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Press Conference by the Chief Cabinet Secretary

April 7, 2017 (PM)

If you can not view the video,click here(Japanese Government Internet TV)
This video's audio is a provisional translation through live simultaneous interpretation.

Press Conference by the Chief Cabinet Secretary (Excerpt)

[Provisional Translation]

Opening Statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: A meeting of the Liaison Council for Supporting the Restoration and Reconstruction from the Kumamoto Earthquake was held today. At the meeting, discussions were held regarding the progress of the restoration and reconstruction efforts, nearly one year on from the Kumamoto Earthquake, as well as discussion relating to what remains to be done, and the extent to which improvement measures based on lessons learned from the response to the Kumamoto Earthquake are being implemented. The Cabinet Office will serve as a point of contact and work together with relevant ministries and agencies in organizing, as early as possible, on-site discussion meetings in Kumamoto Prefecture, in coordination with the Kumamoto Prefectural Government. In such ways, the Government, standing with the affected areas, will continue with the restoration and reconstruction efforts while listening closely to the requests of Kumamoto Prefecture and relevant municipalities. We will carry out ongoing reviews of our disaster countermeasures based on lessons learned from the Kumamoto Earthquake, and continue to make every effort to prepare for future major disasters.

Q&As

REPORTER: I have a question regarding the U.S. missile attack on Syria. Earlier today, the Prime Minister expressed his support for the U.S. Government's determination. First of all, what were the reasons behind this decision by the Prime Minister to express his support?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: The international community bore witness to the tragic suffering of innocent civilians due to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. We support President Trump's determination to fulfill its responsibility to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons and deter their use in response to this incident. There is a United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution that sets forth that the use of chemical weapons, no matter what the circumstances are, constitutes a threat to global peace and security. In this light, it is our understanding that the United States took the action in order to prevent further aggravation of the situation. No more people shall fall victim to chemical weapons ever again. The threat posed by the proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), including nuclear and chemical weapons, is not only an issue concerning Syria. Similar issues could potentially arise in North Korea and other parts of East Asia, and Japan will work together with the United States and other countries on these issues.

REPORTER: A related question. Was the Japanese Government informed in advance about the U.S. missile attack?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Japan and the United States coordinate closely on a wide variety of issues on a day-to-day basis. I would like to refrain from making comments.

REPORTER: I have a related question. The decision of the United States to launch into military action is predicted to exacerbate the confrontation between the United States and Russia over Syria. What kind of impact do you expect it to have on relations between Japan and Russia?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I do not believe it will have any direct impact on the peace treaty negotiations issue that exists between Japan and Russia. 

REPORTER: A related question. The Prime Minister has expressed his support for the determination of the U.S. Government in attacking Syria, but how does the Japanese Government view the fact that it was an armed attack conducted without the backing of a UN resolution?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I believe what the Prime Minister stated says it all.

REPORTER: One could infer that the Prime Minister did not directly commend the armed attack itself. What is the Government's understanding of this point?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: As I have just stated, and the Prime Minister spoke of this during his press occasion, the Government supports President Trump's determination to fulfill its responsibility to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons and deter the utilization of such weapons, and there is also a relevant UN Security Council resolution that sets forth that the use of chemical weapons, no matter what the circumstances are, constitutes a threat to global peace and security.

REPORTER: I have a related question. The issues of Syria have been discussed at the UN Security Council. However, do you believe that the decision by the United States to launch an armed attack on a unilateral basis was inevitable considering the situation in which some member nations of the Security Council are expected to exercise their veto?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Japan is not involved in the military operations in question. We would like to ask the United States about their thinking on this matter. I believe that says it all.

REPORTER: With regard to this latest use of chemical weapons, President Trump had concluded, in conducting the attack, that chemical weapons had been used, and the Prime Minister has also concluded that chemical weapons had been used. However, has the United States provided any kind of basis for determining that such weapons had without any doubt been used, rather than there just being a suspicion that this was the case?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: We recognize that enormous suffering has resulted from this use of chemical weapons in Syria. We understand that further details are now being investigated by a UN agency.

