Press Conferences

Press Conference by Defense Minister Inada (09:52-10:18 A.M. March 3, 2017)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 09:52-10:18 A.M. March 3, 2017
Place: Press Conference Room, Ministry of Defense (MOD)

(This is a provisional translation of an announcement by the Defense Minister and the Q&A session at the subsequent press conference for reference purposes only.)
The original text is in Japanese.

1. Announcements
None

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
Concerning the sale of a plot of national land in Osaka to Moritomo Gakuen at a lower price than the appraised price, there are calls not only from the opposition but also from ruling parties for a full investigation into the circumstances of the sale. What do you think of that?

Minister:
As this matter is outside the MOD's jurisdiction, I would like to refrain from making comments in my capacity as the Defense Minister. However, as the Chief Cabinet Secretary mentioned at his press conference, it is prescribed that national property should be sold at an appropriate price in all cases. Also, the president of the Board of Audit of Japan said in a Diet question-and-answer session that the audit will be conducted based on the Diet debate. Therefore, I expect that a thorough investigation will be conducted.

Question:
In this case, another focus of debate in the Diet is whether or not any politician was involved in the process of the sale. I will ask you this question in general terms, as a matter separate from this case. I assume that since being elected for the first time, it has been a usual experience for you, as a Diet member, to be asked to meet with various people or to attend meetings, or receive requests from various people. Generally speaking, could you tell me what sorts of things you take care about on such occasions as a Diet member?

Minister:
I am instructing my staff, including at my office, to make sure not to use influence in an inappropriate manner, such as taking advantage of one's position as a politician, and I myself am taking care not to do things like that.

Question:
In this case, it is viewed as a problem that documents such as the records of meetings between Moritomo Gakuen and the Ministry of Finance were disposed of. In the MOD's case, daily reports were disposed of at the Ground Staff Office although you are asserting this is legal. Could you offer your thoughts on how the government should manage documents in the future?

Minister:
At this time, it has been explained at length that the records of negotiations at the Ministry of Finance were disposed of in accordance with the rule prescribing that such records may be disposed of in less than one year after serving their purpose. Regarding the MOD, daily reports were disposed of in accordance with the rule prescribing that such records may be disposed of in less than one year after serving their purpose. It was in January 2012 when the SDF unit was dispatched to South Sudan for the first time, and this means that daily reports have been treated in this way since at the time of the Noda administration. This time, I believe that it should be examined whether the rule on the treatment of daily reports-that they may be disposed of in less than one year-was appropriate. In response to the daily report issue, I have instructed that the daily reports prepared by the dispatched unit should be stored instead of being disposed of while the unit remains deployed and until lessons are learned from the reports after the return of the unit. Nevertheless, I intend to examine whether the rule prescribing that the reports may be disposed of in less than one year after serving their purpose was appropriate and make judgment on that. However, although the reports were disposed of by the dispatched unit at this time after serving their purpose, I instructed that the reports should be found and made public. On the whole, this is legal as an information disclosure procedure, so although I admit that the first search was inadequate, I would like you to understand that point well. The MOD receives 4,500 information disclosure requests every year, which translates into an average of 400 requests per month. In some cases, a single request involves 100 messages of communication. For example, concerning the daily reports at issue now, there are 100 days of reports totaling 7,000 pages of documents. I have instructed MOD officials to make sure that disclosure will be made with respect to all these reports by mid-March, so they are engaging in this work day and night. It is also necessary to appropriately review the information disclosure arrangement. I expect that doing so will accommodate the public's right to access to information.

Question:
What kind of documents have you instructed to be made public by mid-March as you mentioned now?

Minister:
There are 100 days of a daily report and it comes to 7,000 pages in total which remained undisclosed as documents that may be disposed of after serving their purpose and for which the decision on disclosure was made later. It is necessary to determine which parts of the 7,000 pages of the reports, which contain various information concerning foreign countries, should be disclosed and which parts should not be disclosed, and usually, this work would take several months to more than one year. However, at this time, it has been decided to make disclosure by March 13. Therefore, officials are devoting themselves to this work day and night.

Question:
Why has the deadline been set at March 13?

Minister:
At first, judging from the experience of past disclosures, it was expected to take several months to more than one year to sort 7,000 pages of documents and determine which parts of the reports may be disclosed, but we have decided to make disclosure by mid-March, by March 13.

Question:
According an announcement by the MOD, 13 Chinese military aircraft passed through the airspace above Miyako Island yesterday, and the SDF scrambled its aircraft in response. I understand that 13 is the largest-ever number of aircraft. Could you share your comments on that?

