Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Saturday, February 15, 2020, 6:31 p.m. Munich, Germany
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Regarding my schedule this afternoon, I held a Japan-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi from 4 p.m. for approximately 30 minutes. State Councilor Wang Yi and I shared the view that we will continue to coordinate closely for preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus infections. I stated that Japan will continue to provide utmost support to China. In addition, I stated that Japan highly appreciates China’s full cooperation with the repatriation of Japanese nationals living in Hubei Province. In response to my request once again for China’s support for the repatriation of all Japanese nationals wishing to return to Japan, this time on the fifth chartered flight, State Councilor Wang Yi stated that China will exert every effort to ensure the safety and health of Japanese nationals and expressed appreciation for the various supports Japan has provided. We also shared the view that Japan and China will continue to coordinate closely to prepare for President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Japan this spring.
Then, from 5 p.m., I held a Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov for approximately one hour. Taking into consideration our Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at the end of last year, I conveyed my thoughts more specifically regarding ways for advancing the peace treaty negotiations. I believe that the negotiations are entering a different phase. Japan and Russia are not quarreling with each other over principles, but have begun conducting more forward-looking discussions. We intend to carry out joint work and advance consultations for filling the gap between our basic positions. Regarding joint economic activities, we discussed the way forward for future consultations, taking into account the director-general-level working group meeting for comprehensive discussions held this month and the projects to be implemented this year. Furthermore, regarding measures requested by former island residents related to visits to the Four Northern Islands, as the Prime Minister has just met with former island residents on Northern Territories Day and a number of concrete requests were received, I conveyed these requests and asked for Russia’s positive consideration. We shared the view that, first, vice-ministerial-level consultations will be held swiftly to conduct follow-ups based on the discussions at today’s meeting. In addition, I invited Minister Lavrov to visit Japan at an early date, and it was decided that we will coordinate the schedule.
Looking back on today, it was very significant that I, as Foreign Minister of Japan, was able to attend a forum which brings together leaders and ministers from various countries to discuss a variety of security issues facing the international community, and present Japan’s initiatives, including achieving the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” It was also very significant that I was able to hold extensive discussions with my counterparts in the face of mounting issues, including the Japan-Russia peace treaty negotiations, North Korea, situation in the Middle East, and response to the novel coronavirus infection.
Reporter: First, I would like to ask about the Japan-Russia meeting. You stated that the negotiations have entered a new phase. In past meetings, I believe that the two sides were clashing with each other over principles. Was there something that prompted the two sides to overcome this phase?
Minister MOTEGI: I am not sure if there was anything that prompted it. We have been able to hold in-depth discussions since December; an eight-hour discussion was held the last time. Today, we were able to conduct further discussion based on the previous discussion. I do not mean to say that the previous discussions on principles were wrong in and of themselves. Both the previous and today’s discussions were in the phase of discussing not the principles like before, but how to resolve the issues and what solutions would be acceptable to both sides.
Reporter: I have a related question. What are the inter-linkages in your opinion between the concrete proposals for advancing the peace treaty negotiations and the initiatives under the so-called new approach, such as joint economic activities and humanitarian measures for former island residents? Another question is, Russia has begun discussing revising its constitution. Proposals have included stipulating that domestic law is superior to international law and banning territorial cessation. Did you get an impression that such developments had any kind of effect on today’s meeting?
Minister MOTEGI: If I may answer your second question first, discussion took place in view of the various news reports regarding developments related to constitutional revision in Russia. I would like to refrain from disclosing the details of our discussion as this is a diplomatic negotiation and part of the peace treaty negotiation. It remains unchanged that we are always following with interest the various developments, including Russia’s domestic affairs and diplomacy. It also remains unchanged that the Government will continue to carry out persistent negotiations under our basic policy of concluding a peace treaty by resolving the territorial issue. With regard to the new approach, or the joint economic activities on the four islands, today we were able to discuss in quite detail that the pilot projects that were conducted last year will be implemented in full scale from this year. I also requested that more humanitarian measures for former island residents be done than before through such activities. The accumulation of such activities and build-up of trust will blow a favorable wind for the peace treaty negotiations.
