Joint Press Conference by Prime Minister Taro Aso of Japan and
President Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea,
on the Occasion of the Japan-Republic of Korea Summit Meeting
Note: The opening statement and answers by President Lee have been translated into English from the Japanese transcript, and as such, they may vary slightly from the phrasing used in the original Korean.
(1) President Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea
I warmly welcome H.E. Taro Aso, Prime Minister of Japan, the first foreign head of state to visit the Republic of Korea (ROK) this year.
Prime Minister Aso and I have already had five occasions to meet since last October. He has visited the ROK less than one month since we met on 13 December last year on the occasion of the ROK-China-Japan Trilateral Summit Meeting. This can be considered symbolic of the fact that ROK-Japan bilateral relations have developed from "countries close and yet distant" to "countries close and intimate".
In particular, this visit by Prime Minister Aso to the ROK is the first time in history that a large number of Japan's major business leaders have accompanied the prime minister on a visit here. The decision of our countries' business leaders to expand their substantive cooperation for common benefit underscores our countries' bilateral cooperation not with words but with deeds.
At today's summit meeting, Prime Minister Aso and I once again held extremely substantive and concrete discussions on economic cooperation between the ROK and Japan. Prime Minister Aso and I have decided that we will together engage in efforts to enable Japanese companies to expand their presence in the ROK, particularly in the industrial field of parts and materials manufacturing. We have also decided to strengthen the interactions and the cooperation between our countries' small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with the Japan Investment and Purchase Mission scheduled to visit the ROK this April, following which we will convene an "SME CEO Forum", among other endeavors. The government of the ROK has designated Kumi and several other locations as industrial parks specialising in parts and materials manufacturing. In the future, we will be actively providing support so that Japanese companies can begin operations in the ROK smoothly.
In order to overcome the financial crisis and revitalise our real economies, among other goals, Prime Minister Aso and I will be working in cooperation, as we leaders agreed at the ROK-China-Japan Trilateral Summit Meeting in Fukuoka. In particular, we have agreed that the ROK and Japan will act in close cooperation towards the second G20 Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy to be held in April in London, in such areas as reform of the financial system, coordination of macroeconomic policies, and responses to protectionism. Moreover, the Japanese government has kindly decided to support actively ROK membership in the Financial Stability Forum (FSF).
Related to this, we valued the fact that the expansion of the scale of the currency swap arrangement by the ROK and Japanese monetary authorities at the end of 2008 has contributed significantly to financial market stability and strengthened financial cooperation not only in our two countries but also in the region.
In addition, Prime Minister Aso and I have agreed to enhance our cooperation in the fields of science and technology, such as those concerning space and nuclear power, as well as to cooperate closely for the success of "International Exposition Yeosu Korea 2012".
Prime Minister Aso and I share the belief that it is necessary for people-to-people exchanges between the ROK and Japan, which are currently at the level of five million people (a year), to expand continuously. To achieve this, we will be actively supporting the expansion of exchange activities between our countries' younger generations, such as the working holiday system, overseas study opportunities for university students in natural sciences and engineering departments, and exchanges among university students. Furthermore, we agreed to launch at an early date "Joint Research on a New Era in ROK-Japan Relations", which will study a desirable vision for the future of ROK-Japan relations.
Prime Minister Aso and I also agreed to persevere in making efforts together to bring about the denuclearisation of North Korea through the Six-Party Talks.
We also shared the view that we must make active contributions on various international issues in accordance with our countries' standing in the international community. As part of this, we agreed that our countries would examine the means to conduct joint cooperation towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
I firmly believe that on the world stage the ROK and Japan are now moving beyond geopolitical cooperative relations and evolving into economic and diplomatic partners.
I am of the opinion that our meeting today will provide direction for the development of new ROK-Japan bilateral relations.
In closing I should like to state my strong belief that the friendship and trust between us as national leaders will lead to enhanced exchanges and understanding between the people of our countries, thereby developing even further our countries' bilateral relationship towards a mature partnership.
I am extremely pleased to have had this opportunity to visit the Republic of Korea very early in the new year at the invitation of President Lee Myung-bak.
President Lee and I have met every month since last October at various places around the globe. I believe that never before have the leaders of Japan and the ROK met so frequently and deepened our cooperation across such a broad range of areas.
At today's summit talks, President Lee and I exchanged views regarding means of further strengthening our bilateral relationship towards a mature partnership.
First of all, we agreed on giving concrete shape to "a Japan-ROK bilateral relationship in which both countries contribute together to the international community".
I believe that development cooperation is one area in which Japan-ROK cooperation could be deepened. In particular, President Lee and I agreed to holding of working-level consultations on bilateral cooperation on assistance to Afghanistan, which is extremely important in the context of the global security situation.
As for the international economy, President Lee also agreed with my view that Asia, as the "open growth centre" of the world, must play a major role in the future recovery of the global economy. We furthermore agreed on the importance of preventing moves towards protectionism.
