Press Conferences

Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu

Friday, September 4, 2020, 11:20 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs

This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only.

Issuance of a Passport to Mr. YASUDA Junpei

Radio France, NISHIMURA: I would like to ask about the journalist Mr. YASUDA Junpei. He was held as a hostage for over three years in Syria, and it has been two years since he was released and returned to Japan. However, one reason he cannot be active freely now as a journalist is that the Government of Japan will not issue a passport to him. Can you please tell us again the reason why a passport will not be issued to him? Also, under what conditions will a passport be issued to him?

Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: On January 9, 2020, Mr. YAMAMOTO Junpei, whose original name was YASUDA Junpei, filed a lawsuit in order to revoke the denial of issuance of a passport to him, and to be issued a general passport. As this matter involves an ongoing lawsuit, I would like to refrain from commenting on behalf of MOFA.

Detention of a Japanese Journalist in Hong Kong

Yomiuri Shimbun, OYABU: I would like to ask about the temporary detention of a Japanese national in Hong Kong. Can you please tell us if the Government of Japan has confirmed the reason for his detention after it occurred, and about the Government’s response?

Minister MOTEGI: The local Hong Kong authorities explained to the Consulate-General of Japan in Hong Kong that a Japanese man was detained on August 31 and released on September 1 the following day. After that, the Consulate-General confirmed the identity of the man with the local authorities and others, and ascertained that he is not a Japanese national. It is my understanding that he is from Hong Kong.

However, Japan’s serious concerns about the recent situation in Hong Kong are growing. We will continue to monitor the situation in Hong Kong, including protecting Japanese nationals.

Japan-Russia Relations

NHK, WATANABE: I would like to ask about Japan-Russia relations. Recently on August 31, Prime Minister Abe and President Putin held a telephone talk, and confirmed that peace treaty negotiations would be conducted taking into account the agreement between them. Although there will be a transition period for Japan’s administration due to the LDP presidential election going forward, can you please tell us your thoughts on the Northern Territories issue and peace treaty negotiations at the present point? Also, the foreign ministers of Japan and Russia have been in charge of the negotiations respectively under Prime Minister Abe and President Putin. The Senior Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs is also serving as Special Representative of the Prime Minister of Japan, and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Morgulov is serving as Special Representative of the President of Russia. How will this system be continued going forward during the transition period of the administration?

Minister MOTEGI: Over seven years and eight months, Prime Minister Abe has actively developed “Diplomacy that Takes a Panoramic Perspective of the World Map,” including through his 81 overseas visits, and has built excellent relations with President Trump of the United States and President Putin of Russia. He has held 27 summit meetings and other such communication with President Putin. In regard to Japan-Russia relations, the two leaders agreed to accelerate peace treaty negotiations on the basis of the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956 and worked out the major direction for the negotiations. At the same time, cooperation in economic fields between Japan and Russia is also advancing.

This Monday, Prime Minister Abe held a telephone talk with President Trump as well as one with President Putin. During his telephone talk with President Putin, he confirmed that peace treaty negotiations would be continued on the basis of the agreement between the two leaders. Efforts including the peace treaty negotiations will continue to be advanced firmly. For various negotiations related to diplomacy, it is natural and often the case that the major direction is worked out between the summit leaders, ministers then advance the more specific negotiations, and deputy ministers take charge of areas that cover more detail. I believe that this division of roles has functioned for the negotiations between Japan and Russia.

Of course, I believe that there will be consideration under the new administration about how the peace treaty negotiations between Japan and Russia will be as well as about advancing economic cooperation. I believe the consideration will be conducted based on how the system has been thus far.

Question from the Journalist from the Japan Times on August 28 (MOFA’s Accountability/Response to the Foreign Journalist)

Shukan Kinyobi, UEMATSU: There have been several reports about your response to the journalist Magdalena Osumi of the Japan Times at your press conference last week on August 28. I would like to ask two questions in relation to that.

My first question is about the content. From what I have seen in the record and video of that day, you did not ultimately answer Ms. Osumi’s question, so I would like to ask it also. My question is about the basis for not allowing re-entry into Japan for a long time for foreign people with permanent residency whose lives are based in Japan. In other words, I would like to ask about the rational basis for the government to allow or not allow the re-entry of the people depending on the nationality. The re-entry restrictions are posted on MOFA’s website, so of course I believe that MOFA is also accountable for answering about this matter, not just the Immigration Services Agency.

