Press Conference

Press Conference by the Defense Minister Onodera(09:58-10:13 A.M. May 20, 2014)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 09:58-10:13 A.M. May 20, 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:
You announced in your speech yesterday that Japan, the United States, and South Korea are planning to hold a defense ministers' meeting on the 31st of this month in Singapore. What are the issues you are expecting to discuss and what are you hoping to achieve?

Minister:
I plan to participate in the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on May 30, 31 and June 1 assuming that the Diet will allow me to do so. On this occasion, we are also planning to hold said trilateral meeting. It is vital for these three countries to work together for the security of this region, and I expect that we will discuss measures against North Korea's nuclear missiles among other issues.

Question:
Joint naval and military exercises between China and Russia will begin today. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are both expected to inspect the exercises. In addition, they are due to hold a summit meeting in Shanghai. Could you tell us what these countries are trying to achieve and the objectives of the joint exercises?

Minister:
While China and Russia regularly carry out joint exercises, I speculate that this time, they are intending to show off close bilateral relations. I also assume that China is aiming to strengthen its naval force by learning from the experience and capability the Russian Navy possesses.

Question:
The ruling coalition started political talks this morning on the right to collective self-defense. Reportedly, they plan to discuss issues concerning gray zone security challenges, international cooperation, and constitutional interpretation in this order. Do you have any thoughts on this procedure, and what accomplishments do you expect from these talks?

Minister:
With the changing security environment, the role of the MOD and Self-Defense Forces is also changing drastically. Under such circumstances, it is vital for the ruling coalition to decide what kind of legal arrangements need to be established in order to properly deal with the current security situation. In any case, talks in the ruling parties start today and detailed discussion will begin next week. We will pay close attention to how the discussion advances.

Question:
In your speech yesterday, you mentioned, based on your experience of inspecting the United Nations Peacekeeping Operation in South Sudan, that Japan ought to take actions to help UN staff and refugees present near the SDF's cantonment. What kind of legal arrangements do you feel will be necessary that are in line with the regulations concerning the PKO including the five principles of PKO participation?

Minister:
It is not our intention to proactively bring up issues to be considered in terms of legal reform. However, I recently inspected the on-site situation in Juba, South Sudan, and confirmed that there are numerous refugees in the vicinity of the SDF cantonment. I also observed that the offices for UN PKO staff are also in close proximity. Suppose that the situation there suddenly deteriorates and the UN PKO staff are assaulted, or suppose that Japanese nationals happen to be there and attacked. It is a serious concern if the commanders of SDF units there would be able to take appropriate actions to deal with such situation. I suppose that some situations could be extremely challenging to deal with. So I hope that the current discussion will take into account such difficult situations the SDF might face beforehand.

Question:
I heard that when a gun battle temporarily broke out in Bor, South Sudan, a commander of the deployed SDF unit issued permission to carry and use weapons. Is that a fact?

Minister:
Since disclosing specific actions taken by the SDF units there might cause unfavorable external consequences and impact the safety of the deployed units, I cannot answer that question. They are taking necessary measures in response to changing situations.

Question:
Speaking of necessary measures, what are your thoughts on the necessity of revising the current standard for the use of weapons in the UN PKO?

Minister:
It is important for the ruling coalition to discuss that issue, and we will pay close attention to their discussion.

Question:
Related to the upcoming Japan-U.S.-South Korea trilateral Defense Ministers' meeting which you mentioned at the beginning, I heard that the trilateral Director-General meeting and working-level meeting known as DTT (Defense Trilateral Talks) which were held recently were not very productive because no discussion was held on GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement) as an official topic. Given that outcome, do you expect that a certain accomplishment can be made at the upcoming defense ministers' meeting?

Minister:
It is critical for the defense authorities of the three countries to share information in terms of the security of Japan and this region. Accordingly, the Japanese side will continue to bring this issue up in the future meetings including the upcoming trilateral meeting.

