Press Conference

Press Conference by Defense Minister Nakatani (11:20-11:52 A.M. July 12, 2016)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 11:20-11:52 A.M. July 12, 2016
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
Let me explain the situation regarding the gunfire incidents in South Sudan. Yesterday, multiple gunfire incidents occurred again in Juba. In the evening of July 11, local time, the South Sudanese government issued a presidential order to cease hostilities. In response, First Vice President Machar ordered the former anti-government force to cease hostilities. Following this, a local task force headquarters was established at 8:50 a.m., July 8, under Japanese Ambassador to South Sudan Kiya as its chief. At 9 a.m., July 9, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a liaison office under Director-General Maruyama of the African Affairs Department as its chief. At 11 p.m., July 10, an information liaison office was established at the Prime Minister's Office. Among other activities, first, on July 7, the Japanese embassy in South Sudan confirmed the safety of all 70 or so Japanese nationals staying in Juba. The embassy also contacted the SDF engineering unit deployed for the UNMISS mission and confirmed that there was nothing wrong. Since then, the embassy has contacted Japanese nationals as necessary and confirmed the safety of all of them. The SDF is constantly checking the local situation. For the moment, the safety of all personnel of the unit has been confirmed. Until the safety is ensured, the SDF engineering unit will refrain from conducting activity outside of the camp. As for the local situation, I have instructed that priority should be placed on safety and that a close watch should be kept on the situation with a sense of urgency. Some displaced people fled into the U.N. facilities, and I have received a report that the unit is conducting such activities as setting up tents and supplying food and water to support those displaced people. As for this situation, while internally displaced people have been accepted by the U.N. facilities in the Tong Ping area, there has been no particular confusion. Although nothing out of the ordinary has happened to the personnel of the SDF engineering unit, we will continue to deal with the situation with a sense of urgency from the perspective of securing the safety of Japanese nationals staying in South Sudan. In relation to this, in light of the cabinet decision made on the transfer and standby as an action to prepare for the transportation of Japanese nationals staying abroad based on Article 84-4 of the SDF Act, I ordered three C-130 aircraft to be transferred from the Komaki Air Base to the Naha Air Base. The third aircraft departed from Komaki Air Base yesterday, but due to a mechanical problem, its transfer was cancelled. I made the replacement aircraft depart from Komaki this morning for a transfer to Naha. Today, the C-130s departed from Naha. They are on their way to Djibouti. Recognizing that ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals staying in South Sudan is the top priority, we will do our utmost to enable the SDF to appropriately perform its tasks. That is all I have to say about the situation in South Sudan.
I have one more announcement to make. I will leave Japan tomorrow evening to visit India on July 14 and 15 for a meeting with Defence Minister Parrikar and return to Japan in the morning of July 16. This is part of our mutual visit arrangement. As the defense authorities of the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on defense exchange, we have been engaging in broad, multi-layered exchanges at various levels, between military services, between units, and at working levels with respect to defense equipment and technology. Moreover, Japan and India conducted a joint exercise, with the MSDF participating in Malabar. At my meeting with Minister Parrikar, I will have a candid exchange of opinions with him about the security environment surrounding the two countries and such matters of common interest as maritime security, including the situation in the South China Sea, and defense cooperation and exchange. Regarding the recent terrorism incident in Bangladesh that also involved Japanese nationals as victims, we obtained cooperation from the Indian government and permission for transportation, so I would like to exchange opinions about terrorism as well. As a result of taking into consideration the various circumstances, I have decided to shorten the overall itinerary by postponing the initially planned visit to Sri Lanka. In any case, I will visit India, a major South Asian country, from the perspective of maritime security. In India, I would like to have substantive talks in order to further develop cooperation with the country, which is located in the key point of the sea lane that links the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Indian Ocean.

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
Regarding the visit to India you mentioned earlier, could you tell me once again about the objective and what you expect to achieve? Also, tell me why the visit to Sri Lanka was postponed.

