Press Conference

Press Conference by the Defense Minister Onodera(09:45-09:58 A.M. May 23, 2014)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 09:45-09:58 A.M. May 23, 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:
I will ask you a question about the Yokohama District Court’s ruling on a lawsuit concerning noise pollution generated at Atsugi Air Base. Regarding this case, you issued a comment to the effect, “The MOD cannot accept part of the ruling, and we will respond appropriately.” What is your response plan, and have you decided on whether or not to appeal?

Minister:
In said ruling, an injunction on flights by the Self-Defense Forces was partially approved. And the central government was ordered to pay about 7 billion yen to 7,000 or so plaintiffs for past damages on the basis that noise levels generated by SDF aircraft in the areas around Atsugi Air Base have exceeded acceptable limits and thus are illegal. Right after I was appointed as the Defense Minister, I visited the residential areas around Atsugi Air Base in January 2013 and had a meeting with the mayors of Yamato City and Yanase City. I also inspected residential soundproofing construction work and held a meeting with local residents. In any case, we will work even harder to improve the living conditions in the areas concerned.
My reaction was that the court handed down a very strict ruling as it rejected the central government’s claim against the cessation of flights and compensation for damages. The MOD and SDF have been carrying out operational flights and training flights in order to protect the lives of the Japanese people and Japan’s security through the deployment of aircraft at Atsugi Air Base such as the P3-C aircraft, which is used for surveillance over sea areas surrounding Japan, and the US-2 aircraft, which is used for maritime search and rescue operations and emergency transport of patients. In this view, the court’s decision to partially suspend flights by the SDF is difficult for us to accept. Therefore, we will properly respond after carefully examining the verdict and holding thorough discussions with relevant organizations.

Question:
You stated that you cannot accept a part of the ruling. If that is the case, is there a chance for the central government not to appeal?

Minister:
Please accept that statement as my personal view.

Question:
Can I assume that you are planning to appeal the ruling?

Minister:
Since we cannot accept a part of the ruling, we will properly respond after discussing this matter with relevant organizations.

Question:
Do you think that the court order to cease flights would be applicable during wartime? Will the ruling remain in effect irrespective of wartime and peacetime?

Minister:
Since this trial has not yet been concluded, I will refrain from answering hypothetical questions.

Question:
The Thai military has declared a coup. I suppose that the MOD and SDF interact with Thailand, so I wonder what will happen to the MOD’s relations with Thailand.

Minister:
The MOD has long military relations with the Royal Thai Armed Forces. Also, many Thai military officers who received training at the National Defense Academy of Japan have become generals and admirals in Thailand. In this view, Japan and Thailand have a very close relationship. Although the current crisis concerns the Thai government, I hope that a stable government will be restored through talks. Historically, coups like this one have broken out in Thailand several times, and they often led to the development of a democratic regime. This time, too, it is vital for Thailand to reestablish a reliable government as soon as possible through a democratic process. As far as military and security relations between Japan and Thailand are concerned, I expect that the positive relations will continue toward the future.

Question:
I assume that many Japanese nationals are staying in Thailand. Aren’t there any signs so far indicating that those Japanese people may be exposed to imminent danger?

Minister:
We have not come across information indicative of such situation. In any case, we will continue to gather information concerning Japanese nationals in Thailand in close coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Question:
Some of the U.S. forces’ reconnaissance drones are currently deployed at Misawa Air Base. A press report indicated that there is a plan to deploy a reconnaissance drone unit at the base in the future. Could you confirm the facts on that? Also, regarding the already decided plan to acquire reconnaissance drones, could you tell us the rationale for the acquisition?

