Tuesday, August 14, 2012 (AM)
Press Conference by the Chief Cabinet Secretary (Excerpt)
Opening Statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura
- Japan-North Korea Consultations (including on the issue of the human remains of Japanese people left in North Korea after the war)
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: The Government of Japan has heretofore recognized that the issue of the human remains of Japanese people left in North Korea after the war is an important, unresolved post-war humanitarian issue. On August 9 and 10, the Red Cross societies of Japan and North Korea held an exchange of views concerning this issue. The Japanese Red Cross Society has informed the Japanese Government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that a meaningful exchange of views took place, at which both sides deepened understanding of each other's circumstances and position, and with regard to the way forward, agreed to request the engagement of their respective governments. The Japanese Government considered its response measures and arrived at the conclusion that the two countries must further deepen consultations at the government level on the issue of the human remains of Japanese people left in North Korea after the war. Furthermore, in light of the various outstanding issues of concern between the two countries not limited to the issue of the remains, arrangements were made between Japan and North Korea to convene a preliminary consultation in Beijing on August 29, with a view to resuming inter-governmental consultations in the near term to discuss the outstanding issues of concern between the two countries. The Government of Japan will properly conduct consultations under the existing policy of making efforts to comprehensively resolve outstanding issues of concern in accordance with the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration and to realize normalization of the relations through settlement of the unfortunate past. This is what I wanted to say today - the reason for which I have asked you to gather here.
- Japan-North Korea Consultations
REPORTER: I would like to ask if the abduction issue is one of the many outstanding issues of concern that you mentioned. I would also like to know who, from both the Japanese and North Korean sides, will be attending the preliminary consultation.
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: The preliminary consultation will be held with the shared understanding that it will be used to discuss an extensive range of outstanding issues of concern between Japan and North Korea. We naturally assume that the abduction issue will form part of the consultation. Having said that, it is the agenda itself that is to be discussed and confirmed at the August 29 preliminary consultation. As for the attendees that day, we are in the process of selecting representatives; however for now we are hoping that Mr. Sugiyama, the Director-General of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be able to represent the Japanese delegation. We believe that North Korea is yet to appoint representatives.
REPORTER: What are the government's reasons for choosing this particular time to begin working toward holding this consultation?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: The primary motivation was last week's talks between the Red Cross societies of Japan and North Korea concerning the issue of the human remains, and that both societies agreed that government level talks should take place. Since then, both the Japanese and North Korean Governments also concluded that a further consultation should be pursued. Given that there are outstanding issues between Japan and North Korea other than the issue of the remains, we communicated with the North Korean Government sometime after Friday of last week and subsequently came to an agreement to hold the preliminary consultation on August 29.
REPORTER: North Korea continues to take actions against the Republic of Korea that receive broad criticism. Regarding relations with Japan, talks were held four years ago but proved to be unsuccessful and relations today remain much as they were at the time. There have been many instances in which North Korea has not fulfilled its promises and there have been many prior events of this kind, and yet now they are warming to the idea of holding a consultation. Perhaps it is due to the recent change in leadership, but what do you think it was that triggered this latest movement?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: I believe that we should not speculate or draw conclusions but, while I'm repeating myself, I believe that the primary motivation, above all else, was the humanitarian talks between the Red Cross societies regarding the remains, and that the talks resulted in both Red Cross societies seeking the involvement of their respective governments. Of course, there has been a leadership change since the talks four years ago - this is a fact - and there may be much speculation, but speaking for the Japanese Government, I am hesitant to, or I believe we should not, engage in any speculation at this time.
REPORTER: In that case, is it correct to understand that the Government sees the kind of agreement made in the discussion between the Red Cross societies as a sign that there has been change on the North Korean side?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: What happened is that the Red Cross societies requested respective Governments' involvement, and since Friday of last week the Embassies of Japan and North Korea in Beijing have been talking with the expectations that this might become possible. These talks continued until around noon today.
REPORTER: I have two questions. First, earlier you said that the abduction issue was naturally included in the many issues of concern. However, the North Korean side maintains the position that the abduction issue has been resolved. I want to ask if the North Korean side understands that the abduction issue is a part of the many issues of concern. Also, concretely, what will be discussed during the preliminary consultation?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: During the preliminary consultation we will discuss what themes will be taken up for the plenary consultation. The preliminary consultation is being held on August 29 for the purpose of working out such details. I think that during the consultation we will deal with a wide range of concerns, and the position and thought of Japan is that naturally, the abduction issue will be a part of the agenda items.
REPORTER: In which case, the Government of Japan intends to take up the abduction issue at the current moment in time, but you do not now know whether North Korea will be responsive to this, correct?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: That is why we will hold a preliminary consultation on August 29, and I expect that at a stage when the agenda items have been decided after that, we will then hold the plenary consultation.
