Press Conferences

Press Conference by Defense Minister Onodera (11:19-11:38 A.M. September 28, 2018)

Press Conference by Defense Minister Onodera
Time & Date: 11:19-11:38 A.M. September 28, 2018
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:
I have a question about the CV-22 Ospreys. They are scheduled to be officially deployed to the Yokota Air Base on October 1. Could you tell us the significance of this deployment? The surrounding local governments are voicing their concerns about the operation of the Ospreys. Could you share your thoughts on how we will request the United States for safe operations going forward?

Minister:
In August this year, we were contacted about the deployment of five CV-22 Ospreys to the Yokota Air Base on October 1.While the security environment surrounding Japan has become more severe and from the perspective of the United States' commitment to the Asia Pacific region and the building up of readiness, the Government believes that the deployment of these high-performance CV-22 Ospreys to Japan will enhance the deterrence and coping ability of the Japan-U.S. Alliance, and contributes to the defense of Japan and stability of the Asia Pacific region. On top of that, the Ministry of Defense (MOD) bases the flight operations of CV-22 on the important premise of ensuring safety and greatest consideration to the lives of the citizens in the surrounding areas. Hence, we have made use of successive opportunities to request the U.S. side to take thorough steps to ensure safety and provide information. Most recently, I made a request last week, on September 20, to Brigadier General Mahoney, Deputy Commander of the U.S. Forces in Japan, for cooperation on measures to ensure maximum safety with regard to the CV-22 as well as on efforts to gain the understanding of the local residents. Going forward, we will respond appropriately while cooperating with our U.S. counterparts to request that they accord greatest consideration to safety and minimize the impact on the local community.

Question:
I have a question about issues of relocation plan in Okinawa. I understand that reviews are ongoing about legal countermeasures. Could you tell us what the current review status is?

Minister:
In regard to this matter, the Okinawa Defense Bureau (ODB), which is the entity involved in the matter, will conduct a detailed investigation into the reasons for the disposition, undertake a comprehensive review based on that, and make its decision. As of the current point in time, I shall refrain from making any comments based on conjecture.

Question:
In relation to that, the relocation issue has become a major point of contention in the Okinawa gubernatorial elections that citizens will vote in the day after tomorrow. What kind of impact do you think the results of this election will have on the relocation issue?

Minister:
As the elections are now ongoing, I have no particular comments on this matter.

Question:
While the MOD is likely to continue moving forward on the relocation going forward, as the issue has become a major point of contention, what impact do you think the election results will have on this relocation?

Minister:
The fundamental cause of the relocation of MCAS Futenma to Henoko lies in its positioning in a built-up area surrounded by residences and schools, and the need to eliminate the danger of MCAS Futenma and return it to the residents. Hence, our stance of realizing the early relocation to Henoko and the return of MCAS Futenma remains unchanged.

Question:
Does this remain unchanged regardless of what public sentiment indicates?

Minister:
On our part, the starting point behind the relocation of MCAS Futenma to Henoko is based upon the elimination of the dangers posed by MCAS Futenma. This stance remains unchanged.

Question:
The election campaigns as well as opinion polls presented by the respective newspapers reflect a certain lack of understanding toward that stance, as well as a certain degree of opposing views that sometimes makes up the majority. What are your views on this current situation?

Minister:
As I have explained to date, there is no change to our stance of making progress on the relocation to Henoko as soon as possible, and our desire to eliminate the dangers posed by MCAS Futenma.

Question:
It was announced that U.S. strategic bombers and Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) fighters held an exercise at the East China Sea and Sea of Japan yesterday. Could you tell us the objectives of the exercise and the intentions behind making the public announcement?

Minister:
On September 27, ASDF conducted a joint exercise with the U.S. Air Force over the East China Sea and Sea of Japan in order to further enhance the deterrence and coping ability of the Japan-U.S. Alliance, with the objective of improving the joint engagement capability of Japan and the U.S. as well as the tactical skills of the units. Through the implementation of this exercise, we aim to strengthen cooperation between the two countries and demonstrate the strength of our ties. While the security environment surrounding Japan has become more severe, we believe that this is effective in demonstrating Japan's will and capacity toward stabilizing the region.

Question:
The B-52 is an aircraft that can be equipped with nuclear weapons. While the Government is observing the Three Non-Nuclear Principles, how did the MOD confirm if the B-52 that participated in this exercise were equipped with bombs including nuclear weapons?

Minister:
That is because this is a regular exercise. We could be certain because this is an exercise, and because the U.S. has always had a full understanding of Japan's position on the Three Non-Nuclear Principles.

