One year has passed since Foreign Minister Taro Kono (Kanagawa Electoral District No. 15 for the House of Representatives) took office. The minister told Kanagawa Shimbun in an interview on Aug. 4 that in order to move Japan’s foreign policy forward, “it is important to visit foreign countries and build a relationship of trust with my foreign counterparts.”
Question: As the foreign minister, what is your view of Japan’s diplomatic policies?
FM Taro Kono: Unlike the days when Japan was the largest contributor of official development assistance in the world, various countries have made significant economic growth, and Japan is facing a very difficult situation on the diplomatic front. In order to have Japan’s standpoint accepted at international conferences, we have to make even more efforts to gain understanding from the international community.
Human relations are very important in foreign relations. Recently, it’s only natural that foreign ministers speak in English at their meetings. It’s important to get nuance without an interpreter. That’s much better.
Q: What countries are you planning to visit from now on?
FM: I want to put more efforts to visit countries in Latin America and Africa. Countries and areas where Japanese foreign ministers have not visited in the past have one vote at the UN meetings. They say they will support Japan in various situations, so they are important to Japan.
Q: Your grandfather Ichiro Kono was deputy prime minister and your father Yohei Kono former foreign minister. How do you make their achievements known to your counterparts?
FM: I was told in Russia, “Since the times of Ichiro Kono, we have maintained the close relationship with your family.” China, South Korea, and Japanese-American society in the U.S. remember my father Yohei Kono. In Argentina (where Yohei Kono made a state visit in 1994), they said Takeko (my mother) looked good in a white dress.” In diplomacy, we use whatever we can use. That will likely have positive effects. I fully realize the importance of visiting foreign countries to build a trust relationship.
Q: You have made achievements in administrative and financial reforms. How will you push ahead with these reforms?
FM: We need to address workstyle reform first. Many of the Foreign Ministry work more than 200 hours overtime a month. Childrearing and nursing care are difficult under such conditions and we will eventually lose good talents in the Kasumigaseki central government district. We need to cut unnecessary logistics (such as support for international conferences) all at once. We can restart what we really need. I am significantly reducing the number of support and accompanying staff for my official trips. We can now use more human resources and time for substantial work to promote diplomacy.
Q: How will you promote diplomacy on your own?
FM: As the ministry in charge of the Japan-U.S. nuclear power cooperation agreement, I expressed my opinion in the cabinet. As a result, the Basic Energy Plan clearly specified a reduction of Japan’s plutonium stockpile. It is significant to build a consensus within the cabinet about the recent international trend and have it reflected in Japan’s policies.
Q: Some lawmakers are saying you will be the next leader.
FM: I will certainly run for a Liberal Democratic Party presidential election in the future.
Q: Kanagawa Prefecture is your home constituency. What is your foreign policy from that viewpoint?
FM: I invited the leaders of Bhutan and Micronesia to the former residence of former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida in the town of Oiso, and they were very happy. As the residence is a historical facility not far from Tokyo, I want to continue to use it in the future. I want the municipal government to renovate the facility, especially the wet area including basin, toilet and kitchen, so that leaders of various nations could stay overnight in the future.
Q: What are your challenges and plans in the future?
FM: There are issues, such as North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and missiles, the abduction issue, and the Northern Territories issue. In addition, we have various issues with China as well. It is important to build healthy relations with neighboring countries first. U.S. President Donald Trump is trying to change trade rules. We need to team up with European countries against that, and we should say that runs counter to the international order. Japan needs to firmly show its stance that Japan will commit itself to global issues. I, as the foreign minister of Japan, need to tackle many challenges by frequently travelling wherever needed.