Press Conference

Press Conference by Defense Minister Nakatani (11:17-11:35 A.M. July 29, 2016)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 11:17-11:35 A.M. July 29, 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
 At today's cabinet meeting, a draft Cabinet Order for Partial Amendments of the Order for the Enforcement of the Self-Defense Forces Law was determined by the Cabinet. This specifies cases where the number of days from the date of the issuance of a call-up order for SDF Reserve Personnel and Ready Reserve Personnel to the date of their appearance for service may be reduced in order to ensure smooth performance of the SDF's tasks.
 When responding to the earthquakes in Kumamoto in this April, we called up SDF Ready Reserve Personnel. At that time, the date of the appearance for service by SDF Ready Reserve Personnel who were called up was five days or more from the date of the issuance of the call-up order under the current Cabinet Order for the Enforcement of the SDF Law. On the other hand, a fairly large number of SDF Ready Reserve Personnel presented themselves for service before the designated date of appearance for service. Under the current provision, SDF Reserve Personnel and Ready Reserve Personnel who appear before the designated date of appearance for service cannot work as SDF personnel until the designated date. Therefore, the Cabinet Order for the Enforcement of the SDF Law was amended so that on the premise of no objection from SDF Reserve Personnel and Ready Reserve Personnel responding to the call-up, they can start working as SDF personnel earlier. At the time of the earthquakes in Kumamoto, 165 such personnel were called up, 45 of whom presented themselves for service earlier than the designated date.

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
I hear that the Okinawa Defense Bureau, which is proceeding with the construction of helipads in the U.S. Forces' Northern Training Area, started felling trees without holding the necessary preliminary consultations with the Forestry Agency. Could you explain the facts?

Minister:
I am aware of the media report about that. Before implementing the relocation of helipads, the Director-General of the Okinawa Defense Bureau applied with the head of the Okinawa District Forest Office to use a government-owned forest area around an exit/entry point from Route F that is located on the other side from a point along Prefectural Road No. 70 in the N-1 zone, as a road for construction and obtained approval. When removing trees in that area, it is necessary to obtain approval from the head of the Okinawa District Forest Office. However, until now, there has been no need to fell trees at the exit point from Route F, so approval from the head of the Okinawa District Forest Office has not been sought.

Question:
There has also been a media report that the Okinawa Defense Bureau admitted that there is no legal basis for the removal of tents set up by people opposing the construction. What is the MOD's response to that?

Minister:
The tents that you mentioned were left in the road area without permission, so Okinawa Prefecture, which is responsible for managing the road, indicated the recognition that this was in violation of the Road Act. As the owners were unknown, the Defense Bureau attached warning notices to the tents demanding their removal. However, they were not removed, nor did anybody claim ownership. Therefore, we judged that the owner waived the proprietary rights, and the Okinawa Defense Bureau, as the entity that is responsible for appropriately managing areas provided to the U.S. Forces and as the implementer of the relocation of helipads, removed the tents from the perspective of ensuring steady progress in the construction and safety at the entry-exit point used for construction work. The tents removed by the Okinawa Defense Bureau are being kept at the Bureau's Nago Defense Office. If their owners appear there, they will be returned on the spot. A notice to that effect has also been posted at the place where the tents and others had been left. Some of the tents were handed to people who claimed ownership at the Nago Defense Office on July 25. In this case, we took a necessary measure based on the provision of Article 4, item 19 of the Act for the Establishment of the Ministry of Defense in order to implement the relocation of helipads and manage facilities and areas provided to the U.S. Forces.

Question:
You said that the removal was intended to ensure safety and steady progress. Is the legal basis for that the law that you mentioned just now?

Minister:
That is correct.

Question:
Regarding the matter concerning the call-up of SDF Reserve Personnel and Ready Reserve Personnel that was announced at the beginning, am I correct in understanding that the MOD can now call up such personnel for immediate appearance for service in the event of an earthquake or others although there was previously a period of at least five days before they could be ordered to present themselves for service? Is the purpose of the amendment of the Cabinet Order enabling personnel presenting themselves early to start working immediately, rather than making it possible for the MOD to call personnel up for immediate appearance for service?

Minister:
It is intended to enable SDF Reserve Personnel and Ready Reserve Personnel responding to a call-up order to start working as SDF personnel earlier on the premise of no objection from them. Indeed, after the earthquakes, some SDF Reserve Personnel and Ready Reserve Personnel presented themselves for service and expressed their wish to start working early. They were not allowed to work until after five days under the provision of the law, even though they arrived earlier. This is a measure intended to reduce the number of days until they can start working.

Question:
If so, I assume that more SDF personnel will be able to conduct activity at the time of an earthquake. How does the MOD intend to respond to earthquakes in the future?

Minister:
The period immediately after the occurrence of an earthquake is when relief activity is most necessary, so we must make it possible for as many personnel as possible to conduct activity when the dispatch of personnel and relief activity are requested by local governments. What is necessary immediately after the occurrence of an earthquake is to take decisive actions on the largest possible scale as soon as possible. To do so, it is necessary to make it possible for SDF Reserve Personnel and Ready Reserve Personnel to start working early.

Question:
I have questions concerning the matter related to Takae that was mentioned earlier. You said that an application for approval was filed with the Forest Agency and that approval was obtained. One question is when the approval was obtained. Also, what would you say to the argument that there is not any legal basis for the installation of wire mesh fences intended to prevent obstruction activity by people opposing the construction?

