Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Friday, February 5, 2021, 5:42 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Negotiations on the Northern Territories
NHK, Yamamoto: February 7, the day after tomorrow, is Northern Territories Day, and I would like to ask basic questions about the peace treaty negotiations and joint economic activities between Japan and Russia. During this past year with the effects of the novel coronavirus, it has been difficult to conduct in-person negotiations and consultations, including at the working level. What are the current status of negotiations and future prospects in terms of progressing the negotiations and implementing the joint economic activities?
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: It is certainly true that if we look back at last year, discussions were repeatedly conducted such as my negotiations that extended over eight hours with Foreign Minister Lavrov, who is in charge of the negotiations for Russia, in Moscow at the end of 2019. Although it is unfortunate that in-person consultations could not be advanced due to the global spread of the novel coronavirus in 2020 right when future-oriented developments came into sight, we agreed to continue the consultations, including the peace treaty negotiations during the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in October 2020. It is also my understanding that Prime Minister Suga and President Putin agreed to firmly continue communication between Japan and Russia including the peace treaty negotiations.
Frankly speaking, I believe that it is not simple to resolve this issue that has remained for over 70 years since the end of World War II. However, I feel that the areas in which Japan and Russia can agree and the areas where our positions differ have become clear through our negotiations to date. As the person in charge of the negotiations, I will continue to exert all efforts toward the objective of resolving the attributions issue and concluding a peace treaty.
Furthermore, in regard to the projects on the Four Northern Islands as well as humanitarian measures, although they could mostly not be implemented due to the effects of the novel coronavirus last year, we have agreed to once again resume them when the novel coronavirus situation improves. In any event, the people concerned from the authorities of Japan and Russia will firmly continue various consultations toward preparation.
Situation in Myanmar (Possibility of Sanctions)
Yomiuri Shimbun, Fukuda: I would like to ask about the situation in Myanmar. In relation to the detainment of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Government of the United States has suggested that it will resume sanctions. Can you please tell us if the Government of Japan will also consider sanctions if the detainment of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is lengthened?
Minister Motegi: Firstly, Japan has grave concern over the situation in Myanmar, where a state of emergency was declared and the process of democratization is being undermined. A Foreign Minister’s Statement was already issued on the day the state of emergency was declared.
The Government of Japan has strongly supported the process and development of democratization in Myanmar. We believe it is extremely regrettable that actions are being taken that go against the process of democratization.
Japan is a country in the international community that has various channels of communication with Myanmar, including with the Myanmar military. During the Japan-UK Foreign and Defence Ministers’ Meeting (“2+2”) the day before yesterday, we received a considerable number of questions such as “What is Japan’s view?” So I believe there is such a recognition among the international community of Japan’s various channels of communication as well.
Right at lunchtime yesterday, I contacted Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Maruyama about the safety of Japanese nationals in Myanmar, and gave him instructions about how to proceed going forward and other matters. Our policy is to again strongly urge the Myanmar military to swiftly restore Myanmar's democratic political system.
We are firstly conducting such communication, and additionally also need to ascertain the developments and other such matters in Myanmar. The G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement has been released, and we will conduct consideration on our response going forward while monitoring the developments in the situation and cooperating with related countries.
Japanese Version of the Magnitsky Act
Yomiuri Shimbun, Fukuda: In relation to this, there are people in the ruling and opposition parties calling for enactment of a Japanese version of the Magnitsky Act. Please tell us your views on this point.
Minister Motegi: Firstly, Japan respects the universal value of human rights, and believes that all countries have the basic responsibility to protect human rights. Although Japan firmly raises its voice against serious human rights abuses under this view, we urge countries to take independent initiatives by conducting bilateral dialogue and cooperation with countries that are making efforts toward democratization and protection of human rights.
Amidst this, in regard to whether Japan should introduce its own system of recognizing violations of human rights and implementing sanctions as you spoke about, I believe that constant analysis and consideration need to be conducted from various perspectives such as Japan’s human rights diplomacy thus far which I just spoke about as well as the general developments of the international community.
