Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Friday, June 26, 2020, 11:57 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Suspension of the Aegis Ashore Deployment (Japan-Russia Relations, Japan-U.S. Relations)
NHK, WATANABE: I would like to ask about Japan-Russia relations. Since you became in charge of the negotiations, I believe that the atmosphere has become a little more constructive compared to before, including at the Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Munich. Amidst this, during the negotiations process at Foreign Ministers’ Meetings and “2+2” Ministerial Meetings, Russia has been repeatedly stating that the Aegis Ashore issue is an obstacle to the peace treaty negotiations. Minister Kono stated that Aegis Ashore would be suspended at the recent Liberal Democratic Party meeting. In that sense, how do you think this will affect the peace treaty negotiations between Japan and Russia?
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would like to refrain from answering based on speculation about the effects of this decision including Japan and Russia relations. For the peace treaty negotiations, there is no change to the Government of Japan’s basic policy of resolving the attributions issue and concluding a peace treaty. I will continue to carry out persistent negotiations.
Additionally, since last year I have conducted various discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov in a truly frank manner on how to reach a compromise between our positions. Of course, we would not neglect conducting discussions on security issues during the middle stages of the negotiations for concluding a peace treaty. I believe that overcoming security issues is one major task, and I will firmly advance discussions for that.
NHK, WATANABE: I have related questions. In that case, as Japan’s neighboring countries and others recognize that Japan has suspended Aegis Ashore, what will you do for negotiations with Russia based on Japan-U.S. relations going forward? How will you advance the peace treaty negotiations by explaining Japan’s current situation? How will you work on relations with neighboring countries? Can you please tell us your thoughts on the policy based on Japan’s security situation?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe your questions are probably divided into two parts. Firstly, as the security environment surrounding Japan grows increasingly severe, it is the Government of Japan’s important responsibility to protect the lives and assets of the people of Japan, and that necessity is increasing further. We have built a seamless system through various forms of cooperation with our ally, the United States, thus far.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. The Japan-U.S. Alliance is stronger now than ever before, so I do not believe that the decision about Aegis Ashore will affect cooperation with the United States. Japan will continue to cooperate closely with the United States, and further strengthen the deterrence and response capabilities of the Japan-U.S. Alliance.
On the other hand, for example, with regards to the negotiations with Russia, this issue is related to the content of the negotiations, and what I say here could affect the negotiations. I would thus like to refrain from commenting about what is being discussed and what the policy is.
One Year Since Japan Withdrew from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and Resumed Commercial Whaling
Sankei Shimbun, HARAKAWA: It will soon be one year since Japan withdrew from the IWC and resumed commercial whaling. I would like to take this opportunity to ask a question. When the Government of Japan announced its withdrawal from the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling at the end of the year before last, I believe that negative statements stood out in the form of announcements by foreign countries that Japan’s move was regrettable. You have held a large number of Foreign Ministers’ Meetings centered on telephone talks during the first half of this year. Can you please tell us whether negative views have been expressed regarding Japan’s commercial whaling or requests for Japan to rejoin the IWC during the meetings, and which countries expressed this?
Minister MOTEGI: Since the novel coronavirus began to spread globally, I have held Foreign Ministers’ Meetings over 50 times with various countries, including telephone talks. The people I have spoken with have not expressed any concerns about Japan’s whaling, and there have been no references to the IWC.
Japan-Russia Peace Treaty Negotiations
Yomiuri Shimbun, ABE: I would like to ask about Japan-Russia relations. As you recently stated, the Eastern Economic Forum that was scheduled to be held in September in Vladivostok has been suspended for this year. As there are no prospects for in-person meetings between foreign ministers and leaders, can you please tell us the policy for how to advance Japan-Russia relations?
Minister MOTEGI: It is not the case that we are postponing meetings such as the Eastern Economic Forum due to some political circumstances in either Japan or Russia. Furthermore, Minister Lavrov and I want to hold a Foreign Ministers’ Meeting as quickly as possible. We want him to come to Japan next time. We are monitoring the novel coronavirus conditions as these issues are dependent on how the novel coronavirus developments wind down. I held a Telephone Talk with Foreign Minister Lavrov on May 28 based on the Summit Telephone Talk on May 7 . We agreed to swiftly resume working-level consultations to firmly advance discussions and cooperation between Japan and Russia on the peace treaty negotiations, the joint economic activities on the Four Northern Islands, the Four-Island Exchange Program, the Japan-Russia Year of Regional Exchanges, and more.
Soon after we agreed, the Vice-Ministerial-Level Consultation and Director-General-Level Working Group Meeting were held on June 4 and 5. We also agreed that it is extremely important to hold the Japan-Russia Year of Regional Exchanges as soon as possible while monitoring the situation. We are precisely advancing negotiations while monitoring the novel coronavirus situation. Furthermore, Japan and Russian are both intent on advancing Japan-Russia cooperation, and I do not think this has been impacted.
Japan-Russia Peace Treaty Negotiations (Constitutional Amendment in Russia)
Yomiuri Shimbun, ABE: Excuse me, I have another question. The nationwide vote on constitutional amendment will take place in Russia on July 1. The amendment draft includes a prohibition on ceding territory. What are your thoughts on what effects there will be on negotiations regarding the Northern Territories if the constitutional amendment is realized?
Minister MOTEGI: I am monitoring the movements concerning the constitutional amendment with interest. It is my understanding that the vote that was scheduled for April 22 was postponed to July 1 due to the effects of the novel coronavirus. The question of what effects there might be on the peace treaty negotiations between Japan and Russia concerns the negotiations going forward, so I would like to refrain from commenting based on speculation. However, Japan is firmly conveying that we are monitoring the movements concerning the constitutional amendment with interest.
Suspension of the Aegis Ashore Deployment (Japan-Russia Relations)
NHK, WATANABE: Please excuse me for asking another question. In relation to the matter you talked about earlier, if we look at various past records, there was a continuing situation in which Foreign Minister Lavrov repeatedly brought up the Aegis Ashore issue regardless of Japan’s explanations. That was also true for the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs. What are your thoughts on whether it is a positive aspect for the negotiations that this issue, which Russia always claimed was an obstacle to negotiations, has disappeared?
Minister MOTEGI: I have engaged in various forms of diplomatic negotiations thus far. I recall that there were some negotiations that I thought were difficult. I do not feel optimistic or pessimistic about each aspect.
Selection of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General (Support for the Republic of Korea (ROK)’s Candidate)
Sankei Shimbun, HARAKAWA: In regard to the selection of the next Director-General of the WTO, Director-General Azevedo of the WTO will step down from his post at the end of August. Several candidates have been announced, including one from the ROK, Japan’s neighboring country. Can you please tell us how the Government of Japan will respond to this, such as whether Japan will independently back someone as a candidate for Director-General?
Minister MOTEGI: We are currently conducting consideration about our response. I believe that various qualifications are probably necessary for the next Director-General. If we look at the various developments concerning the WTO now, I believe that it will be extremely important for the next Director-General to have the ability to coordinate the interests of major countries.
At the same time, other important aspects will also be whether the next Director-General can actively contribute to maintaining and strengthening the multilateral trade system and be a person who can fully achieve transparency and accountability of the WTO. Japan will respond comprehensively while considering such matters, observing the movements of other countries, and cooperating with major countries.