My second question is about the Japanese language issue. I believe you have still not apologized about that issue, so do you believe that there was no problem with your attitude toward Ms. Osumi on August 28?

Also, is it possible that you will suddenly reply in English to a reporter who asked a question in Japanese? I would like to confirm that.

Minister MOTEGI: In regard to your first question concerning resumption of travel, I have answered that consideration is being conducted on allowing entry into Japan by foreign people with status of residence in Japan in a way that also prevents the resurgence of the novel coronavirus. It was decided to allow re-entry into Japan from September 1 by foreign people with status of residence in Japan who are currently in Japan as well as foreign nationals with status of residence who have left Japan after the country/region where they are currently staying was designated as an area subject to denial of permission to enter into Japan. Through this, re-entry into Japan has become possible for all foreign people with status of residence in Japan.

In that sense, the handling of foreign people with status of residence in Japan was not decided until September 1, but I believe I gave a proper explanation at that time.

At the same time, Japanese people also attend this press conference. There are also foreign reporters. I am asked questions in Japanese. There are also people who ask me questions in English. I have always tried to answer politely to the best of my ability for all these questions.

In regard to the communication you mentioned, in the past year I have received many questions generally about various matters and issues, including questions from a diplomacy perspective and about effects on the economy. However, that was my first time in the year receiving a question about a “scientific basis.”

I believe that it is rare for a foreign minister to be asked a question about a scientific basis. So I asked the reporter a question because I wanted to accurately grasp the meaning of her question. There was no ulterior motive. I simply asked her what she meant by “scientific basis.” She then asked me again about the scientific basis, and I answered that she should ask the Immigration Services Agency because it has jurisdiction over this issue and ultimately makes the decisions.

Diplomacy Issues for the Next Administration

Pan Orient news, AZHARI: In light of the change of administration in Japan that is expected soon, after the resignation of Prime Minister Abe, who conducted a very active diplomacy as you said already, although no result was achieved on the Russian and North Korean fronts, what would be the best approach in your opinion for the new administration to follow so Japan can achieve something on those and other fronts? What do you see as the main diplomatic issues to be handed over to the new government?

Minister MOTEGI: My response earlier about Russia partially covers your question. Over seven years and eight months, Prime Minister Abe has actively developed “Diplomacy that Takes a Panoramic Perspective of the World Map,” including during his 81 overseas visits, and has built good relations with the leaders of various countries. I believe he will leave behind great achievements. Requests have been received from many summit leaders and others, including President Trump, President Putin, and UN Secretary-General Guterres, and Prime Minister Abe has been holding telephone talks for several days. The summit leaders and others of over 50 countries and regions have also issued statements and other communication that highly evaluates Prime Minister Abe’s contributions. I believe this shows that Prime Minister Abe’s diplomacy is highly evaluated by the international community.

During this year, I have also visited various countries and conducted telephone talks, in-person meetings, and other communication with various foreign ministers and other counterparts. During this time, I am certain that Japan’s presence in the international community has grown in a major way. At the same time, I feel that the international community’s expectations about Japan’s initiative for trade policies and new rule-making have also grown in a major way.

Prime Minister Abe has of course particularly raised the issue of the peace treaty between Japan and Russia as well as the abductions issue during his press conferences. In regard to Japan-Russia relations, as I stated before, during their summit meeting last Monday, Prime Minister Abe and President Putin confirmed that the peace treaty negotiations would be continued based on the agreement between the two leaders. I would like to continue to firmly advance various issues such as the peace treaty negotiations based on the achievements thus far.

Also, I am certain that Prime Minister Abe has worked exceptionally hard to resolve the outstanding issues of concern with North Korea, namely the abductions, nuclear, and missile issues. During his press conference last week, Prime Minister Abe stated, “It is a matter of the greatest regret that I was unable to resolve the abductions issue by my own hand.” However, I am certain that international awareness of the abductions issue dramatically rose through the efforts of the Abe administration.