REPORTER: Related to the issue of the remains, North Korea in the past provided fake remains, saying that they were the remains of Ms. Megumi Yokota. How reliable does the Government think the information provided by the North Korean side over the course of negotiations between the Red Cross societies is?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: The discussion covered about 70 sites including graveyards, so this is about the remains of more than approximately 20,000 people. Thus, this is not a matter of individual remains. The Red Cross societies offered this sort of overall picture of the situation. In terms of how that will develop from now on - I think that your question is a bit misdirected - but as far as the reliability of the information from the North Korean side, it seems that the Japanese Red Cross Society sees the information is reliable to some extent, and takes this as a very positive development.
REPORTER: Does the Government share this recognition?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: That is how we take the report from the Japanese Red Cross Society.
REPORTER: According to my covering of the event, I have heard that the atmosphere during the discussion between the Red Cross societies did not honestly allow for the abduction issue to be brought up. What change has there been that has caused the Government to think that it wants to try and raise this topic again?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: I think that it was natural for the Red Cross societies to have discussed the issue of remains, and that discussion reached the point where it was raised there may be a need to have the issue discussed at the Governmental level. And after that, as I mentioned earlier, since last Friday, it was realized that there was naturally a need for our two governments to discuss a variety of matters. Discussion on this continued until about midday today. This was how the matter progressed. I think that there was no talk about the abduction issue between the two Red Cross societies.
REPORTER: If, during the preliminary consultation, the North Korean side expresses the position of not being willing to take up the abduction issue, will the Government still have the thought to continue with governmental consultations? Or does the Government feel that because the remains issue is also an important matter from a humanitarian perspective and that there should be a consultation even if that is the only topic? What do you think about this?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: That is why we will be holding a preliminary consultation. There are a variety of issues, including those outside of the issue of remains. We will organize these issues by topic and consult about what will be discussed at the plenary consultation. I cannot now make any predictions about what will happen after that.
REPORTER: I understand your comments just now that the future direction depends on the content of the preliminary consultation. In terms of activity since the start of the rule of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), is it correct to understand that this represents major progress toward the resolution of the abduction issue for the people of Japan?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: Without having held the preliminary consultation, I cannot now predict anything about whether there will be progress or not. At the very least, it is true that the Red Cross societies showed progress on the issue of remains.
REPORTER: Please excuse me if my understanding on this is incorrect, but I believed up until now that the major policy of the Government is that developments cannot be judged as progress unless there is the return of the eight abduction victims. Are you thinking to change the hurdles, or rather conditions, for the government toward the resolution of the abduction issue during these consultations?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: Minister for the Abduction Issue Jin Matsubara has given many answers about the position of the Government in the past. There are now many concerns, not just limited to the remains issue or the abduction issue, but also, for instance, the issue of Japanese wives in North Korea, the Yodo-go group issue, and issues of Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea. At the preliminary consultation, we will talk about what agenda items will be discussed and in what order. At the current moment in time that is all that has been decided.
REPORTER: I believe that the discussion for governmental consultations progresses in a fairly short time after the end of the discussion between the Red Cross societies. How does the Government view the new administration in North Korea that was established in December of last year? Do you view it as an administration you can have consultations with? What are your thoughts as to how you evaluate the administration?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: Japan has never changed its position that the many issues and concerns with North Korea must be resolved through a formal consultation. However, the fact is that such a consultation has not occurred in four years. As for the change in administration last year, we should not make assumptions about what changes occurred with this. As I said earlier, we received a report from the Japanese Red Cross Society in the afternoon of August 10 last week about a meeting between the Red Cross societies which decided to go to the governmental level, and this led to the announcement today.
REPORTER: I think that the cooperation of the Republic of Korea will be indispensible for diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea. Right now Japan-ROK relations seem to be becoming strained due to such matters as ROK President Lee Myung-bak having visited Takeshima. What influence do you think Japan-ROK relations will have on the preliminary consultation?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: We are always keeping in close contact with the Republic of Korea and the United States for matter related to North Korea. We have already contact the Governments of these two countries about plans to hold a consultation between Japan and North Korea. In a sense, I think that there is a need to separate the issues that exist among the six parties and the issues that exist just between Japan and North Korea. However, that does not mean that there is any change to our stance of maintaining close contact with the Republic of Korea and United States. I do not think that the collaboration between Japan and the United States, or between Japan and the Republic of Korea, or even between the United States and the Republic of Korea, will have any negative impact at all on consultations.
REPORTER: Can I ask a follow-up question? Just now there was mention of Japan-ROK relations. Yesterday it seems that President Lee raised the issues of Takeshima and "comfort women", and said that Japan has shown a negative attitude about these issues and needs to show some action. He also seems to have commented that Japan's influence in international society is no longer what it once was. How does the Government take these comments? And do you plan to make any new response to them moving forward?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: I am aware that many things have been reported. I would like to keep the topic of discussion here to the announcement about Japan and North Korea.
REPORTER: Will you be holding one preliminary consultation, or multiple preliminary consultations? Also, around when are you aiming to hold the plenary consultation?
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: With consultations, we do not honestly know anything until we actually undertake them. During the preliminary consultation, we will not actually be discussing the content of each issue, but rather organizing all of the many concerns and issues. This will take place on August 29, and I do not expect it will take multiple days. We hope to hold the plenary consultation as soon as possible once the matters at the preliminary consultation have been sorted out. That is the current government position.