Press Conference by Defense Minister Iwaya

Time & Date:
10:30-10:52 May 7, 2019
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 purposes only.)
The original text is in Japanese.

1. Announcements

None

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
In the U.S. and the Republic of Korea (ROK), there is the view that the projectiles launched by North Korea on May 4 may have been ballistic missiles. If they were ballistic missiles, their launch would constitute a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. What is the current status of analysis by the Ministry of Defense (MOD)?

Minister:
North Korean media announced that a firepower strike exercise had been conducted in the Sea of Japan on May 4. I am aware that North Korea launched some kind of projectiles on that day, but no incoming flight of ballistic missiles has been confirmed either in the Japanese territories or exclusive economic zones. We believe this is not an incident that could have an immediate impact on Japan’s security. However, regarding the identity of the projectiles, we are now analyzing the images released by North Korea on May 5 and other information. We will devote our full efforts to the collection and analysis of necessary information and warning and surveillance activities while closely cooperating with the United States and the ROK. Until now, we have been unable to determine the identity of those projectiles. As you know, the launch of ballistic missiles is banned under the Security Council resolutions. We will continue our analysis as to the identity of the projectiles through close cooperation between Japan, the U.S. , and the ROK.

Question:
Last evening, the Japanese and U.S. leaders held telephone conversations, and you also said that Japan, the U.S., and the ROK will cooperate with each other. Specifically what kind of cooperation should be implemented between the defense authorities—between Japan and the U.S., between Japan, the U.S. and the ROK, and also with China and Russia?

Minister:
As for cooperation between the defense authorities, we are always closely cooperating with the U.S. in particular, and regarding this incident, too, we are appropriately exchanging information. In the leaders’ telephone conversations, I believe that it was reaffirmed that Japan and the U.S. will continue to work together based on common understanding. In addition, I believe that we should cooperate with the ROK and appropriately exchange information and opinions as necessary with China and Russia as well, as you mentioned. The Japanese, U.S., and ROK defense authorities will hold a working-level consultation meeting in Seoul on May 9 and exchange opinions on the regional situation, including this incident.

Question:
In relation to your visit to Vietnam during the holiday period, could you tell me about the results of the visit, including the Japan-Vietnam defense ministers’ meeting?

Minister:
On May 2-4, I visited Vietnam, making the first visit to the country by a Japanese defense minister in three-and-a-half years. As the state funeral for former President Anh was held during that period, I attended it as the representative of the Japanese government. I also paid a courtesy visit to Prime Minister Phuc, held the defense ministers’ meeting with Minister of National Defense Lich, and inspected a special commando unit and a missile unit. I also exchanged opinions with Naval Commander Nam. We exchanged opinions on a broad range of matters related to defense exchange between Japan and Vietnam. We also discussed the regional situation. Defense cooperation was discussed mainly at the defense ministers’ meeting. There is already the Joint Vision Statement on Japan-Vietnam Defense Cooperation, and I expressed Japan’s hopes to promote high-level exchange, port and airport calls by vessels and aircraft, and enhance capacity building assistance based on this vision and also to promote multilateral cooperation and hold policy consultations based on the Vientiane Vision, which Japan announced during the tenure of Minister Inada. He expressed his agreement and appreciation for the cooperation provided by Japan until now. After the Defense Ministerial Meeting, a memorandum on the orientation of promotion of defense industry cooperation between Japanese and Vietnamese defense ministries was signed. This was signed at the deputy-minister level under the witness of the Ministers of the two countries. In the future, we would like to further promote defense equipment and technology cooperation between the two countries. With respect to the regional situation, we exchanged opinions on the South and East China Sea issues, not to mention the North Korea issue. We would like to use my latest visit as a springboard for further strengthening and promoting defense exchange between Japan and Vietnam.

Question:
Recently, North Korea was refraining from launching ballistic missiles. According to your analysis, what is the intention of North Korea’s latest launch of the projectiles?

Minister:
That has been interpreted in various ways, including as a warning against the U.S. At this stage, there is nothing we can say about North Korea’s intention. In any case, we hope that concrete, steady progress will be made toward denuclearization, on which an agreement was reached at the first U.S.-North Korea summit meeting.

Question:
I assume that the relationship with the ROK has become chilly and strained following the radar lock-on incident. As a result of this, has any problem occurred in relation to the handling of this incident, or is there any action that could have been taken if the relationship were better?

Minister:
I believe that close cooperation between Japan, the U.S., and the ROK has been maintained, with the U.S. acting as an intermediary. We would also like to further enhance cooperation and communication between Japan and the ROK through opportunities such as the Japan-U.S.-ROK working-level consultation meeting, which I said will be held on May 9.

Question:
Concerning the working-level consultation meeting of the defense authorities that will be held in Seoul on May 9, please tell me who will attend it and specifically what matters will be discussed.

Minister:
The consultation meeting will be attended by Deputy Director General Ishikawa of the Bureau of Defense Policy from Japan, Assistant Secretary of Defense Schriver from the U.S., and Deputy Minister for National Defense Policy Chung from the ROK. The agenda are expected to cover matters related to the regional situation, including the North Korea issue. We expect that how Japan, the U.S., and the ROK should cooperate with each other in the future will also be discussed at the meeting.

Question:
Almost one month has passed since the F-35 crash. Could you explain the status of the search once again?