REPORTER: I have a question relating to the previous question. The Prime Minister stated that it is his understanding that the United States took the action in order to prevent further aggravation of the situation. The action was an attack on a military facility belonging to the Assad administration. Is it the Japanese Government's understanding that it was the Assad administration that was behind this incident?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: First, the Government fully recognizes that the use of chemical weapons in Syria resulted in enormous suffering, and as I have just stated, we believe that a UN agency is currently investigating the further details. The use of chemical weapons cannot, under any circumstances, be accepted, and the Government will work closely with the international community to find out what happened.

REPORTER: I do not think you directly answered the last question. During the Iraq War, WMDs were ultimately not found. Subsequently the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) conducted a study. It was found that conducting an analysis from a critical perspective and drawing information from a more diverse range of sources were challenges for the Japanese Government in a situation where it was largely the shared view of the international community at the time that Iraq had WMDs. Did you draw upon these issues and lessons learned in the process of confirming this recent incident?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I believe that they were, without any doubt.

REPORTER: I have a related question. I believe a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) was held moments ago. Did the ministers affirm anything or did the Prime Minister issue any instructions at the meeting?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: The four ministers' meeting of the NSC was held a short while ago. Discussions were held regarding the situation in Syria. Discussions were held regarding aggregating and analyzing information concerning the action taken by the United States. I would like to refrain from commenting on the specifics of what was discussed.

REPORTER: Mr. Trump called on all nations to put an end to the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria. What kind of role does the Japanese Government intend to play in the future?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: The use of chemical weapons cannot be accepted under any circumstances, and the Government will be cooperating with the international community to take steady steps to find out what happened in Syria.

REPORTER: One more question. If the United States' attacks were to continue, will the Government begin to consider providing logistics supports based on Japan's security-related laws?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: While I will refrain from answering hypothetical questions, the role to be played by Japan has already been determined. It is first and foremost Japan's role to work closely with the international community to ensure that no further suffering occurs as a result of the use of chemical weapons.

REPORTER: A related question. Earlier there was a question on Japan-Russia relations. Russia has not acknowledged the use of chemical weapons. Was the Prime Minister's thinking on this issue communicated to the Russian side before the Prime Minister expressed his support for the United States?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Japan will deepen relations with Russia taking into account our national interests. We do not consider that this issue will have any impact on our bilateral relations.

REPORTER: I apologize for asking this now, but what I was asking was whether the Prime Minister's intention to express his support for the United States was communicated to the Russian side in advance?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Earlier you noted that relations between the United States and Russia will worsen. However, the Government refrains from commenting on relations between other countries, including diplomatic issues. Therefore, the Government would like to refrain from commenting on this matter.

REPORTER: A related question. A short while ago, you specifically mentioned North Korea, saying "North Korea and other parts of East Asia." Do you think this firing of missiles by the United States will keep in check North Korea, which is continuing with its development of missiles and nuclear weapons?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I would like to refrain from speculating on the impact of the U.S. action on the North Korea situation. Having said that, the proliferation and use of WMDs including nuclear and chemical weapons is not only a threat in Syria but could also potentially become a realistic threat in North Korea and other parts of East Asia. The action indicated President Trump's determination to fulfill its responsibility to prevent the proliferation and use of WMDs, and the Government will work with the United States in addressing the issues of North Korea.

REPORTER: My question is related to the preceding question. What are your thoughts on the possibility that North Korea could accelerate its development of nuclear weapons, perceiving that Syria was attacked because it possesses no nuclear weapons?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: As I just stated, the action indicated President Trump's determination to fulfill its responsibility to prevent the proliferation and use of WMDs. The Government's stance is that the use of chemical weapons, as in this case, cannot be accepted under any circumstances, and we will work with the international community to find out what occurred. Our understanding is that this U.S. action was a measure to stop the further aggravation of the situation given that chemical weapons were utilized.

REPORTER: A related question. Prime Minister Abe is expected to visit Russia as early as late April. Will the issues related to Syria be discussed during the Prime Minister's visit to Russia?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I would like to refrain at this stage from commenting about what has yet to take place.

