Press Conferences

Press Conference by Defense Minister Onodera (09:36-10:00 A.M. November 24, 2017)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 09:36-10:00 A.M. November 24, 2017
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:
Concerning the U.S. government's re-designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, North Korea issued a foreign ministry statement in the evening of the day before yesterday saying that this is a serious provocation and that the country must by all means settle all accounts with the United States. What is your assessment of the possibility that North Korea will resort to a further act of provocation as it is showing a reaction like this? What is the MOD's status of surveillance?

Minister:
Regarding North Korea's statement that was mentioned just now, I would like to refrain from predicting North Korea's future activities. However, North Korea has not changed the stance of continuing nuclear and missile development activities in defiance of the international community's intentions that have been made clear by the U.S. Security Council resolutions, as shown by its latest statement, which insisted that as long as the United States continues activities hostile to North Korea, North Korea's deterrence capability will be further enhanced. It is possible that North Korea will conduct further acts of provocation and implement various tests. The MOD/SDF will seek to make North Korea change its policy by increasing the pressure on the country to the maximum level through all means while closely cooperating with the United States. At the same time, the MOD/SDF will devote full-fledged efforts to gathering and analyzing information and conducting surveillance as necessary in order to ensure the peace and security of Japan.

Question:
This week, November 21, a briefing on the construction of a space surveillance radar facility was held for residents in Sanyo Onoda City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, where it will be constructed. I hear that residents expressed concerns over the risk that the location will become an attack target. Could you explain the purpose and significance of the space surveillance radar facility and tell me how you will address residents' concerns?

Minister:
At the moment, the MOD is conducting a study with a view to installing in Sanyo Onoda City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, a radar facility intended to keep surveillance over space debris that may pose a threat to Japanese artificial satellites, and the briefing for local residents was held on November 21. The location that we have in mind now is the site of the MSDF's former Sanyo signal receiving station, which is owned by the SDF. I understand that opinions like the one you mentioned were expressed at the briefing. However, as this radar facility is intended to do no more than keep surveillance over space debris, we do not believe that it will pose a military threat to other countries. In any case, we will continue to provide conscientious explanations concerning the installation to the local residents so that we can obtain their full understanding.

Question:
In relation to the accident involving the C-2 transportation aircraft of the U.S. Forces on November 22, you were initially informed that an engine problem is the cause. What up-to-date information have you received since then? Have you requested the U.S. side to ensure safe flight?

Minister:
Around 2:45 p.m. on November 22, a C-2 of the U.S. Navy that was engaging in routine air transportation of the crew and cargo from the U.S. Marine Corp.'s Iwakuni Air Base to the U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan crashed in the high seas around 75 miles, or 140 kilometers, northwest of Okinotori Island. Later, as a result of the search and rescue activity conducted by ships and aircraft of the U.S. Navy and the MSDF, eight of the 11 crew members were rescued by the U.S. Navy. However, the search for the remaining three crew members is ongoing, so I sincerely hope that the remaining three crew members will be rescued as soon as possible. As of now, we have not been informed that the three crew members have been rescued. The U.S. side is investigating the cause of the accident. As it is necessary to give due consideration to the concerns of the residents around the base, the MOD immediately requested the U.S. side to provide information, identify the cause, prevent the recurrence of similar accidents and give maximum consideration to safety. In any case, we will take appropriate actions such as continuing to gather information and providing new information to relevant local governments as soon as it is obtained.

Question:
Changing the subject, concerning Mitsubishi Cable Industries' delivery of products that do not meet the standard to the MOD, which equipment is using the products and how will this affect your operation?

Minister:
Mitsubishi Cable Industries reported to the MOD that some rubber products used in aircrafts' hydraulic systems do not meet the values required by the specifications. It is very regrettable that Mitsubishi Cable Industries was engaging in this inappropriate practice, so we urged the company to immediately examine the detailed facts, including the impact on defense equipment, identify the cause and develop recurrence prevention measures. The MOD will investigate and check what impact this inappropriate practice may have on defense equipment while obtaining the company's cooperation. So far, it has been found that the products that do not meet the requirements are being used as rubber seals that prevent oil leakage in engines of aircrafts and vessels. At the moment, we are conducting investigation regarding the specific equipment affected by this by continuing to ask for information from Mitsubishi Cable Industries, among other means. As soon as the investigation results have been obtained, we will inform you. Regarding the equipment which is now known to be using the products, the company reported to us that there will not be immediate operational impact. The MOD believes that it is unnecessary to immediately suspend the operation because problems regarding SDF units' operation have not been confirmed. In any case, we will continue to request information from the company.

Question:
I have a question related to the deployment of the Osprey at Saga Airport. Please tell me what will be done if the delivery of the Osprey in 2019 is determined before the prospect for the deployment at Saga Airport becomes clear? Where in Japan will the aircraft be deployed as a provisional measure? How long will it be kept in the United States?

