(* This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only. The original text is in Japanese.)
Press Conference by Minister for Foreign Affairs Seiji Maehara
Date: Tuesday, February 1, 2011, 6:07 p.m.
Place: MOFA Press Conference Room
- Opening Statements
- (1) Situation in Egypt and Response by Japan (Protection of Japanese Nationals)
- Situation in Egypt
- Domestic Political Situation (Omitted)
1. Opening Statements
(1) Situation in Egypt and Response by Japan (Protection of Japanese Nationals)
Minister Maehara: I would like to make one statement on the situation in Egypt, and the response by Japan.
We are concerned about the extremely tense situation in Egypt. We hope that the Egyptian government and the general nationals participating in the demonstrations will refrain from violence and respond with restraint. We hope that the ruling government will listen carefully to the voice of the Egyptian people, and make utmost effort to establish a democratic and stable government.
Our primary responsibility is to ensure the protection of Japanese nationals, and we have repeatedly held task force headquarters meetings to this end. As a result, at the present time, although as of yesterday there were 1,492 Japanese nationals in Egypt on package tours, three chartered flights transported 182, 127, and 154 of them, for a total of 463 people. As for commercial flights, Egypt Airlines had a commercial flight to Narita; additionally, there were two flights on Qatar Airways, these being from Cairo and Luxor to Dubai. These three flights transported a total of 479 people. As a result, the remaining number of Japanese travelers has been reduced to 550. We are currently making arrangements to get as close as possible to all Japanese nationals out of the country. Since we heard that commercial flights are still operating, we do not intend to send more chartered flights.
Meanwhile, the other day I asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano to prepare government aircraft for use. Although I am deeply grateful for the cooperation by the Ministry of Defense, it seems that we won’t need to fly the government’s aircraft given the current circumstances.
Incidentally, the cost of the chartered flights will be divided equally among the passengers, and that the price per person will be about 34,000 yen. Firstly, the Consular and Migration Affairs Bureau will pay the money to the airline. After this, however, the passengers will be billed for the amount that I just mentioned, and we intend to return this money to the treasury. We are also prepared to arrange for additional chartered flights immediately if necessary, if it is not possible to fly 550 people out on commercial flights.
The Embassy is confirming the safety of Japanese nationals resident in the country, despite having an extremely small number of staff, more than half of whom have gone to the airport to provide support. At present, there are about 700 Japanese nationals residing in Egypt. Although we had initially ascertained slightly more than 1,070 people, there are currently about 700 Japanese nationals in the country. A large scale demonstration has been called for today, and another large-scale demonstration is scheduled for February 4th, so at this morning’s task force headquarters, I asked Ambassador Okada to contact as many Japanese nationals as possible and have them leave the country for the time being.
2. Situation in Egypt
Nagai, Nihon Keizai Shimbun: I have two questions relating to Egypt.
My first question is about the statement yesterday by US President Obama expressing support for the transition to a new regime. Please tell us the position of the Government of Japan.
My second question is concerns how a government aircraft has been prepared. I believe that there are extremely high hurdles to sending a flight by a government aircraft; for example, a great deal of advance inspection of the destination is required. How were these hurdles overcome to prepare for such a flight? Also please tell us if there were any challenges to this process.
Minister: I believe that President Obama spoke of an orderly transition. It is not our understanding that the President’s statements assume that President Mubarak would be replaced. Relations between Japan and Egypt continue to be very friendly, and since Egypt is one of the central and most important countries of the Arab world, the stability of Egypt is critical for the stability of the region and peace in the Middle East. It is our earnest hope that the Government of Egypt will listen to the voices of its people, and stabilize the country peacefully. In this sense, we hope that President Mubarak will harness his leadership ability to the maximum for the restoration of order. We hope that they will place primary importance on how to bring stability to Egypt.
Next, regarding your question about government aircraft, the current law states, “having ensured safety,” thus, it is necessary to send a forward team to the destination, and conduct an investigation, in the case is of an airport that a government aircraft has never landed at or taken off from. Although this was a major hurdle in the case of Tunisia, government aircraft have landed in and taken off from Cairo several times, and I have been told by the Ministry of Defense that this case is different from that of Tunisia.
In any case, in terms of the speed of this case, we had the Self Defense Forces prepare properly right away, and go on standby. As the distance was extremely huge, there was a higher probability of quickly getting Japanese tourists out of Egypt by securing a chartered flight locally, so although we asked them to make preparations, we chose to use chartered flights.
In general, I think that it is important to discuss the use of government aircraft for the protection of Japanese nationals from a wide range of perspectives. The Liberal Democratic Party has also created laws on this, and we also intend to thoroughly consider the type of problem, and consider a framework that can protect Japanese nationals more effectively, in collaboration with the Defense Minister.
Nanao, Niconico Douga: In your opening remark, you spoke of ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals. I think that this is of great concern. Looking at this from a slightly different way, seeing this in terms of the domestic situation, what is common to both Tunisia and Egypt is that SNS like Twitter and Facebook are used as tools to call for the participation of the general public. Although Egypt cut off the Internet yesterday, Google launched a service that would convert messages into text and post them automatically to Twitter, even without connecting to the Internet. Please tell us your views regarding the wave of this social-media revolution, which has spurred popular uprisings.
Minister: In Tunisia it is called the Jasmine Revolution. I think that spreading information instantaneously via the Internet or mobile phones, and for large numbers of people to influence the government in this way, or the impetus to change the government, gave me a sense of the arrival of a new era. As I said in my previous press conference, Egypt is placing restrictions on information tools, and shutting off these things is not desirable. I also spoke to the Egyptian Ambassador to Japan about restoring free access to mobile phones and the Internet. I think that effecting major change through individuals’ freedom of thought and belief, and freedom of expression, done in an orderly way, should be welcomed. In the recent case of Tunisia as well, in the end the military reported to former president Ben Ali that they could not turn their guns to ordinary nationals, and this led to his departure from the country and exile. I therefore think that in the future, extremely judicious use will need to be made of the power of the common people, and the military sector, which is a powerful organization. I very strongly hope that in Egypt as well, the military will not pull their triggers against the citizenry. I have also said this to the Egyptian Ambassador to Japan.
Mukai, Yomiuri Shimbun: With regard to the situation in Egypt, there are also autocratic regimes in Asia. How do you view the impact of this situation on such countries in Asia?
Minister: Each country has its own stages of development. I do not think that one can sweepingly say that because this situation has occurred in Tunisia and Egypt, it will immediately spread to Asia or other countries, particularly to countries that are called autocracies. However, I think it is undeniable that there is a latent potential, in such a case, it would be preferable to peacefully establish a legitimate government that listens to its people, as called for by the international community to Tunisia, Egypt, and the world. I very much have expectations that the number of such countries will grow.
Saito, Kyodo News: This is the flip side of the question just now. Although there is an aspect of democratization, at the same time, as you stated in your opening remark, Egypt has played a major role, in particular in the Middle East strategy of the United States. I think that there is an issue of whether Islamic extremists will also emerge from these trends. Please tell us your views and outlook on this.
Minister: The Mubarak regime has continued in Egypt for 30 years. If there were to be a regime change, the question of who will take over does arise. Consequently, although we think that such popular uprisings must be valued, I think that there are costs that each country must pay in order to create order. At the same time, in order to prevent a situation of rampant and repeated terrorism by extremists, I think that it is important for each country to harness its capability of self-correction mechanism, and collaborate with the international community, to nip this in the bud.
3. Domestic Political Situation (Omitted)
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