Japan as well as increasing uncertainty concerning the international order, in order to further advance “foreign policy that takes a panoramic perspective of the world map” which Prime Minister Abe has promoted up until now, I will develop “diplomacy with both tolerance and strength,” including my series of visits to Southeast Asian countries at the start of the New Year, and raise Japan’s ability to convey its diplomacy.
(2) Government Initiatives to Ensure the Security of Ships Related to Japan in the Middle East
Minister MOTEGI: Today, there was a Cabinet decision on “Government Initiatives to Ensure the Security of Ships Related to Japan in the Middle East .” As well as utilizing Japan Self-Defense Force (SDF) vessels and aircraft in order to strengthen information-gathering capabilities, it has been decided to thoroughly work on measures to ensure safety of navigation, including close information-sharing with related industries, and undertake further diplomatic efforts toward easing tensions and stabilizing the situation in the Middle East. MOFA will continue “further diplomatic efforts ,” one of the three pillars of the Government policy decided this time.
Specifically, we will continue to encourage related countries including the United States and Iran to ease tensions and stabilize the situation at various levels. We will also continue to encourage coastal countries to ensure safety of navigation of ships, as these countries play a major role in this regard. Japan has been providing explanation to the countries concerned that consideration is being taken into the SDF’s information-gathering activities in the Middle East, and we have received their understanding. Going forward, we will continue such efforts and firmly provide explanations with transparency.
In addition to Prime Minister Abe providing encouragement for easing tensions and stabilizing the situation in the Middle East at the Japan-Iran Summit Meeting held last week, explanations have been provided directly regarding advancing specific consideration concerning the SDF’s information-gathering activities, and President Rouhani indicated understanding concerning Japan’s intention to contribute to ensuring safety of navigation.
Furthermore, we will firmly undertake initiatives including humanitarian aid utilizing ODA for developing countries in the Middle East such as Yemen, contributions for peace and stability of the coastal areas of the Middle East through economic and societal stabilization support, and capacity-building support for coastal countries through implementation of symposia that contribute to safety of navigation and maritime security.
(3) Minister MOTEGI’s visits to Viet Nam, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia
Minister MOTEGI: I have chosen Southeast Asia for my first overseas visits in 2020. From January 5 to 11, I plan to visit the four countries of Viet Nam, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The Southeast Asian countries are important partners of Japan, and are also in a region that is a key for realizing a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Through these visits, as well as strengthening bilateral relations through meetings with the foreign ministers and other efforts, I plan to confirm strengthening the partnerships with the various countries toward resolving issues of the international community. In particular, I would like to realize cooperation and collaboration between the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific ” decided last year by ASEAN, and Japan’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” concept.
In addition, through my visit to Indonesia, I plan to give a speech regarding Japan’s diplomacy toward ASEAN at the headquarters of the ASEAN Secretariat.
Entry into Force of the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement and the Japan-U.S. Digital Trade Agreement
NHK, TAKASHIMA: I would like to ask again about the intention of having the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement and the Japan-U.S. Digital Trade Agreement enter into force on January 1, as well as future issues for consultations and negotiations with the United States.
Minister MOTEGI: The negotiations between Japan and the United States began with the consultation in April 2018 at Mar-a-Lago, and it was decided to start full-fledged agreement negotiations between myself and U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer in the Joint Statement at the Japan-U.S. Summit Meeting on September 26, 2018. Although there have been extremely severe full-fledged negotiations in particular since April 2019 in which our countries’ national interests have clashed, an agreement was reached and the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement and the Japan-U.S. Digital Trade Agreement will enter into force from January 1, 2020. This is highly moving for me.
With the entry into force of the trade agreements between Japan and the United States, which cover 30% of the global GDP, and in conjunction with the TPP11 Agreement and the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which have already entered into force, a free economic sphere covering approximately 60% of the global economy will be created with Japan at its center. I believe that this is extremely significant. I mentioned earlier that I have held over 50 foreign ministers’ meetings and other meetings, and the various countries highly evaluated the economic cooperation and agreements that Japan has been advancing and Japan’s leadership.
In addition, the Osaka Track was launched at the G20 Summit in June for entering the next age of a data-driven economy. When the Japan-U.S. Digital Trade Agreement enters into force, I believe that it will show high standard rules in the digital trade field, which is expected to majorly expand amidst the upcoming data-driven economy.