Reporter: I have a question related to these joint economic activities. You stated that vice-ministerial-level consultations will be held. Has any further progress been made as of today, such as deciding which specific activities will be given priority in view of the pilot projects that have been conducted, or what activities will become more tangible this year? Since the meeting was held for a long time, I thought maybe the two of you had a lot to talk about.
Minister MOTEGI: The topic that we talked at length today was the peace treaty negotiations, basically. Regarding joint economic activities, taking into consideration last year’s pilot projects, and I believe that tourism projects yield the most outcomes, we shared the view on accelerating consultations regarding projects that will be implemented this year.
Reporter: I would like to go back to the topic of constitutional revision. If the revisions are actually made, it could significantly hinder the negotiations for concluding a peace treaty. Did you express any concern over this? Secondly, you stated earlier that the negotiations for concluding a peace treaty have entered a new phase. Does that mean Japan made some kind of proposal? Or did Russia make a proposal? Could you please elaborate?
Minister MOTEGI: Responding to your first question, as I stated earlier, discussion was conducted today taking into consideration the various news reports about the developments related to constitutional revision in Russia. And...
Reporter: Did you not express your concern?
Minister MOTEGI: As I stated earlier, these discussion are part of the negotiations. The negotiations have to be brought to a settlement. For the negotiations, I believe there is no advantage to disclosing each item that was discussed.
Reporter: What about my second question?
Minister MOTEGI: Could you please repeat it?
Reporter: Regarding the new phase you mentioned, did Japan make a proposal or was it Russia?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe that discussions make progress based on trust in each other. I proposed matters that should be discussed, and the two of us gave our respective opinions on how such matters should be discussed.
Reporter: I have two questions. My first question is related to these negotiations for concluding a peace treaty. I understand that you are exploring how the negotiations can enter a new phase. However, in the past, Russia has expressed a rather severe principle position, telling Japan to admit that the territorial rights were the outcome of World War II. As the two sides currently work to find a compromise, is it correct to understand that Japan has not changed its basic policy of concluding a peace treaty by resolving the territorial issue? That is my first question.
Minister MOTEGI: Yes, that is fine.
Reporter: Secondly, I would like to ask whether the Prime Minister will be attending the Victory Day celebrations on May 9. It has been announced that Russia has already invited Japan. Is the Prime Minister considering his attendance? During today’s meeting, did you convey any message from the Government of Japan regarding the Prime Minister’s plans?
Minister MOTEGI: Not today.
Reporter: I have two questions. In connection with the previous question, my first question is, has the Prime Minister’s visit to Russia that coincides with the May 9 celebrations not even been raised? My other question is about Japan-China relations. What intentions did Mr. Wang Yi indicate with regard to Mr. Xi Jinping’s state visit to Japan?
Minister MOTEGI: Although you have framed your question as if it was strange that it was not raised as an issue, that is not the case. Prime Minister Abe’s attendance at the ceremony you noted is currently under consideration. It has not been decided. The date of the next summit meeting will be coordinated through diplomatic channels. Today, within a limited amount of time, we had to discuss matters that are important and quite detailed and hold an in-depth discussion. For this reason, and as the matter you mentioned is already being considered and discussed, it was not touched upon. What was your other question?
Reporter: My other question was in regard to Japan-China relations. What intentions did Mr. Wang Yi indicate with regard to Mr. Xi Jinping’s state visit to Japan?
Minister MOTEGI: State Councilor Wang Yi stated that China hopes to realize President Xi Jinping’s state visit and elevate Japan-China relations to new heights.
Reporter: If I may confirm once again, did Mr. Wang Yi say that China hopes to realize the state visit in April, as scheduled, without postponing it?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe your understanding is correct.