For example, President Trump met twice with the families of abduction victims. He also directly raised the abductions issue in a meeting with Chairman Kim Jong-un. I believe that these are important results. The Government of Japan will continue to work toward resolving the abductions issue as an issue of utmost priority without losing any opportunities.

Furthermore, I believe that Prime Minister Abe’s achievements for diplomacy at the summit level, including for the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” will be assets for Japan’s diplomacy going forward. The new administration will leverage these assets to further advance diplomacy.

Question from the Journalist from the Japan Times on August 28

Shukan Kinyobi, UEMATSU: I would like to ask about your response earlier. Firstly, in regard to the Japanese language issue, I do not believe there is a problem in itself with asking, “What do you mean by scientific basis?” However, I believe it was problematic to respond suddenly to the reporter with a question in English.

I believe it is quite problematic to suddenly ask a question in English to a reporter who asked you a question in Japanese. I think this problem could even be considered as harassment at a company or other setting. Do you believe that this was not problematic? That is my first question.

Also, in regard to the original question, your response earlier did not ultimately explain the rational basis for using nationality to decide whether people can re-enter Japan. It is slightly unthinkable that there would be no rational basis, so I believe there of course is one. Regarding that basis, I believe the conditions for leaving and then returning to Japan would be no different for foreign people with permanent residency in Japan and other foreign people whose lives are based in Japan, or Japanese nationals. Despite this, people with non-Japanese nationality have been denied permission to re-enter Japan. If that is reasonable as you stated in your previous press conference, then please tell us the rational basis for concluding that it is reasonable.

Minister MOTEGI: As I answered before, as the novel coronavirus spreads around the world, various countries are strengthening their border enforcement measures in various forms, such as denying entry into their countries and strengthening infection control systems. Although it cannot be said that it is all countries, most countries are denying entry by foreign people. On the other hand, I believe there are no countries that are denying entry by their own nationals. I believe that most countries are using such methods. Also, I believe that I answered that each country’s border enforcement measures and other such measures are a matter of sovereignty.

Regarding your second question, I believe it overlaps with what I stated before. Questions about a scientific basis are rarely asked, so I thought it would be best to confirm the meaning of “scientific basis” in my own communication style. I thus replied to the reporter by asking what she meant by “scientific basis.” I thought that she would understand English, so I asked her my question in good faith. After that, I also asked her what she meant by scientific basis in Japanese as well.

Shukan Kinyobi, UEMATSU: I will stop asking about the Japanese language issue because it seems like it could be a matter of endless discussion. In terms of content, according to your explanation just now, foreign people with status of residence in Japan such as permanent residents are being grouped together with people who live overseas and want to come to Japan for tourism and other purposes, and have been restricted from entering or re-entering Japan. In other words, is it rational to give the same treatment to all foreign people, whether they are people who want to come to Japan for tourism or permanent residents? That is the last point I would just like to confirm.

Minister MOTEGI: As I answered before, I believe there are various ways of thinking about implementing border enforcement measures. There are many countries that are taking even stricter measures than Japan, even in countries where there are almost no infections, from the perspective of preventing the domestic spread of infections. I believe there is no particular need for me to raise the names of the countries one by one here. However, I believe that many countries are using the criterion of basically dividing people based on whether they are that country’s nationals or not. I do not believe that Japan is taking unique actions compared to other countries.

Japan-Russia Relations (The Northern Territories Issue with Regard to the Amendment of the Russian Constitution)

Independent Web Journal, NAYA: There are reports that recently on September 2, regarding the amendment to the Russian constitution, former Prime Minister Medvedev of Russia mentioned at a political event that there will be no possibility to cede territory and that Russia would not return the Northern Territories to Japan. Can you please tell us your views and reaction about this?

Minister MOTEGI: Various people make statements from various viewpoints overseas. As is true in my other press conferences thus far, I would like to refrain from commenting about such statements one by one. That is what I have done through now.

Additionally, President Putin and Prime Minister Abe held a summit telephone talk this Monday and agreed that the peace treaty negotiations would be continued based on their agreement. I would like to continue diligently advancing the peace treaty negotiations in accordance with their agreement that they confirmed.

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