Press Conferences

Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu

Tuesday, May 25, 2021, 2:48 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs

(Video) Press Conference by Foreign Minister Motegi
This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only.

U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) Summit Meeting

Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about the U.S.-ROK Summit Meeting on May 21. The joint statement includes expressions with China in mind, such as on the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and beyond, but it does not directly mention China.

I believe the content of the joint statement is different from the joint statements of the Japan-U.S. Summit Meeting and the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (Japan-U.S. "2+2") which clearly convey concerns about China, including the human rights situations in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. What is your view on this?

Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would like to refrain from commenting on a meeting of third-party countries as the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan. Between Japan and the United States, we completely share our recognition of the regional situation.

At the same time, as agreed upon at the recent Japan-U.S.-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, trilateral Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation is indispensable for the peace, stability, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. Japan will continue to engage in trilateral Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation for regional stability, including in responding to North Korea.

Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)

Independent Web Journal, Watarai: The Government of Japan has been continuing the FOIP strategy advocated by former Prime Minister ABE Shinzo, and is working with the United States, Australia, and India to form a Quad which encircles China. Four European countries – the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and the Netherlands – will be added to this. What is specifically being done in terms of encircling China through the Quad plus the additional countries?

If you look at the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Command and Staff College Review, the strategy of blocking the Strait of Malacca and cutting off the oil import route to China from the Middle East is being mentioned several times. The strategy is based on the Offshore Control strategy proposed by Dr. Thomas Hammes of the United States Naval Academy. Is it correct to believe that the Quad’s strategy aims to use starvation tactics to block the Strait of Malacca and not allow oil to enter China, based on the Offshore Control strategy?

On the other hand, China and Japan have concluded the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement with other East Asian countries. China is Japan’s biggest trade partner. It seems that the RCEP economic framework and the Quad, which encircles China, contradict one another. Has it been decided to abandon the RCEP and give up the massive market of China if the Quad deepens going forward? What do you think the damage would be to the Japanese economy if that happens?

Minister Motegi: Are you finished? May I answer?

Independent Web Journal, Watarai: Yes.

Minister Motegi: The FOIP vision and concept was first advocated by Japan five years ago at TICAD6 in 2016 under Prime Minister Abe at the time. Basically, the FOIP concept aims to ensure the peace and prosperity of the entire Indo-Pacific region and subsequently the world by realizing a free and open order based on shared values and principles, including the rule of law, in this region that is truly a global growth center yet also experiences drastic shifts in the regional power balance.

Rather than having any specific countries in mind, it is an inclusive, open vision for countries that share the concept to extensively cooperate.

In relation to the FOIP, as stated, Japan, the United States, Australia, and India previously began cooperating in 2004 in the aftermath of the earthquake off Indonesia. The first Japan-Australia-India-U.S. Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was held during the United Nations General Assembly soon after I assumed my position as Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2019. The Foreign Ministers’ Meeting has been held every year since then. It was held in February this year, and the first Japan-Australia-India-U.S. Summit Meeting was also held in March this year.

Rather than just security, this is expanding to include various quadrilateral initiatives such as those that strengthen regional connectivity and those that leverage the respective strengths and relations of the four countries, as well as a wider variety of fields of cooperation.

Besides the Quad, ASEAN announced its own vision titled the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) in 2019. During the Japan-ASEAN Summit Meeting, it was confirmed that the FOIP and AOIP have various common elements and concepts. Accordingly, we will expand our cooperation with ASEAN.

Also, in regard to Japan’s relations with the EU, I was the first Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs to participate in the EU Foreign Affairs Council, held in January this year. I gave a detailed explanation of the FOIP concept, and many of the foreign ministers from EU countries expressed that they support the FOIP and want to cooperate. Based on this and other matters, the EU announced its Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific in April.

In addition, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have announced their own respective strategies and initiatives on the Indo-Pacific. I believe that cooperation with various countries is now being expanded under such an open vision.

At the same time, if we look at the world now, nationalism and protectionism have been coming to the forefront even before the novel coronavirus, but especially since its spread. Amidst this, Japan helped compile the TPP11 under the banner of free trade, had the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) enter into force, concluded the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement with the United States which had withdrawn from the TPP, and concluded the Japan-U.K. EPA with the United Kingdom which had withdrawn from the EU. Last year, we also reached the stage of signing the RCEP, creating a shared foundation for free trade and rules on various fields from services to data.

Negotiations on the RCEP were initially advanced among 16 countries, but in the end an agreement was not reached with India so 15 countries signed it. Those 15 countries include China and the ROK, as well as ASEAN countries, Australia, and New Zealand that already participate in the TPP and other trade agreements. I believe that firmly promoting the RCEP is extremely important for maintaining and strengthening the free trade system needed now. Japan will play a leading role for this. For Japan, the FOIP and the various economic partnership agreements are part of cooperation and collaboration advanced from the position of enabling participation by as many countries as possible in a way that is acceptable to them.

Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games (Acceptance of Foreign Dignitaries)

Pan Orient News, Azhari: My question is about the Olympics. It is expected that many heads of state will come to attend the Olympics, so do you have any list available? What is your Olympic diplomacy during the Olympics? I heard that some heads of state or dignitaries are not allowed to meet the athletes, and this might cause some of them to be disappointed. Do you have any information on this? Also on the vaccination, do you think they will be vaccinated in Japan?

Minister Motegi: Last month, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games released the Playbooks compiling novel coronavirus countermeasures. I believe that the Playbooks indicate that athletes should minimize their contact with other people and the locations of their activities as infection control measures.

I believe that this is most important for holding safe Games with peace of mind. Based on the Playbooks, the Government of Japan has explained to embassies in Tokyo that although we understand that foreign government dignitaries visiting Japan naturally want to encourage and cheer on their countries’ athletes as much as possible including through contact with them during the Games, we are conducting consideration on requesting them to exercise self-restraint on contact with athletes, including infection control measures and countermeasures against infections.

The Olympic Games are an extremely important opportunity to welcome foreign dignitaries to Japan. We will conduct high-level diplomacy as much as possible with the prerequisite of firmly implementing countermeasures against infections.

Ceremony of the Presentation of Credentials for Ambassador Kang Chang-il

Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask about Japan-ROK relations. Yesterday, Ambassador Kang Chang-il presented his credentials to His Majesty the Emperor. Although there are many issues between Japan and the ROK including the comfort women issue, please tell us if you have any expectations about Ambassador Kang. Also, please tell us if you will meet with him in-person.

Minister Motegi: Firstly, in regard to the ROK, I held a Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong in London during the G7 Foreign and Development Minister's Meeting on May 5. Japan-ROK relations are currently in an unprecedentedly difficult situation due to the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula and the comfort women issue, but the Government of Japan has been conducting communication at the appropriate levels in a timely manner toward resolving these issues. We will continue to do that going forward.

The ceremony of the presentation of credentials for Ambassador Kang has been conducted. I look forward to his activities as Ambassador and that he will respond appropriately based on the current Japan-ROK relations.

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