Press Conference

Press Conference by the Defense Minister Onodera(09:39-09:48 A.M. May 13, 2014)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 09:39-09:48 A.M. May 13, 2014
Place: Entrance to the Prime Minister's Office
(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:
You traveled overseas during the recent holidays to inspect the Self-Defense Forces deployed in countries such as South Sudan and Djibouti. First, could you tell us your impressions and any specific accomplishments you might have made during this trip?

Minister:
I closely inspected the SDF units working diligently in extremely harsh conditions in South Sudan and Djibouti in Africa. My impression was that they were highly received by the local community and their morale was high despite the tough environments they are coping with.
In South Sudan, Special Representative of the United Nations Hilde Johnson requested that the SDF further extend its ground preparation work to build more refugee camps. While the SDF engineer units have already built shelters capable of housing several tens of thousands of refugees, we intend to accept her request as it is a very important role. Accordingly, we plan to send out the sixth SDF unit in late May. As for the current mission, we initially planned to expand the range of our operation to Eastern and Western Equatoria States. However, considering the current refugee situation and Ms. Johnson's request, we decided to shift our focus to ground preparation work to build more refugee camps.
As for Djibouti, the commanders of the U.S. force and the French force stationed there requested at the recent meeting that Japan's SDF continue to participate in counter-piracy operations as they are extremely important. After considering the current situation, we agreed to continue the participation in said operations in Djibouti.
When I visited these places, I closely inspected the on-site situations, heard from SDF personnel in the field in person, and learned local demands. So I had a very productive trip.

Question:
It is expected that the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security will submit an official report this week. The report discusses various case examples and the advisory panel made a recommendation on whether the interpretation of the Constitution should be changed or legal reform should be carried out based on certain cases. For example, the report discusses issues concerning collective security and whether the SDF engaging in UN peacekeeping operations should be allowed to use arms to rescue PKO forces from other countries under attack. Keeping these arguments in mind, did you encounter any specific issues or concerns during your inspection in South Sudan, which ought to be addressed by the advisory panel?

Minister:
This was the first time for a Japanese Defense Minister to visit South Sudan. When I inspected the refugee situation and the SDF operations there, I felt for real that the deployed SDF units could encounter various contingencies. I hope that the advisory panel will take such concern into consideration in their discussion.

Question:
I suppose that whether to maintain the SDF's operation base in Djibouti is another argument to be addressed. The advisory panel has been discussing how the roles of the SDF ought to be expanded from the viewpoint of proactive contribution to peace. How would you justify the continued operation of the SDF base in Djibouti in the upcoming discussion?

Minister:
The base in Djibouti is currently used for counter-piracy operations. However, if Japan is requested to play a role in disaster or refugee relief operations in the future, the geographical locality of the current SDF base in Djibouti is ideal for dealing with these issues in Africa. I believe that the current locality is highly advantageous for various kinds of missions in addition to counter-piracy operations.

Question:
According to a press report, the Japanese government is planning to launch construction work this coming fall to relocate Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma. There is also another press report stating that you told U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel last month that the Japanese government is aiming to start said construction before yearend. Is this a fact?

Minister:
I don't think that I mentioned any specific schedule concerning said construction to Secretary Hagel. However, at the meeting, we both agreed to move MCAS Futenma as soon as possible, and thereby, reduce the impact on Futenma as well as mitigate the impact of military bases on Okinawa.

Question:
I would like to go back to the PKO in South Sudan. I recall that the original plan was to expand the range of SDF operations to Equatoria once the security situation improves. Was that plan cancelled and will the SDF focus on ground preparation work instead?

Minister:
Considering current situations in various aspects, humanitarian assistance is the top priority. As some of you might have seen, refugees' tents and such are extending endlessly in front of the gate to the SDF's cantonment. A rainy season is approaching there and the living conditions are expected to deteriorate. Thus, the preparation of more camping facilities is an urgent issue. The sixth SDF unit to be sent will be guided to primarily play this role.

Question:
So will you postpone dealing with the needs of the people in Equatoria?

Minister:
Once the refugee issue is resolved to a certain extent, we, of course, hope to work on the construction of infrastructure. However, for now, we ought to take care of the 100,000 or so refugees in Juba rather than moving on to a different project in Eastern and Western Equatoria States. I believe that immediate provision of camping facilities for those refugees precedes anything else.

Question:
By saying ground preparation work, are you referring to those vast UN designated areas which you inspected?

Minister:
That is right. I am talking about those areas. And I was told that PKO forces from other countries will also be sent to Juba. So UN Special Representative Johnson requested that the SDF take charge of ground preparation to accommodate those forces as well. In fact, the SDF is currently the only force in the capital city of Juba which can handle such extensive construction work. As such, expectations for the SDF engineer units in Juba are extremely high.

Question:
I expect that the Prime Minister will request the government parties this week to begin discussing the issues concerning the right to collective self-defense. Is the Ministry of Defense also planning to launch a formal committee to discuss these issues? Or, will the conventional groups such as the Cabinet Secretariat continue further discussion? How will the discussion be advanced in terms of the groups involved?

Minister:
The Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security is still working on a report. After the central government and the ruling parties make a certain decision, and if the Prime Minister request the MOD to engage in further discussion, we will carry out thorough discussion in the ministry. I am not certain what kind of framework will be set up to advance the discussion concerning the right to collective self-defense. However, if the MOD is asked, for example, to revise the Self-Defense Forces Act, we will take a proper systematic approach to fulfill that role.

Question:
At this stage of the discussion, aren't you proactively considering setting up a committee or similar in the MOD?

Minister:
Since the advisory panel has not yet completed a report and the central government has not yet laid out a policy, we will wait and see what role we ought to play.

Question:
The tell-all book on Edward Snowden, former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, revealed that communications made by the representatives of Japan to the United Nations had been intercepted. Do you have any comment on that from the security concern standpoint?

Minister:
I am aware of the press report. Since Japan and the U.S. have a close allied relationship, any conduct that undermines our mutual trust cannot be tolerated.

(End)

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