Press Conference by Prime Minister Taro Aso
1. Opening statement
Over the past three days here in L'Aquila, Italy, I have been attending G8 Summit meetings as well as related outreach meetings such as the G14 at which other countries were represented. I should like to explain the results of these meetings.
First, on the world economy. During the summit I offered an explanation on Japanese economic policy management. Specifically, I explained that we are implementing a set of economic measures whose scale is the largest in history, and that at the same time we are making efforts to restore fiscal health in the mid- to long-term. I also indicated that we need to redress so-called "global imbalances", that is current account imbalances around the world, in order to secure sustainable growth of the world economy after the present crisis has been overcome. I stressed the importance of restraining excessive consumption in the United States and of transforming the economies of countries with overall balance surpluses, especially China, to ones based on domestic demand-led growth.
The G8 leaders reached agreement on the following. First, we are beginning to see signs of stabilisation in the world economy as a result of the efforts that have been underway by Japan and other countries. At the same time we recognise that significant risk still besets economic and financial stabilisation.
Incidentally, outside the meeting sessions Mr. [Dominique] Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, once again expressed his appreciation to Japan for its great assistance to the world economy through announcing its readiness to provide to the IMF a loan equivalent of up to US$100 billion soon after this crisis began, an initiative I announced in Washington [last November].
With regard to world trade and investment we agreed to reject protectionism and work towards the successful conclusion of the WTO Doha round negotiations by 2010.
Next, on climate change, I stated Japan's determination to achieve a low-carbon revolution in order to achieve by 2020 our mid-term target of a 15% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared with the 2005 level. The G8 concurred on an ambitious target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for developed countries as a whole by 2050. Moreover, with regard to major emerging economies, at the Major Economies Forum (MEF), a forum in which China, India and other emerging countries also participated, it was agreed that major emerging economies shall also undertake meaningful reductions. It is necessary for all major emitters to "participate" in a responsible manner in the post-Kyoto Protocol framework, because the Kyoto Protocol imposes reductions targets on only 30% of global emissions. This is why I have clearly enunciated Japan's policy to extend cooperation in terms of finance, environmental technologies and energy-saving technologies actively to developing countries that commit to undertaking responsible actions in a tangible manner. I believe that we have been able to make progress towards the establishment at the end of this year of a post-2012 international framework, unmistakably moving beyond what was agreed at the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit.
Third is the issue of development of developing countries. I introduced Japan's experience of providing assistance to Asia and emphasised that in the case of Africa as well it is important to engage in assistance that helps Africans to achieve developmental and other goals themselves. These discussions resulted in our reaffirmation of the importance of making further efforts on the development of Africa, which has been greatly impacted by the economic crisis.
Regarding food security, I proposed that the international community make coordinated efforts on investment in agriculture in developing countries, a proposal that was supported by the participating countries.
Next, on political issues. North Korea has, in complete disregard of calls from the international community, repeatedly launched missiles and also conducted a second nuclear test. At this summit I again advocated for the international community to take a resolute stance against such actions. I emphasised the importance of implementing United Nations Security Council resolution 1874 and also raised the abductions issue.
These discussions resulted in the G8 sending out a strong message condemning North Korea's actions and urging it to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions.
Regarding Iran, the G8 share common concern about the situation there since its presidential election. We agreed to continue to work towards a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear issue.
We also reaffirmed that we would strengthen the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime to foster "a world free of nuclear weapons".
This summit marks the first time that the G8 has issued a joint statement with China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies, an outcome we had tried to achieve in previous years without success. The statement incorporates the need to redress global imbalances and principles for undertaking responsible development, both of which Japan has been advocating for quite some time. I consider it to be a tremendous achievement for the G8 to have exercised leadership and to have emerged with an outcome document with the other countries on major economic issues, based on a shared awareness of the issues.