Minister:
First, as for India, we are periodically making mutual visits. Although a visit to India was recently planned a few times, it was postponed each time due to the circumstances on our side. In addition, India is a major country located around the center of the sea lane leading to the Middle East, and Japan and India share universal values, including democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In this respect, the two countries have attained cumulative results, including exchanges at various levels and joint exercises as I already mentioned. We will hold a defense ministerial meeting because we hope to deepen bilateral mutual understanding through our candid exchange of opinions. As for Sri Lanka, I have decided to shorten my overall itinerary in light of the various circumstances, so I will visit India for two days as initially planned while postponing the visit to Sri Lanka.

Question:
Regarding South Sudan, the situation in Juba has become very tense, so I suppose that if the ceasefire agreement falls through, a withdrawal will be a possibility under Japan's five principles on PKO. Please tell me whether you recognize that the current situation still satisfies the five principles on PKO and whether the SDF will be withdrawn.

Minister:
In this respect, we are comprehensively taking into consideration reports from the dispatched personnel and information obtained from the Japanese embassy and the United Nations. In the UNMISS' area of activity, we do not recognize that an armed conflict as defined under the Japanese PKO Act has occurred, or that the anti-government force constitutes a party to an armed conflict. Actually, the president, who leads the government, and the vice president, who leads the anti-government force, have ordered to cease fighting. Therefore, we do not recognize that the occurrence of clashes between the government and anti-government forces immediately means that the five principles on participation in PKO have been compromised.

Question:
Earlier, you mentioned food and water supply assistance. Until now, have displaced people and residents requested to take shelter in the SDF camp?

Minister:
I have not received a report that there are displaced people within the SDF camp. I have heard that there are displaced people in other countries' camps in the neighborhood, within the same U.N. Tong Ping area. For the displaced people staying there, the SDF is conducting such activities as setting up tents and supplying food and water.

Question:
In relation to the previous question, are you not assuming the possible withdrawal of the SDF from South Sudan?

Minister:
The ambassador is closely consulting and communicating with the representative of the UNMISS. At the moment, the situation is not such that the UNMISS as a whole will suspend activity. The UNMISS will continue to conduct operations.

Question:
Could you tell me what you have learned about what kind of fighting is taking place in Juba with what kind of weapons used at this time?

Minister:
The city has been in this state since July 7. In Juba, gunfire incidents between government and anti-government forces have been taking place sporadically. Yesterday, too, there were multiple gunfire incidents. I have received reports on such incidents. The occurrence of gunfights was confirmed as the sound of gunshots was heard. However, until now, there have been no casualties or injuries among the SDF personnel.

Question:
Although you mentioned gunshot sounds, heavy firearms and attack helicopters were used according to a statement issued by the UNMISS, and watching BBC programs, I saw a tank moving around. Are you aware of the use of such weapons?

Minister:
I have heard that there have been gunfire incidents between government and anti-government forces.

Question:
Although you are speaking of "gunfire incidents," the spokesman for the force led by the vice president described the situation as a "state of civil war." Clearly, there is a huge perception gap. Don't you think that "gunfire incidents" is the wrong phrase?

Minister:
Last night, First Vice President Machar, who leads the former anti-government force, ordered the former anti-government force to cease hostilities. Regarding this, the president is also calling for ceasefire, so this is not an all-out conflict between the two sides.

Question:
Am I correct in understanding that the country was, or is temporarily in a state of civil war?

Minister:
First Vice President Machar has ordered to cease hostilities.

Question:
Isn't it that the commanders-in-chief of both forces ordered the ceasefire because the country was in a state of civil war?

Minister:
In that sense, legally, the PKO Act refers to an armed conflict in relation to the five principles. In this respect, from what I have learned from information concerning the activities of the UNMISS and reports, this is not a situation that constitutes an armed conflict.

Question:
Isn't it inappropriate that you use the words "gunfire incidents" while the spokesman in one of the parties involved is describing the situation as a state of civil war?

Minister:
The issue is whether or not this is an armed conflict. If the commanders-in-chief and senior officers of both sides describe the situation as an armed conflict, it may be an armed conflict. However, in fact, the commander-in-chief of the former anti-government force has ordered the ceasefire, so this is not an armed conflict.

Question:
Isn't it that the commanders-in-chief of both forces are calling for the non-use of arms because this was a state of civil war?

Minister:
Actually, when that incident occurred, the president and the vice president were in the same room and were trying to issue a similar statement. In that sense, I do not recognize that this is a state of civil war.

Question:
Has it not become clear that both forces are not under control?

