2. Questions and Answers
Question: Today, you held your fourth meeting with French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian. What were the specific agenda items for the talk, and what was the outcome of the meeting?
Minister: The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding and agreed to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation. The French side was particularly interested in concluding the ACSA (Acquisition and Cross-Serving Agreement). The French side also requested us to jointly carry out research on defense equipment. Since we regard our relations with the French as vital in various aspects including cooperative relations in Djibouti, we replied that we will positively consider the requests from the French side.
Question: France has allegedly concluded a contract to sell Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to Russia, sparking criticism and concerns from other countries. Did you discuss that today?
Minister: We, too, have been greatly concerned about the intention of France to build and sell amphibious assault ships to Russia. So I explained to the French side today about the current situation in the Far East where Russia has been building up its military strength and bolstering military activities and exercises. I conveyed explicitly that we are deeply concerned about France's plan to sell amphibious assault ships to Russia.
Question: What was the response of Minister Le Drian to Japan's concern?
Minister: He well understood Japan's concern. However, he also explained to me that the transaction has already been made, and that the ships are designed for transport and are not equipped with any weapons. Then, I insisted that we are still very concerned about this action. At the end, Minister Le Drian said that the French side will consider future action after hearing the European Union's decision regarding the sanctions against Russia. At present, France is upholding its export plan based on the current level of sanctions.
Question: You mentioned earlier that the French side expressed interest in concluding the ACSA with Japan. What was the response of the Japanese side to that proposal?
Minister: As this is an issue of importance for Japan as well, I answered that we will consider this proposal in a positive manner.
Question: What is the significance of concluding the ACSA with France?
Minister: For example, a French naval ship called at a Japan's port last month or so. And a Self-Defense Forces training squadron is scheduled to call at a port in Tahiti, which is a French territory. The conclusion of the ACSA would be beneficial for both countries as it would allow them to provide various services to each other in these kinds of interactions. In addition, when I inspected the SDF's anti-piracy operations in Djibouti, I realized that France has strong influence on that country as its military is present there. Thus, concluding the ACSA with France should also be beneficial in terms of the SDF's anti-piracy operations.
Question: Did you discuss bilateral cooperation in the development of particular kinds of defense equipment?
Minister: The governments of the two countries are currently considering bilateral cooperation in the development of defense equipment by having launched a committee to discuss this matter. It is vital to advance this discussion. When Minister Le Drian inspected the Technical Research and Development Institute this morning, we gave him a tour to show our robot technology which he was particularly interested in.
Question: Did you give an explanation today to the French side about the fact that the Cabinet approved the SDF to exercise the right to collective self-defense?
Minister: I explained about the recent Cabinet decision on the right to collective self-defense using some specific case scenarios to illustrate its application.
Question: What was the response of Minister Le Drian to that?
Minister: His view was that Japan's new defense policies including the decision to exercise the right to collective self-defense make perfect sense. And he welcomed the Japanese government's policy of proactive contribution to peace of the international community as a peace-loving nation.
Question: Did you discuss the current regional situation today?
Minister: Yes, indeed, with an emphasis on the North Korea issue and the issue concerning the South China Sea.
Question: Could you tell us the significance of the memorandum of understanding which was signed just before the meeting?
Minister: The memorandum is very significant as we agreed to further advance the defense cooperation between the two countries.
Question: Why is it important to promote personnel exchange?
Minister: The two sides prepared a joint report regarding the personnel systems of the two countries in preparation for enhancing defense cooperation. As we start exchanging personnel hereafter, it will be helpful to mutually understand each other's personnel management system and organization. So the memorandum signed today incorporated some preconditions for future personnel exchanges.
Question: Regarding the robot technology, which you mentioned earlier, is the French side especially interested in Japan's unmanned underwater vehicles?
Minister: Minister Le Drian expressed broad interests. Among them were the unmanned underwater vehicles.
Question: When are you aiming to conclude the ACSA and the agreement on joint research on defense equipment?
Minister: As for the ACSA, the French side proposed to conclude it for the first time today. Since the memorandum was concluded today, I will instruct my staff to start deliberation on that proposal immediately.
Question: When the two sides were discussing the regional situation, was downing of the Malaysian airliner brought up?
Minister: That incident was not brought up at the meeting. However, we talked about the crash of the Algerian airliner that was carrying over 50 French people. We offered our condolences for those who were killed in the accident and expressed our sympathies for the survivors.
Question: I have a question related to the issue of mitigating the impact of military bases on Okinawa. A press report indicated that five locations had been picked as possible Osprey training relocation sites. Is that a fact? Also, could you comment on that?
Minister: Relocation of Osprey training to mainland Japan is vital in terms of mitigating the impact on Okinawa as we have been reiterating. However, it is not a fact that specific relocation sites have been determined.
Question: Have you already selected candidate sites then?
Minister: I have not yet been informed of any such specific decisions being made.
Question: I would like to return to the topic concerning the planned sale of amphibious assault ships to Russia by France. Western countries, especially the United States, are strongly demanding to cancel the sale. In contrast, Japan just merely conveyed the concern that the Russians might deploy the ships in the Far East. Why did you not more demandingly request the French side to stop the whole deal?
Minister: By saying we are concerned, I meant to discourage the French side from selling. I was told that France is planning to export two amphibious assault ships. According to one theory, those ships concerned have been named Sevastopol and Vladivostok. These names represent a city in Ukraine, which is currently attracting global attention and concerns, and a city in Russia where we are afraid that Russia's Far Eastern military is building strength. If these names really imply where they will actually be deployed, it would surely be a serious concern internationally. I conveyed my grave concern to the French side in hope of stopping the planned sale.
Question: The Chinese have begun military exercises in the East China Sea from today. These exercises are more extensive compared to the ones conducted in previous years. And they are being carried out in the East China Sea where the Senkaku Islands are located. What is the reaction of the Japanese side to these actions?
Minister: Many countries regularly conduct various military drills in their neighboring waters. We, too, have been routinely conducting military training. We understand that these are normal exercises regularly performed by the Chinese without assuming any particular countries or specific situations.