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Press Conference by the Chief Cabinet Secretary

May 8, 2017 (AM)

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]

Q&As

REPORTER: I have a question about the French presidential election. The results of the final round of voting have come in and Mr. Emmanuel Macron has been elected President of France. What is your analysis as to how this result may affect Japan?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Firstly, the Government of Japan welcomes the election of Mr. Macron as President of France and extends heartfelt congratulations to him on his victory. Japan and France are exceptional partners that share the universal values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Japan seeks to continue to strengthen relations with France under the new administration of President-elect Macron and further promote cooperation on various challenges facing the international community.

REPORTER: I have a related question. There is a widely held view that the victory of Mr. Macron will help to avoid further turmoil in Europe. What is the view of the Government on this point?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: As I have just noted, Japan and France are exceptional partners that share the universal values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Therefore we welcome the incoming administration and there will be absolutely no change to our existing stance.

REPORTER: I have a related question. The G7 Taormina Summit is scheduled to take place this month, so will a Japan-France summit meeting be held at that time?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Naturally I would imagine that arranging such a meeting would be explored.

REPORTER: What is the Government's view on the fact that the anti-EU and anti-immigrant assertions of Ms. Marine Le Pen of the National Front gained a certain degree of support among the French people?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Firstly, as this is a matter that concerns the domestic affairs of France I believe it is not appropriate for the Government to make a comment. That said, the Government of Japan wishes to continue to work with a highly united and strong Europe in tackling the various issues that face the international community.

REPORTER: I have a question concerning the revision of the Constitution. On May 3, Prime Minister Abe announced his intention to realize the amendment of the Constitution and enter into force a new Constitution by 2020. With regard to the items that would be revised, he expressed a desire to specifically mention the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in Article 9 of the Constitution and incorporate text that would make education free for all people. Could you share with us your views on the significance and purpose as to why the Prime Minister made this announcement about specific targets for constitutional amendment at this timing?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: With regard to the comments made by the Prime Minister about the Constitution, it is my understanding that he made public his views on constitutional amendment in his position as President of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). I do not think, therefore, that I should make any comment on behalf of the Government.

REPORTER: With regard to Article 9, in his comments the Prime Minister noted that he would wish to leave paragraphs 1 and 2 as they currently stand and revise the article by including specific wording on the SDF. Is it your understanding that such a method of amendment would be more acceptable to the public and to ruling and opposition parties?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I think the Government should not comment on this matter. Having said that, I believe that in his position as President of the LDP, the Prime Minister made the comments based on his judgment, as one of the party platforms of the LDP is to realize constitutional amendment and the LDP has been advocating this.

REPORTER: You stated that the Government should not comment on this matter. However, how do you think the Government should seek the understanding of other parties if the aim is to enter into force a new Constitution by 2020?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Firstly, there are the Commissions on the Constitution in the Diet. In this context, regardless of political affiliation I think it is important for all parties to express their respective views and concepts and advance serious discussions in that forum.

(Abridged)

REPORTER: I have a question concerning the protection of a U.S. naval vessel. It is being reported by various media outlets that based on Japan's security legislation, from May 1 to 3 vessels of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) engaged in duties protecting a U.S. naval vessel. The Government has not publicized the details of these duties, so is it the Government's view that it was not necessary to release details at the time the duties were being undertaken?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Firstly, two MSDF destroyers and a U.S. replenishment ship engaged in joint exercises from May 1 to 3. Although there have been various press reports on these exercises, with respect to the implementation of the operation to provide protection for U.S. Forces, I would like to refrain from responding to each question in consideration of the possible impact on U.S. Forces' activities and our relationship with our partner.

REPORTER: Are we to understand then that although joint exercises were implemented from May 1 to 3, the Government will not be releasing information on whether the MSDF actually provided protection, armed or otherwise, to a U.S. naval vessel?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: That is basically the case, yes.

REPORTER: I would like to return to the topic of the Constitution. You have just noted that the Prime Minister made comments in his position as LDP President about wanting to enter into force a new Constitution by 2020 and adding a clause that specifies the existence of the SDF in Article 9. Do you yourself view that work on constitutional amendment should be advanced on the basis of the recognition outlined by the Prime Minister?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: As this was a comment made by the LDP President I would like to refrain from making any comment about an internal party matter in my position as Chief Cabinet Secretary. I would add that I expect that discussions on this matter will be advanced within the LDP.