We had a frank exchange of views concerning North Korea. President Lee and I confirmed our countries' basic stance to have North Korea abandon its nuclear programmes through the Six-Party Talks and we agreed to continue to work in close cooperation with the incoming Obama administration of the United States. Moreover, President Lee reiterated his support for Japan's efforts to resolve the abductions issue, as the ROK too faces the same issue of abductions of its citizens.
Along with this cooperation within the international community, it is important to deepen the Japan-ROK bilateral relationship still further.
In order to bolster further cooperation between our countries' business communities, President Lee and I agreed to move forward with examining the resumption of accelerate consideration of Japan-ROK EPA negotiations. We also agreed to convene an "SME CEO Forum" with participants from SMEs and persons involved with SMEs from both Japan and the ROK.
A large number of leaders of the Japanese business community have accompanied me on this visit. Yesterday, we had an exchange of views with the President and leaders of the Korean business community. We agreed to enhance our bilateral economic relationship as well as to cooperate dynamically on the world business stage.
Through this visit we are firmly establishing our "summit shuttle diplomacy". During today's talks, we agreed that President Lee would visit Japan at an appropriate time this year.
In cooperation with President Lee, I intend to make 2009 a year of a big leap forward in Japan-ROK relations.
Finally, I should like to express my sincere appreciation to H.E. President Lee Myung-bak, as well as the government of the Republic of Korea, the Korean business community as well as the many others involved in arranging this visit, and to the Korean people, for welcoming such a large number of us so warmly very early in the new year.
QUESTION: Amidst the global economic crisis, I believe from the Korean standpoint that cooperation between the two countries is more urgently required in the industrial area of parts and materials manufacturing. I should like to know if there are some more concrete and substantive plans in this regard than in the past.
In addition, even as our two countries maintained a close relationship, in the event problems arose, such as on historical issues, there is a history of reverting to an unfortunate state of relations. I should like to know how in the future this will impact the economy as Japan and the ROK engage in economic cooperation.
PRESIDENT LEE MYUNG-BAK: Economic cooperation between the ROK and Japan has developed apace. Exchanges between the people of our two countries have reached the scale of five million people a year visiting the other country. This is a symbol of the continuing close economic relationship between the two countries.
There is no doubt that the scale of the ROK's trade deficit vis-?-vis Japan is very large. Last year's amount is expected to have exceeded 30 billion dollars. A very large proportion of this amount is due to the ROK purchasing necessary parts and materials from Japan.
The Korean side has long strived to resolve this problem. However, a part of the problem was that Korean SMEs did not sufficiently take the necessary steps. It is also possible to say that Japanese SMEs, namely SMEs with technology concerning parts and materials, were somewhat reluctant.
The two countries are now cooperating in earnest. Four areas including Kumi and Ikusan have already been designated as industrial parks. At the end of last year, some twenty Japanese SMEs submitted letters of intent to invest there. Therefore, I believe that this time substantive cooperation will take place and will prove to be a good opportunity for Japanese companies to begin operations in South Korea. I anticipate good results this time.
Of course, due to various reasons there have been somewhat difficult issues between the two countries. Looking back, however, while there were times when progress was halted, never was there regression. As bilateral relations are progressing now in a more future-oriented manner, and since the northeast Asian region and the international community require and support cooperation between the two countries, I believe it possible to overcome a number of difficult issues and to make progress in an even more positive manner.
In particular, the crisis facing the real economy owing to the world financial crisis has now become a global problem. In order to overcome this problem, substantive cooperation between our two countries is extremely important. Cooperation between the two countries is greatly beneficial not only in terms of collaboration with the world but also in helping the world to extricate itself from this crisis. A positive assessment is possible.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Aso, you emphasise the importance of cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea concerning the issue of North Korea. Next week, the Obama administration will take office in the US. What role would you like to see it play concerning policies towards North Korea, and how will you approach it on this? I would like to know also what was discussed in today's meeting in this regard. In addition, how was the issue of recognition of history, over which Japan-ROK relations have often been strained, discussed today?
PRIME MINISTER TARO ASO: In today's meeting, I had a broad-ranging discussion with President Lee Myung-bak on issues including the North Korean nuclear issue, Japan-North Korea relations and North-South relations (on the Korean Peninsula).
On the North Korean nuclear issue, cooperation between Japan and the ROK have recently been increasingly close. I reaffirmed with President Lee Myung-bak that the common goal for Japan and the ROK of the denuclearisation of North Korea shall be pursued through the Six-Party Talks, and that both countries would cooperate firmly with the incoming Obama administration.
President-elect Obama has made clear his positive assessment of the Six-Party Talks, and that the complete and verifiable dismantling of North Korea's nuclear programme shall be the goal to be pursued. I have no doubt whatsoever that it would be possible to cooperate closely also with the Obama administration with a view to achieving North Korea's denuclearisation at an early date.
Meanwhile, the issue of recognition of history was not raised directly in the meeting today. The President and I are in total agreement, as stated in the Joint Press Statement issued on the occasion of the President's visit to Japan last April, that "Japan and the Republic of Korea shall face the matter of history squarely, hold a clear vision of the future and enhance bilateral relations into an even more mature relationship between partners by contributing together to the international community".