Press Conference by Foreign Press Secretary YOSHIDA Tomoyuki
Wednesday, March 31, 2021, 3:47 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Situation in Myanmar (Stance of the Government of Japan)
TV Tokyo, Kato: I would like to ask about the situation in Myanmar. It seems that the situation in the country is continuing to grow worse by the day, including the killing of many civilians recently on Armed Forces Day. Through now, the Government of Japan has not implemented any sanctions that stand out, and has been continuing to work to resolve the situation through dialogue utilizing channels with the military. Even though the situation has reached what it is now, will you not change this policy? Please tell us the current stance of the Government of Japan.
Mr. YOSHIDA Tomoyuki, Press Secretary: We recognize that the situation in Myanmar has worsened as you pointed out. The Government of Japan’s position was again indicated through a Foreign Minister’s Statement due to the recent situation on Armed Forces Day. Since the coup d’état occurred, the Government of Japan has been strongly urging the Myanmar military to immediately stop resorting to violence against civilians, release the detainees, and swiftly restore Myanmar’s democratic political system.
Regarding Japan’s own role, as you stated in your question, we are assiduously urging the Myanmar military while utilizing pipelines to Myanmar. Although there have not been any visible changes in the situation through now, we will continue to cooperate with related countries to persistently urge the Myanmar military.
On the other hand, the situation is worsening, so we need to do our best to continue to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals and protect the interests of Japanese businesses in Myanmar. We also believe that we need to continue to provide necessary support for the people of Myanmar. From this perspective, we believe that we need to continue to urge the “political system” under the State Administration Council of Myanmar. Our contact and communication with the Myanmar side is limited to the minimum of what is truly necessary. We will continue this response going forward.
On the other hand, we would like to again emphasize that our urging and contacting the Myanmar side are without prejudice to the Government of Japan’s position on the military government.
Myanmar is the country to which Japan has provided the most economic assistance and ODA. The economic cooperation we have provided to Myanmar has been for projects in which support is very urgent, including projects highly necessary for humanitarian reasons and projects that contribute to enhancing people’s living standards. We recently decided to provide support for cold chain establishment through UNICEF, as well as support for displaced persons in Rakhine State through the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). These are based on the way of thinking I mentioned before.
On the other hand, in relation to new economic cooperation besides what I just described, we have not decided on any new ODA projects with the Myanmar military-led system following the coup d’état. At the present point, we do not believe there are any projects that we need to make swift decisions on going forward.
Situation in Myanmar (U.S. Order for its Government Personnel to Leave Myanmar)
Yomiuri Shimbun, Oyabu: I would also like to ask about the situation in Myanmar. There are reports that the United States has ordered personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar to leave the country. Do you believe that the Government of Japan also needs to take the same response?
Press Secretary Yoshida: I am aware that the Government of the United States has requested Americans not to travel to Myanmar up until now, and on March 30 U.S. time, the U.S. also announced that it was ordering non-essential U.S. government personnel and their families to leave the country, as you said in your question. At the present point, the Government of Japan is not considering instructing people related to the Government to leave Myanmar. However, we will continue to closely monitor the changes in the situation and circumstances.
Situation in Myanmar (Protecting Japanese Nationals)
Yomiuri Shimbun, Oyabu: From the perspective of protecting Japanese nationals in Myanmar, do you plan to take any action going forward to protect them such as requesting them to leave the country or dispatching chartered flights like you did in Wuhan due to the novel coronavirus?
Press Secretary Yoshida: There are many Japanese civilians living in Myanmar. The embassy is issuing consul emails as needed as well as information on the demonstrations, and is calling on Japanese nationals to refrain from nonessential outings as alerts. Also, on March 9, so-called “spot information” like a news bulletin was issued that requested Japanese nationals to consider whether to return to Japan aboard a commercial flight. Several direct flights operated by ANA have departed from Myanmar through now. I believe it is also being planned to implement more of this soon.
From normal times, the Government of Japan conducts necessary preparation and consideration presuming various situations in which protecting and evacuating Japanese nationals is necessary. We will continue to ensure we make all efforts to strengthen protection of Japanese nationals.
We will firstly conduct constant consideration from the perspective of ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals staying in Myanmar.
Situation in Myanmar (Urging by the Government of Japan)
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: You mentioned earlier that you are urging Myanmar. There have been explanations about Japan’s unique role through now, but I have the impression that it is quite difficult to actually see that role. Specifically, who have you urged in the Myanmar military and how did you do it? For example, have you directly urged Commander-in-Chief Hlaing?
Press Secretary Yoshida: I have been stating since before that the Government of Japan has been urging people related to the Myanmar military at various levels. We have urged various people using various routes, so we have not provided the details.
Also, in regard to whether we are directly contacting Commander-in-Chief Hlaing as you asked, I would like to refrain from mentioning the specific people we are contacting because we are currently at a stage of being extremely mindful about communicating with the Myanmar side.
Situation in Myanmar (Secretary of State Blinken’s Statement on Investment in Myanmar)
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: I would like to ask another question about Myanmar. Secretary of State Blinken of the United States is requesting various governments and companies to review their investment in Myanmar in order to cut off funding sources to the Myanmar military. Will Japan conduct consideration on some sort of future response due to this statement?
Press Secretary Yoshida: I am aware that during a press conference on March 30, Secretary of State Blinken stated that there are countries and companies around the world that invest large amounts of money in projects that support the Myanmar military, and that those countries and companies should reconsider that.