Going forward, based on both agreements, as well as stably developing Japan-U.S. economic relations, which is one of the major pillars of the Japan-U.S. Alliance, Japan will play a leading role in improving and strengthening the free trade system of the entire international community. There are still various issues such as the WTO reform and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and we will firmly work on such issues.
Overseas Visits in 2019
Kyodo News, TAKAO: I would like to ask about your overseas visits that have been ongoing since the middle of this month, which you introduced in your opening remarks. As you stated, you have visited Sri Lanka, Spain, Russia, and China, and have held meetings with various foreign ministers and attended Summit Meetings. Can you please tell us how you would summarize the results acquired from your series of diplomatic activities?
Minister MOTEGI: For my visits in December, the Diet session ended and I wanted to visit as many countries as possible. I started with a visit to Sri Lanka. I believe that I was able to take the first step for developing “diplomacy with both tolerance and strength.”
Firstly, as has been stated, the Rajapaksa administration was newly inaugurated in November in Sri Lanka. Colombo Port is probably one of the best ports in the Asia-Pacific region. The port has long served as an extremely important position for sea traffic since the age of the Portuguese presence in Sri Lanka. I believe that it was truly a major result that we agreed on continuing cooperation for maintaining high-quality infrastructure, defense, maritime security, maritime safety, and other matters in order to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific going forward.
In addition, at the Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Madrid, I met with foreign ministers of seven countries in the EU and other regions and had an informal talk with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha of the ROK. During my speech as a lead speaker of the first session, I strongly called for the importance of upholding the rules of the international community upon which multilateralism is based and rule-making in accordance with changes happening with time.
After that, I visited Russia. I was invited by Foreign Minister Lavrov. Foreign Minister Lavrov visited Nagoya in November, and I visited Russia in December. Unlike the time when we met at the United Nations General Assembly in New York and at the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, this time in particular we had a meeting with a schedule with plenty of time. I believe that we were able to have a full-fledged consultation with ample time.
In regard to the policy of bridging the gap between our countries’ basic positions, we decided to advance consultations while both sides contribute their wisdom. In terms of what topics and items will be discussed, there has been a great deal of coordination, and I would like to further advance the discussion going forward. If various circumstances permit, I have decided to conduct coordination toward taking the opportunity of the Munich Security Consultation in mid-February to hold the next Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
Lastly, in regard to China, discussions were held concerning the Japan-China-ROK cooperation over the next 10 years at the Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Summit. In addition to attending the Japan-China Summit Meeting and the Japan-ROK Summit Meeting taking this opportunity, I also held the Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting as well as a working lunch with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing. We held a frank exchange of views focusing on President Xi Jinping’s visit to Japan next spring and agreed to firmly advance preparing the environment for President Xi’s visit.
NHK, TAKANO: In relation to what you stated before, I would like to ask a question focused specifically on Japan-ROK relations. You met with Foreign Minister Kang three times, including your informal talk, and you also had contact alongside the Japan-ROK Summit Meeting. Frankly, through these meetings, did you sense that anything had changed on the ROK side concerning the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula? What are your thoughts on signs of a resolution and on the outlook?
Minister MOTEGI: So far Foreign Minister Kang and I have held a formal meeting at the United Nations and the recent G20 Aichi-Nagoya Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, an informal, albeit seated, talk at the museum in Madrid, and now our third full-fledged formal meeting. At the most recent Japan-ROK Summit Meeting and the Japan-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Prime Minister Abe again directly requested President Moon Jae-in for a swift resolution of the issue of the civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, the largest issue between Japan and the ROK, and I made the same request to Foreign Minister Kang.
In addition, Prime Minister Abe and President Moon, as well as Foreign Minister Kang and I, reconfirmed close Japan-ROK cooperation and Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation regarding security, including for North Korea, and we also gained understanding for Japan’s position regarding the abductions issue. In particular, I believe that it was extremely significant that both countries’ leaders met in person for the first time in a long time, where Japan directly conveyed our position to the ROK side, and that we confirmed security-related cooperation. I believe there is no question that we were able to gain a shared understanding that the most important matter is a resolution of the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula at the summit level, the foreign minister level, and through diplomatic channels.