Question:
Were steps taken this time to verify that such weapons were not being equipped with the aircraft?

Minister:
I have given the same answer from before. As the U.S. fully understands Japan's position on the Three Non-Nuclear Principles, we do not currently make any assumptions that they would fly any strategic bombers equipped with nuclear weapons to Japan, or allow such aircraft to pass through our airspaces.

Question:
The topic of North Korea has come up in various scenes at the Japan-U.S. Summit Meeting, U.S.-ROK Summit Meeting, and other occasions during the UN General Assembly. What is your appraisal of this series of meetings? Could you also tell us how the MOD will respond to the future in view that Japan and the U.S. have concurred on cooperating on issues such as the illegal ship-to-ship transfers?

Minister:
I understand that the two leaders coordinated closely on the North Korea issues in particular during the recent Japan-U.S. Summit Meeting, and that it was an important meeting that will contribute to the resolution of the abduction issue and nuclear and missile issues surrounding North Korea. In any case, amidst the continuing sanctions imposed on North Korea, I believe that it is necessary to firmly resolve the problem of its nuclear and missile programs. The MOD, together with the respective countries that we are collaborating with on this matter, aims to continue responding firmly to the issue of illegal ship-to-ship transfers by North Korea, which violates UN Security Council Resolutions.

Question:
With regard to the international naval review that the Republic of Korea has scheduled for next month, ROK has issued a notice to all participating countries requesting that they hoist only their national flags and the national flag of ROK. Has the MOD and the SDF received this notice?

Minister:
The MOD plans to dispatch the Maritime Self-Defense Force's (MSDF) escort vessels to the international naval review that will be held in ROK on October 11 this year. With regard to the notice that you have mentioned, I shall refrain from answering in consideration of our relationship with the ROK. However, we are required to hoist the Naval Ensign of Japan in accordance with domestic laws such as the Self-Defense Forces Law Moreover, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the ensign of self-defense corresponds with external markers that indicate the nationality of a ship belonging to the military force of the country. Hence, in the dispatch of the SDF fleet to the international naval review on this occasion, we plan to act in accordance with such domestic and international laws. In any case, the MOD and the SDF aims to continue further deepening and advancing defense cooperation between Japan and ROK going forward, in order to realize peace and stability for the Indo-Pacific region.

Question:
While this may be in accordance with domestic laws, if ROK were to continue with its request to take down the ensign of self-defense, is there a possibility that we will withdraw from participating in this naval review?

Minister:
As we are required to hoist the ensign of self-defense in accordance with domestic laws, and deem that this ensign corresponds with the external markers that indicate the nationality of a ship that belongs to the military force of a country under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, we will, of course, hoist the ensign of self-defense.

Question:
I believe it was only recently that ROK began voicing its views about the ensign of self-defense. The SDF participated in the same naval review organized by ROK in 2008 and 1998. What actions did it take during those naval reviews?

Minister:
I have received reports that on those occasions as well, our vessels hoisted external markers indicating the nationality of the vessels based on domestic laws such as the Self-Defense Forces Law and in line with the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Question:
What are your views on the fact that the naval ensign, which is the naval ensign, has been in use since the time of the old Japanese army?

Minister:
I think that the naval ensign is hoisted based on the decision that it is regarded as an external marker.

Question:
What do you think about the fact that a flag used by the old Japanese army is now being used as it is by the MSDF?

Minister:
Regardless, my view is that it has now become an established external marker.

Question:
What do you think about the fact that something that was used by the old Japanese army is now being used by the MSDF as a naval ensign?

Minister:
The design of the naval ensign, which is regarded as an external marker, takes the shape of a rising sun, and I understand that it is used widely in Japan as a flag used by fishermen to indicate a good fishing haul as well as to celebrate births and seasonal festivals.

Question:
What are your views on the fact that a flag used by the old Japanese navy is still being used as it is today by the MSDF?

Minister:
I think that it has already become an established external marker.

Question:
What are your views on the fact that a flag used by the old Japanese navy is still being used as it is today by the MSDF?

Minister:
I say this repeatedly. The design of naval ensign takes the shape of a rising sun, and is used widely in Japan as a flag to indicate a good fishing haul as well as to celebrate births and seasonal festivals, and is already established as an external marker of an SDF vessel.

Question:
At a press conference after the UN General Assembly, President Trump remarked, in relation to trade friction between Japan and the U.S. that "Japan is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment." What is your response to President Trump's remarks? Does Japan have such plans to purchase new weapons made in the U.S.?