As for bilateral meetings, I had summit talks with President [Barack] Obama of the United States, President [Dmitry] Medvedev of Russia, President [Luiz Inácio] Lula da Silva of Brazil, Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper of Canada and Prime Minister [Manmohan] Singh of India, among many others. I frequently had one-on-one conversations with other leaders, as our seats [at the joints sessions] were arranged quite nearby. I also plan to meet with Prime Minister [Kevin] Rudd of Australia after this press conference concludes.
President Obama and I concurred that we would continue to maintain close communication and collaboration on such issues as North Korea, climate change and nuclear non-proliferation. In particular regarding our response to the North Korean issue, given the current situation we agreed we would engage in yet closer cooperation towards the comprehensive resolution of outstanding issues, including the abduction, nuclear and missile issues.
President Medvedev of Russia and I mainly discussed the territorial issue. We confirmed that the Russian side continues to be prepared to consider all possible options under an "original approach". On that basis, we agreed that we would give instructions to our respective sides to continue to accelerate and intensify work so as to reach a final solution, and that both sides would discuss this issue going forward, including at the summit level.
In closing, I should like once more to express my heartfelt sympathy to the people of L'Aquila, which was struck by an earthquake in April, and my sincere wishes for reconstruction at the earliest possible time. Allow me also to express my deep gratitude to the Government of Italy and the many others involved in hosting this summit for the warm welcome they have extended and their very thorough consideration and hospitality.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, you emphasised the outcomes of the series of meetings taking place during the course of the summit. Yet for example while the G8 hammered out a target of 80% reductions for developed countries in order to address global warming, it turned out that at the MEF it was not possible to have the emerging economies agree to the figure of 50% global reductions. Recently the limitations of the G8 have been pointed out, and I would like to know if you think that the role of the G8 continues to be necessary. In addition, the Japan-Russia summit talks ended without clear progress on the issue of the Northern Territories. Having now finished the entire series of meetings, would you say that you were able to attain sufficient results?
PRIME MINISTER TARO ASO: It is a fact that the G8 alone cannot tackle every issue that the world needs to address. Last year as the economic and financial crisis unfolded I was among the people saying that the G8 alone could not solve the issue and the participation of India and China would certainly be necessary, and as I recall that is how the G20 came to address the situation. As a result I feel that effective roles are being played by the G20 Summit in addressing the economic and financial crisis and by the MEF, that is, the Major Economies Forum, in addressing climate change.
Japan wants to utilise these new frameworks to act together with countries that have both the willingness and the capability to shoulder the concomitant responsibility. In my view, it is precisely because we are in an era in which we must address various issues together with an increasingly large number of countries that the importance of the G8 is now increasing, as a group that holds common values and has been contributing to the world in a responsible manner. I believe the realistic way forward is to advance international coordination further by mobilising the strengths of the international community with the G8 at the core.
The G8's determination to demonstrate responsibility in tackling climate change has been set forth clearly in the G8 Leaders Declaration. It was against that background that the Major Economies Forum, which includes emerging economies, achieved a significant outcome in agreeing to cooperate towards the setting of a global emissions reduction target by COP15, which will be held in Copenhagen at the end of the year. I believe this indicates, if anything, the unchanged importance of the G8. With the G8 alone comprising about 50% and the G14 some 80% of the global economy, these two groups wield tremendous influence.
As for the Japan-Russia summit talks, Russia's explanation this time failed to satisfy or meet Japan's position [on the territorial issue]. Yet at the same time, in my talks with President Medvedev, there was an indication that instructions would be given on the Russian side to accelerate and intensify work so as to reach a final solution of the territorial issue. The past sixty years have made it clear that this is an issue that must be taken up at the summit level, as it will not move forward through talks at just the working level, and therefore there is no option other than political resolution. I have reiterated this during our talks in November last year, this past February, and again at our talks this week. In that light, I continue to pay close attention to Russia's response on this matter.
PRIME MINISTER TARO ASO: Where did you study Japanese? Your Japanese is superb. I dare say you might speak it even better than members of the Japanese media. I hope you continue to use your Japanese language skills as much as possible with confidence.
