Press Conference

Extra Press Conference by the Defense Minister(04:00-04:09 P.M. September 17, 2013 (Japan time))

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 04:00-04:09 P.M. September 17, 2013 (Japan time)
Place: Cam Ranh International Airport
(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:
Today, you visited the naval facilities in Cam Ranh Bay. First of all, what was your impression of them?

Minister:
While I am the first Japanese Government official to visit the naval base in Cam Ranh Bay, according to the Vietnamese side, this is also the first time that any defense or military-related officials from other countries were invited. I believe that this shows Vietnam’s strong sense of trust toward Japan. I am very thankful for that. I also inspected a Gepard-class frigate today, which is the most advanced ship that Vietnam possesses. In addition, the base commander told me that this is the central base for the surveillance of the South China Sea because of its location facing the Spratly Islands. He also explained to me specific surveillance activities they are conducting.

Question:
Although it is difficult for us to visualize the Vietnamese force since we have not actually looked at it, what was your impression of the surveillance activities carried out by the Vietnamese force from the point of view of Japan’s surveillance?

Minister:
When I explained some specific cases Japan had encountered while taking various response measures in the East China Sea, I learned that the Vietnamese also underwent similar incidents. So I felt that Vietnam and Japan are in the same boat in some sense, in spite of the fact that these two countries are dealing with issues that are associated with different sea areas: the East China Sea for Japan and the South China Sea for Vietnam.

Question:
After today’s inspection, do you have any updated thoughts on future cooperation with Vietnam in terms of dealing with issues?

Minister:
For example, in view of the fact that Japan is currently in a tense relationship with China over the issues associated with the East China Sea, we are taking an approach to hold constructive dialogues with neighboring countries including China. Since the Vietnamese side is taking a similar approach, I presume that information on some specific cases we shared was useful.

Question:
As you have said earlier, this was a rather exceptional occasion in which the Vietnamese side allowed visitors to access the facilities. When the Japanese side made a request, what was your objective in visiting and inspecting this sensitive area that is associated with the Spratly Islands?

Minister:
Given that the naval facilities in Cam Ranh Bay had been closed to military officials around the globe, Japan had been very interested in visiting the facilities for a long time. In addition, in view of the geographical relationship between the base and the Spratly Islands, we thought that Japan can learn much from the way Vietnam is dealing with the security issues of this sea area. I proceeded with today’s inspection with those thoughts in mind.

Question:
I suspect that the U.S. and Russia may be considering taking advantage of Cam Ranh Bay for military purposes. Does Japan have any specific plan to work cooperatively with the Vietnamese side at the base in Cam Ranh Bay?

Minister:
My expectation is that the cooperative relationship between Vietnam and Japan, which includes military-related interactions beyond the boundary of Cam Ranh Bay, will strengthen. In fact, a field exercise on diving medicine was recently carried out and a field exercise on submarine rescue will be conducted in Japan at the end of this month. Vietnam is scheduled to participate in this exercise. I was told that submarines will be deployed in Cam Ranh Bay as early as the beginning of next year, so Japan potentially has many opportunities to offer technical support to the Vietnamese side.

Question:
What are the chances of the Self-Defense Forces vessels calling at a Vietnamese port in the future?

Minister:
Currently, a training squadron is staying in a port called Da Nang. Since this is an excellent port and is equipped with a facility which makes resupplying very convenient, we plan to deliberate on the access of training squadrons to this port through consultation with the Vietnamese side. In view of the fact that Japan was the first country to be invited to Cam Ranh Bay among all other countries in terms of military-related officials, I believe factors such as that Prime Minister Abe chose Vietnam as the first country to visit this year and that we interacted with Vietnam several times for defense cooperation contributed to their hospitality toward Japan.

Question:
We are a little concerned that China may be rather upset about the fact that Japan made a visit to a base of utmost importance in terms of the dispute over the Spratly Islands. What is your view on that?

Minister:
Regarding our visit to the base, we did not make any assumptions about any specific countries. However, we pay attention to the issues associated with the South China Sea, in addition to those associated with the East China Sea. In particular, the issues relating to the South China Sea and a code of conduct were also discussed at the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus). If you think about the places I visited in the past few months, they are scattered in different parts of the South China Sea: the Subic Bay base of the Philippines to the east, Brunei to the south, and Cam Ranh Bay to the west. These visits helped me better understand the issues over the South East Sea.

Question:
During the inspection yesterday, you said that this would be the right time for Vietnam to update its defense equipment. However, concerning the fields such as capability building and human resource development, in which Japan is more readily able to provide support, did you exchange any views? And was there a request that the Vietnamese side wants to learn from Japan’s expertise?

Minister:
This kind of discussion took place not during the inspection but during the talks yesterday with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and the Minister of Defence who expressed, for example, that Vietnam intends to actively participate in PKOs. They requested that Japan provide support for that. In addition, Japan is capable of providing support in diving medicine, which I mentioned earlier, issues concerning submarine rescue, and various capability building programs in which the Self-Defense Forces will be helpful. In order for Japan to share those kinds of expertise, we will surely maintain a cooperative relationship with Vietnam.

Question:
In terms of field-level interactions, do you have a plan to more frequently call at not only ports in Cam Ranh Bay but also Da Nang Port?

Minister:
Based on the agreement of the ADMM-Plus, for example, which consists of countries such as the ASEAN countries, Russia, the U.S., China, Japan and South Korea, the participating countries aim to improve their skill levels cooperatively in the multilateral framework. As far as capability building support is concerned, we think that both the bilateral framework between Japan and Vietnam and a multilateral framework such as the ADMM-Plus are important.

Question:
I have a question about the role of the United States. Since U.S. President Barack Obama is also planning to visit the Philippines after participating in the East Asia Summit, it is likely that the cooperative relationship between Japan and the U.S. will become even stronger. What is your vision regarding what the role of the U.S. in Southeast Asia, the East China Sea and the South China Sea ought to be?

Minister:
Concerning the issue on the rearrangement of the U.S. Forces, the United States has repeatedly stated that it will place an emphasis on Asia. Based on the close alliance between Japan and the U.S., our view is that the presence of the U.S. Forces in Asia would function as a public asset for the security of Asia. Accordingly, we will continue to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and thereby improve the stability of Asia.

Question:
The code of conduct in the South China Sea is being formulated by Southeast Asia. Is Japan considering reinforcing this development, for example, with the U.S.?

Minister:
According to the recent agreement reached by the ADMM-Plus, the participating countries are supposed to support the code of conduct in the South China Sea as well as the code of conduct that applies to China and the ASEAN countries in particular. I was informed that China and the ASEAN countries just started a discussion on the code of conduct in the South China Sea, and I welcome this initiative. I hope that a truly effective code of conduct will be concluded and that the stability of this sea area will improve through rule of law and dialogue. Finally, we hope that this concept will spread across the whole of Southeast Asia.

(End)

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