Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, September 15, 2020, 11:35 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Reflections as Minister for Foreign Affairs
NHK, YAMAMOTO: In the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election held yesterday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga was elected to be the new president. Can you please tell us your frank reaction and what your expectations are for the new president?
Also, can you please tell us your thoughts in reflection of your one year as Minister for Foreign Affairs?
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: In yesterday’s LDP presidential election, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga received major support from the regions and Diet members, and was inaugurated as President of the LDP. Against the backdrop of such major support, I believe the new Cabinet will be inaugurated tomorrow. As various initiatives, such as novel coronavirus measures, economic recovery, and promotion of active diplomacy, that were advanced by the Abe administration will be further promoted, there are some issues remaining. I believe it is of utmost importance to respond to the mandate of the people of Japan by working on these issues with all efforts.
In my one year as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I frankly believe that I have been blessed with good staff members. The year seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. I believe this is considerably enjoyable, exciting work. Rather than speak about the results of this past year, what I have felt over this past year as Minister for Foreign Affairs through attending various meetings and other actions is that Prime Minister Abe has actively developed “Diplomacy that Takes a Panoramic Perspective of the World Map” over his seven years and eight months in office. As a result of this, I feel that Japan’s presence in the international community has overwhelmingly risen and the expectations of Japan from the international community and various countries on various issues have majorly increased.
When I was appointed, I stated that I would exert all efforts to promote “diplomacy with both tolerance and strength” in order to further advance “Diplomacy that Takes a Panoramic Perspective of the World Map.” Last week, various ASEAN-related meetings took place. Although I believe there were many discussion themes on which the participants did not agree, I feel that many countries including ASEAN countries understand and accept Japan’s tolerance.
There were probably five important issues that I raised when I was appointed. The first was further deepening the Japan-U.S. Alliance, the linchpin of Japan’s diplomacy. Another was responding to the unresolved abductions, nuclear, and missile issues concerning North Korea. Another was conducting diplomacy with neighboring countries including China, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and Russia. Another was responding to the tense situation in the Middle East. There was also advancing diplomacy in which Japan leads the creation of new rules and responds to global issues. Amidst this, I will speak frankly about what has advanced considerably and what is still unresolved. In terms of the Japan-U.S. Alliance last year and this year, President Trump and Prime Minister Abe continued making mutual state visits. This year was the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement entered into force in January. The Japan-U.S. Alliance has been deepened in various senses and fields. I believe the linchpin of Japanese diplomacy has become unprecedentedly strong.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Abe stated that he felt truly heartbroken and regretful that he could not resolve the abductions issue during his tenure. In addition, although the peace treaty negotiations between Japan and Russia began at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019 and lengthy discussions were advanced in Nagoya and Moscow, from this year I have not been able to directly meet and advance discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov due to the global spread of the novel coronavirus since the start of 2020. The issue thus remains. Although there has been progress in some areas, there are areas that will be carried over as issues to the next administration.
In addition, speaking about various initiatives from the beginning of this year, novel coronavirus measures are the largest issue. With the cooperation of various diplomatic missions, we have been able to flexibly issue Warnings on Infectious Diseases, raise the Warnings on Infectious Diseases Levels, implement border enforcement measures, and repatriate over 12,000 Japanese nationals beginning with the operation in Wuhan.
Furthermore, I believe that we have implemented support with unprecedented speed for developing countries to provide various medical and supplies assistance for the novel coronavirus, as well as to strengthen the medical systems in countries with vulnerable ones.
In addition, we have worked on allowing resumption of cross-border travel, probably more consciously than any other country, to advance economic recovery in a way that prevents the spread of the novel coronavirus. We have already launched the Residence Track with seven countries and regions. We have also agreed to launch the Business Track with Singapore. I believe we are steadily advancing initiatives toward the resumption of cross-border travel.
Regarding economic and trade fields, I was originally in charge of the TPP. Following on from the entry into force of the TPP11 and the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement entered into force in January 2020. I recall that the Diet deliberations were quite difficult last year. Just last week, an agreement in principle was reached for the Japan-U.K. Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
Through such trade negotiations, I believe we have been able to create higher-level rules than the TPP and the Japan-EU EPA on not only movement of goods, but also various investment rules, protection of intellectual property, and in the digital data field. As protectionism gains prominence globally now, I believe that Japan has led, and must continue to lead, maintaining the free and fair trade system and new rule-making.
Currently, the novel coronavirus is continuing to spread globally. Also, with issues such as the confrontation between the United States and China, the international community is in a period of major changes. If we think about the post-novel coronavirus world order, there is the issue of how to balance infection control measures and the level of freedom for movement of people and goods. Also, amidst the progress of digitalization, as worked on at the G20 Osaka Summit in 2019, there are issues such as how to establish new rules in the data flow field in a manner such as the Osaka Track, and how to spread those rules around the world. At the same time, there are many other issues the world faces such as how to maintain the open and free trade system that I mentioned earlier, as well as climate change issues. Japan will continue to exhibit its leadership in post-novel coronavirus rules and system creation, and in meeting the expectations of the international community.
Selection of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Secretary-General
Pan Orient News, AZHARI: You touched upon the trading negotiations, so I have a related question. The procedures for appointing the new WTO Director General is in process, and candidates from a few countries were announced, including Mr. Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. My question is what is Japan’s position on which candidate would represent Japan’s views most? Minister Motegi is known to be well-versed in trade negotiations, so how do you think the main mission of the new general manager would be for Japan’s interest?
Minister MOTEGI: It is my understanding that the first round of the selection of the WTO Secretary-General will be conducted this week, and firstly the initial eight candidates will be reduced to five. Japan has currently not made a decision about a particular candidate. WTO reform must immediately be conducted, including for the issue of the WTO’s Appellate Body’s fall into dysfunction and rule-making on the digital economy that is growing in importance due to the novel coronavirus. I believe it is necessary for the new WTO Secretary-General to work on these accumulated issues and steadily advance WTO reform.
As I have stated previously, I believe it is necessary for the new WTO Secretary-General to have three qualities. One is the ability to coordinate the interests of major countries. Thinking about the current situation, I place major emphasis on the importance of this ability. The second quality is being able to contribute to maintaining and strengthening the multilateral trade system, and the third is being able to properly ensure the organization’s transparency. We will continue to cooperate with related countries so that a candidate who meets these conditions is selected.