Foreign Minister Taro Kono ignored questions from reporters as many as four times at a Dec. 11 news conference.
Kono’s unprecedented behavior, which amounts to abdicating his responsibility as a Cabinet minister to explain policy decisions to the public, is simply too outrageous.
When asked about remarks by his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, about negotiations on a peace treaty between Japan and Russia, Kono just replied, “Next question, please.” Lavrov recently said Japan’s recognition of the outcome of World War II is “the first step” in the talks.
Reporters also asked if Kono would express Japan’s position and whether he thought Tokyo’s unilateral silence could affect the negotiations. But Kono would not respond, repeating, “Next question, please.”
When asked why he just kept saying, “Next question, please,” Kono repeated the same phrase.
Kono didn’t even bother to say, “I cannot answer the question.” He ignored the questions as if he had not heard them and just called for the next one. His behavior was the ultimate in insincerity.
We urge Kono to do serious soul-searching.
The Abe administration has adopted a new approach for negotiations over a bilateral peace treaty, which have been stalled by the dispute over the Northern Territories, the four small islands off the coast of Hokkaido seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II and claimed by Tokyo.
The administration has decided to hold talks based on the 1956 Joint Declaration between the two countries. It calls for Moscow to hand over two of the disputed isles–Habomai and Shikotan–to Japan after a peace treaty is signed.
The decision represents a departure from the government’s traditional policy of signing a peace treaty after resolving the issue of sovereignty over the four islands.
Naturally, there should be certain information about sensitive diplomatic negotiations that the government cannot disclose. But this is a policy change with serious implications on border demarcation and national security issues.
Kono has every responsibility to make all-out efforts to gain public understanding about the wisdom of the new strategy.
During the extraordinary Diet session, Kono also kept refusing to offer specific answers to opposition questions about the negotiations with Russia, saying he would refrain from making any comments that could adversely affect the talks.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eager to strike a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kono, serving as his top negotiator, has to bear the brunt of diplomatic pressure coming from Lavrov.
Kono may be worried that his remarks could harden Moscow’s stance. But lawmakers and reporters are working for the public’s interest. We wonder if he has forgotten such an obvious fact.
Sidestepping questions and droning on about his own views, instead of offering straightforward responses, is Abe’s favorite tactic.
Kono’s refusal to answer questions at the news conference appears to be the most pronounced sign of the Abe administration’s disregard for its responsibility to explain its actions to the public.
In a request submitted after the news conference, the press club covering the Foreign Ministry called for “sincere responses.” Kono issued a statement saying he will take the call seriously.
We need to closely monitor his behavior to see whether he is really serious about changing his attitude.
A democratic country’s diplomacy can only work if it is supported by the public.
Kono’s fitness as foreign minister will be measured by how sincerely he responds to questions from the public.