Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Wednesday, September 16, 2020, 11:27 p.m. Prime Minister’s Office
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: It has been decided that I will continue to serve as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Thank you for your support.
Prime Minister Suga has issued instructions that he would like me to work firmly on strengthening the Japan-U.S. Alliance, the linchpin of Japanese diplomacy, and for achieving the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” concept that Japan advocates.
At the ministers’ inauguration ceremony last year, I stated that I want to aim for “diplomacy recorded in memory rather than on documents.” After tough negotiations with U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer, the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement entered into force in January 2020. In addition, it took only three months to reach an agreement in principle on the Japan-U.K. Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which I believe was quite fast. I believe I have been able to significantly advance Japan’s trade policies.
In addition, in regard to the response to the novel coronavirus which I believe is fresh in everyone’s minds, in late January 2020, Japan was the first country to dispatch five chartered airplanes to Wuhan, China due to the lockdown there. Japan conducted an unprecedented repatriation operation. We realized the repatriation of 828 Japanese nationals and their family members who were in Wuhan.
After that, through the full operations of Japanese diplomatic missions around the world, we have realized the departure from foreign countries and repatriation of a total of over 12,000 Japanese nationals.
Going forward, to put the economy on track for recovery, I believe it is important to allow resumption of cross-border travel in a way that also prevents the spread of the novel coronavirus. From the perspective of preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus thus far, we have raised the Warning on Infectious Disease Levels. However, going forward, we will advance efforts toward allowing resumption of cross-border travel by considering lowering the Levels.
When I assumed my position as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I stated that I would develop “diplomacy with both tolerance and strength.” The “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” concept that Japan is promoting now has received understanding, concurrence, and support from many other countries. Rather than unilateral attempts to change the status quo by the use of force, I would like to further expand cooperation with related countries based on our shared values of democracy, the rule of law, and freedom of navigation.
Although we cannot change nature or the past, we can change the future and our society with our efforts. I have worked this past year with that sentiment. Although I have certainly achieved results in some areas, there are unfortunately some issues that remain.
In regard to Japan-Russia relations, Prime Minister Abe and President Putin agreed to accelerate peace treaty negotiations on the basis of the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956. The major direction of the negotiations has been worked out. Based on this, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I have conducted negotiations during our meeting in New York in September 2019, in Nagoya, and over eight hours in Moscow at the end of 2019. Although we have seen forward-looking developments, unfortunately we need to get back on track again due to the effects of the novel coronavirus. Under the new administration as well, I will firmly work on resolving the attributions issue and concluding a peace treaty in accordance with the basic policy.
Also, Prime Minister Abe stated that it is a matter of the greatest regret that he was unable to resolve the abductions issue by his own hand. Although the U.S.-North Korea consultations have certainly stalled amidst the leadup to the U.S. presidential election, Japan has been aiming to resolve the abductions issue utilizing all channels, including behind the scenes. We will continue to work on resolving the abductions issue as a matter of utmost importance while supporting the U.S.-North Korea consultations.
Finally, in regard to new international order in the post-novel coronavirus world, we must consider how to balance infection control measures with the free movement of people and things amidst globalization. Also, amidst the progress of digitalization, we must consider how to advance creation of new rules in this field. We also must consider how to maintain and strengthen the free trade system. Japan has advanced trade policies on these issues since the TPP11, and the “Osaka Track” concerning data flow was worked on at the G20 Osaka Summit in 2019. In regard to movement of people, we have entered into consideration of various negotiations ahead of other countries as well as various measures. Japan and I myself will take leadership roles in creating rules and shaping the new international order for the post-novel coronavirus era. That is all from me.
Administrative Staff: If you have a question, please raise your hand. Minister Motegi will call on you.
Minister MOTEGI: Go ahead.
Peace Treaty Negotiations Between Japan and Russia
NHK, WATANABE: Congratulations on your reappointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Firstly, I would like to ask about the negotiations between Japan and Russia. Japan-Russia relations under the Abe administration through now were related to the relationship between Prime Minister Abe and President Putin. I believe that how Prime Minister Suga will approach this will be a theme going forward. As for you, you have developed a relationship with Foreign Minister Lavrov through now. You just mentioned the issues left behind by Prime Minister Abe. Based on those relationships, what new stance will you take toward concluding a peace treaty, in other words toward resolving the attributions issue? In the sense that there will no longer be the relationship considerably built up at the summit level between Prime Minister Abe and President Putin, I believe that your relationship with Foreign Minister Lavrov will increase in importance. How will you work on this based on that relationship? Please tell us a little more about that point.
Minister MOTEGI: Yes. Japan and Russia have basically agreed to conduct the peace treaty negotiations on the basis of the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956. Based on that, I have held consultations with Foreign Minister Lavrov four times through now. Although we are unable to have in-person negotiations now due to the effects of the novel coronavirus, going forward I will firmly seize opportunities. I also held various discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov for eight hours in Moscow. I believe our understanding of each other’s positions is advancing. I would like to firmly work on negotiations again under the basic policy of resolving the attributions issue and concluding a peace treaty.
Lowering of the Warning on Infectious Disease Levels
Nikkei Shimbun, KATO: In regard to lowering of the Warning on Infectious Disease Levels that you mentioned in your opening remarks, can you please tell us if there are currently any prospects on when to start lowering the Levels and which regions will have their levels lowered?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe that we must consider how the novel coronavirus winds down for this. The novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China. The first phase was throughout China. From late February, the novel coronavirus spread in Europe including Italy. In April, infections spread centering on the United States. Currently, in addition to the United States, infections are spreading in developing countries such as Brazil and India. Amidst this situation, MOFA has been conducting daily analysis of the infection conditions around the world and various developments. We will continue to conduct consideration while monitoring such conditions. There are certainly some regions where infections are winding down. However, unless we look at this in one-week, two-week, and roughly one-month units, in some cases, we may not see the true trends. We will continue to conduct consideration while monitoring such aspects.
Administrative Staff: There is another press conference taking place here after this, so the next question will be the last one taken.
Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) Relations
Kyodo News, TAKAO: I would like to ask about Japan-ROK relations. In response to the inauguration of Prime Minister Suga, President Moon of the ROK sent a letter stating that he is ready to hold dialogue anytime and that he expects that Japan will actively respond. Can you please tell us your thoughts on whether Japan-ROK relations, which still have the unresolved issue of the so-called former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, will improve with the inauguration of Prime Minister Suga?
Minister MOTEGI: The ROK is an important neighboring country of Japan. Japan-ROK cooperation and Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation are extremely important for the stability of Asia, including the North Korea issue. However, as the ROK is a neighboring country, I believe there are unavoidably unresolved issues. I believe the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula is a major issue. Frankly speaking, I think there is no question that the ROK is breaching international law. However, I would like to think about this in the direction of resolving everything amidst firm dialogue.