Transcript

Secretary Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi at a Joint Press Availability

March 16, 2021
Secretary Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) The ministers and secretaries will enter the room shortly.  Please stay seated.

We will begin the joint press conference of Japan-U.S. 2+2.  At the outset, Foreign Minister Motegi, State Secretary Blinken, Defense Minister Kishi, and Defense Secretary Austin will make remarks in that order to be followed by Q&A.

I now give the floor to Minister Motegi.  Please, go ahead.

FOREIGN MINISTER MOTEGI:  (Via interpreter) Thank you very much.  With Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, and Minister Kishi, we held the Japan-U.S. 2+2 and we were able to engage in extremely enriched and extensive exchange of views.  The two secretaries have been kind enough to come to Japan as the first destination of their overseas travel in their new duties under the new administration.  Again, my heartfelt gratitude.

As I mentioned at the outset of the meeting, the strategic environment of the Indo-Pacific has entered into a completely different dimension than where it used to be, and the importance of our alliance has never been elevated to such heights.  At this timing, when the Biden administration is engaged in a series of policy reviews, we were able to hold Japan-U.S. 2+2 to conduct in-depth discussion on the strategic environment and the policy towards strengthening the deterrence and response capabilities of our alliance.  It was extremely useful, and this was a strong manifestation of the robustness of our alliance.

At today’s 2+2, there were three major outcomes.  First, we were able to renew the unwavering commitment towards the alliance.  Based upon the notion that our alliance is the very foundation for regional peace, stability, and prosperity, we agreed that Japan and the United States will continue to collaborate with likeminded nations, including Australia and India, to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Further, we reconfirmed the strong commitment of the United States regarding defense of Japan using all types of U.S. forces including nuclear.  Second, we conducted extensive discussion on the regional strategic environment on the situation in China.  We agreed on the recognition that China’s behavior, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents various challenges to the alliance and the international community.  We remain opposed to any unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo, including in the East and South China Seas.  We share serious concerns over the China coast guard law.

On regional strategic environment, we reconfirmed the application of Article 5 of our security treaty on the Senkaku Islands and continued our – and confirmed our continued opposition to any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands.  Further, we confirmed the importance of peace and stability of the Taiwan Straits.

Further, as we strive for realization of complete denuclearization of North Korea, we confirmed the importance of complete implementation of UNSC resolutions and confirmed that cooperation will continue amongst the three countries Japan, U.S., and ROK, in addition to the bilateral cooperation with the United States.  Further, U.S. full support was gained after confirming the importance of early resolution of the abduction issue.

Thirdly, in light of this very difficult security environment, we agreed to further reinforce our collaboration for deterrence and response capability of the alliance.  Further, at the timing when various policy reviews are underway in the United States, we were able to meticulously coordinate the strategies and policies of both nations.  We confirmed that partnership will continue to bolster extended deterrence and confirmed the deepening of cross-domain cooperation including space and cyber.

At this 2+2, we also agreed on the importance of maintaining the deterrence of the alliance, and at the same time reducing the impact of the local community in Okinawa.  Especially in order to avoid the indefinite use of Futenma Air Station, we confirmed that construction of the replacement facility in Henoko is the only solution.  Further, I also again requested the U.S. side for safe operation and smooth response to incidents and accidents by paying maximum consideration to the impact to the local community by the USFJ.

And also, we made public a joint statement, and based upon the discussions and the joint statement, both governments will embark upon more specific work towards strengthening of our alliance, and then the next 2+2 will be held by the end of the year to confirm the outcome and deliverables.  I look forward to further achieving progress in our alliance with Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin.

I now will hand over to Secretary Blinken, Minister Kishi, and Secretary Austin in that order.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Toshi, thank you so very much, and good afternoon, everyone.  I just want to start by thanking our hosts Foreign Minister Motegi, Defense Minister Kishi, and everyone behind the scenes who helped make this visit such a success.

