Press Conference

Press Conference by the Defense Minister (10:00-10:15 A.M. December 20, 2008)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 1000-1015 A.M. December 20, 2008
Place: Press Conference Room, Ministry of Defense (MOD)

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

1. Announcements

The Government made decisions concerning the review of the Mid-Term Defense Program at the Security Council meeting and Cabinet Meeting held today. The details of the decisions are shown in the reference materials distributed to you. We have decided in this review that we will promptly and efficiently promote the necessary modernization of F-15 fighters, the mainstay fighters contributing to Japan’s air defense, in order to use them effectively in the future. Concerning other main equipment, we have reviewed the scale of the build-up of defense equipment as shown in the attached table, based on the progress of the build-up of each item. We have also decided to revise the limit of the total amount of the defense-related expenditures required for the implementation of these plans. The decisions also include the amount necessary for the measures contributing to easing the burdens of local areas in relation to the realignment of the US forces in Japan. In these decisions we have made it clear that we will implement such measures appropriately and promptly. For further details, I will have the staff explain to you later.

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
The Ministry of Finance (MOF) has presented its draft budget for the next fiscal year. How did the draft budget reflect the major points of the requests from the MOD, and how does the MOD perceive the outcomes?

Minister:
I have just been briefed about the draft budget by MOF and have not yet fully learned the specific details. However, the draft budget has been secured at a certain level for the defense-related expenditures. I think that the draft budget reflects certain understanding of the requests I made the other day to the Finance Minister. Of vital importance is whether or not the budgets secure sufficient amounts for expenses necessary for the steady build-up of defense capabilities and for SDF activities. I will examine these points from now on.

Question:
Various opinion polls have indicated significant falls in the approval rate of the Cabinet, lately. One survey has even shown the approval rate to have fallen to the less than 20% level. How do you perceive these results, as a member of the Cabinet?

Minister:
I think the figures reflect various opinions and criticism of discussions at the Diet, as well as anxieties for the current social situations. The Government also receives criticism for being slow in response to these situations, as reflected in the budgetary process and other activities. I feel such criticism is partly attributed to the lack of explanations on our part. The Prime Minister in this regard asks us as ministers to make efforts to give clearer explanations. I believe there is much more we should do to this end. We will not be shaken by such figures. But we will humbly receive the results reflected in the figures and must consider any means to ensure that people have a greater sense of security. However, some of our efforts cannot turn into results so quickly, which may frustrate some people. But we will reflect upon points to improve and address the issues.

Question:
Concerning expenses to realign the US forces in Japan, the government’s basic policy for economic reform in 2006 states that, after the defense-related budget is reduced as much as possible, the least necessary measures will be financially maintained. This time, the realignment expenses were managed to be included in the defense-related budgets. However, as the realignment expenses are expected to be increased due to the step-up of the relocation to Guam and other measures, what do you think about this existing policy of handling the realignment expenses within the defense-related budgets?

Minister:
Solving the problems of Okinawa including the relocation of the US troops to Guam will contribute to easing the burdens of the local areas. Considering these points, we wish to treat the realignment expenses separately from the defense-related budgets, because the realignment expenses should not squeeze the defense-related expenses as a whole. This idea was reflected in the MOD’s budget requests. We have conveyed such idea in the process of the compilation of the draft budget. However, the decision cannot be made only by the MOD. So I will continue to call on the Government to consider our idea. We do continue to keep Okinawa in mind, as this is a place where people bear the heavy burden of hosting military bases. If we take any actions to address this situation, we should handle the issue as one which the whole of the Government will consider, in order to present the Government stance. I must stress this idea as one of the organizations which are in charge of Okinawa. I think I must strive hard for this.

Question:
While China and other neighboring countries have been expanding their national defense budgets, Japan alone has been reducing its defense budget for the seven consecutive years. What do you think of this tendency?

Minister:
As has just been pointed out, the security environment surrounding our country remains opaque and uncertain in various aspects. It is also true that the roles of the SDF have been greatly increasing since the international peace cooperation activities were added to the primary missions. Furthermore, the build-up of the defense capabilities cannot be achieved in the short term. Continuous training and education are necessary to keep the SDF capabilities at a certain level. Therefore, it is important to secure a certain level of defense-related budget to secure training and education. I believe that the decrease in defense-related budgets over a long period would be negative in light of Japan's security.

Question:
Within the ruling parties, are there any moves to call for revival of some of the requested budget items?

Minister:
We intend to closely examine the draft budget and may ask for the revival of some items to minimally fill the shortage.

Question:
You have referred to the review of the Mid-Term Defense Program and the modification for modernization of F-15. The MOD will advance the modernization more than originally planned, under the circumstances that it is difficult to select the next-generation mainstay fighter. The United States is moving into a new administration. In the situation, is only such modernization sufficient to maintain Japan’s defense capabilities? Or should the next-generation fighter be selected in the near future? How do you analyze the situation?

Minister:
This modification for modernization is aimed at enhancing the performance of the existing equipment to respond to the situations in the future. The latest budget request is based on this idea. To introduce new fighters in our defense posture, we must consider the timespan between selection and deployment. That does not mean the existing fighters alone will fulfill all needs. Rather, considering the time span, it is very important to cope with possible situations by the enhancement of the performance of the existing fighters. There should be no vacuum until introduction of the next-generation fighters F-15’s high performance is internationally recognized. While upgrading the existing F-15 and thereby ensuring the maintenance of our defense capabilities, we should consider the issue of our next mainstay fighter, it will take some time to deploy a sufficient number of aircraft. In this sense, it is vital to secure a solid defense posture with the existing fighters.

Question:
Originally, the MOD requested about 100 billion yen for the realignment for the US forces. The final scale has apparently been narrowed down to below 70 billion yen. What do you think of this outcome?

Minister:
I believe the final figure has been determined in the process of various calculations including reduction of costs. I have no criteria to determine whether this figure is “much?Eor “little.?EI believe the figure represents the accumulation of various calculations.

Question:
In order to keep the defense budgets within the ceiling, the US forces?Erealignment expenses and other items might have been squeezed. Are you concerned about it?

Minister:
While the draft budget has been compiled by MOF, detailed figures have not yet been notified to ministries. So I would like to refrain from answering this question.

Question:
Regarding the relocation of US troops to Guam, the genuine fiscal expenditure is said to be up to 2.8 billion yen through 2014. Given the scale of the defense-related expenses laid out in the draft budget, the amount of costs borne by Japan will likely increase in the future. If that is the case, can Japan appropriately bear the cost in the current fiscal situation?

Minister:
We are proceeding with projects based on a framework. The future prospect must also be assessed within this framework and by the whole Government, as I have said. We should also make efforts to gain the understanding of the people in this regard. Ahead of that, we must discuss how to approach this issue within the Government.

Question:
Concerning the realignment, do you think the amount of around 70 billion yen appropriated this time will be sufficient to achieve the goals in 2014 pursuant to the Roadmap?

Minister:
I would like to confirm detailed figures again. The amounts, however, reflect the accumulation of various factors. The judgment under the current circumstances should be made after the review of the overall amounts and the amount for the realignment in the draft budget presented by MOF. However, it would be satisfying if the amounts we had requested were duly included.

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