REPORTER: A related question. This was alluded to in a previous question, but the exercise of the right of collective self-defense is allowed under the Legislation for Peace and Security. What is your outlook on the possibility that Japan would be dragged into military operations if the United States were to engage in such operations in the Middle East, including Syria?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: The Government has made itself clear relating to that issue.

REPORTER: One more question. Are any telephone talks or other opportunities with President Trump scheduled to communicate Japan's decision to support the determination of the United States?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: None are currently scheduled.

REPORTER: I would like to ask you about the basis under international law for the attack by the United States. Does the attack constitute a security measure based on a past Security Council resolution? Or does it constitute the exercise of the right of self-defense? Can you also tell us whether there was any explanation relating to this from the U.S. side?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: The Government coordinates closely with the United States on a day-to-day basis. However, due to the nature of the matter, I would like to refrain from commenting on individual details.

REPORTER: With regard to Syria, the Russian Government is providing support, including military support, to the Assad administration. What kind of response does the Government expect from both the United States and Russia to prevent the civil war in Syria from becoming even more intractable?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: We understand that the U.S. action was taken under the circumstances where suffering resulting from the use of chemical weapons must never be repeated.

REPORTER: I have a question regarding your phrasing that the Prime Minister commended the "determination of the United States." Even if the Prime Minister commends the determination of the United States at this timing, I think other countries will take this to mean the Prime Minister essentially commended the action itself. It can be regarded that the Government gave its OK because the word "determination" is used. Can you please explain?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Of course, as I have been saying, the international community bore witness to the tragic suffering of the innocent civilians in Syria due to the use of chemical weapons, and we support President Trump's determination to fulfill the United States' responsibility to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons and deter their use. It is just as the words explain.

REPORTER: I am sorry that my question is slightly redundant, but what is the basis for the conclusion that chemical weapons were actually utilized?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: With regard to this matter, firstly, we recognize that there has been enormous suffering resulting from chemical weapons and I believe that an investigation into further details by a UN organization is currently underway.

REPORTER: One more question. Earlier there were questions relating to the impact the armed attack will have on relations with Russia and on North Korea. President Trump, who has said that all options are on the table to deal with North Korea, went ahead with the armed attack on the grounds that the Syrian government crossed a red line. The U.S.-China summit is now underway. What impact do you think the attack will have on the future actions of China, which is requested to play a larger role by the United States and Japan?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: The summit meeting between the United States and China are probably underway as we speak. The meeting is not yet over. I expect that there will naturally be information on what kind of talks took place, and in that context, we intend to analyze the information.

REPORTER: I would like to change the subject and ask a question about the meeting of the Headquarters for Ocean Policy that was held this morning. At today's meeting, Prime Minister Abe stated that it will begin conducting reviews toward the establishment of the next Basic Plan on Ocean Policy. The Prime Minister said that the next plan will consider maritime security broadly, and will enhance initiatives such as those for patrols in territorial seas. What items do you intend to give emphasis to in establishing the plan?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Taking into consideration factors such as the recent changes in the situation surrounding oceans, the exact content of the next plan will be considered, with the important themes including maritime security and promotion of industrial uses of the sea.

REPORTER: A related question. At today's meeting, it was reported that the Government completed the procedures for the nationalization of uninhabited islands that have no owners. In addition, today, with the entry into force of the Law on Special Measures for Inhabited Remote Island Areas, the Prime Minister approved a basic policy on the preservation and promotion of remote islands. In both cases, the preservation of remote islands seems to be the key topic. What is its significance in your opinion?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: First of all, of the 431 uninhabited remote islands that provide the basis for establishing Japan's territorial water claims, there are 273 that have no owner, and we have been taking steps to nationalize them. Today, members of ministries and agencies with jurisdiction over the islands reported that they have completed listing the islands on the National Property Ledger last month, as well as about the progress of the real estate registration procedures. With regard to the remote islands for which real estate registration procedures have yet to be completed, we will swiftly proceed with the procedures with the cooperation of local governments and others.

