Press Conferences

Press Conference by Defense Minister Onodera (09:25-09:40 A.M. February 27, 2018)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 09:25-09:40 A.M. February 27, 2018
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 about a U.S. military helicopter's flight over Futenma Second Elementary School last week, February 23. It has been agreed since December last year that flights over schools, including by aircraft from outside Okinawa, should be avoided as much as possible. At this time, the U.S. Forces have apparently not thoroughly informed of the agreement internally. How will you make sure that the U.S. Forces follow this agreement, including with respect to aircraft from outside Okinawa?

Minister:
A flight by an MH-60 of the U.S. Forces over the school at around 3:35 p.m. on February 23 was confirmed based on visual observation by monitoring personnel and video camera installed by the Okinawa Defense Bureau to Futenma Second Elementary School. The MOD inquired with the U.S. side to check the facts, and the U.S. side immediately admitted to the flight and expressed regrets. I understand that in order to prevent the recurrence of such flights, the U.S. side immediately started an investigation to examine the circumstances of the latest flight over the school. Although we are aware that the latest flight over the school was made by aircraft from outside Okinawa, the MOD requested the U.S. side to take thorough measures to prevent the recurrence of flights over the school, including by aircraft from outside Okinawa. In addition, when Deputy Commander Chiarotti of the U.S. Forces Japan visited me yesterday, I made the same request. What's important is to ensure that aircraft do not fly over Futenma Second Elementary School, and the U.S. side shares our recognition in this respect. However, as the latest incident involved aircraft from outside Okinawa, we requested the U.S. Forces once again to ensure full awareness of the need to avoid flights over the school, including by aircraft from outside. For our part, we will maintain close monitoring through the monitoring personnel and surveillance cameras.

Question:
A media report has said that the United States will also strengthen surveillance of offshore activities, including ship-to-ship transfer of cargoes, while applying pressure on North Korea. Could you explain your thinking concerning the SDF's future policy for surveillance of ship-to-ship transfer of cargoes and cooperation with the United States?

Minister:
Surveillance of ship-to-ship transfer of cargoes is being conducted by the MSDF. After checking on various cases, we have informed the United States and the United Nations about the situation of this activity through diplomatic channels. We believe that surveillance of ship-to-ship transfer of cargoes is being highly valued for its very important role in applying pressure on North Korea. It is important that the international community as a whole keep surveillance over loopholes through which the U.N. resolutions could be violated, such as ship-to-ship transfer of cargoes by North Korea.

Question:
According to a media report, the United States will dispatch the Coast Guard. What are your thoughts on cooperation between Japan and the United States?

Minister:
As this is a U.S. activity, I would like to refrain from mentioning the specifics. In any case, the government will ensure the effectiveness of the U.N. Security Council resolutions while cooperating with the international community, including not only the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK) but also China and Russia, toward the common goal of a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Question:
A media report has said that there is a plan to deploy a surface-to-ship missile unit of the GSDF on the main island of Okinawa. Could you comment on that?

Minister:
I am aware of that media report. The MOD is constantly conducting various studies on future defense capabilities, but nothing has been determined with respect to a specific plan such as deploying a surface-to-ship missile unit on the main island of Okinawa.

Question:
I assume that budgetary funds have already been allocated. Are you considering establishing such a unit?

Minister:
Nothing specific has been determined.

Question:
On February 20, two Russian strategic bombers made a long-distance flight to Okinawa. In a meeting to report on national government affairs attended by you, an analysis suggesting the possibility that Russia demonstrated the capability to bomb Japan was offered. Could you comment on that? Also, what is your analysis of Russia's intentions?

Minister:
It is true that Russia has recently been stepping up activity around Japan. It is deploying various units in the four Northern Territories islands. At this time, the Russian bombers not only flew to an area around Okinawa but also made an unusual flight circling over Japan. In any case, we must remain alert to the activities of neighboring countries, particularly China and Russia.

Question:
I understand that at your meeting with Assistant Secretary of Defense Schriver yesterday, U.S.-ROK exercises were mentioned. Were future Japan-U.S. exercises discussed?

Minister:
We agreed that Japan and the United States should maintain close cooperation and we reaffirmed to conduct joint trainings as various arrangements are already being made. In particular, at yesterday's meeting, we shared the recognition that Japan-U.S. joint activities, including joint exercises, will help to apply pressure on North Korea.

Question:
It is two months until the establishment of the amphibious rapid deployment brigade, which is positioned as the key to the defense of remote islands. Could you tell me about the progress toward the establishment and the significance of the brigade?

Minister:
I have been informed that preparations for the establishment of the amphibious rapid deployment brigade are proceeding. We believe that the amphibious rapid deployment brigade is very important for taking various actions, including the defense of remote islands. Therefore, we will introduce various types of equipment that Japan had not possessed so far, including the AAV-7, and develop the preparedness to operate such equipment. Units like this, on which I conducted a study when preparing the 2013 National Defense Program Guidelines, can appropriately respond to disasters such as the Great East Japan Earthquake, particularly in situations where disaster rescue activity is very difficult because the sea surface is covered with debris. Therefore, while this is a unit important for the defense of remote islands, including the southwestern region, we will enhance its capabilities so that it can respond to various disasters.