Minister:
The GSDF's deployment of the V-22 Osprey is now at the planning stage, and the plan may be changed. However, the aircraft will be transported to Japan one by one starting around the autumn of 2018. As the construction of the facility is expected to take some time, it is true that it is very difficult to complete the construction in time for the arrival of V-22 Osprey in Japan even if it starts now. Concerning what provisional measure should be taken until the construction of the facility is completed, the MOD is studying various options. The specifics have not yet been determined.

Question:
In relation to Russia, before the Japan-Russia foreign ministerial meeting today Japan Time, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement. The statement expressed its opposition to the introduction of a new interceptor missile being considered by Japan on the ground that the deployment of U.S. missile defense systems in the Asia-Pacific region is creating risks. Will this somehow affect the Japanese government's plan to introduce a new interceptor missile?

Minister:
I am aware of the media report about that. The BMD system that Japan is planning to introduce is a purely defensive system necessary for protecting the Japanese people's lives and property against ballistic missiles at a time when North Korea is developing nuclear weapons and missiles, and it does not pose a threat to neighboring countries, including Russia. Japan has already explained this position to Russia. As North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile development is posing the most serious and immediate threat ever, the MOD/SDF will make every possible effort in terms of technology, including the introduction of a new BMD asset, in order to protect the people's lives and peaceful living. Concerning this position, at the recent defense ministerial meeting held in the Philippines, I explained to Russian Defense Minister Shoygu that the new BMD asset is necessary for Japan's self-defense and, the most importantly, that Japan is hoping for Russia's cooperation in dealing with North Korea because Japan will have no need to possess equipment like this if the North Korean threat disappears.

Question:
Did the Russian side make any comment regarding missiles on that occasion?

Minister:
He listened to me silently. For my part, I once again conveyed Japan's request for Russia's cooperation regarding North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles, as Japan is introducing this equipment because North Korean ballistic missiles are posing a threat to us.

Question:
Did you provide those explanations at the plenary session of the defense ministerial meeting?

Minister:
I provided the explanations at the bilateral meeting with Russia.

Question:
Did you just stand talking with him?

Minister:
We stood talking at one time and sat down to talk at another time.

Question:
Returning to the Osprey issue, I assume that the plan to deploy the aircraft at Saga Airport has become stuck due to persistent opposition from the fishery association. Could you tell me about the status of progress and the status of the study on an alternative plan?

Minister:
We would still like to deploy the aircraft at Saga Airport from the viewpoint of operational integration with the amphibious rapid deployment brigade to be established in Sasebo City, Nagasaki Prefecture. The draft of the review of points of debate that was announced by Saga Prefecture in May and a resolution adopted by the Saga prefectural assembly in June call for the government, including the MOD, to pledge to implement security measures and compensatory measures in order to build trust with fishermen and new measures to revive the Ariake Sea and promote the fishery industry. The MOD is taking very seriously the point that it is necessary to build trust with fishermen, so we are studying measures that may be taken in cooperation with Saga Prefecture. In any case, we will continue to provide conscientious explanations so that we can obtain understanding and cooperation from fishermen in the Ariake Sea and other people in Saga Prefecture.

Question:
I understand that Japan and the United Kingdom are conducting joint research on a missile. A media report has said that this will lead to co-development. On this point, do you have a plan for co-development? Please tell me about the current status of your study.

Minister:
At the moment, Japan and the United Kingdom are conducting joint research on the feasibility of a new air-to-air missile before starting research on a future middle-range air to air missile. This is intended to analyze the missile guidance performance that may be achieved by combining the United Kingdom's missile-related technology and Japan's seeker technology-a seeker is detecting and tracking equipment-through simulations. This joint research is scheduled to be closed in fiscal 2017, but in order to further pursue this Japan-U.K. research, we allocated 7.3 billion yen for the research on a future middle-range air-to-air missile in our budget request for fiscal 2018.

Question:
I understand that this is still at the joint research stage, but is there a plan to move on from here?

Minister:
In any case, we will consider what next step we should take after checking the effectiveness through the research.

Question:
Will that be several years from now?

Minister:
The research planned for fiscal 2018 is a Japan-U.K. joint research project intended to establish a technology to realize a middle-range air to air missile with an increased speed and an extended range which is of a size suited to be integrated into fighter aircraft. Specifically, Japan aims to establish a small, high-performance seeker technology adapted to future threats, and to that end, we will examine the performance of an actual model based on the combination of Japanese technology and the United Kingdom's long-range propulsion technology through the Japan-U.K. joint research. Under the fiscal 2018 budget, we will manufacture the actual model and examine its performance.

Question:
Do you mean a prototype by the actual model?

Minister:
That is correct. We will manufacture the prototype and evaluate its performance.

Question:
Returning to the Osprey issue, a media report has said that Takayubaru Camp and Nagasaki Airport are emerging as alternative sites to be used if the deployment at Saga Airport has become difficult. Am I correct in understanding that the various matters that you stated earlier were being considered include these alternative sites?

Minister:
We are holding consultations about the deployment in Saga with Saga Prefecture and the Saga fishery association, and our stance has not changed.