Minister:
Regarding the F-35A crash, in addition to the ocean surface search by a minesweeper of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF), an underwater search activity using sonars was started by the Kaimei, a wide-area seabed research vessel owned by JAMSTEC under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the Van Gogh, a ship chartered by the U.S. Forces, and a private salvage ship. When the Van Gogh surveyed the seabed based on information obtained by the Kaimei, some parts of the F-35A, including parts of the flight data recorder, or FDR, have been found since May 3. The parts of the FDR have been salvaged by the Van Gogh, and the Ministry of Defense (MOD) and the SDF are examining them. However, until now, the memory device of FDR has not been found yet. The MOD and the SDF will cooperate with those ships in trying to discover and retrieve the missing pilot and aircraft, and the accident investigation committee will make efforts to determine the cause of the accident.

Question:
Regarding the projectiles, a Russian expert pointed out that they are similar in shape and flight dynamics to Russia’s Iskander missile. What is the MOD’s opinion on this analysis?

Minister:
I am aware it has been pointed out that the images released by North Korea include those of weapons very similar in appearance to the Iskander short-range ballistic missile that is possessed by Russia. However, we need to collect more information, including the released images, and conduct an expert analysis as to the true identity of the projectiles.

Question:
At a time when North Korea has launched missiles again, Prime Minister Abe said yesterday that he is ready to hold dialogue with Chairman Kim Jong-un unconditionally. What do you think of the idea of holding dialogue unconditionally at a time when North Korea is engaging in an act that could be interpreted to be a provocation?

Minister:
The identity of the North Korean projectiles has not yet been determined. If it becomes clear that the projectiles were ballistic missiles, their launch would certainly constitute a violation of the Security Council resolutions. However, as the analysis is still ongoing, I understand that what the Prime Minister meant was that there has been no change in his position that he himself should deal with Chairman Kim.

Question:
Concerning the F-35 crash, parts of the aircraft, including parts of the FDR, have been discovered, while the remainder is still missing. In what state were those parts when they were discovered?

Minister:
In addition to parts of the FDR, some other parts have been discovered, including a rear section of the canopy, where the cockpit hood is located. We must conduct appropriate checks to make sure that the salvaged objects are actually parts of the crashed F-35A. As the checks are still ongoing, I would like to refrain from mentioning the details.

Question:
Is the U.S. side also participating in the analysis work?

Minister:
In principle, the MOD/SDF is conducting the analysis work, and we will receive cooperation and support as necessary.

Question:
Could you tell me the date, time and location of the discovery?

Minister:
As for the date and time, the parts have been discovered on or after May 3. I would like to refrain from revealing the details as to the timing—the exact time of the day and the exact date–of the discovery. Of course, eventually, we will fully inform you about the investigation.

Question:
How about the location?

Minister:
We are dedicating efforts to the search activity in the area around the site where we presume the aircraft is likely to have crashed.

Question:
Were the parts salvaged from the seabed?

Minister:
That is correct.

Question:
Am I correct in understanding that the absence of the memory means that nothing that may provide flight data has been retrieved?

Minister:
At the moment, that is the case. Parts of the flight data recorder have been discovered, but as the whole of it has not been discovered, we will continue to dedicate efforts to the search for the recorder, including the memory, although it is likely to have been severely damaged.

Question:
In what state was the fuselage of the F-35 when it was discovered? Has the fuselage been broken to small pieces, which you are gradually retrieving, or have you found and salvaged some large sections that remained?

Minister:
At this stage, we cannot say anything definitive, but what we have discovered is just parts. Therefore, we do not know for sure in what state the fuselage is unless we conduct a further search.

Question:
In relation to the Henoko issue, a media report has said that you are studying the possibility of reducing the construction period by more than six months with respect to the improvement of the poor soil foundations. Could you tell me about the current status?

Minister:
I am aware of that media report. However, regarding the study on specific design work related to the improvement of the soil foundation, it goes without saying that rational design and construction work will contribute to an early completion of the work and an early return of the MCAS Futenma, so we are conducting a full study. At this time, we cannot say anything definite about the period of construction work related to the improvement of the soil foundations. We will place an order within the annual budget framework. We will file an application with Okinawa Prefecture as soon as possible and will steadily proceed with the construction work.

Question:
On April 26, the Okinawa Defense Bureau opened bidding for the design work related to the improvement of the soil foundations. The implementation period of this work expires in March next year. In light of this, are you considering the possibility of putting off the filing of an application for a change until the next fiscal year or later?

Minister:
As I mentioned now, we will place an order within the annual budget framework. We will complete the work as soon as possible and file an application at an early time.

Question:
According to a media report, at a U.S. public hearing, a plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa to Guam in fiscal 2024 was mentioned. Could you tell me about what you know about that?

Minister:
I am aware of the media report, but I would like to refrain from commenting on specific media reports related to U.S. officials’ remarks. At the 2+2 meeting in April this year, we issued a message welcoming the Guam agreement and the steady progress toward the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa to Guam. It was already decided that the relocation to Guam would be started in the first half of the 2020s, and that has been reconfirmed. No agreement has been reached between Japan and the United States on the timing of the start of the relocation. Naturally, we will work closely with the U.S. side so that the relocation can be completed as soon as possible.