Press Conference

Extra Press Conference by the Defense Minister Onodera(01:46-01:56 P.M. MAY 31, 2014 (Japan time))

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 01:46-01:56 P.M. MAY 31, 2014 (Japan time)
Place: 4th floor of the Shangri-La Hotel
(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 just finished the trilateral meeting with the United States and South Korea. Could you briefly tell us what was discussed in the meeting?

Minister:
The three countries agreed that it is vital to work in close coordination to maintain stability in East Asia and to deal with issues associated with North Korea.

Question:
I presume that you touched on North Korea’s abduction case at the Japan-U.S.-Australia trilateral meeting yesterday. Which aspects of North Korean issues did you talk about today?

Minister:
I gave an explanation on the current status of progress in dealing with the abduction issue between Japan and North Korea. However, our policy has been to seek full resolution to all issues concerning abduction, nuclear weapons, and missiles. It is critical for Japan, the U.S. and South Korea to work together toward that goal.

Question:
I suppose that trilateral information sharing is another topic that was discussed at today’s meeting. How did that discussion advance?

Minister:
The three countries reached a general agreement on information sharing. However, as many political talks are making slow progress, the fact is that discussion on this issue has also been suspended. I believe that the U.S. and South Korea both agree with Japan that information sharing among these countries is vital, and that it is especially important to conclude the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). In order to advance this issue as fast as possible, we agreed to set up a working group or similar.

Question:
In the speech you made at the plenary session before the trilateral meeting, you reconfirmed Japan’s stance not to tolerate any attempts to change the status quo by force, in addition to supporting military-to-military cooperation. What was your intention behind the speech, and how was the reaction of the audience to that speech?

Minister:
Prime Minister Abe also made a similar statement in his speech to the effect saying that any attempts to change the status quo by force are unacceptable and issues ought to be resolved through rule of law and dialogue. My impression was that the audience was at large very welcoming of our presentations. Although I seem to remember that this forum last year was sort of dominated by the debate between Japan and China, this year, not only Japan but also all of the ASEAN nations are showing strong interest in the recent security environment. And Japan’s neighboring countries as well as the U.S. are becoming more proactive about dealing with this issue. I thought that U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel also made a very powerful speech today.

Question:
At the Japan-U.S.-South Korea trilateral meeting, did you bring up the current situation in the East China Sea? If so, what were the responses from the U.S. and South Korea?

Minister:
I presented issues related to the security environment such as the incidents in which Chinese military aircraft flew very closely to the SDF aircraft and the recent situation involving North Korea. In response, the U.S. and South Korean sides shared their opinions on those issues. Their views were basically consistent with ours. I will refrain from mentioning further details of the discussion in consideration of the U.S. and South Korean sides.

Question:
Did the three countries agree on the view that any one-sided and forceful attempts to change the status quo are unacceptable?

Minister:
There was no indication of the two countries disagreeing on this view. In any case, we must stand against any attempts, irrespective of by which country, to unilaterally change the status quo by force.

Question:
When you mentioned a working group earlier, did you mean that the three countries agreed to set up a trilateral working group in order to properly share military information?

Minister:
That is correct. All three parties agreed on this approach. When political talks do not effectively lead to decisions, for example, in dealing with threats from North Korea, trilateral defense cooperation is critical. I believe that the three parties shared the common perception that political issues and military issues need to be dealt with separately from the view that prompt actions are required for each country to protect its people.

Question:
At the opening speech concerning the right to collective self-defense, the following points were made to address the frequently asked questions on this issue: the right is necessary for the SDF to carry out minesweeping operations along sea lines, and for the SDF engaging in the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations to use arms to rescue PKO forces from other countries under attack. At the trilateral meeting, how did you explain this issue?

Minister:
I understand that the Japanese government’s policy to approve the right to collective self-defense is provoking concerns in South Korea. So I explained the underlying rule of the right, which states that the SDF will never enter another country unless a proper permit is obtained from that country. I also ensured that Japan will continue to observe a defense-only policy even though it is upgrading its defense equipment.

Question:
What was the reaction of the South Korean side to your explanation?

Minister:
They appeared to be convinced.

Question:
I have two questions. Have the three countries agreed on some kind of approach to missile defense against North Korea? Also, in view of the fact that China is aggressively advancing into the ocean, what kind of discussion was held among the three countries, and was there any agreement reached on that issue?

Minister:
I believe that a briefing of the meeting will be issued later. So please refer to it as related to your questions.
(Private Secretary to the Minister of Defense) Since the discussion was mostly focused on setting up a working group, the issues raised by the questioner were not discussed in this meeting. The three parties instead agreed today that they will discuss those issues in the upcoming meetings.

Minister:
We agreed to promote further cooperation and information sharing in the future meetings.

Question:
Before the trilateral meeting, I saw you and Secretary Hagel having a brief conversation in front of national flags in a hallway. If you don’t mind, could you tell us what you two talked about?

Minister:
It was a casual conversation regarding personal matters.

Question:
Was it about the ferry?

Minister:
Secretary Hagel and I are personally close, and we were just chatting. I also talked with South Korea’s Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin about the recent ferry accident. I conveyed to him that many Japanese people are expressing their sincerest sympathy and condolences for those affected by the accident. I also told him that it was really painful to watch many high school students being killed as I myself am the parent of a high school student.

Question:
Did you also have an informal talk with Minister Kim before the trilateral meeting?

Minister:
Yes, indeed I did. I talked with him in person in the conference room. I also had an informal talk with him just before the meeting until the conference room was ready.

Question:
What did you talk with him about then?

Minister:
As I said, I conveyed the sympathy and condolences expressed by the Japanese people for those affected by the ferry accident. Then, since we still had some time available before the meeting, I told him about Japan’s security issues and discussions being carried out in Japan at present.

Question:
Did the discussions you told him about in person also include the discussion concerning the right to collective self-defense?

Minister:
That is right. I explained to him about ongoing debates in Japan. Also, since progress was recently made with the abduction issue involving North Korea, I gave him an update on that.

Question:
I have a question related to military information sharing. I assume that there are many kinds of military information to be shared between Japan and South Korea such as that concerning Aegis ships. What is the specific aspect of military information sharing you are hoping to improve? You stated earlier that a framework such as a working group is necessary given the current cold political relations between the two countries.

Minister:
We think that it is vital for Japan and South Korea to conclude the GSOMIA given that the agreement was very close to being reached at one time. Since the political environment between the two countries is not properly aligned to advance this issue, it is extremely important to set up an alternative framework which will allow continued bilateral talks.

Question:
I would like to check if I correctly understood what you stated earlier: at the trilateral meeting, did you explain the updates on the discussion being held between the Japanese and North Korean governments concerning the abduction issue?

Minister:
Since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in charge of this issue, we did not carry out in-depth discussion on that issue. Nevertheless, we in fact discussed it in a trilateral framework the other day. In addition, in line with our fundamental stance concerning North Korea, I explained that Japan is aiming to resolve issues pertaining to abduction, nuclear weapons and missiles in a comprehensive manner.

Question:
Did Minister Kim express any response to your explanation?

Minister:
I believe that South Korea and Japan share a consistent policy concerning North Korea.

Question:
Can I assume that both South Korea and the U.S. approved Japan’s policy concerning North Korea?

Minister:
Again, the way I explained to those two parties is that Japan has been seeking a full resolution to issues concerning North Korea in terms of abduction, nuclear weapons, and missiles. Not just the abduction issue.

(End)

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