Q: What are Japan’s diplomatic challenges?
Kono: Japan’s foreign policy has long had an edge in foreign aid. But our official development aid (ODA) is now half of what it was in the 1980s. We don’t have the wherewithal to adopt a policy of extending monetary support to a number of countries as China currently does. Now our diplomatic capabilities–how to develop people-to-people relations, forge ideas, etc–are being tested.
Q: How do you think the issue of the Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea can be resolved?
Kono: If the international community works together to implement sanctions resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council, North Korea will as a matter of course be guided toward making the right decision. There is no other country than that can extend as effective economic support to the North as Japan. Economic aid will naturally follow if the North can make steady steps toward (complete) denuclearization. In such an environment the leaders of Japan and North Korea would be able to meet to resolve the abduction issue.
Q: And diplomacy toward China?
Kono: We took a significant step forward with the resumption of reciprocal visits by the two nations’ leaders. The Chinese side is expected to address the East China Sea issue (of repeated incursions into Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkakus). That is a precondition for a new era in Japan-China relations.
Q: What are the prospects for the resolution of the Northern Territories issue?
Kono: Japan and Russia can make headway if we can envisage a bright future for the Northern Territories through joint economic activities and can share a vision for enhancing our overall bilateral ties.
Q: Do you have any concerns about U.S. protectionist trade policy?
Kono: There is little to worry about as the Japanese and U.S. leaders place strong trust in each other. The U.S. Congress also shares the view that trade issues should not undermine the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Q: Your name has come up as a candidate to succeed Prime Minister Abe. What are your thoughts on this?
Kono: I’ve said all along that I will run [for the LDP presidency] when the time comes. My prime responsibility now is to fulfill my duty as the person in charge of Japan’s diplomacy.