Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, February 16, 2021, 3:37 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Appointment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the New Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would firstly like to touch upon the appointment of the new Director-General of the WTO. I would like to welcome the appointment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the new Director-General by consensus of the Members.
Japan has believed that the swift appointment of the Director-General post, which had been left vacant following the resignation of former Director-General Azevêdo in September 2020, is extremely important to resolve the various issues of the WTO. We believe it is very good the post has been filled.
Furthermore, Japan considers it very significant that the first female Director-General from Africa is inaugurated as the head of this international organization which embodies diversity with many memberships from developing countries. We hope that Director-General Okonjo-Iweala will show leadership for the recovery of the world’s economy, which is still suffering due to the novel coronavirus, and for WTO reform which is an urgent issue.
As protectionist tendencies grow around the world, I believe there has never been a more important time to maintain and strengthen the multilateral trade system. Based on this view, I had been deeply participating in the process including urging the countries concerned to select as quickly as possible a person with the appropriate qualities, abilities, and strong will for reform to become Director-General, the post which had become vacant in September 2020. I made a considerable number of international phone calls.
Japan will continue to lead international efforts for WTO reform cooperating with Director-General Okonjo-Iweala and closely collaborating with other Members. That is all from me.
Emergency Grant Aid in Response to the Humanitarian Crisis in Armenia and Azerbaijan due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
NHK, Watanabe: I would like to ask about an item in the Cabinet decision today. It was decided to provide emergency grant aid in response to the humanitarian crisis in Armenia and Azerbaijan. You have been involved in various ways, including indicating Japan’s stance on this issue earlier than the Government of the United States during your telephone talk with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia in October 2020. I believe this decision is the result of that. What is Japan’s aim in providing this assistance?
Minister Motegi: The final resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is extremely important for the peace and stability of the entire Caucasus region. Japan has consistently supported the mediation efforts by the countries concerned inlcuding the United States and France as well as Russia, which you mentioned.
I stated my appreciation for this during my previous telephone talk with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
Furthermore, since the start of the armed conflict in September 2020, Japan has been repeatedly requesting Azerbaijan and Armenia to immediately cease their military actions and find a peaceful resolution through dialogue. As I recently stated, Japan welcomes the cease-fire agreement achieved through Russian mediation in November 2020.
Right when I held my telephone talk with Foreign Minister Lavrov, I felt that he was quite busy working on this issue as he was taking other phone calls. We welcome such mediation efforts by Russia.
We expect that the agreement will be implemented by all the parties concerned and will lead to the peaceful resolution of the issue. At the same time, we have been considering various actions Japan could take. Today, Japan decided to provide emergency grant aid totaling about 528 million yen as assistance for the humanitarian crisis caused by the armed conflict.
The emergency grant aid will be provided through international organizations. We expect that it will be helpful for improving the humanitarian situations in the two countries following the armed conflict and will thus increase momentum for dialogue and other actions.
Japan-Indonesia Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk
Tribune News, Susilo: During your telephone talk with Foreign Minister Retno of Indonesia last Wednesday night, I believe it was on Myanmar and Indonesia. What was discussed regarding Indonesia, particularly by Foreign Minister Retno? Thank you.
Minister Motegi: I held a telephone talk with Foreign Minister Retno last week. In terms of the specific topics of our discussion, we exchanged information and views regarding responding to the situation in Myanmar. At the same time, in regard to bilateral relations, we agreed to further strengthen our relations as strategic partners and advance cooperation on various international issues, including responding to the novel coronavirus and cooperation concerning the Indo-Pacific.
I would like to refrain from speaking further about our specific discussion as this is diplomatic communication.
Peace Treaty Negotiations Between Japan and Russia
Hokkaido Shimbun, Hirota: In a television broadcast on February 14, President Putin of Russia stated that he would not do anything that contradicts Russia’s Constitution regarding Japan-Russia relations. The constitutional amendment last year includes a clause that prohibits ceding territory, and some people believe that this indicates Russia’s intention not to hand over its claim to sovereignty of the Northern Territories. Please tell us your reaction to this. Also, please tell us whether Japan has reacted somehow, or intends to react to this statement, such as through confirming Russia’s true intention or by lodging a protest.
Minister Motegi: I believe there are various interpretations of the constitutional clause. As for the facts of the matter, a Japan-Russia Summit Meeting was held in September 2020 following the constitutional amendment, in which President Putin mentioned continuing the peace treaty negotiations. Prime Minister Suga and President Putin also reaffirmed the agreement made at the Japan-Russia Summit Meeting in Singapore in November 2018 to accelerate the peace treaty negotiations on the basis of the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956.
This was the formal communication between the two summit leaders. Based on this, there is absolutely no change to Japan’s policy of engaging in the negotiations persistently under our basic policy of resolving the attribution issue and then concluding a peace treaty.
NHK, Watanabe: In relation to what was just asked, the constitutional amendment also makes the Russian Constitution clearly indicate for the first time that Russia is the successor state of the Soviet Union. In that case, I believe that the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956 would be an international agreement in the sense that it was ratified by the legislatures of both the Soviet Union and Japan. In terms of the approach to the negotiations, what is Japan’s interpretation of whether that agreement or the clause prohibiting ceding territory will rank higher?
Minister Motegi: I believe that not only Japan but also other foreign countries do not have positions on how to interpret the constitutions of other countries. At the very least, various agreements have been made thus far including the agreement in Singapore. Japan’s position is that we will firmly negotiate based on these agreements. That is also my position as the person responsible for the negotiations.
Lawsuit of a Claim for Damages against the Government of Japan Filed by Former Comfort Women and Others
TV Asahi, Sato: Today, a former comfort woman held a press conference in the Republic of Korea (ROK) and urged Japan and the ROK to bring the comfort women issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). I would firstly like to ask your view on such an opinion. Furthermore, regarding the comfort women issue, a judgment ordering the Government of Japan to pay compensation was confirmed in Seoul. Please tell us again your current view on whether the Government of Japan is considering bringing the issue to the ICJ.
Minister Motegi: I am aware of the statement you mentioned. However, I would like to refrain from commenting because I do not know the intention or thinking behind the statement.
Having said that, as I have repeatedly mentioned here, the judgment is clearly contrary to international law and agreements between Japan and the ROK. Japan has been strongly urging the ROK to immediately take appropriate measures to remedy the status of its breaches of international law on its own responsibility as a country. We will continue to resolutely respond with all options on the table.
Intrusions by Chinese Coast Guard Vessels Into Japan’s Territorial Waters Near the Senkaku Islands
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about the Chinese Coast Guard. Chinese Coast Guard Vessels have been repeatedly intruding into Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands since yesterday. Firstly, please tell us your reaction.
Minister Motegi: I immediately lodged a protest that it is truly regrettable and completely unacceptable that vessels belonging to the Chinese Coast Guard have been intruding into Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands for two successive days and appeared to be moving as if trying to approach Japanese fishing boats.
We have been lodging severe protests to China up until now that the actions of the Coast Guard vessels based on China’s claim to Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands are a breach of international law. Amidst this, we are seriously concerned about the enactment of China’s Coast Guard Law on February 1.
We believe that China’s Coast Guard Law must not infringe upon the legitimate interests of related countries including Japan. I will continue to firmly convey Japan’s strong concerns to China.
In any event, Japan will continue to respond firmly but in a calm manner to resolutely defend our territorial land, sea, and airspace.