Press Conference

Press Conference by the Defense Minister Onodera(10:12-10:32 A.M. May 16, 2014)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 10:12-10:32 A.M. May 16, 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
At around 1 o'clock this morning, the Maritime Self-Defense Force detected six Russian naval vessels sailing in a southwest direction at a location about 140 km northeast from Kamitsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture. Later, we confirmed that these vessels traveled southward into the East China Sea. At this point, they have not entered Japan's territorial waters. The MOD will continue to pay close attention to the behavior of those Russian ships in waters around Japan, and to engage in vigilant surveillance around Japan. Although we are unsure of Russia' intention behind this action, we know the fact that Chinese and Russian defense authorities announced carrying out joint naval and military exercises between the 20th and 26th this month in sea areas and airspace in the northern part of the East China Sea. We will pay close attention to these activities. That is all from me.

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
Yesterday, the Japanese government's Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security submitted a report which recommends approving the right to exercise collective self-defense. As the Defense Minister who takes charge of the MOD and SDF, could you tell us your reaction to and evaluation of this report?

Minister:
The advisory panel made a recommendation on policies concerning the legal basis for security while considering conceivable changes in the security environment in the future and specific case examples. Upon the reception of the advisory panel's report, the central government will carry out careful discussion with the ruling parties based on the basic guidance given by the Prime Minister concerning the future discussion. At the same time, the central government will formulate policies considering the view of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau. We as the MOD will do our part based on these policies to be issued. It is still too early for us to announce our future deliberation plan, but we intend to engage in thorough discussion from the perspective that the SDF will be able to fulfill its duties in the security environment which is becoming more severe.

Question:
Regarding the MOD's deliberation plan which you just mentioned, what systematic approach and procedure do you have in mind?

Minister:
To be consistent with the policies to be made by the central government and the ruling parties, we as the MOD will set up a proper system in which internal bureaus and the SDF Staff Office can thoroughly discuss issues in unity. Since discussion by the ruling parties has not yet begun, as for now, relevant sections of the MOD will coordinate to make proper arrangements.

Question:
The Prime Minister used the following examples in his press conference yesterday to point out that the current legal system contains insufficiencies: the case where the SDF is not allowed to defend an attacked United States naval ship which is carrying Japanese nationals; and the case where the SDF engaging in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations cannot go to rescue PKO forces from other countries under attack even if they ask Japan for help. What is your view on the necessity and urgency of addressing these specific arguments?

Minister:
These examples used by the Prime Minister were also discussed by the advisory panel. We, too, believe that these cases need to be addressed as they could occur in a real field situation.

Question:
In the first case example, the Prime Minister assumed a U.S. naval ship carrying Japanese nationals. Do you think that Japan should also be able to defend a U.S. naval ship under attack if it is not carrying Japanese nationals?

Minister:
The Prime Minister explained a specific scenario, in which he assumed that a U.S. naval ship was transporting Japanese nationals to Japan, and the U.S. ship was attacked before Japan was. He brought up that specific scenario, and no other assumptions were taken into account.

Question:
Some members of the ruling parties are suggesting that the Cabinet should approve the revision of the constitutional interpretation early enough so this revision can be incorporated into the revision of the Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation which is due to be completed before yearend. Do you agree that the current discussion concerning the right to collective self-defense should be reflected in the reviewed guidelines?

Minister:
The basic policy of the MOD and SDF is to comply with the Constitution as well as the current laws and regulations. Therefore, we will review the guidelines within those limits. The central government has just come up with the general policies on the right to collective self-defense. Our stance is to review the guidelines while taking into account the decisions to be made by the ruling parties and views of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau.

Question:
I suppose that it might be difficult to incorporate the aforementioned discussions into the guidelines given that the review process is due to be completed by the end of this year. Do you think that can be done?

Minister:
It is still May and the deadline for reviewing the guidelines is the end of the year, which was mutually agreed upon between Japan and the U.S. at the "2+2" meeting. There is still a lot of time and it is too early to make a definitive prediction.