Minister:
The MOD/SDF confirmed that in the morning through the afternoon of Thursday, March 2, a total of 13 Chinese military aircraft passed through the airspace between the main island of Okinawa and Miyako Island from the East China Sea and reversed course and went back later. On the same day, the presence of three Chinese navy warships was also confirmed in the seas around Miyako Island and Kume Island, and it was confirmed later that the warships sailed toward the East China Sea. The number of Chinese military aircraft that passed through the airspace between the main island of Okinawa and Miyako Island, 13, is the largest ever on a single day. It is possible that these Chinese military aircraft and warships were conducting some coordination exercise, but I would like to refrain from mentioning further details of this activity because doing so would reveal our information-gathering capability.

Question:
A media report has said that as the number of scrambles against Chinese military aircraft is increasing very much, the Japanese SDF will strengthen the scramble readiness. Is this report accurate?

Minister:
It is true that the number of scrambles is increasing rapidly, at the fastest pace ever. From the perspective of defending Japan's territorial land, waters, and airspace, the MOD/SDF intends to conduct thorough surveillance activity and implement strict scrambling against aircraft intruding into territorial airspace in accordance with international law and the SDF laws while keeping a close watch on Chinese military activities, whose range and frequency are growing.

Question:
In relation to that, this incident involved 13 aircraft, the largest-ever number, and there may have been an activity of coordination between the aircraft and Chinese navy warships. What do you think is the objective of such Chinese military activities? May I take it that you have a strong sense of crisis about the activities?

Minister:
First, since 2013, this is the 22nd time for the passage of Chinese military aircraft through the airspace between the main island of Okinawa and Miyako Island into the Pacific Ocean region to be confirmed. This year, it was confirmed on January 9 that a total of eight Chinese military aircraft advanced into the Sea of Japan region through the Tsushima Strait. In that sense, it is true that China aims to enhance its capability to implement operations at more distant locations than before and that its activities are increasing.

Question:
What impact do you expect that will have on security of Japan?

Minister:
Of course, I assume that one of the factors that is making the security environment surrounding Japan increasingly severe is the growing range and frequency of such activities in both the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. We will conduct thorough surveillance activity and implement strict scrambling against aircraft intruding into territorial airspace in accordance with international law and the SDF laws.

Question:
I have a related question. At the moment, surface-to-air missile units are being deployed in Miyako Island and elsewhere. Do you think that this will enhance the deterrence against flight by Chinese military aircraft?

Minister:
Regardless of the latest activity, if we take into consideration the situations surrounding the southwestern islands and the East China Sea, it is important to install SDF facilities there. However, it is essential to obtain the local people's understanding, so we must take action after making sufficient arrangements in that respect.

Question:
Do you think that the deployment will enhance the deterrence?

Minister:
I believe that resolving the lack of the SDF's presence in the southwestern islands at an early time is meaningful from the perspective of deterrence, but that is not something we are going to do in response to the latest activity or with any particular country in mind, for example.

Question:
I have a question related to the Japan-U.S. joint exercise that will be conducted from March 6 in the Somagahara Training Area in Shinto Village, Gunma Prefecture. This will represent the Osprey aircraft's first participation in a joint exercise since the accident, so concerns have been expressed and requests for giving consideration to safety were voiced by the local residents. Could you tell me how you will respond?

Minister:
Concerning the field training exercise which will be conducted at the Somagahara Training Area as you mentioned just now, the objective is enhancing interoperability through field training exercise regarding mutual coordination procedures used at the time of joint implementation of operations by the GSDF and the U.S. Marine Corps in accordance with their respective chains of command. As for the Osprey's participation in this exercise, it has been decided as a result of adjustments that around six Ospreys will take part, as the exercise will not only enhance the Japan-U.S. joint response capability but also contribute to the mitigation of the impact on Okinawa. This exercise is indispensable in order to deepen mutual understanding and communication on the tactical front in normal times and to smoothly implement joint response. Conducting a joint exercise using the Osprey, which has a high level of mobility and airlifting capacity, will be beneficial for both Japan and the United States. The implementation of this exercise was determined as a result of a study conducted from various aspects with respect to implementation of exercises involving Ospreys and other aircraft outside Okinawa with a view to mitigating the impact on Okinawa in consideration of the agreements reached at the "2+2" Meeting in October 2013 and the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee meeting in September last year. This will be the first exercise to be conducted in Japan using the new framework agreed upon at the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee. I would like you to understand that point. We will also conduct this exercise while seeking the local residents' understanding on our intention to take recurrence prevention measures related to the Osprey accident and to ensure safety.