Minister:
First, the application was filed with the Forest Agency on July 11 and approval was obtained on July 14. Trees remain unfelled, so there has been no particular need to obtain approval from the head of the Office in this respect. Therefore, we are using an area of land in a government-owned forest. Regarding the installation of wire mesh fences, we need to follow procedures based on the Road Act, so we are making arrangements with Okinawa Prefecture about the procedures.

Question:
Did you install the fences without checking on the legal basis?

Minister:
Although we were assuming that it was possible to do that within the scope of the Road Traffic Act, Okinawa Prefecture raised an issue, so we are now making arrangements with Okinawa Prefecture about the legal procedures.

Question:
Was your initial recognition of the situation inadequate?

Minister:
We were assuming that it was possible to install the fences within the scope of the Road Traffic Act.

Question:
Is it that your recognition was wrong?

Minister:
As the issue was raised, we are now following the procedures accordingly.

Question:
Regarding the recent RIMPAC exercise, the MSDF sent a letter of invitation for a reception event to China, but the Chinese side did not attend the event. On the other hand, in the United States, there has been a media report that when China sent out invitations for a reception event to various countries, Japan MSDF alone was not invited. Could you share your comments on that?

Minister:
Regarding RIMPAC, I understand that China participated in the exercise in response to the invitation. My understanding is that U.S. and Chinese vessels sailed together to the area of RIMPAC and the Chinese side participated in the scheduled training and events.

Question:
When Japan invited China to its reception event, China skipped the event, while China did not invite Japan to its reception event. In short, Japan alone excluded China, according to the U.S. media report. Is that a fact?

Minister:
Which event are you referring to? To which event did Japan invite China?

Question:
I am talking about an exchange event between vessels.

Minister:
I have not yet received a report about that. While my understanding is that China joined the RIMPAC exercise, I will check on this matter once again, including whether or not there was such an event in relation to the exercise.

Question:
Yesterday, China announced that it will conduct a joint military exercise with Russia in the South China Sea in September. Could you tell me about the MOD's response and stance on that?

Minister:
I am aware that China and Russia already conducted an exercise in the same sea area in the past, and I am also aware of the media reports about the exercise scheduled for September this year. Yesterday, a spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of National Defense announced that the Chinese and Russian Navies will conduct the Joint Sea-2016 joint military exercise in the maritime area and airspace in the South China Sea. Such an exercise has been conducted every year since 2012, so it was already pointed out that it would be conducted in the South China Sea in 2016. The MOD is not in a position to comment on specific multilateral exercises, including on the intentions of the Chinese-Russian joint military exercise. But I understand that the spokesperson of the Ministry of National Defense said that this joint military exercise is a routine training that does not target any third party. As an activity in this region is a matter of concern for the international community that may directly affect the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region, Japan believes that it is important for countries to refrain from taking unilateral actions that could raise tensions and to pursue the peaceful resolution of disputes based on the rule of law. We will continue to keep a careful watch on the situation in the South China Sea, including how cooperation between the Chinese and Russian forces will develop.

Question:
I presume that at today's informal meeting of cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister referred to a plan to implement a cabinet reshuffle on August 3. Could you tell me about the explanations provided about the purpose of the reshuffle?

Minister:
As cabinet ministers are supposed to refrain from commenting individually on the contents of cabinet meetings, I expect the Chief Cabinet Secretary to talk about this.

Question:
This is about an informal meeting of cabinet ministers.

Minister:
It is a rule that cabinet ministers refrain from making comments individually, including on the contents of their informal meetings. I refrain from making comments, including on whether or not such a reference was made.

Question:
I would like to ask you about the PKO activity in South Sudan. When the security situation deteriorated, you said that you would consider land transportation of Japanese nationals staying there by the SDF. While the UNMISS headquarters ordered units deployed by countries to refrain from conducting activity outside their camps, it was revealed at the Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga's Press Conference yesterday that there had been a gunfire attack on a JICA vehicle on July 8. What I would like to know is this. While I suppose that your understanding has been that the five principles concerning participation in PKOs remain uncompromised, as the MOD, do you think that efforts to provide information concerning the situation in South Sudan have been sufficient in order to dispel the personnel families' concerns?

Minister:
We are receiving detailed reports on the situation in South Sudan, which is calm for the moment. In addition, as the SDF is taking actions within the framework of the United Nations, its activities are being conducted under the control of the United Nations, so the SDF is following instructions from the United Nations when taking actions. Regarding the situation, we are comprehensively taking into consideration information obtained from the SDF unit there, the United Nations, the embassy and various countries. We do not believe that an armed conflict as defined under Japan's PKO Act has occurred in the UNMISS' area of activity or that the anti-government force constitutes a party involved in a conflict. Therefore, we do not believe that the occurrence of clashes between the government and anti-government forces has compromised the five principles concerning participation in the PKO. I understand that both President Kiir and First Vice President Machar ordered to cease hostile action in the evening of July 11. As for the current situation in the country, there is now no clash. Activities will be conducted while we keep a careful watch on the situation there.

Question:
Am I correct in understanding that families of personnel of the Seventh Division sufficiently understand the safety situation there?

Minister:
It is possible to place phone calls from there to families. In addition, relevant personnel of the Seventh Division dispatched there are explaining the local situation to families. There are appropriate arrangements for communications between the personnel dispatched there and their families.

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