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POLITICS

Foreign Minister Kono focuses on Middle East diplomacy

  • January 14, 2018
  • , Yomiuri , p. 3
  • JMH Translation

Foreign Minister Taro Kono has actively been visiting foreign countries. Since taking office last August, he has visited a total of 20 countries and areas during over five months, supporting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “global bird’s-eye view diplomacy.” On Jan. 13, Kono visited Rakhine province in western Myanmar where Rohingya Muslims are persecuted. Kono also visited Mozambique, Bahrain and Maldives, focusing on diplomatic relations with smaller countries as Abe does. He is the first Japanese foreign minister who visited there.

 

Especially, Kono attaches importance to diplomacy toward the Middle East and he has already visited the region three times. He is slated to attend the Assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) to be held in the United Arab Emirates on Jan. 14. Last December, Kono visited Jerusalem and self-governing Palestinian territories wobbling over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, clearly showing Japan’s stance of actively being engaged in the peace process of the Middle East.

 

Kono built his personal network of key officials in the Middle East when he studied in the U.S., which supports his diplomacy toward the Middle East. For example, Jordan’s King Abdullah was his classmate at Georgetown University in the U.S., and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is Kono’s old friend. “Sometimes, the ministry’s officials fall behind the minister in information gathering,” said a senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

 

Kono, who manages to deal with his busy schedule, is growingly dissatisfied with the fact that Japan has no airplanes for its foreign minister’s exclusive use. The minister believes that such an airplane will make his travel and schedule adjustments more flexible, so he ordered his staff to study the feasibility of introducing an airplane for the foreign minister or other cabinet ministers.

 

However, if the airplane is introduced, that would require an increase in the Air Self-Defense Force’s control and flight crew members  and will also need various costs including airplane maintenance service. Before taking office, Kono called for cutting wasteful spending in MOFA’s budget including personnel cuts at MOFA’s overseas establishments. Under the circumstances, some officials in the government and ruling parties criticize Kono, with one of them saying, “Taking cost efficiency into account, using commercial airplanes will fully serve the purpose. He contradicts himself by making an opposite argument after taking office.”

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