Minister:
As for the matter of control, acting in accordance with commands from above is the norm for military forces.

Question:
Isn't it becoming clear that they are not such modern forces?

Minister:
There are two separate forces, namely government and anti-government forces.

Question:
The U.N. general-secretary said that at the time, there was an intense gunfight around two facilities in Juba, including the Tong Ping area, with mortar fire attacks taking place intermittently, too. At that time, how was the SDF unit avoiding such attacks and stray shots? Could you tell me in more detail about where the unit was positioned with what kind of equipment?

Minister:
Of course, the commander out in the field must place the top priority on the safety of personnel, so as soon as signs of the fighting emerged, all activities outside the camp were suspended and the personnel were positioned in a safe place within the camp. At the moment, all personnel are standing by in the billet.

Question:
What is their condition? Are they wearing helmets or armored jackets in the building?

Minister:
As for their present condition, they are standing by in the billet.

Question:
Aren't they wearing such equipment?

Minister:
They are wearing those equipment.

Minister:
You said that they are confined to the camp, but I suppose that depending on the circumstances, they may need to leave the camp and conduct activity outside of it in order to transport Japanese nationals by land. If the safety cannot be secured, are you thinking of having the SDF unit refrain from leaving the camp even for the purpose of evacuating Japanese nationals?

Minister:
We will closely keep track of the situation. At the moment, the embassy is keeping in contact with Japanese nationals. In this respect, we will closely cooperate with diplomatic establishments, the United Nations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the need for evacuation arises, we will appropriately respond.

Question:
At the moment, do you think that it is possible to leave the camp and transport Japanese nationals?

Minister:
At the moment, Japanese nationals are staying within their hotels and other accommodations. Personnel of JICA are making necessary preparations to leave the country as early as possible.」

Question:
Regardless of whether it is a C-130 or chartered aircraft that can be dispatched to the airport for air transportation, are you thinking of using SDF vehicles to transport them by land as soon as an aircraft for transporting them arrives at the airport?

Minister:
The local task force headquarters was established under Ambassador Kiya. Naturally, preparations are underway for protecting and transporting Japanese nationals out of the country. In addition to the liaison office, the information liaison office was established at the Prime Minister's Office, so after waiting for a comprehensive response, the SDF will take appropriate actions accordingly.

Question:
Today, the international court in Hague will issue a ruling concerning sovereignty in the South China Sea. China has strongly protested against the litigation, saying it will refuse to accept the ruling. Is the MOD keeping alert to the possibility of China stepping up activities somewhat in the East China Sea following the issuance of the ruling? Has the MOD raised the alert level accordingly?

Minister:
This is a case filed with the International Court of Justice by the Philippines against China's activities in the South China Sea. Today, a final ruling will be issued. In this respect, as I have repeatedly mentioned, all countries should refrain from taking actions that could raise tensions. It is important to pursue a peaceful settlement based on the rule of law. The Philippines' pursuit of a peaceful settlement in an International Court of Justice based on international law using the procedures under the U.N. Convention on the Law of Sea contributes to the maintenance and development of international order based on the rule of law in this region, so Japan supports this action. The MOD is keeping a close watch on the final ruling, and the government as a whole will strengthen cooperation with relevant countries in order to thoroughly ensure the rule of law in the seas. As I have repeatedly mentioned, Japan has no plan to constantly engage in surveillance activity in the South China Sea. As for our response to this case, we will take actions with the main focus on the SDF's primary task, defending Japan's territorial seas, land and airspace and protecting the country's sovereignty.

Question:
Following the ruling, do you think that it is possible that China will step up activities in the East China Sea? Tell me whether the SDF has raised the alert level accordingly.

Minister:
In the East China Sea, we are constantly conducting necessary surveillance activity. As for activities by China, we will keep a close watch and appropriately gather and analyze information. Following the ruling, we will carefully observe the situation and activities.

Question:
Let me ask you about the Northern Training Area in Okinawa. Yesterday, staffs of the Defense Bureau delivered equipment and materials through the entrance gate of the Northern Training Area. Regarding this delivery of equipment and materials, which took place early in the morning after the election in which a candidate supported by the government and the ruling parties was defeated, the prefecture's governor commented that the action undermines the relationship of trust. Could you explain why this action was taken at this time?