However, it would be difficult to say that there was improvement to Japan-ROK relations with just these meetings, and we will continue consultations between the diplomatic authorities of our countries, including between our foreign ministers, regarding pending issues between our countries including the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula that I just mentioned. I believe that there was a conversation in which Prime Minister Abe called for the ROK side to take responsibility and resolve this issue, and President Moon responded that he also believes that a swift resolution is necessary.
Mainichi Shimbun, TADOKORO: In relation to this, this afternoon the Constitutional Court of the ROK will issue its decision on whether the comfort women agreement reached between Japan and the ROK at the end of 2015 is constitutional or not. Japan’s position has been to request the ROK to continue to implement the Japan-ROK agreement. Can you please tell us Japan’s position again? Also, although there is absolutely no outlook for the ROK implementing the agreement, including the ROK Government’s dissolution of the foundation in November 2018, can you please tell us your thoughts on the current situation, and whether you think this decision could affect Japan-ROK relations?
Minister MOTEGI: Both Japan and the ROK confirmed that the 2015 Japan-ROK agreement is the final and irreversible resolution of the comfort women issue, and it was appreciated by the international community. Japan has been sincerely implementing the agreement, and there is no change to our position of continuing to request the Government of the ROK to steadily implement the Japan-ROK agreement.
Asian Foreign Press, NISHIMURA: I would like to ask a question about the issue of international child abduction and the Hague Convention. With the rising number of international marriages, divorce and child abduction issues have increased. Although Japan has signed the Hague Convention, there has been strong criticism and complaints overseas because orders to return children are not being carried out in some cases. Can you please tell us your thoughts on this and consideration for improvement?
Minister MOTEGI: I do not believe that it is right to forcibly take crying children from their mothers. The Government of Japan has been steadily responding to this issue, in accordance with the intent of the Hague Convention , which prescribes the temporary return to their original country of children who were illegally abducted across national borders. For example, in cases when a court-ordered return is willfully not carried out, legal measures are taken regarding methods for compulsory returns while taking the child’s human rights into consideration.
Five and a half years have passed since April 2014 when the Hague Convention entered into force in Japan through December 2019, and 39 cases have been carried out of returning children who were abducted to Japan to foreign countries. We will continue to steadily implement the Hague Convention while closely cooperating with the governments of various countries.
I believe that this should be considered with a focus on children’s rights and where each child will be happy. It is important to implement the Hague Convention, but I disagree with the view that it would be right even if the child will be unhappy by the implementation.
Possibilities of Prime Minister Abe’s Visit to the Middle East
Pan Orient News, AZHARI: I am just following up on your mission about the Middle East policy. We heard that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East as the first trip in the New Year. Does that mean that this area in the world is getting priority in Japanese diplomacy? Also, could you please tell us more about the specific goals of this tour and the countries being planned to visit?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe that Prime Minister Abe’s schedule for the beginning of the year has not been finalized yet, but we will continue persistent diplomatic efforts continuing on from Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Iran in June and President Rouhani’s visit to Japan this month, while leveraging the Japan-U.S. Alliance and Japan’s traditionally friendly relations with Iran toward easing tensions and stabilizing the situation in the Middle East.
I also believe that it is important to resolve various regional issues related to peace in the Middle East, including the conflict in Yemen, for peace and stability in the region. I also made this point in my opening remarks earlier, but in addition to providing humanitarian support and economic and societal stabilization support using ODA, Japan will make efforts for political solutions and make independent contributions to peace and stability in the Middle East.
Overseas Visits by Minister MOTEGI Next Year
Sankei Shimbun, RIKITAKE: You spoke earlier about your schedule for overseas visits to Southeast Asia at the beginning of next year. Can you please tell us again in which fields you will make efforts next year, and if there are any themes that you absolutely would like to resolve?
Minister MOTEGI: I would like to consider that during the New Year period.
Japan-ROK Relations (Comfort Women Issue)
Dong-A Ilbo, KIM: I would like to return to the subject of the trial on the comfort women issue. If the ROK court decides that the agreement is unconstitutional, how does the Government of Japan intend to respond?
Minister MOTEGI: It is as I answered earlier.