I’m very pleased that we’ve been able to represent the United States alongside Secretary of Defense Austin, whose commitment to the security of our country and our allies is unsurpassed.  There’s a reason that he and I came to Japan for the first Cabinet-level, in-person, overseas travel of the Biden-Harris administration: because this alliance matters deeply to the United States and to Japan.  And after today, I feel very confident in saying it is stronger than ever.  Together, we’re addressing core security concerns, including North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and maritime security across the region as well.

We’re tackling other urgent issues facing our countries, including COVID-19, climate change, cyber security.  And in each of these areas, we are dealing together with issues that affect the lives of our citizens.  That’s our focus.  We’re also standing together in support of our shared values.  We believe in democracy and human rights, the rule of law, because we’ve seen how our own countries are stronger because we adhere to those values, and because they’re under threat in many places, including in this region.

In Burma, the military is attempting to overturn the results of a democratic election and is brutally repressing peaceful protesters.  And China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law.

We’re united in the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, where countries follow the rules, cooperate whenever they can, and resolve their differences peacefully.  And in particular, we will push back if necessary when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way.  As we’ve discussed today, the Indo-Pacific region is increasingly the center of global geopolitics.  It’s where so much of the history of the 21st century is going to be written.  There are competing visions for how that story should go.  Japan and the United States, together with our allies and partners, will be strong advocates for our shared approach, grounded in our values and our joint commitment to the security and well-being of all our people.

This will be the message we reiterate later this week in Seoul, when Secretary Austin and I will meet our counterparts in the Republic of Korea.  As we discussed today, greater trilateral cooperation among all three of our countries will make us stronger.  Secretary Austin and I are charged with ensuring that our national security and foreign policy delivers for the American people.  There’s no doubt that the work we’ve done today meets that test.  The people of the United States share bonds of friendship and family with the people of Japan.  We’ve stood together in tough times like 10 years ago, when the devastating 3/11 earthquake struck.  We join you now in remembering those who were lost.

And we look ahead.  We look ahead to the future together with confidence that the friendship between our countries will endure – but not only endure, it will grow.  And together, we will build a stronger, healthier future for all of our people.

Thank you for having us here today.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Minister Kishi.

DEFENSE MINISTER KISHI:  (Via interpreter) Yes, thank you very much.  At the outset, I would like to again extend our appreciations to the Operation Tomodachi by the U.S. forces as we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake.  The Japanese people and the Self-Defense Force – land, ground, maritime, and air – will never forget the relief activities and humanitarian assistance by the U.S. forces.

It’s been two years since the last 2+2 meeting, and the security environment has greatly changed.  Furthermore, we are in the midst of our battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.  Despite that, in the surrounding areas of Japan and the Indo-Pacific, unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo by force and introduction of advanced military technology has not ceased.  In fact, these trends are accelerating, and in the midst of such security environment, the four ministers responsible for defense and foreign policy of the United States and Japan got together to reconfirm the importance of the alliance and agreed that we will be engaged in the bolstering of the alliance.  That was very meaningful.

At the meeting on regional strategic environment, I mentioned the China coast guard law that was enacted most recently and presented my strong concern of the increased activities of the China coast guard recently and stronger partnership with the military forces, and this was agreed by all four ministers.  We must not allow the coast guard law to undermine the legitimate interests of relevant nations, including Japan, and it is absolutely unacceptable if the law were to elevate tension in the waters, including the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

I am of the determination to protect Japanese territory by use of all means, and I also asserted the importance of peace and stability over the Taiwan Straits.

On the strengthening of deterrence and response capability of the alliance, in order to strengthen our defense and to bolster our alliance, I explained that we continue to build up multi-domain defense force under the National Defense Program Guidelines.  Further, since cross-domain initiatives are important in our relationship, we agreed to further promote cooperation in the domains of space and cyber.  With difficulty in the security environment increasing, in order for the U.S. forces and the Self-Defense Force to serve their missions, we agreed on the notion of the necessity to engage in more sophisticated bilateral as well as multilateral exercises.

The U.S. forces and Self-Defense Force gaining high capability through exercises and demonstrating that they are acting together are important from the perspective of deterrence and response capability of our alliance.  That is my view.