REPORTER: I have a related question. The proposal to leave the first and second paragraphs as they stand, which renounce war and declare that forces with war potential will never be maintained, respectively, and instead add a clause that specifies the existence of the SDF, is viewed by some as giving consideration to the position of Komeito. Can I ask for your thoughts on this point?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: The Prime Minister made these comments in his position as President of the LDP. It is to be hoped that all parties will engage in a national discussion on such matters in a calm environment in the forum of the Commission on the Constitution.

REPORTER: I have one further question. While the LDP was in opposition, its draft proposal for constitutional amendment called for changing Article 9 in its entirety and instead referring to the maintenance of a national defense force. What are your thoughts on the consistency between the Prime Minister's recent comments and that draft proposal?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: As I have already noted, these comments were made by the Prime Minister in his position as LDP President and I therefore expect that discussions will be advanced within the party on the basis of these comments.

REPORTER: Although you have repeatedly stated that these comments were made by the Prime Minister in his position as LDP President, given that a motion to amend the Constitution would have to be made in the Diet and also in view of the fact that the Prime Minister is the head of Government, do you think it is appropriate for him to make such comments?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Is it not a fact that at the same time as being head of Government, the Prime Minister is also party President? Furthermore, since its establishment one of the consistent party platforms of the LDP has been to seek constitutional amendment and the party has boldly advocated constitutional amendment. Therefore I do not think it in any way unusual for the LDP President to make such comments.

REPORTER: I understand that the comments were made by the Prime Minister in his position as LDP President, but he has stated that making specific mention of the SDF in a new third paragraph of Article 9 would not significantly change the existing interpretation of the right of self-defense. This could be understood as meaning that the use of force would be limited to use for the purposes of defending Japan. However, given the increasing severity of the security environment, can I ask whether the Government shares this view that Japan would maintain an exclusively defense-oriented policy and would resort to the use of force only to defend Japan?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: That is basically the case, yes.

REPORTER: So it is the Government's view that even if the security environment becomes severe there is no need to change the existing concepts with regard to the SDF and defense?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: The view of the Government on this matter remains consistent with explanations that have been provided in the Diet to date.

REPORTER: If that is the case, given that the Government has consistently taken the stance that the SDF is constitutional, and all other parties with the exception of the Japanese Communist Party have also taken a similar stance, could you tell us about the significance of amending the Constitution? It would appear that constitutional amendment is an aim in itself and it is not clear what, in what way, would change by amending the Constitution.

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I imagine that the LDP will advance discussions within the party and then present the outcomes of the discussions to the Commissions on the Constitution. In this process, the people will make the final decision. I believe that is best.

REPORTER: The Prime Minister raised the issues. In his comments the Prime Minister expressed his desire to make specific mention of the existence of the SDF in the Constitution. In that case there will be no substantive changes to current interpretations. Is that not correct? Is it OK to assume that nothing will change with this amendment? If so, could you tell us what is the significance of seeking to make such a change in the first place?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: It is true that there are many scholars who are of the view that the SDF itself is unconstitutional. Against this backdrop, the Prime Minister expressed his view in his position as LDP President. I perceive that the Prime Minister made his comments as LDP President based on the view that it is irresponsible in the extreme to ask the members of the SDF to put their lives on the line in the event of a contingency while saying that the SDF may be unconstitutional.

REPORTER: I have a further point of confirmation. The Government's consistently stated stance to date is that the SDF is constitutional and therefore there is no problem, so it seems somewhat contradictory to call for constitutional amendment because there may be questions about unconstitutionality. This would appear to be a reaction to scholarly opinion, given that the Government has consistently upheld the stance that the SDF is constitutional and asked SDF members to put their lives on the line in a contingency. I think that there is some degree of contradiction in what you are saying.

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: I believe that the intention behind the Prime Minister's comments in his position as President of the LDP, which has constitutional amendment as one of its party platforms, was to clarify the issues around the status of the SDF as SDF personnel engage in their duties on a vague ground.

REPORTER: Following the successful extraction of natural gas in a methane hydrate production test in the eastern region of the Nankai Trough on May 4, tests are due to continue for approximately one month to confirm whether stable production of natural gas is possible. Following on from 2013 this is the second time that natural gas has successfully been produced from below the seabed, so could I ask about the latest developments and future outlook?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SUGA: Firstly, from 10 a.m. on May 4 natural gas production started at the site you mentioned and is currently continuing. Tests are for the primary purpose of confirming the production of natural gas and will continue for three-to-four weeks, and the Government will continue to monitor the progress of the tests for the time being. Based on the results of the tests the Government will continue to engage actively in research and development towards realizing commercial production of natural gas.

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