60 Years since the Amendment of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States (Japan-U.S. Security Treaty)
Asahi Shimbun, TAKESHITA: You mentioned your determination toward next year in your opening remarks. January 19, 2020 will mark the 60th anniversary since the amendment of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. How would you like to use this timing to develop Japan-U.S. relations and what would you like to convey?
Minister MOTEGI: January 19 will mark exactly 60 years since the amendment of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. There were differing public opinions 60 years ago, but I am certain that it is a historical truth that the amendment of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty unmistakably strengthened Japan’s security, and Japan greatly developed centered on the economy as it entered the 1960s.
While firmly taking into account the sentiments of our predecessors, including former Prime Minister KISHI Nobusuke and various people related to Japan and the United States who worked to form the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in the 1960s, as well as the generations of people related to promoting initiatives for further strengthening the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the Japan-U.S. Alliance, we will further strengthen this, and make it a milestone not only for Japan-U.S. bilateral relations but also for cooperation in widespread areas for how Japan and the United States can cooperate in the international community.
North Korea Situation
TV Asahi, OISHI: I would like to ask about the North Korea situation. The end of the year, which North Korea unilaterally decided would be the deadline for denuclearization negotiations with the United States, is approaching. Although North Korea has not currently conducted any provocative actions, amidst the ongoing series of negotiation between the United States and North Korea, how does the Government of Japan analyze the current situation?
Minister MOTEGI: As I have repeatedly stated, North Korea’s frequent ballistic missile launches are violations of the related United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and are extremely regrettable. At the recent Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Summit, we agreed on the recognition that these ballistic missile launches need to be treated with strong concern. As the U.S.-North Korea process enters a critical stage, the unified message of Japan, China, and the ROK is that North Korea should exhibit self-restraint and refrain from further provocative actions.
It seems that North Korea’s “Christmas present” has not been delivered yet. I do not know if the present will be a missile or a vase, but amidst this I believe that the tense situation will probably continue during the New Year period. MOFA will continue to exert all efforts for information-gathering and analysis, and is resolved to make full efforts for ensuring the peace and safety of Japan. Furthermore, we will continue to firmly cooperate with the countries concerned, including the United States and the ROK.
Minister MOTEGI’s Schedule during the New Year Period
Kyodo News, TAKAO: In regard to handling crisis management over the New Year period, how will you spend time during the New Year period? I believe that you have been busy with official business and government affairs.
Minister MOTEGI: In any event, I would like to build conditions in which Japan can resolve to make full efforts for crisis management and take responses.
Situation in Iran (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA))
Asahi Shimbun, TAKESHITA: You referred to dispatching personnel to the Middle East in your opening remarks. Even if you intend to continue to make diplomatic efforts, Iran is expected to violate the restrictions of the JCPOA in early January 2020, and there are concerns that tensions will further increase. What is your analysis of the current situation related to the JCPOA?
Minister MOTEGI: As I stated before, further diplomatic efforts will be promoted toward easing tensions and stabilizing the situation in the Middle East, including the JCPOA.
What I would like to emphasize is that although the dispatch of SDF assets is surely attracting attention, the Government of Japan will respond to issues in this area under the three pillars. One of the pillars is further diplomatic efforts. Another pillar is to thoroughly work on navigation safety measures while conducting information-sharing with related industries. The third pillar is utilizing the SDF Fleet, vessels, and aircrafts in order to strengthen the information-sharing system. With these pillars, we will respond to regional conditions and firmly protect the safety of navigation of Japanese ships.
Minister MOTEGI’s Visit to Southeast Asia (TPP11)
NHK, TAKASHIMA: During your visit to Southeast Asia at the beginning of the New Year, what kind of visit would you like to have from the perspective of increasing the number of countries participating in the TPP?
Minister MOTEGI: Among the countries I will visit this time, the TPP has already entered into force in Viet Nam. In addition, Japan welcomes that Thailand also has an interest in participating in the TPP. When I am in Thailand and meeting with the foreign minister and others, if I receive requests for provision of various information regarding TPP issues from the Thai side, I will provide the information, and I will state that Japan in essence welcomes the participation of Thailand in the TPP. I have not yet heard the intentions of the Philippines and Indonesia, so I will ask.