On the transformation of the U.S. forces, the four ministers welcomed the progress and reconfirmed that the current agreement will be implemented.  On the construction of the Futenma Replacement Facility, we again confirmed that relocation to Henoko is the only solution to avoid the indefinite use of Futenma Air Station.  I also briefed them on the progress of landfill, and the four ministers agreed that we will work hard for early completion of the work.

In addition, I also updated my colleagues on the progress in the FCLP facilities.  Based upon the discussions that have taken place today, I look forward to further bolstering the deterrence and response capability of our alliance with Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken.  While the administration is still young, the secretaries have been kind enough to visit us physically despite the pandemic.  And again, my deepest appreciations to the two secretaries.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Well, thank you all for coming.  I’d like to start by thanking Minister Motegi and Minister Kishi for being gracious hosts.  And I thank the Japanese people for their incredibly warm hospitality.

I’d also like to thank Secretary Blinken for his leadership and for the opportunity to work together as we share President Biden’s message of our strong commitment to reinvigorating our alliances and partnerships around the globe.

The U.S.-Japan Alliance in particular is a cornerstone of our Indo-Pacific strategy, and is absolutely critical in supporting a free and open region.  And today’s 2+2 engagement charts an effective course for our alliance, and I was pleased with our discussions on how we can further strengthen our bonds to seize the opportunities and address the challenges that we face together.

As you have heard, we spoke on a number of issues, to include our commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea, and enhancing alliance capabilities across all domains, and addressing aggressive and coercive behaviors from China, especially in the South and East China Seas.

I know Japan shares our concerns with China’s destabilizing actions, and as I have said before, China is a pacing challenge for the Department of Defense.  And we know that competing in today’s shifting global dynamics can only be done through the spirit of teamwork and cooperation, which are the hallmarks of our alliance with Japan.

Our alliance remains resolute and resilient because of our shared values and history of shared sacrifices.  Ten years ago, the Japanese people suffered a disaster of terrifying magnitude during the 3/11 East Japan Earthquake.  And U.S. and Japanese forces embodied the spirit of friendship that underpins our alliance in the ensuing Operation Tomodachi.  And in the decade since, we have made great strides in strengthening the bonds between our people.

And so as we stand by Japan during this moment of remembrance, I also offered my deepest condolences to Minister Kishi for the tragic accident in February where both of our nations lost two brave service members near Montgomery, Alabama.  It is indeed a sober reminder of the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make defending our nations.

And so today I want to thank the thousands of our service members who are standing shoulder-to-shoulder and arm-in-arm with their Japanese counterparts.  They all work tirelessly to preserve peace and stability in this part of the world.  And thanks to them and their families, we will always operate from a position of strength, ever ready to back up the hard work of diplomacy.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Thank you very much.  We now accept questions.  When appointed, please proceed to the microphone, identify yourself and your affiliation, and specify to whom you are asking the question.  Please be brief in asking the question.

First of all, we will accept a question from the Japanese press.  Yomiuri newspaper, Nishida-san, please.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Nishida of Yomiuri newspaper.  Thank you very much.

I have a question to Minister Motegi:  With the security environment in East Asia becoming harsher, there are voices seeking Japan’s contribution towards regional peace and stability.  What kind of specific discussion took place on the alliance?  And what specific contribution is the Japanese Government planning to make?

FOREIGN MINISTER MOTEGI:  (Via interpreter) At today’s 2+2, based upon the recognition that our alliance is the very foundation of the regional peace, stability, and prosperity, we renewed our unwavering commitment to the alliance and agreed to deepen our partnership towards bolstering the deterrence and response capability of our alliance in light of the difficult security environment.

Which side bears what?  Rather than such a topic, in order to respond to such difficult circumstances, what roles should Japan and the United States play?  That was more of a focal point as we try to coordinate our views.  Specifically, as various policy reviews are underway in the United States, we agreed to meticulously coordinate our strategies and policies and measures, and to deepen cross-domain cooperation, including the space and cyber domains, and to strengthen collaboration to bolster extended deterrence, and engage in practical drills and exercises from the perspective of maintaining operational readiness and deterrence.

