Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, March 2, 2021, 2:09 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Surveillance Activities by France Against Ship-to-Ship Transfers
Asahi Shimbun, Sato: Since last month, a French military frigate has engaged in monitoring and surveillance activities against ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean-flagged vessels in the waters surrounding Japan. I believe this is a direct implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions. What significance does this have for realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP)? Furthermore, European countries have recently been creating guidelines on the Indo-Pacific and deciding to dispatch military vessels. What is the background for this?
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I believe it is important for the international community to maintain solidarity and ensure the effective implementation of the UN Security Council Resolutions toward the realization of North Korea's dismantlement of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner. That is the first major condition. To advance this, working on strengthening the response to North Korea’s sanctions evasion, such as ship-to-ship transfers, further enhances the effectiveness of the UN Security Council Resolutions. Japan welcomes that France has dispatched one of its navy frigates to the waters surrounding Japan, including the East China Sea, and is engaging in monitoring and surveillance activities, as you pointed out.
In addition, in regard to the FOIP, as I stated when I attended the meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in January, Japan welcomes that as interests in the Indo-Pacific grow in Europe, France, Germany, and the Netherlands published their respective guidelines on the Indo-Pacific, and that the EU has started discussions on the Indo-Pacific.
We will continue to advance the connection of such countries with which we share various values and views, such as the rule of law as well as the realization of FOIP. We will also advance cooperation with Europe in various fields.
Host Nation Support (HNS) for the U.S. Forces Japan (Diet Deliberations)
Kyodo News, Nakata: I would like to ask about HNS for the U.S. Forces Japan. Today, the Cabinet decision was made on the Protocol Amending the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) which extends the term of validity of the current SMA, and it has now reached the stage of being submitted to the Diet.
The end of the term of validity of the current SMA is approaching at the end of this month. How will you approach the Diet deliberations?
Minister Motegi: Japan and the United States reached an agreement on the Protocol in an extremely swift manner following the inauguration of the Biden administration, and signed it on February 24. Today, there was a Cabinet decision to submit it to the Diet. We would like to request the Diet to swiftly conduct deliberations aiming toward its entry into force by the end of the fiscal year.
10 Years Since the Great East Japan Earthquake (Handling of Water Treated by the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS))
Hong Kong Asia News Weekly, Mao: I would like to ask one question. It will soon be 10 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake. In relation to the recovery of the disaster-affected areas and the treatment of contaminated water at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, countries neighboring Japan such as the Republic of Korea (ROK) and China are indicating that they are still highly concerned about the release of water into the ocean. Please tell us your thoughts on this.
Minister Motegi: On March 11, 10 full years will have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. We are still halfway through the recovery of Fukushima and Tohoku, in terms of aspects such as evacuees, and we will further advance our response.
Amidst this, Japan has been carefully providing explanations with transparency to the international community, including various countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), about the situation of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, including the status of consideration about the handling of ALPS treated water, which you mentioned.
The Government of Japan will take responsibility and make a decision on how to handle ALPS treated water at an appropriate timing. The ministries and agencies concerned will continue to work as one to carefully provide explanations with transparency to the international community.
Senkaku Islands (Announcement by the Chinese Ministry of National Defense and the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson’s Statement)
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about the situation near the Senkaku Islands. Yesterday, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense stated its view on its website that the activities of Chinese authorities near the Senkaku Islands are legitimate and lawful, and will continue to be carried out normally.
In addition, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin of China stated in his press conference yesterday that regarding the Japanese Government’s explanation on the use of force by the Japanese Coast Guard in which the Coast Guard might be able to fire harmful shots at foreign vessels that attempt to forcibly land on the Senkaku Islands as an action of serious crime, China urges Japan to stop saying or doing things that may complicate the situation. Please tell us your reaction to these statements by China.
Minister Motegi: Firstly, our basic recognition is that there is no doubt that the Senkaku Islands are clearly an inherent part of the territory of Japan, in light of historical facts and based upon international law. I believe that the Chinese statements you mentioned are completely unacceptable.
It is truly regrettable and completely unacceptable that vessels belonging to the Chinese Coast Guard have been repeatedly intruding into Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands. Such activities are a breach of international law. We are responding in a calm, resolute manner by lodging severe protests to the Chinese side in Tokyo and Beijing through diplomatic channels each time intrusions occur.
Japan will continue to respond firmly but in a calm manner to resolutely defend our territorial land, sea, and airspace in accordance with domestic law, including in regard to the Coast Guard, as well as international law.