Japan’s Terrorism Countermeasures in North Africa
Pan Orient News, AZHARI: I would like to ask about terrorism in North West Africa. It seems that terrorism is back there in that area with the attack in Tunisia yesterday, that claimed the lives of 4 military soldiers. Japan suffered casualties actually in that region, including one time in Algeria 8 years ago, I think you were Minister of METI at that time, there were 10 Japanese killed in a terrorist attack. What is Japan's steps to prevent such terror attacks in that region, and to protect your interest in that area?
Minister Motegi: Terrorism has occurred in Tunisia. Japan resolutely condemns all forms of acts of terrorism, which cannot be justified under any reasons.
Japan has implemented various initiatives as terrorism countermeasures in North Africa thus far. In Tunisia which you mentioned, Japan has implemented support for enhancement of border control capabilities, implemented the Japanese-Tunisian Dialogue on Security and Counter-terrorism, and conducted various exchanges of views with the Government of Tunisia including with the Tunisian security authorities.
I visited Tunisia in December 2020. I held meetings with President Saied and Head of Government Mechichi and confirmed that Japan and Tunisia would continue to closely cooperate including in the security field. We will continue to work on realizing regional peace and stability while cooperating with related countries.
Situation in Myanmar (Communication with the Myanmar Military)
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about the situation in Myanmar. You mentioned earlier that within the international community, Japan has various channels of communication with Myanmar including with the Myanmar military. Is it correct to understand that the Government of Japan is actually already calling on the Myanmar military and conveying Japan’s views?
Minister Motegi: This is truly an extremely sensitive issue now. I would like to refrain from commenting at today’s stage about the extent of our various forms of communication.
U.S. President Biden’s Foreign Policy Speech
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: Today, U.S. President Biden gave a foreign policy speech. I believe that although the content indicated a severe stance toward China and Russia, it emphasized cooperation with the United States’ allies, including Japan, and like-minded partners. Please tell us your reaction.
Minister Motegi: President Biden’s foreign policy speech yesterday indicated the intention for the United States to show leadership on various global issues using the key phrase “America is back.”
President Biden also mentioned that it is important to cooperate with allies when developing foreign policy, and that he conducted telephone talks with the summit leaders of the United States’ allies including Japan. Japan highly appreciates the stance of the Biden administration and President Biden.
When I conducted my recent telephone talk with Secretary of State Blinken, we exchanged views on the regional situation and the importance of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” We agreed on close cooperation concerning various issues that the international community faces, including novel coronavirus measures and climate change.
We also had the same views on revitalizing the G7 as a connection between democratic countries. Together with further strengthening the Japan-U.S. Alliance through Japan-U.S. cooperation at various levels, including between Prime Minister Suga and President Biden and between myself and Secretary of State Blinken, we will implement various forms of cooperation, including on the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” centered on Japan and the United States as well as involving various related countries.
Selection of the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Secretariat
NHK, Yamamoto: In regard to the selection of the Director-General of the WTO Secretariat, it has been disclosed that Minister for Trade Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea (ROK) has withdrawn her candidacy. Because of this, there is now only one candidate who is from Nigeria. If you have a reaction, please tell us.
Minister Motegi: I am aware that the Government of the ROK announced today that it would withdraw from the selection of the WTO Director-General. From the perspective of the recovery of the global economy as the world recovers from the novel coronavirus as well as promoting WTO reform, Japan has been calling on various countries so that the selection of the WTO Director-General, which has been vacant since the resignation of former Director-General Azevêdo in September 2020, is conducted as quickly as possible.
It has been confirmed that candidate Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria gathered support extensively from many WTO member nations during the selection process conducted in 2020, and the Government of the ROK has withdrawn its candidate. Going forward, Japan expects that in accordance with the process involving all member nations including the United States, candidate Okonjo-Iweala will be unanimously selected in a swift manner and will work on the accumulated issues.