On top of that, we discussed not only regional situation, but challenges faced by the international community.  Free and open Indo-Pacific must be realized.  Climate change, COVID-19 pandemic – these are the challenges the global community faces.  Japan and the United States must exercise leadership, and we need to also partner up with likeminded nations against those global challenges.

Based upon today’s discussion and the joint statement, more concrete tasks will be embarked upon for the strengthening of our alliance.  We will continue to work hard for further strengthening of the deterrence and response capability of our alliance, and based upon the vision of free and open Indo-Pacific, we will engage in the promotion of rules-based international order.

Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, they have chosen Japan as the first destination in their current duties, and I think it was an important 2+2 that matched up the importance of their travel to Japan.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Thank you very much.  Next, we will accept a question from the U.S. press.

MR PRICE:  We will go to Humeyra Pamuk of Reuters, please.

QUESTION:  Hello.  Mr. Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, is there a new credible – an increased threat by China not just to Senkaku Islands but also Taiwan?  And if so, what is the U.S. doing about it, given Japanese defense minister just spoke about specific initiatives that Japan and U.S. should work on to boost deterrence?

And for the Japanese foreign minister, if I may, how should this issue be addressed in U.S. meetings later this week in Alaska?

And if I may very quickly, for Secretary Blinken, the sister of the North Korean leader issued a threatening statement.  She said if U.S. “wants to sleep in peace for” the “coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”  Given that the North Koreans have so far resisted talking to the Biden administration, what does this portend for future negotiations?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m happy to start on your last question and then turn to Lloyd to start on China, if you like.  Let me say that I’m familiar with the comments you referenced, but the comments I’m actually most interested in today are those of our allies and partners.  That’s why we’ve come to this region.  That’s why we’ve come to Japan, precisely to listen to our allies and to discuss how collectively we might seek to address the threat from North Korea.

This engagement is a task that I actually started on my first day in office when I spoke to Toshi, I spoke to my South Korean counterpart.  And I prioritized those calls precisely because we so value their input and know the importance of these alliances across every challenge and opportunity we face, including dealing with the DPRK.  We’ve engaged bilaterally with our Japanese and South Korean allies when it comes to North Korea.  We’ve also done it trilaterally, and that continued trilateral engagement and cooperation will be, in my judgment, very important going forward.  We have no greater strategic advantage when it comes to North Korea than this alliance, and we’ll approach that challenge as an alliance.  And we’ve got to do that if we’re going to be effective.

This is all, by the way, part and parcel of a review that we’ve been undertaking.  And as we’ve said, it’s a thorough interagency review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, including evaluation of all available options to address the increasing threat posed by North Korea to its neighbors and the broader international community.  It has integrated a very diverse set of voices from throughout the government and incorporated inputs from thinktanks, outside experts, including former government officials.

To reduce the risks of escalation, we reached out to the North Korean Government through several channels starting in mid-February, including in New York. To date, we have not received a response from Pyongyang.  This follows over a year without active dialogue with North Korea, despite multiple attempts by the United States to engage.  We look forward to completing the policy review in the coming weeks, and we’ll continue to be in very close touch with Japan with Korea, our partners, as we do so.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  So with respect to China and the threat that China poses, you’ve heard me say on a number of occasions that China is the pacing threat that our Department of Defense will continue to focus on.  For the last two decades, we’ve been focused on – necessarily focused on issues in the Middle East, and while we were focused on issues in the Middle East, China has modernized its military.  In addition to that, it has engaged in aggressive and in some cases coercive behavior, and some of that behavior has been directed against our allies in the region.