The Government of Japan is communicating closely with the United States about the situation in Myanmar. There have been opportunities to discuss this such as the Japan-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (Japan-U.S. "2+2") held recently in person with Secretary of State Blinken, as well as in-depth communication at the working level.
On the other hand, in regard to Secretary of State Blinken’s statement, firstly what is most important is to conduct consideration from the perspective of what would be most effective to urge the Myanmar “administration” while closely monitoring the developments in the situation and how related countries such as the United States are responding. I believe we will conduct consideration while monitoring the situation and the responses by related countries.
Situation in Myanmar (Economic Cooperation for Myanmar)
TV Asahi, Sato: My question is linked to the question by the reporter from TV Tokyo at the very beginning and the question just now. I would like to confirm something about support for Myanmar. For example, if you received a request from the Myanmar military to support infrastructure that could affect the lives of the people of Myanmar, is there a possibility that you would reject the request? Also, is there a possibility that you will suspend projects that are ongoing now? I would like to confirm that again. Also, if you will, please tell us the Government of Japan’s aim and what effects it hopes to achieve.
Press Secretary Yoshida: I believe that your question concerns economic support to Myanmar in general. Although I am partially repeating myself, the economic cooperation we implement for Myanmar is highly necessary for humanitarian reasons and contributes to improving people’s standard of living, and that is how we have been actually responding following the coup d’état as well.
In regard to new economic cooperation beyond that, we have not decided on any new ODA projects since the coup d’état on February 1. In regard to the future, there are not any projects we need to decide on at the present point, and we have clarified that position.
During the meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense of the House of Councillors yesterday, Foreign Minister Motegi stated that “there are no new projects” and took a clear stand. There are various ongoing projects, and we will conduct additional specific consideration of them, while thinking comprehensively about matters such as the project objective, content, nature, and local situation.
Japan has provided various forms of support toward democratization in Myanmar. As a result, Myanmar is the country to which Japan has provided the most support. We will respond after conducting specific consideration on our future response to economic cooperation for Myanmar, firstly based on how much the situation has calmed down in the country, what response would be most effective for movements toward restoration of the democratic system, and Japan’s position as the country that has provided the most support to Myanmar as I mentioned.
Special Measures Agreement (SMA) on Host Nation Support (HNS)
Asahi Shimbun, Kitami: I would like to change the subject. The Protocol Amending the SMA was approved in the Diet today. Please tell us your reaction to this and the status of negotiations for beyond FY2022.
Press Secretary Yoshida: The Protocol Amending the SMA on HNS was approved today in the plenary session of the House of Councillors. This means that the results of the SMA will continue without interruption as there has been approval for the next SMA today, which is the expiration date of the current SMA.
There are various aspects in the background of the SMA negotiations. However, while the U.S. side’s personnel was not fully assembled following the inauguration of the Biden administration, the U.S. responded quickly and positively in the negotiations, and the results of the short-term negotiations have been reflected in the SMA. We would like to again highly appreciate the communication in the negotiations between Japan and the United States.
The next SMA basically continues the same situation at the current level for one year, so we will conduct Japan-U.S. negotiations on beyond FY2022 going forward. In regard to HNS thus far, the U.S. Forces Japan have been the center of the Japan-U.S. security arrangements and regional peace and stability. We believe it is desirable to conduct discussions on the next SMA based on the current severe security situation and Japan’s severe financial situation, including discussion on our respective roles with a focus on the diverse new fields that Japan and the United States should cooperate on amidst the current situation.
I believe you will be properly informed about the future development of the SMA negotiations and when plans are decided.
Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) Director-General Level Talks
NHK, Watanabe: I would like to ask about Japan-ROK relations. Today, Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong announced that Director General for Asian and Pacific Affairs Lee Sang-ryol was dispatched to Japan. I believe he will meet with the Director-General of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau from the Japan side. There has not been any communication between Japan and the ROK since the new Foreign Minister took his position, so what is the significance of starting the Japan-ROK Director-General Level Talks and how would you like to use them for Japan-ROK relations going forward? Please tell us Japan’s position on such matters.
Press Secretary Yoshida: We also know about this on the basis of reports. I believe there are reports that Foreign Minister Chung of the ROK disclosed that Mr. Lee Sang-ryol, the new Director General for Asian and Pacific Affairs, will soon visit Japan and participate in Japan-ROK Director-General Level Talks.
Japan-ROK Director-General Level Talks were held many times last year, but only once in-person in October in Seoul due to the novel coronavirus crisis. Besides that, the talks were held many times in the teleconference format due to the situation. We held talks recently on January 15. The diplomatic authorities of Japan and the ROK constantly communicate, including at the director-general level. Coordination is being conducted to hold Japan-ROK Director-General Level Talks in the near future, as mentioned recently by Foreign Minister Chung.
The situation of Japan-ROK relations is continuing as we have explained to you. I have explained the Government of Japan’s position repeatedly including on official occasions, and we have also directly conveyed our position to the ROK authorities.
On the other hand, at the same time, it is necessary for the ROK side to properly respond if they would like to move Japan-ROK relations forward amidst the severe situation, which I will not repeat now. Japan-ROK relations are not merely a matter between Japan and the ROK. The ROK is also a party with which we must advance cooperation with the United States concerning issues such as the situation in North Korea. In that sense, as the people in charge for the authorities in our countries conduct constant communication, there is no change to our belief that it is important to promote Japan-U.S. cooperation as well as Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation. I believe we will make an announcement about details such as the content and schedule of the Director-General Level Talks when we are able to tell you, and will advance the talks in that spirit.