Senkaku Islands (Statement by the Pentagon Press Secretary of the United States)
TV Asahi, Sato: I would like to ask an additional question about the Senkaku Islands. Three days after the Pentagon Press Secretary of the United States clearly stated that the United States supports Japan in regard to the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, he corrected his statement to indicate that there is no change in the U.S. policy concerning the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands. In regard to China, he also stated that the United States opposes any unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo. Please tell us your thoughts on the U.S. response.
Minister Motegi: I am aware of the statements. The Government of the United States fully understands Japan’s position on the Senkaku Islands, and takes the position of standing on Japan’s side and to closely cooperate in relation to the situation of the Senkaku Islands. I understand that this position of the United States has not changed.
Situation in the Middle East
Pan Orient News, AZHARI: There are some developments in the Middle East, which are confrontational. The United states hit some targets in Syria and Iraq, and also the Biden Administration is taking special situation in terms of diplomacy towards Saudi Arabia. At the same time there are reports that Iran attacked an Israeli tanker in the Gulf. Also, there are some reports that Houthis in Yemen hit some targets in Saudi Arabia. What is Japan's position on such new confrontations, especially in a region that provided Japan with 93% of its oil last month? Do you feel concern?
Minister Motegi: It is true that Japan relies on the Middle East for over 90% of its crude oil imports. I believe that the peace and stability of the Middle East are extremely important. In addition, I believe that stable imports of crude oil from the Middle East are indispensable for the stability and growth of the global economy, including Japan.
Amidst this, as the highly tense situation continues in the Middle East, we will continue monitoring the situation, including the effects of the air strikes on Syria by the United States. Also, Japan strongly condemns the cross-border attacks by the Houthis on Saudi Arabia, which you mentioned.
Japan is an ally of the United States, and has also built good relations with various countries in the Middle East. We will continue to leverage this to urge the countries concerned at various levels to work toward easing tensions and stabilizing the situation in the Middle East.
I visited the Middle East last year, and have held telephone talks and other meetings with the foreign ministers of various Middle Eastern countries. At an appropriate timing that is not too late, I will hold an exchange of views with the foreign ministers from member states of the Arab League and confirm close cooperation.
Situation in Hong Kong (Simultaneous Indictment of Democracy Proponents)
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about the situation in Hong Kong. The first hearing was held yesterday for the simultaneously indicted 47 democracy proponents who were arrested on the charge of violating China’s National Security Law. The international community has been criticizing this, including U.S. Secretary of State Blinken who condemned it and said that the United States “call[s] for their immediate release.” Please tell us your reaction to this.
Minister Motegi: Japan’s recognition of the current situation in Hong Kong is as I have repeatedly stated, including in my press conferences. Japan’s serious concerns are growing about the effects of the series of incidents through now, including the simultaneous indictment of democracy proponents this time, on freedom of speech and freedom of the press which have been the foundation of the democratic, stable development of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is an extremely important partner for Japan with which Japan maintains close economic ties and people-to-people exchanges. It is the long-standing policy of Japan to attach great importance to upholding a free and open system which Hong Kong has been enjoying and the democratic and stable development of Hong Kong under the ‘One Country, Two System’ framework.
I directly spoke about Japan’s concerns and thoughts with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi when he visited Japan last year, and have been taking various other opportunities to convey them to the Chinese side through now. We will continue to appropriately respond while cooperating with related countries.
Japan-ROK Relations (President’s Address at the March First Independence Movement Day Ceremony)
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about Japan-ROK relations. Yesterday, President Moon Jae-in of the ROK stated in an address that the ROK is always ready to have talks with Japan. On the other hand, he did not mention any specific proposals to resolve the comfort women issue and the so-called issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula. Please tell us your assessment and reaction to the address.
Minister Motegi: I believe a similar question was also asked last time, and the same situation has been repeated several times. Japan and the ROK are important neighboring countries to one another. However, Japan-ROK relations are in an unprecedentedly difficult situation as the ROK has breached international agreements in relation to matters such as the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula and the comfort women issue, and is not Implem enting bilateral agreements.
It is important for the ROK to take responsibility and respond in order to resolve the pending issues between our two countries. It is difficult for us to make an assessment with merely a statement of the ROK’s stance to seek to resolve the issues.
There is no change to the Government of Japan’s position of continuing to strongly urge the ROK to make an appropriate response based on Japan’s consistent position while maintaining communication between the diplomatic authorities of our two countries in order to restore a sound state of Japan-ROK relations.