Press Conferences

Press Conference by Defense Minister Iwaya (09:38-09:46 February 1, 2019)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 09:38-09:46 February 1, 2019
Place: Entrance to the Prime Minister's Office

(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:
On the relocation of facilities from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma to Henoko, the Prime Minister made a statement acknowledging the existence of poor soil foundations. With changes needed for the work plan, opposition by the Okinawa side, and the possible lawsuit, I think that there is a possibility that work may fall far behind schedule. What sort of response does the Ministry of Defense (MOD) intend to take?

Minister:
As the Prime Minister said in his answer, by doing construction work to improve the poor soil foundations, we believe that it is possible to clear this issue, and firmly move forward with construction. Accordingly, given the additional work to improve soil foundations, we will need to seek approval for a change to the work plan. The Okinawa Defense Bureau (ODB) is currently carrying out a necessary study. In any case, we hope to solve the problem of poor soil foundations, and aim to move forward steadily with this project so that we can realize the complete return of the MCAS Futenma at the earliest possible date.

Question:
To what extent do you think the schedule will be impacted?

Minister:
It may vary depending on the construction methods and types of construction done. Therefore, it is difficult to say anything definitive at this stage.

Question:
Concerning the series of problems related to the incident of an ROK naval vessel directing its fire-control radar at an MSDF patrol aircraft, at a committee meeting of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) yesterday, there were comments saying that the issue should not be put an end, and that more evidence should be released in order to gain the understanding of the public and the international community. Furthermore, it seems that the ROK as well, at the National Security Council (NSC), has reconfirmed that it will take legal and necessary measures against threatening flight by Japan. How does the MOD intend to continue to respond to this radar issue?

Minister:
I have said at my press conferences quite clearly that the data released by the ROK-side the other day is not correct. That is obvious, and so I do not think there is any particular need to release more documents. In addition, the Self-Defense Force (SDF) has never done any threatening flights. As I have said a number of times, the SDF patrol aircraft had no intent of doing such a threatening flight around the ROK vessel, and had absolutely no reason to do so. For that reason, I would like to seek an appropriate and calm response from the ROK. I would like them to thoroughly ensure the prevention of the recurrence of such radar incident.

Question:
Related to that, there are some reports saying that all of the general officers-level exchanges between Japan and the ROK will be postponed. Japan is searching for ways to improve the relationship with the ROK, but it seems that the ROK is reacting negatively. Given that there is also the North Korea issue to deal with, how do you intend to promote cooperation in the future?

Minister:
I do not take the reaction of ROK to Japan-ROK exchanges as negative. I have been explained that the general officers-level exchanges has been exchanged due to scheduling issues. If the situation allows, I would like to firmly move forward with defense exchanges.

Question:
As you touched on it a bit just now, you clearly denied a threatening flight that ROK is claiming. On the other hand, unlike the radar issue, the MOD has not released any written statements or opinions on it at this moment. Please tell us again how your intent or thoughts on this issue differ from the radar issue.

Minister:
We released a final statement some time ago on the radar issue, and that is all to say about this issue. In my press conferences I have clearly denied the claim that it was a threatening flight. I am not considering the release of any documents on this issue.

Question:
Could you please tell us if there is any truth to the idea that you will scrap the general officers-level exchanges for the first half of the year?

Minister:
That is not true. Since various levels of exchanges between Japan and the ROK are taking place, in the past, we regarded some of them unnecessary to make public. Therefore, there are some bilateral exchanges that were not announced. I would like to make appropriate judgments about making Japan-ROK exchanges public going forward. There is no truth to the idea that all exchanges in the first half of the year will be cancelled.

Question:
A moment ago, you talked about scheduling issues. Did you mean that exchanges would take place slightly later than usual?

Minister:
I have heard that it has to do with the schedule of a unit.

Question:
In relation to what matter?

Minister:
Related to the general officers-level exchanges, which your question was about just now. The Commander of the First Fleet of the ROK Navy will visit Japan.

Question:
The February exchange?

Minister:
Yes.

Question:
Regarding Henoko, with it now expected that construction will take longer time than planned, when do you think you will submit an application for the changes of the work plan to Okinawa Prefecture?

Minister:
As I said a moment ago, we are currently considering that. It has not been decided yet when that will be. We hope to move forward with all work quickly such that there is no great impact on the work schedule.

Question:
I would like to confirm about the general officers-level exchanges ? were you contacted by the ROK side asking to cancel it?

Minister:
We heard that the date is inconvenient given the schedule of the units involved, so we are going to postpone the exchange.

Question:
It has been one year since the incident in which a helicopter of the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) crashed in Kanzaki City in Saga Prefecture. Two members of the ASDF passed away , and a then-home-schooled elementary student was lightly injured. It was a serious accident. I would like you to give us your opinions on that incidence once again, and the current status of progress on the accident investigation.

Minister:
With it being one year since the accident, I would like to take this opportunity to once again apologize for making the people of Japan feel anxious, and causing them such trouble. We are currently investigating the cause of the accident, and additional investigation is currently being continued as required. We hope to complete the investigation as soon as possible, and firmly fulfill our accountability for the incident.

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