The possession of nuclear weapons and the launch of missiles by North Korea clearly represent a grave threat to the peace, stability and security of not only Japan but also the international community, and are totally unacceptable. It is imperative that the international community should send out a concerted message that the possession of nuclear weapons and the launch of missiles by North Korea will not be tolerated. From that perspective, the content of the outcome document that the G8 released at this summit is in my personal view something to be commended by Japan as it works towards the comprehensive resolution of outstanding issues including the abduction, nuclear and missile issues. I appreciate the roles that Italy as G8 chair and Prime Minister [Silvio] Berlusconi have played in preparing such a statement. Henceforth, I believe the international community must be united in fully implementing United Nations Security Council resolution 1874 and must make North Korea understand beyond all doubt that actions taken in violation of UN Security Council resolutions will incur a cost. It is clear that, while Iran has not yet conducted any nuclear tests, North Korea has conducted two. Furthermore, North Korea has conducted test launches several times of Nodong missiles, in whose range Japan lies. What else could this be called, other than a threat?
In addition, as you mentioned just now, Italy has had diplomatic relations with North Korea since 2000. Japan looks forward to Italy, which holds a position of leadership in the international community, actively urging North Korea to resolve these issues.
In any case, North Korea must come to an unambiguous recognition of the concerns and the will of the international community and undertake concrete steps towards the full implementation of the Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks.
You also mentioned the successor issue. Various things are now being said, such as the third son being likely to succeed his father. While watching with interest, I don't consider it appropriate for me to comment here because of the nature of the matter.
PRIME MINISTER TARO ASO: I have been aware from the very beginning that@ the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election would be a very tough fight, and right now all those concerned in the ruling coalition are doing their utmost. I have been asked this same question frequently, but the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election is after all a local election. The points being contested in that election are fundamentally the issues relevant to the administrative affairs of the prefecture of Tokyo, with the people of Tokyo making a decision. It is not something that has any direct connection to national politics, as I have been saying for some time. As for my administration to remain at the helm, I as Prime Minister have responsibility for the politics of Japan. My job is to safeguard the Japanese people and Japan itself. There has been absolutely no change regarding my intention to discharge those responsibilities in the future.
PRIME MINISTER TARO ASO: That is a very good question. Underlying this financial crisis is an uneven pattern of financial flows, that is to say, of liquidity. Failure to address this matter may lead to a continued risk of destabilisation of the international financial system and even of the international monetary system, for example a situation where the dollar continues to depreciate indefinitely. Since the G20 meeting in Washington I have repeatedly emphasised that to redress this situation, we must at a minimum tackle the issue of current account imbalances around the world, that of so-called "global imbalances". In the concrete, it will be necessary as I mentioned earlier to rein in overconsumption in the United States, while also to have China and other emerging economies that are pursuing growth through exports shift to policies that foster internal demand, rather than to rely only on exports. In more technical language, we must coordinate the balance of the macroeconomic structures, which I emphasised not for the first time at this summit. This recognition was clearly reflected in not only the G8 Leaders Declaration but also the Declaration that was agreed among the G8 + 5. I consider this to be among the extremely important outcomes of our meetings here. I look forward to relevant countries taking appropriate actions in the future in accordance with this recognition.
That said, with regard to reining in domestic consumption in the United States, the fact is that the US savings rate, which had been negative, has risen to 5% recently, and it is said to be heading still higher. We can say conversely that the US [consumption and savings] balance may improve but that this will not immediately translate into a plus for the global economy. I see the balance between these two as the most challenging, as it is necessary to consider both aspects.
PRIME MINISTER TARO ASO: It is certainly correct to say that there is only a narrow range of options on the timing of the dissolution, insofar as only two months remain of the tenure of the members of the House of Representatives, that is, until 10 September. It is a fact that the time to make the decision is approaching. The Diet is currently in the midst of deliberations on the organ transplant bill and the cargo inspection bill, among other agenda items. I am also aware that a number of people both within and outside the party have been making various statements about the timing of the dissolution. I should like to take a decision on this topic soon, taking these factors fully into account.