Question:
It seems to me that the central government and the Liberal Democratic Party are rushing to advance the discussion on the right to collective self-defense and are trying to expedite a Cabinet decision with the excuse that the guidelines must be reviewed before yearend. However, it is still May, as you said, and it is uncertain how the discussion on the right to collective self-defense will advance at this point. I wonder if there is a chance that the Japanese and the U.S. governments will delay the deadline for the review of the guidelines beyond this year.

Minister:
At this point, the deadline for the revision of the guidelines is set for the yearend as decided at the "2+2" meeting. Perhaps some members of the LDP commented on something similar to what you just brought up, but the Prime Minister did not set up a deadline for the current discussion on the right to collective self-defense. In any case, since that discussion has not even started yet, I have nothing to comment on that.

Question:
Related to the issue concerning the right to collective self-defense, I would like to ask you about the example the Prime Minister used yesterday which concerns the defense of a U.S. naval ship that is carrying Japanese nationals. I suppose that the key assumption is the part in which Japanese nationals are on board the ship. In that case, I wonder if the SDF cannot defend the U.S. ship based on the current legal framework. Some politicians suggested that the right to individual self-defense may be applicable to this case. What is your view on that?

Minister:
The current rules concerning the use of military force dictate that it would be very difficult for the SDF to defend naval ships of other countries under attack if Japan itself was not attacked. However, please accept this comment as a general view since each specific case is different.

Question:
So, referring to said case, some politicians suggested that the SDF might be able to defend the U.S. ship on the basis of the right to individual self-defense. And others suggested that such defense might be adequately achievable without exercising the right to collective self-defense, if a revision is made to the rules concerning the transport of Japanese nationals overseas in the Self-Defense Forces Act. What do you think about that?

Minister:
My understanding is that the Prime Minister used that case to illustrate a situation in which the right to collective self-defense needs to be exercised.

Question:
So is it your understanding that the current legal framework does not allow the SDF to deal with the situation illustrated by the Prime Minister?

Minister:
Generally speaking, even if Japanese nationals overseas are attacked, the first of the three conditions to practice the right to self-defense is not met. This includes the case where an attack is applied to a foreign ship that is carrying Japanese nationals on the high seas. As such, the conventional view of the central government has been that the right to individual self-defense is not applicable in this case.

Question:
The Prime Minister expressed his vision yesterday to consider approving exercising the right to collective self-defense by changing the constitutional interpretation. Do you agree with him?

Minister:
As the Prime Minister stated at the beginning of his speech, the central government has a major responsibility to protect the lives and livelihood of Japanese people. He also stated what measures need to be considered to achieve that. I agree with him in this regard.

Question:
Someone pointed out that if interpretation of the constitution changes with a change of regime, it is the same as denying constitutionalism. What is your view on that?

Minister:
The Prime Minister stated at the beginning of his speech that the Government is responsible for protecting the lives and livelihood of Japanese people. Every politician should seriously consider this premise. So I don't think that debate over constitutional interpretation has anything to do with a particular intention of an administration. Rather, since every administration must commit to protecting the lives and livelihood of Japanese people, the current debate is certainly necessary for this government to fulfill that responsibility.

Question:
In addition to debate over the right to collective self-defense, discussion concerning gray zone security challenges is also being advanced. Some measures to better deal with gray zone situations have been discussed such as allowing the Defense Minister to more quickly issue an order to carry out public security operations and maritime police operations. Are you thinking of any other improvements to be made in terms of the authority given to you in dealing with a gray zone situation?

Minister:
It is difficult to explain the concept without using a specific example. Conventionally, discussion on gray zone security challenges is independent of constitutional interpretation arguments. Each gray zone situation is dealt with by different measures such as issuing an order to carry out public security operations, maritime police operations and anti-airspace incursion measures, like you just said. So we are dealing with these situations one by one like a patchwork design. In other words, we have not established comprehensive and seamless measures to counter the situations. So the basic approach to this issue is to consider legislative measures that enable Japan to take effective and seamless actions to deal with various situations.