Question:
You say you will seek an understanding on measures to prevent recurrence and ensure safety, but have you made decisions concerning specifically what requests the MOD will make and what action it will take at an early time in order to prevent recurrence and ensure safety?

Minister:
Following the recent Osprey landing accident, I held a teleconference with Commander Martinez late at night, and flight operation was suspended temporarily. This was the first suspension of flight operation. At that time, it was explained to me that the cause of the accident was related not to the aircraft itself but to aerial refueling training. First, the Osprey's flight operation was resumed and then, aerial refueling training was resumed. During this process, Japan and the United States engaged in a very intensive, close exchange of opinions about measures to prevent recurrence and ensure safety. We showed our understanding on the resumption after conducting checks on what the U.S. side stated and the recurrence prevention measures by making full use of the knowledge and experiences accumulated by the MOD until now and after making sure that aerial refueling training will be conducted only in areas far off shore.

Question:
I would like a clarification on one point. Am I correct in understanding that aerial refueling will not be implemented in this exercise, at least above land?

Minister:
That is correct.

Question:
Has the date of arrival in Gunma been fixed?

Minister:
I will give you the information after checking on that point (*1).

Question:
I assume that Japan will take care of the cost of the relocation to Gunma under the new framework. Do you think that you can obtain the Japanese people's understanding on the use of their tax money to take care of that cost even though this will be a joint exercise useful for the U.S. side as well?

Minister:
Would you like to know whether Japan will pay the whole cost? I will have the MOD officials answer your question later after checking on that. (*2)

Question:
I have one more question. When you visited Guam last month, you observed THAAD. At that time, I understand that you expressed your intention to consider THAAD as an option. Is Japan now considering introducing THAAD?

Minister:
As I replied in the Diet yesterday, Japan is not considering that now. However, when we take into consideration the ballistic missile and the situation in North Korea, we will not rule out THAAD as one of several conceivable options as we seek to enhance Japan's own capability to respond to ballistic missiles. That is what I meant.

Question:
What is your assessment of THAAD?

Minister:
THAAD will be a useful option as a missile-to-missile intercept system that fills a gap between missiles launched from AEGIS ships to destroy incoming missiles and the PAC-3. However, at the moment, there is no specific plan for introducing THAAD, nor are we considering the possibility of introducing it. Even so, the MOD is conducting various surveys and studies concerning a future ballistic missile defense system.

Question:
Although you say that this will be useful, what do you think of China's protest against the Republic of Korea's (ROK's) introduction of THAAD?

Minister:
Could you say once again what you said in the latter part of your question?

Question:
The ROK has drawn protest from China for introducing THAAD. What is your view of the Chinese protest?

Minister:
I do not know what China's intent is, and my understanding is that discussions are ongoing between the United States and the ROK about the specifics of the deployment of THAAD by the U.S. Forces stationed in the ROK. In any case, increasing cooperation between the United States and the ROK contributes to the peace and stability of this region, so Japan supports that.

Question:
Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Trump administration is considering a policy change, such as using force as a countermeasure against North Korean nuclear missiles. Could you clarify the facts that the MOD has grasped?

Minister:
I am aware of that media report, but I would like to refrain from commenting on the specifics of the report as a formal announcement has not been made. As was mentioned in yesterday's Diet debate, North Korea's nuclear and missile development is posing a grave and immediate threat to the security of Japan, this region and the international community, so Japan has serious concern about that. Looking at the situation last year, the threat has entered a new stage. Japan will strive to gather and analyze information and ensure the peace and security of Japan.

The following answers were given later:

*1 I have heard that on March 7-8, a U.S. exercise involving MV-22 Ospreys of the U.S. Marine Corps is scheduled to be conducted in the Higashi Fuji Maneuver Area. Therefore, it is expected that the MV-22 Ospreys will arrive at the Somagahara Training Area on March 9 in order to participate in exercise Forest Light although the date may be subject to change due to the effects of weather conditions or other factors.

*2 The United States has agreed to this exercise relocation after adjustments between Japan and the United States following Japan's request to relocate, at the time of Forest Light, an exercise using the MV-22 Osprey that would be conducted in Okinawa without the framework agreed upon at the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee meeting held on September 1 last year in order to mitigate the impact on Okinawa.
As a result of the realization of the relocation, an exercise involving as many as six MV-22 Ospreys will be relocated from Okinawa to mainland Japan. The MOD believes that this will contribute to further mitigation of the impact on Okinawa.

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