And so our goal is to make sure that we maintain a competitive edge over China or anyone else that would want to threaten us or our alliance, and that we develop the operational plans and capabilities to be able to deter any aggressor, China or anyone else, that would want to take us or the alliance on.  And so, our – part of our strength, a big part of our strength, comes from the fact that we operate as an alliance, and we benefit from the great value that countries such as Japan bring to the to the alliance, and so we are much stronger when we operate as a team.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Thank you very much.  We will accept one more question from the Japanese press.  Kato-san, please.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter)  Thank you very much.  TV Tokyo, Kato.  I am with the MOD Press Club.  I have a question to Minister Kishi.  Including the entry into force of the coast guard law, China is becoming more assertive at sea.  What kind of recognition was shared by both nations that led to today’s joint statement?  You said that you will aim for increased deterrence and response capabilities, but as Chinese coast guard vessels become more active around the Senkaku Islands, did you talk about countermeasures like joint exercises between SDF and U.S. forces?

DEFENSE MINISTER KISHI:  (Via interpreter)  At today’s 2+2, in light of the difficult security environment, we exchanged views on the updated situation in the area, including the Indo-Pacific, especially the Chinese activities inconsistent with the existing international law is a political, economic, or military and technological challenge to the international community, and we agreed on such recognition.  Rules-based international order is undermined and coercive action in the region must be opposed, and we were able to confirm our position.

Around the Senkaku Islands, Chinese coast guard vessels take – conducting activities which is a clear breach of international law.  At the 2+2, we shared the deep concern over the coast guard law.  And I reaffirmed my determination to protect the Japanese territory by all means, and the United States mentioned that Article V of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands, and we were able to confirm the commitment to the defense of Japan.

Deterrence and response capability must be strengthened, and for that purpose, through exercises by U.S. forces and SDF, a high level of capabilities must be gained.  And yesterday at East China Sea, the air Self-Defense Force and U.S. forces did joint exercises, and also in the south western area, many joint exercises have been conducted.  And we will with certainty, steadfastly conduct such joint exercises and demonstrate to the general public that Japan and the U.S. are acting together.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Thank you very much.  We have surpassed the allocated time and the next question will be the final question.  U.S. press, please.

MR PRICE:  Great.  Our final question will go to Dan Lemothe, please.

QUESTION:  Good evening.  Thank you for your time today, and Japan, thank you for having us.  Secretary Austin, if I could, the top officer in the Pacific, Admiral Davidson, said last week that he is concerned about the Chinese military launching an operation potentially within the next six years on Taiwan.  Do you agree with that assessment?  And what would you say to those who raise concerns that the United States military simply isn’t moving fast enough to counter China?

Secretary Blinken, if I could, in light of the Kim regime’s unwillingness to respond to attempts at dialogue and their continued threats, what will the Biden administration do in coming weeks and months to balance diplomacy with continued military cooperation and exercises in the region?  Thank you.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Thanks, Dan.  As you know, en route to Japan, I stopped in to visit with the INDOPACOM commander, and we had a great conversation.  And it was very useful for me to, again, see the region through his eyes and listen to what his concerns were and talk about what his strengths were as well.  And one of the strengths, of course, is this great alliance that we’ve been discussing today.

In terms of the time – specific timeline of China, I won’t get involved in any kind of hypotheticals or speculate on what that might be.  I think you know that as Secretary of Defense, my job is to make sure that we are as ready as fast as we could possibly be to meet any challenge that would face us or the alliance.  And so in my view, we cannot move fast enough to develop the right capabilities to be relevant today and to be relevant tomorrow in any kind of future scenario.  But again, in terms of specific timelines, I won’t speculate on that.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.  And as you know, the North Korea policy is under review.  We’re looking at whether various additional pressure measures could be effective, whether there are diplomatic paths that makes sense.  All of that is under review, and it’s under review and close consultation with our allies and partners.

Going forward, we have a shared determination to deal with the challenge posed by North Korea, particularly when it comes to its nuclear missile programs, as well, of course, as its abuse of human rights.  And we stand in very strong solidarity with Japan when it comes to the abductees.  Earlier today, I received a letter from the families.  It was very powerful and very moving to read, and that too is very much present in our minds as we think about the challenge posed by North Korea.

SECRETARY AUSTIN:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Thank you very much.  That concludes the joint press conference.