Question:
There is a specific example of a gray zone situation I have heard of in which armed fishermen land on and occupy the Senkaku Islands or similar. In any case, the SDF has the authority to use arms while engaging in public security operations, for example, according to Article 90 of the Self-Defense Forces Act. And it is also stipulated that when the antagonists are armed or if they are suspected to be armed, the SDF is allowed to use weapons without fulfilling certain conditions. However, do you think there still is a shortcoming that can be fixed by adjusting the range of authorized power the SDF possesses?

Minister:
I have also heard a similar example but it did not assume a specific location. The kind of examples in which disguised fishermen or similar violate Japan's islands are often used for the sake of argument. In this example, various response measures may be options such as carrying out public security operations and maritime police operations. In order to make the current system more effective and seamless, I think that further legislative measures need to be considered at minimum.

Question:
What kinds of legislative measures do you think are necessary? Both public security operations and maritime police operations which you just mentioned allow the SDF to use weapons in compliance with the police regulations, or its use of weapons may be more unrestricted, according to the Self-Defense Forces Act. So what flaws do you think are present in the current system?

Minister:
The ruling parties are currently discussing that issue. After certain decisions are made, we will adjust our readiness accordingly.

Question:
I suppose that debate is taking place because there is some sort of insufficiency being identified in the current system. It is just that no one seems to really give an explicit explanation about it. What is your opinion?

Minister:
The ruling parties will debate on that issue starting next week, so we will wait and see the outcome.

Question:
Could you tell us what you think is lacking in the current system?

Minister:
The ruling parties have not yet initiated their discussion on this issue. We would like to wait and see their decision first.

Question:
I would like to ask this question again. In order for the central government to approve exercising the right to collective self-defense, why is it taking an approach to change the constitutional interpretation rather than changing the Constitution itself?

Minister:
That question should be asked to the Prime Minister rather than me.

Question:
Do you support the approach to change the constitutional interpretation?

Minster:
Since that decision reflects the stance of the central government as a whole, it is inappropriate for me as the Defense Minister to answer that question.

Question:
The advisory panel presented its view in the report that it is valid for Japan to join the multinational forces since the Constitution does not prohibit Japan from participating in the United Nations security operations. However, the Prime Minister stated in his press conference last night that he has no intention to adopt that idea. What is your view on that? Furthermore, in view of global standards, I suppose that it is quite legitimate for countries like Japan to join the multinational forces. What are your thoughts on the fact that Japan is not allowed to do so?

Minister:
I totally agree with the Prime Minister. I have the same view as well. Each country makes its own decision on whether to participate in the multinational forces or collective security operations. We agree with the Prime Minister's view concerning collective security, which he stated yesterday.

Question:
There have been disputes involving China, the Philippines, and Vietnam. If those countries in conflict with China ask Japan for help, do you think Japan should rescue and provide support for them assuming that the right to exercise collective self-defense was adopted?

Minister:
The Prime Minister just announced his vision to start debates concerning the right to collective self-defense. As such, I will refrain from answering that hypothetical question at this time.

Question:
I have a question concerning the relations between Japan and Russia. Scrambles by the SDF against Russia are becoming more frequent these days. In addition, Russia will be carrying out joint military exercises with China soon. Amid these situations, how would you assess the current Japan-Russia relations?

Minister:
Recently, Russian bombers have frequently been detected flying around Japan, which did not occur even during Cold War era. Moreover, the joint military exercises you mentioned will be held in the East China Sea. So, we will continue to pay close attention to the behavior of Russia.

Question:
I suppose this is probably the first time that China and Russia will carry out military exercises in the East China Sea, which is in the vicinity of Japan. What impact do you expect this event to have on Japan's security environment?

Minister:
The exercises will actually be held in sea areas and airspace in the northern part of the East China Sea. We expect to find the specific locations and nature of the exercises after they start on the 20th. Given that these are the first exercises to be held in the East China Sea, we plan to monitor them very closely.

(End)

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