Question:
Has the MOD analyzed the purpose of the recent increase in Russian bombers' activities around Japan?

Minister:
I assume that the increase in Russian activities reflect various military views in Russia. My impression is that the activities have increased since Japan joined the sanctions imposed by the international community in relation to Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.

Question:
If the surveillance of ship-to-ship transfer of cargoes was upgraded to spot inspection in the high seas, can Japan join the activity under its laws?

Minister:
No decision has been made within the international community on how to deal with ship-to-ship transfer of cargoes, so at this time, I would like to refrain from commenting on our judgment as to future actions. Spot inspection would be a very high-level action among actions that may be taken by the international community. As it would increase tensions very much, we will keep a careful watch on how the international community will act. What Japan is doing now is nothing more than surveillance, and this action is different from spot inspection.

Question:
Do you have new information related to the dropping of tanks by the F-16 onto Lake Ogawara?

Minister:
Following the dropping of fuel tanks by the F-16 fighter aircraft, the SDF has dispatched a unit to Lake Ogawara since February 21 in order to recover fuels. By yesterday, we discovered several pieces of wreckage that are considered to be parts of the fuel tanks as a result of the search of the lakebed by sonar and divers and recovered some of them. After we delivered the pieces of wreckage to the U.S. side, we were informed that they constitute around 80% of the fuel tanks dropped at this time. Today, divers and underwater vehicles of Ominato District are scheduled to engage in search and recovery of the wreckage again. We will continue the disaster relief dispatch in close cooperation with the local governments.

Question:
Concerning ship-to-ship transfer of cargoes, is the Japan Coast Guard involved in the surveillance of this activity?

Minister:
All I can say is that the MSDF is conducting the surveillance.

Question:
If the surveillance is ongoing, I assume that the MSDF and the Japan Coast Guard are naturally conducting it while cooperating and coordinating with each other. What would you say to that?

Minister:
The Japan Coast Guard and the SDF are cooperating in gathering information.

Question:
The United States is planning to dispatch patrol ships of the Coast Guard with policing power instead of Navy ships. Why is Japan deploying ships of the Japan Coast Guard and the MSDF?

Minister:
It is still unclear what action the United States will take. As we learned of this matter through media reports alone, we do not have information on what action the United States will take. As for the MSDF's surveillance activity, what I said is that the MSDF is engaging in this activity as part of collaboration between various activities conducted respectively by the Japan Coast Guard and the MSDF.

Question:
Under law, is this not an activity that should be conducted by the Japan Coast Guard in principle?

Minister:
This activity is conducted in the high seas, and naturally, ships' capabilities must be taken into consideration. The MSDF is engaging in this activity in consideration of those factors.

Question:
Although the activity is being conducted in the high seas, the area is near Japan. This is different from dispatching ships to the Gulf of Aden, so I assume that patrol ships of the Japan Coast Guard can naturally undertake this activity.

Minister:
The MSDF is cooperating with the Japan Coast Guard in this activity.

Question:
What is the significance of having the MSDF engage in this activity by applying the provision of the SDF Act that concerns surveys and research in a manner that is incompatible with the law?

Minister:
My understanding is that the MSDF is undertaking the surveillance of ship-to-ship transfer of cargoes as part of its cooperation with the Japan Coast Guard in consideration of their ships' capabilities.

Question:
Just for clarification, do you not think that this activity should be conducted primarily by the Japan Coast Guard?

Minister:
We are conducting surveillance over North Korea, which is violating the U.N. resolutions in the area around Japan, in cooperation with the Japan Coast Guard, and this is an operation of the SDF. I believe that this is an activity that the SDF can conduct as part of its survey and research activities which is necessary for the defense and guard.

Question:
Why will the United States dispatch Coast Guard ships instead of Navy ships?

Minister:
We do not have information on what action the United States will take.

Question:
Do you have no information?

Minister:
That is correct.

Question:
The Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency and Mitsubishi Electric are considering a plan to export an air defense radar system to Thailand, and I understand that the plan is starting to be implemented. How will the MOD support this plan? What do you think is its significance?

Minister:
I am aware that the Thai air force is preparing to improve its air defense radar system. For the moment, the MOD refrains from commenting on that company's intentions relating to participation in the bidding and the project, as that is a matter concerning its own activities.

Question:
Export of defense equipment is not proceeding as you have hoped. What is your view on this point?

Minister:
Some countries are very interested in Japanese equipment, but Japan is not developing defense equipment for the purpose of export in the first place. Japan is developing defense equipment as something contributing to the country's defense, and if other countries are interested in the equipment, we are ready to consult with them.

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