Question:
Concerning the accident of the U.S. military aircraft, recently, you have repeatedly requested the U.S. side to ensure safe operation, but accidents are occurring over and over again. Are you considering doing more than just requesting safe operation?

Minister:
I conveyed our request to Secretary Mattis, as did the Prime Minister to President Trump. We believe that it is important for the U.S. side to appropriately check safety and take recurrence prevention measures. The MOD will continue to request the U.S. side to give maximum consideration to safety.

Question:
Getting back to the Japan-U.K. joint development, you said the research will end in 2018, but you earlier referred to a prototype. Am I correct in understanding that you will move on to the development stage?

Minister:
First, what we have so far done has been conducting joint research to examine which capabilities can be improved by combining Japan's seeker technology and the United Kingdom's missile propulsion technology. Starting in 2018, we will manufacture the prototype and examine its capabilities. In any case, we will decide what to do after judging the capabilities.

Question:
May I take it that the research period will continue?

Minister:
This means that the research period will continue.

Question:
The same media report said that a formal decision may be made when the Japan-U.K. 2+2 meeting is held. What is the status of the arrangement for that?

Minister:
I am aware of the media report, but as we are still at the research stage, we are not yet conducting development.

Question:
Does that mean the probability is not high that the prospect for the development will become clear and an agreement will be reached at an early time?

Minister:
The budget for 2018 is merely for the process of manufacturing the prototype. We will make the decision after examining the capabilities, so that is unlikely to happen soon.

Question:
Returning to the meeting with Defense Minister Shoygu, you said that you told him Japan will have no need for this equipment if North Korea does not conduct an act of provocation.

Minister:
Rather, what I said is that Japan is possessing the missile defense system in order to defend against missiles flying toward the country. In other words, Japan is possessing the missile defense system because there is a threat from North Korea, and we would like Russia to cooperate on this matter. That is the intent of what I said.

Question:
If so, do you think that Japan will not need to further enhance the missile defense if North Kore changes its policy in the future?

Minister:
That depends on how Japan perceives the threat to itself when the threat from North Korea has disappeared. The current missile defense is assuming defense against ballistic missiles from North Korea.

Question:
Concerning the North Korea situation, at a press conference on November 16, Secretary Mattis said that dialogue will become possible if North Korea halts missile launches and nuclear weapon development and tests. Japan and the United States have been cooperating in putting pressure on North Korea. Do you think that that condition for dialogue is appropriate?

Minister:
I am aware of the media report. However, what I have discussed with Secretary Mattis, what has been agreed upon between the two countries, what has been agreed upon between the Japanese and U.S. leaders when President Trump visited Japan recently, is that the United States has expressed its stance of using all means and capabilities to defend the United States and its allies and to that end, it is necessary to create a situation in which North Korea will seek dialogue by raising the pressure on the country to the maximum level through all means in order to make it change its policy. This is the common stance of Japan and the United States.

Question:
Although this is a matter that is outside of your jurisdiction, San Francisco's mayor signed a public document recognizing a sculpture of "comfort women" as public property, and in response, Osaka's mayor expressed his intention to start the procedure for ending the sister-city relationship. Could you offer your opinion on these two cities' decisions?

Minister:
This is what the two local governments have decided, so we have nothing particular to say about it. However, there is an agreement between the governments of Japan and the Republic of Korea. Naturally, the U.S. side is aware of this agreement, which may be described as an international commitment, so personally, I hope that San Francisco will take the stance on this matter seriously.

Question:
Changing the subject, Kunigami Village's Oku ward, from where stone materials are shipped in relation to the relocation of MCAS Futenma, adopted a resolution opposing the use of the port. How do you expect this will affect the relocation?

Minister:
We are aware of the media report about the adoption of the resolution. Yesterday, Kunigami Village's Oku ward held a general residents' meeting and adopted a resolution opposing the offshore delivery. Regarding the use of the Oku port, my understanding is that the contractor of the work applied with Okinawa Prefecture for permission for the use and obtained the permission on September 4 this year after undergoing appropriate examination based on relevant laws and regulations. Since June 26 this year, the contractor has provided explanations to the chief of the ward. In addition, staffs of the Okinawa Defense bureau provided explanations concerning the delivery of stone materials on November 6, 10 and 13. In addition, we have conducted activities to raise awareness among residents in the neighborhood. For example, in response to the request from the chief of the ward, we posted a notice concerning the delivery of stone materials at the public hall on November 6. There will be no change in the MOD's intention to continue to provide conscientious explanations in order to seek understanding. We will continue to proceed with the work while giving maximum consideration to the natural environment and the local residents' life based on relevant laws and regulations in order to realize the return of MCAS Futenma as early as possible.

Question:
Are you saying that you do not expect that this will significantly affect the relocation to Henoko?

Minister:
We understand that the contractor is using the Oku port to deliver the materials based on the permission from Okinawa Prefecture that was granted in response to its application. Therefore, I do not expect that this will have an impact.

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