Minister:
I am aware of President Trump's remarks based on reports and other sources. On our part, amidst the growing severity of the security environment surrounding Japan, we consider it vital to secure the necessary and adequate quality and quantity of Japan's defense capability in order to provide strong protection for the lives and peaceful living of Japanese citizens. From this perspective, introducing high-performance, state-of-the-art equipment is of great importance toward strengthening Japan's defense capability, and we aim to continue cooperating closely with the U.S. With regard to the SDF's equipment, we are procuring equipment, including those made in the U.S., in a systematic manner based on the National Defense Program Guidelines and Mid-term Defense Program. Going forward, we will continue to put effort into strengthening our defense capability based on decisions that we make independently.

Question:
With regard to the deployment of CV-22 to the Yokota Air Base, the official deployment is scheduled for October 1 at the start of the week. However, the aircraft is already arriving at Yokota prior to that, and they have been seen to be making flights including in the surrounding areas. Residents have also apparently made complaints to the local governments. What are your views on the deployment of the aircraft before the official deployment date by the U.S. military, and their flights around the area?

Minister:
With regard to the CV-22 aircraft stationed at the Yokota Air Base, we have received explanations from the U.S. that they have not been deployed but have only made a temporary flight. According to the explanation, such temporary flights are made in cases where a certain unit is on a mission outside of the base, etc. where it is being deployed. Japan has received notification that five CV-22 aircraft will be permanently deployed to the Yokota Air Base on October 1. Hence, we understand that from October, the activity base that the aircraft will be deployed to has been changed to the Yokota Air Base.

Question:
Moving toward the deployment of ASDF aircraft to Saga Airport, many trips have been made to Saga Prefecture, and more than 10 billion yen of landing fees have been paid. On top of that, I believe the premise to deployment is to continue with consultations going forward in order to gain the understanding of the residents. With regard to the CV-22 aircraft, taking into consideration the fact that these are U.S. military aircraft, do you think that these procedures, including the explanations provided to the local community beforehand and efforts to gain the understanding of the residents, were completed satisfactorily?

Minister:
After we received notification from the U.S. side that five CV-22 aircraft would be deployed to Yokota, we verified the contents and promptly provided an explanation to the local governments.

Question:
President Trump made the remarks at the press conference that "Japan is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment." However, we cannot help but feel that he made these remarks too abruptly without giving the MOD and the SDF a chance to explain its side. Rather, is it not that there is still no confirmed acknowledgement that Japan will be making such purchases, and that the MOD will decide independently going forward, and that it is not true that such a decision has been made to purchase military equipment?

Minister:
As these were remarks made by the President of the United States, I do not wish to make any particular comments about the real intentions behind the remarks. However, while I repeat myself, we will acquire defense equipment for the SDF in a systematic manner based on the National Defense Program Guidelines and Mid-term Defense Program, and will continue to work toward strengthening Japan's defense capability based on our independent decisions going forward. Of course, to that end, our policy is that it is necessary for Japan and the U.S. to work in close cooperation.

Question:
In relation to that, in the meeting with President Trump, were there no explanations at all from the Japan side about any advanced plans in the next Mid-Term Defense Program to procure defense equipment?

Minister:
As this relates to the contents of the Japan-U.S. Summit Meeting, please refer your question to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

Question:
In regard to the exercise between ASDF and the U.S. Air Force, CNN reported yesterday that B-52 also flew over the East China Sea on September 25, escorted by SDF aircraft. Could you tell us if this report is true?

Minister:
I am aware of the report, but there is no truth the report that we engaged in a joint exercise with U.S. strategic bombers on September 25.

Question:
Prime Minister Abe has declared that a Cabinet reshuffle will take place on October 2 next week. As the Minister of Defense, what are your reflections looking back on the past year?

Minister:
Even today and right now, I have constantly been working under the daily pressure of securing the peace of this country. That accumulation of efforts remains unchanged.

Question:
If this happens to be your last press conference as the Minister of Defense, looking back on the past year, could you tell us what your legacy is or what you have yet to complete?

Minister:
We still have no idea at all what will happen next. However, this is a continuing role, and I believe that it is an important role to firmly develop Japan's defense capability and secure the peace of this country. At the same time, it is also an important role in gaining the cooperation of the local communities as well as dispelling their worries in certain aspects, including the U.S. military bases in Japan as well as the various units of the SDF. This is how it has been till now, and I do not think it will change going forward.

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