Question:
I would like to shift the subject. An article on the front page of today's Asahi Newspaper revealed the findings from the hearing with Masao Yoshida, an employee at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), who was a manager at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant when the accident broke out. According to the article, about 650 workers at the No.1 nuclear plant, or 90 % of the workers there, defied orders from Mr. Yoshida to deal with the accident and fled to the No. 2 nuclear power plant 10 km away. In the aftermath of the disaster, the SDF made various efforts to deal with the accident including spraying water from the sky. As the Defense Minister who takes charge of the SDF, what is your reaction to this press report?

Minister:
I am aware of that press report. I also read that article which contradicts what has been previously known. Since the press report has not yet been carefully confirmed, I cannot make any definite comment at this time. We have been of the belief that the employees at the nuclear power plant did their best to deal with the accident. So if this press report is true, I would be very disappointed.

Question:
How about the fact that TEPCO never mentioned this in the last three years?

Minister:
At the time of the accident, I belonged to an opposition party, and I was not a part of an investigation team. However, there were several investigation committees set up in the Diet. If this press report is factual, then I suppose that truth must be revealed. If there is an issue with the previous reports TEPCO has provided, I believe that the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry who is in charge of this matter will properly deal with this issue.

Question:
I have a question concerning the right to collective self-defense. Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party Shigeru Ishiba stated at the meeting of the budget committee three years ago to the effect that Japan does not possess a marine corps and when the right to exercising collective self-defense is approved in Japan, it should be capable of fulfilling some of the many functions the U.S. Marine Corps is currently providing. Do you expect that the amphibious force which will be launched will take part in collective self-defense if approval is granted to practice that right?

Minister:
I did not directly hear said statement by Secretary General Ishiba. However, based on the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG), I can say at minimum that the amphibious force was never meant to possess preemptive attack capability, unlike the U.S. Marines. Rather, the amphibious force was intended to play a role in protecting Japan's territories especially in the areas around outlying islands, according to the NDPG.

Question:
A joint exercise for the defense of remote islands will start this Thursday on the Amami Islands. What is the objective of this exercise, and what specific capability or function are you aiming to strengthen?

Minister:
We are planning to carry out a SDF joint field exercise on the 22nd of this month on one of the Amami Islands called Eniyabanarejima Island. In view of launching an amphibious force, we are aiming to identify necessary capabilities to be developed through an actual field exercise. That is the objective of this upcoming exercise.

Question:
Almost concurrently, China and Russia will also be carrying out joint exercises starting on the 20th in the northern part of the East China Sea. Is Japan intentionally putting pressure on China through this exercise?

Minister:
The China-Russia joint naval and military exercises are held every year and I suppose that they probably schedule the exercises well ahead of time. We also planned our exercise a long time ago although we announced this event only recently. Therefore, we did not try to have our exercise coincide with theirs.

Question:
In your speech yesterday, you mentioned that a Japan-U.S. Defense Ministers' meeting is currently being planned in addition to the aforementioned trilateral meeting during the Shangri-La Dialogue. At the last defense ministers' meeting with the U.S. in April, you explained to your counterpart about the discussion in progress by the Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security. But now the report by the advisory panel has been completed and the Prime Minister mentioned it in his press conference. With this progress having been made, what message are you planning to convey to the U.S. side in the next meeting in regard to the current political talks in Japan concerning the legal basis for security?

Minister:
We have already conveyed the Japanese government's basic policy on this issue to the U.S. side at a working level. If my meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is fixed, I will explain to him in person Japan's basic policy which the Prime Minister has stated. I will also give him updates on the progress made in political debates on that issue, especially those currently taking place in the ruling coalition.

Question:
I would like to go back to the topic of the exercise for defending remote islands. I suppose that the MOD is currently considering the distribution of initial response forces to be deployed for island defense. I believe that the southwestern islands including the Amami Islands are a candidate deployment location. Can you tell us when you will make a final decision on this?

Minister:
Regarding the defense for outlying islands, especially for the southwestern islands and the Sakishima Islands, we have been discussing the deployment scheme for surveillance units, for example. We have already secured a budget for the deployment and are currently deliberating specific matters. However, we have not yet made a final decision on where and which units to deploy.

(End)

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