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Diplomacy

Japan’s foreign minister wants US$68 million Gulfstream jet to compete with China’s diplomatic clout

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

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2017, 2:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2017, 4:29pm

Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Tuesday he needs a better way to travel overseas to compete with China’s diplomatic clout, including potentially the purchase of a dedicated jet.

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 has 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 different options to consider,” he said.

On Monday, Kono had told a meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Foreign Affairs Division that costs for an aircraft 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 due to its long range without needing to refuel despite its small passenger capacity.

The jet’s price tag is about US$68 million, according to Aviation Week.

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 fully negotiated with Finance Minister Taro Aso a bigger allowance for diplomats’ activities in the next financial 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 help budget.