Minister:
Regarding the Northern Training Area, it is 20 years since the SACO Agreement in 1996. Moreover, as 4,000 hectares out of the 7,500 hectares of land in the area is scheduled to be returned, this will lead to a significant reduction of U.S. bases. The local communities, Higashi and Kunigami Villages, are requesting an early return in order to make effective use of the site. While preparations for the construction work are now ongoing, obstacles left on the road are obstructing the entry into the area for the purpose of delivering equipment and materials for the construction work. In this respect, we have repeatedly requested improvement of the situation. In particular, vehicles and objects have been illegally left around the point of access to the area on the prefectural road by people opposing the construction of helipads. In this way, access to the U.S. Northern Training Area has been obstructed for a long period of time. Therefore, since 2015, the MOD has made requests to Okinawa's governor, who is responsible for managing the prefectural road. The Director-General of the Defense Bureau met with the governor five times and I met with him four times to make requests. In addition, as a procedure based on the Administrative Procedure Act, we requested twice that the situation be rectified. As for communications with the local communities, we have engaged in conscientious communication and have increased the frequency of communication.

Question:
While you mentioned conscientious communication, the prefecture has also issued an instruction for the removal of the obstacles. Why was this action taken immediately after the election without a particular notice to the prefecture?

Minister:
As for the delivery of equipment and materials, we were making preparations. As the preparations were completed, this started on July 11. We have repeatedly requested the prefecture to remove the obstacles at an early time, and we were making preparations. As the preparations were completed, we implemented the delivery.

Question:
What are your thoughts on local people's understanding in relation to the operation of bases? This time, no particular notice was made to the prefecture. Were local communities such as Kunigami and Higashi Villages notified?

Minister:
I visited Okinawa in person and talked with the mayors of Higashi and Kunigami Villages and representatives of local residents. The representatives of local residents also requested an early return. In any case, we must make quick progress toward the return of the training area, so we implemented the delivery.

Question:
You mentioned "quick progress." Following this delivery of equipment and materials, when and after what procedures are taken can the construction start?

Minister:
As for the procedures for starting the construction, we need to mitigate the impact on Okinawa, so we must proceed with this work so that most of the Northern Training Area can be returned as soon as possible. Therefore, we would like to start the relocation work as soon as the necessary preparations have been completed.

Question:
Could you give me a particular timeframe?

Minister:
Before starting the construction, various procedures and preparations related to equipment and materials must be completed, so we will start the relocation work after the completion of such preparations.

Question:
In relation to the previous question, an email notice of recommendation was issued yesterday, in connection with the construction of helipads, from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism under the Road Traffic Act to Okinawa Prefecture based on the Local Autonomy Act. I assume that this was issued upon the MOD's request. May I take it that the construction will start after the reply to this?

Minister:
Regarding this, we issued a recommendation. On the prefectural road, which provides the point of access to the Northern Training Area, objects and vehicles have remained left by people opposing the relocation work for a long period of time, significantly obstructing traffic. In addition, as the relocation work has been impeded, we have made repeated requests to the prefecture, but the situation has not been improved. Therefore, on June 13, the MOD requested the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism whom responsible for the Road Traffic Act Okinawa Prefecture, which is responsible for managing the road, to take appropriate measures. I understand that in consideration of this, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism issued the recommendation to Okinawa Prefecture on July 11 based on the provision of Article 245-4 of the Local Autonomy Act. The MOD would like Okinawa as the manager of the prefectural road to immediately take effective measures in light of the purpose of this recommendation. Moreover, as leaving objects around the point of access to the Northern Training Area is illegal, we request that such action be refrained from.

Question:
I understand that a document based on the Ordinance for Prevention of Red Clay Outflow has been issued to the environmental division. Will the construction start after the reply to that?

Minister:
A document?

Question:
I understand that a document based on Okinawa Prefecture's environmental Ordinance for Prevention of Red Clay Outflow has been issued.

Minister:
On that point, I will make judgment in the future in light of the timing of the start of the construction, among other factors.

Question:
Why have you started preparations for the construction before receiving a reply to a document like this?

Minister:
In order to ensure appropriate execution, the Government considered various legal aspects and issued the recommendation to Okinawa Prefecture as a result.

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