(Abridged)

REPORTER: I have a question relating to the Kumamoto Earthquake, which you talked about in your opening statement. You stated that on-site discussion meetings would be held in Kumamoto Prefecture and that the Government would listen carefully to the opinions of the people. What kinds of supports do you hope will be provided as an outcome of these exchanges of views?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: We received a request from the Kumamoto Prefectural Government for members of the relevant ministries to visit the area. It was therefore decided that this on-site discussion meeting would be held with the Cabinet Office acting as a point of contact, in collaboration with the relevant ministries and agencies. We will make arrangements to have local government officials in Kumamoto Prefecture also attend the meetings. Through the meetings, the Government, standing with the affected areas, will carry out restoration and reconstruction work. At this point in time we are considering holding the meeting in around mid-June in Kumamoto City attended by officials of the local governments of the disaster-affected areas and officials from relevant national ministries and agencies.

REPORTER: I believe you mentioned earlier that disaster management systems would be reviewed based on lessons learned from the Kumamoto Earthquake. Can you also tell us what you see as the issues to be addressed in this review?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Firstly, since assuming office, we have, in fact, always made sure that whenever such incidents occurred we studied them in order to prepare for the next natural disaster. And again, in the case of the Kumamoto Earthquake, a working group that included experts compiled a report. Taking these into consideration, we will revise parts of the operations manual for the on-site disaster management headquarters that failed to be undertaken. We will also enhance trainings and drills to cover what were necessary aside from what were necessary based on our past experience. In addition, we will establish guidelines for local governments regarding the system of receiving aid in the wake of disasters, as well as create compilations of case studies on the operation of evacuation centers. We will also steadily develop systems for the procurement of supplies and for information sharing.

REPORTER: According to reports, the population of Shizuoka City is projected to fall below 700,000. There has been a significant outflow of young people from places close to Tokyo, leading to population declines. What sort of countermeasure do you consider should be implemented in response to these kinds of population distortions?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: The Government also feels a sense of crisis over the population decline in the regions. Therefore, we are now implementing a variety of measures, such as initiatives to vitalize local economies, to be able to bring out the respective appeals of the regions.

REPORTER: I think in the past "vitalizing local economies" applied to regions that are far from the greater Tokyo area. Shizuoka, on the other hand, is within commuting distance from Tokyo on the Shinkansen. The outflow of young people from such areas is, albeit in a different sense, a serious problem. What are your views on this?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Nationwide efforts are currently being undertaken to deal with these and other issues.

REPORTER: I would like to change the subject. In a written response approved in a Cabinet meeting today, it is stated that assistants to the spouse of Prime Minister Abe accompanied her on her visit to Pearl Harbor. Did the Government pay for their travel expenses?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Two Cabinet Secretariat officials and one official from MOFA accompanied the spouse of the Prime Minister for the purpose of performing liaison and coordination work related to activities that support Mrs. Abe's execution of public duties in the immediate timeframe. I have been briefed that the travel expenses of the Cabinet Secretariat officials were paid by the hosts of the Japan-U.S. International Symposium for Ocean Conservation in Hawaii, and the travel expenses of the MOFA official were paid by MOFA.

REPORTER: On April 4, the extremist group, the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), issued a statement online criticizing President Trump. ISIL is based in Syria, which was subject to a missile attack by the U.S. Forces today. In its April 4 statement, ISIL said that the most important stage in the history of jihad has been reached, and called for terrorist attacks to be carried out around the world. What are your intentions for strengthening counter-terrorism measures in Japan, including against "homegrown" terrorism in response to this statement?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Firstly, we are enhancing our efforts for collecting and analyzing information relating to people who express support for ISIL online. Furthermore, the public and private sectors are working together to advance counter-terrorism measures to prevent terrorists and others from obtaining chemical substances that could potentially be used as materials for the production of explosives. In addition, the bill concerning Tero-to-Junbi-Zai (the offence to criminalize an act in furtherance of planning to commit terrorism and other serious crimes), which was recently submitted to the Diet, has received Cabinet approval. So far 187 countries have concluded the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Of the G7 members only Japan is yet to conclude the Convention. In order to combat domestic and international terrorist organizations, it is critically important to cooperate closely with the international community on the extradition of criminals, assistance in investigations, and the gathering of information. For these activities, we hope to conclude the Convention as early as possible in the interests of the advancement of international cooperation.

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