Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Tuesday he needs a better way to travel overseas to compete with China’s diplomatic clout, including the potential purchase of a dedicated airplane.
At present, the foreign minister and his staff travel on commercial flights, while the prime minister and members of the Imperial family use government aircraft for overseas trips.
Kono said that since early 2013, he and his predecessor Fumio Kishida have made only about a third of the number of overseas trips that Chinese counterpart Wang Yi made during the same period.
While noting that Wang is free from the parliamentary obligations demanded of a Japanese foreign minister, Kono said the government “needs to think carefully about how to close that gap.”
“Having to use commercial flights … is quite a big handicap when thinking of Japan’s national interest,” Kono said.
“We could buy a dedicated plane, rent or lease one, or borrow private-sector business jets when not in use. There are various options to consider,” he said.
On Monday, Kono told a meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Foreign Affairs Division that funds for an airplane could be included in the budget for fiscal 2019.
He said he would not mind a small or used aircraft, and suggested Gulfstream Aerospace Corp.’s G650ER, despite its small passenger capacity, due to its long range.
Kono returned to Japan on Sunday from a trip to Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, France, Britain and the United States.
He has more broadly been pushing for more funding for the ministry, telling reporters Monday that he has nearly finished negotiating a bigger allowance for diplomats’ activities with Finance Minister Taro Aso for next year’s budget.
He said diplomats posted overseas are currently stretched too thinly to cover all areas of their work, adding that he has asked for their funding to be increased even at the expense of Japan’s official development assistance budget.