Press Conference

Press Conference by the Defense Minister Onodera(09:29-09:41 A.M. April 15, 2014)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 09:29-09:41 A.M. April 15, 2014
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:
The Okinawa Defense Bureau has submitted a document to Nago City to gain approval for the use of Henoko Fishing Port, which is a prerequisite for the planned construction leading to the relocation of Futenma Air Station. Could you tell us the outline of the document and future prospects regarding this project?

Minister:
On the 11th, the Okinawa Defense Bureau submitted six documents to Nago City and other relevant municipalities notifying the construction related to the relocation project. We intend to move forward with the construction in compliance with relevant laws in order to realize the return of Futenma Air Station to Japan and the relocation of the base to Camp Schwab as soon as possible while striving to earn the understanding of the local community.

Question:
Contrary to your intention to gain the understanding of the local community, the Nago mayor has expressed his opposition to the construction claiming that he has the authority to grant permits. What is your approach to dealing with this issue?

Minister:
We will proceed with the construction complying with relevant laws. As long as we meet the standards and requirements that are stipulated by the law, I believe that we will be able to take the necessary steps.

Question:
I would like to ask you a question about the search for the missing Malaysian airplane. The joint search center has announced its plan to discontinue the efforts to trace sound waves and switch to search from the sky and from the sea surface instead. What do you think about the activities of the Self-Defense Forces in this search effort thus far, and what is your plan for the future involvement of the SDF in this search operation?

Minister:
We initially sent four aircraft to join disaster relief operations from a humanitarian perspective, and we still have deployed two patrol aircraft that are based in Australia. I still hope for sooner discovery of the missing airplane along with all the passengers and crew members. The SDF’s P-3C aircraft will continue to engage in search operations today. Regarding the future plan, we will discuss it with the Australian government and the on-site coordination office.

Question:
I believe that United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met last week with Chinese Minister of Defence Chang Wanquan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. How would you evaluate those meetings, and what was the reaction of the U.S. side, which might have been communicated to you?

Minister:
The U.S. side has not given me a report about that. Since a working-level meeting between the two countries is scheduled in the near future, I expect that the U.S. side will explain their view in detail on those meetings to us. In addition, as has already been widely publicized in press reports, Secretary Hagel made the view of the U.S. side clear to the Chinese President and his Chinese counterpart, stating that the United States stands firmly against any coercive attempts to alter the status quo and that the Senkaku Islands are under the administrative control of Japan, and Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty applies to that region. When I had a bilateral meeting with Secretary Hagel, I also requested him to convey said messages to the Chinese side in a serious manner. I believe that he kept his pledge. I appreciate the fact that he has made a statement which is very significant in terms of maintaining the stability in East Asia.

Question:
Will said working-level meeting be held in conjunction with the upcoming director-general level meeting among Japan, the U.S. and South Korea?

Minister:
Although said working-level meeting is unrelated to the trilateral meeting at a director-general level, we will take advantage of the upcoming trilateral meeting as an opportunity to hold the working-level meeting between Japan and the U.S. in which I expect that the U.S. side will give a detailed report to the Japanese side regarding the meetings Secretary Hagel was involved while discussing various issues.

Question:
The working group aiming at reducing the impact of Futenma Air Station on Okinawa will hold its second meeting today. The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps indicated his view the other day that he is uncertain whether the operations of Futenma Air Station can be terminated within five years. Keeping his view in mind, what is the plan of the working group in their future discussions? I would like to know what kind of initiatives the working group is planning to take to realize the termination of the base operations within five years.

Minister:
I am aware that the second meeting will be held at 4 o’clock this afternoon by the working group aiming to reduce the impact of military bases on Okinawa, which consists of director-general class personnel from various ministries. At the meeting, I expect that constructive discussion will be carried out for the purpose of reducing the impact of military bases on Okinawa. In regard to the statement made in Washington, D.C. by Lieutenant General John Wissler, the Commanding General of the III Marine Expeditionary Force based in Japan, which you just mentioned, we do not know the detailed content. In any case, we as the central government will do our best to realize as many requests from Governor of Okinawa Nakaima as possible.

Question:
Speaking of the meeting you had with Secretary Hagel, U.S. President Barack Obama will be visiting Japan next week. What are the specific results you are hoping to see on this occasion in the aspects of security and defense?

Minister:
Given that President Obama is visiting Japan for a summit meeting, I assume that various preparations are currently being made at a working level, led by the two leaders and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We consider that the Japan-U.S. Alliance is of paramount importance from the viewpoint of maintaining the stability in East Asia. So we as the defense authorities hope that this upcoming meeting will lead to further strengthening the allied relationship.

Question:
I heard that four Russian military aircraft made a peculiar flight yesterday by traveling in the north-south direction above the Pacific Ocean on the east side of the Japanese islands. In consideration of the fact that Russian aircraft have recently made several unusual flights, what is the insight you have behind this behavior?

Minister:
We have also confirmed Russian aircraft above the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean in the vicinity of Japanese territory everyday in the last several days. The general trend is that the Russians are more frequently making flights and conducting military exercises near Japan these days. Although they have not violated Japan’s airspace, we will take caution and monitor their actions. It is possible that the Russian military is becoming more active in flight activities and training for a good reason. I speculate that Russia, like Japan, might be cautious about the security situation across East Asia as represented by such events as the bilateral military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea and some problematic actions taken by North Korea.

Question:
Has the date for the groundbreaking ceremony to start the construction of the new base on Yonaguni Island been fixed on the 19th? Are you planning to attend the ceremony?

Minister:
Some politicians had been suggesting in Diet sessions for some time that Japan should strengthen the defense of outlying islands and the southwestern region. Having considered such views, we decided to deploy a GSDF unit on Yonaguni Island as a part of our effort to strengthen the surveillance over the southwestern region. To realize this plan, we gained approval from the community in Yonaguni Town and made general decisions concerning land acquisition or renting. And now we have come to the point where we need to construct various facilities to station the GSDF unit. The groundbreaking ceremony to begin the construction of the facilities is scheduled on the 19th this month in which I plan to participate and express our gratitude for the cooperation of the local residents.

Question:
I heard that some residents in Yonaguni Town who are against the deployment of the SDF unit there made a protest yesterday to the Okinawa Defense Bureau. What are your thoughts on the fact that resisting sentiment is still present in the local community?

Minister:
I have not been informed about that from the bureau. However, I am aware that various opinions exist in Okinawa including Yonaguni Island to begin with. We will continue to provide sincere explanations to the local people. In addition, we are staunchly determined to protect Yonaguni Island, a part of the precious Japanese territory. So we will steadily proceed with the plan.

Question:
I also have a question related to Yonaguni Island. According to a press report from Okinawa, the amount of compensation to Okinawa has jumped up from 110 million yen last year to 240 million yen this year. Did this occur because Yonaguni Town requested a higher amount of compensation and the MOD accepted it, or because the MOD proposed to offer a higher amount to the town?

Minister:
I do not know the details on that. However, I expect that the amount of compensation will be determined by the Okinawa Defense Bureau after thorough consideration.

Question:
According to a press report, MSDF Chief of Staff Katsutoshi Kawano is planning to hold a meeting with a Chinese naval commander in late April. Is that correct?

Minister:
Because Japan MSDF is not invited to the naval fleet review, which takes place during the Western Pacific Naval Symposium, Chief Kawano will not attend the naval fleet review. However, I understand that he plans to attend meetings that are held during the symposium. I do not know the specifics of the symposium as to what kinds of meetings are scheduled to be held. In any case, Chief Kawano will be attending the meetings.

(End)

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