Minister:
The U.S. forces reconnaissance drone Global Hawk has not yet been deployed at Misawa Air Base. At this moment, we are striving to gain the approval of the local governments concerning the deployment. We have also set aside an amount from this fiscal year’s defense budget to carry out a study in preparation to acquire reconnaissance drones in fiscal 2015. We have not decided which specific type of reconnaissance drone to acquire, however. This acquisition is necessary in order to develop a system for continuous surveillance which can cover not only the sea areas we conventionally monitor such as the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea but also broader sea areas including the Pacific Ocean. For this reason, we are planning to acquire reconnaissance drones as essential equipment for strengthening our surveillance capability. We have not yet made a decision on specific locations and when to deploy them.

Question:
In addition to reconnaissance drones, are you also considering acquiring attack drones, which are currently used by the U.S. forces?

Minister:
As I said earlier, Japan is planning to acquire reconnaissance drones for the purpose of surveillance. We are not considering acquiring attack drones.

Question:
I will ask you a question related to the relocation of Futenma Air Station. In order to proceed with relocation-related construction, the Okinawa Defense Bureau has applied for permission to use the Henoko fishing port as an open storage yard for construction materials. However, the Nago mayor has not approved the application. If the permission is not granted, I suppose that the planned construction might be delayed. Are you considering any backup plans such as setting up a construction yard in a different place?

Minister:
We are currently consulting on this issue with the Nago municipal government. Since the municipal government sent us a request to correct the document the Okinawa Defense Bureau submitted, we are currently discussing our response. The discussion in the ministry is still underway, and we are not at present considering an alternative construction plan on the assumption that our application will be rejected.

Question:
I would like to go back to the topic concerning Thailand. You told us earlier that positive military relations between Japan and Thailand will remain in the future. However, the United States is reportedly considering temporally freezing military support to Thailand. Is there a chance for Japan to also suspend defense exchange with Thailand even if it is temporary?

Minister:
We are not considering it at present.

Question:
I would like to go back to the topic related to Atsugi Air Base. Although the court ruled to restrict flights by SDF aircraft, the actual source of noise pollution is primarily the U.S. forces aircraft. I expect that this trial will continue, but given the current noise situation, what measures are you considering taking to deal with the noise pollution caused by the U.S. forces aircraft?

Minister:
When I inspected Atsugi Air Base last month, I saw many U.S. forces’ carrier-based aircraft stationed there. I also saw those aircraft taking off and landing. Based on these observations, I understand that the local residents have been complaining about not only the MSDF’s P-3C and US-2 aircraft but also the U.S. forces’ carrier-based aircraft as sources of noise affecting their living conditions. We have already decided to relocate the base for those carrier-based aircraft to Iwakuni after having acquired permission from the city as well as from the residents in and around the city. We are planning to begin construction for the relocation. I believe that the early relocation is a significant step toward improving the living conditions around Atsugi Air Base.

Question:
I assume that the timetable for relocation to Iwakuni has already been set. However, the local community around Atsugi Air Base is still worrying that the current situation may not change after all even after the relocation. This is due to the fact that a U.S. forces carrier is stationed in Yokosuka and that NIPPI Corporation in Atsugi services aircraft for the U.S. Navy. Are they real concerns?

Minister:
This relocation was meant to reduce the noise pollution around Atsugi Air Base. We will continue discussion with the U.S. side to improve this issue as much as possible. However, since the operations of the U.S. forces influence this issue, I will refrain from making specific comments.

Question:
I would like to go back to the subject concerning the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). You stated earlier that you have not decided which type of UAV to acquire. Are more than one type of UAV being considered as candidates for acquisition?

Minister:
I believe that each staff office is in the process of choosing the model. So please ask that question in their press conferences.

Question:
In regard to the lawsuit concerning Atsugi Air Base, you stated that the ruling is difficult to accept. However, if the ruling is settled, what will happen to the operations of the SDF’s P3-C and US-2 aircraft?

Minister:
We carry out surveillance 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In addition, we need to maintain our readiness for rescue operations and emergency transport of patients at all times. In order for us to quickly respond to emergency situations even in late evening, constant training on a daily basis is essential. I sincerely hope that the local residents will once again consider the fact that the SDF is committed to protecting Japan and the lives of Japanese people. I will work hard to communicate that message.

(End)

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