(* 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 Takeaki Matsumoto

Date: Friday, March 11, 2011, 9:20 p.m.
Place: MOFA Press Conference Room

Main topics:

  1. Opening Remarks
    • (1) Tohoku–Pacific Ocean Earthquake
  2. Tohoku–Pacific Ocean Earthquake

1. Opening Remarks

(1) Tohoku–Pacific Ocean Earthquake

Minister Matsumoto: I would like to announce that a meeting of the Emergency Headquarters was convened at 7 p.m. at the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Prime Minister gave the following instructions: "The government will make every possible effort to ensure the safety of the public and keep damage to the minimum possible extent. I would like for each Cabinet minister to make efforts in their assigned areas." At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we set up an emergency headquarters at 3 p.m., with myself as the chief. I gave instructions concerning matters that are under the MOFA's jurisdiction such as confirmation of the safety of and provision of support for diplomatic corps and foreigners in Japan, including temporary visitors from overseas; response to offers of assistance from foreign countries; and confirmation of the MOFA's infrastructures such as communications facilities. I instructed that there be no omissions.
   Overall, while I am aware that in the Tohoku region, there is a consulate general of South Korea in Sendai, I have not received any reports of damage sustained by diplomatic corps in Japan, except for minor property damage. It has been reported that the MOFA's infrastructures, such as communications facilities, are functioning properly.
   We have already received offers of assistance from a considerable number of countries and territories. The following countries and territories have told us that they are prepared to provide assistance: the United States, Taiwan, South Korea, Mexico, Australia, Thailand, China, New Zealand, Israel, Russia, Germany, Singapore, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, France, Belgium, Ukraine, Slovakia, UAE, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, and Jordan (as of 9 p.m.). With regard to such offers of assistance, we have provided the information to the Emergency Headquarters at the Prime Minister’s Office. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent liaison officers there, and from this point on, in accordance with the situation of damage in various areas, we intend to hold consultations with relevant ministries and agencies as well as local governments and start conducting concrete studies.
   I have one more announcement. I received an offer already around the evening from US Ambassador Roos that the US Government, including US forces in Japan, was ready to cooperate if there was anything it can do to help. Following the discussions at the Emergency Headquarters at the Prime Minister’s Office, I telephoned Ambassador Roos and thanked him for the offer of assistance that was made at an early stage. At the same time, I requested the cooperation of the US Forces in Japan, and it has been decided that specific adjustments would be made between the relevant organizations of the two countries. Ambassador Roos said, "Please call us any time if there are any other things that we can do. We will be on a 24-hour standby." He also said that he wished to express his heartfelt sympathy to the people of Japan.

2. Tohoku–Pacific Ocean Earthquake

Yamaguchi, Asahi Shimbun: I believe that after you yourself felt the earthquake, you must have heard with every passing momentthat the damage centering on the Tohoku region was not minor. Please let us confirm what kind of instructions you, as foreign minister, gave to the political-level officials or the other officials in charge. Additionally, if there were any instructions to you from the Prime Minister, please tell us about them once again.

Minister: I returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and quickly set up an emergency headquarters. At the same time, as I said earlier, I gave instructions on roughly two major points. One major point is to thoroughly undertake tasks in areas that are under the MOFA's jurisdiction such as matters related to foreigners in Japan and offers of assistance from foreign countries, so that there are no omissions; and the other point is to make thorough confirmation of the MOFA itself, or in other words, infrastructure including buildings, as well as personnel. I gave instructions on these two major points, including specific details.
   At the Emergency Headquarters at the Prime Minister’s Office, I stated, in the presence of the Prime Minister, that various countries have specifically offered assistance, and as I said earlier, I conveyed my intention to have liaison officers from the MOFA participate in the Emergency Headquarters, so that we can fully, effectively, and quickly utilize it. The Prime Minister said to do this by all means by maintaining close cooperation. In particular, since the US Forces in Japan (USFJ) are, of course, already in Japan, the Prime Minister instructed that we should accept assistance from the USFJ, so I telephoned Ambassador Roos and made the request.

Deguchi, Kyodo News: With regard to offers of assistance from various countries, what kinds of offers have been presented? Are they relief efforts or materials support? In what areas does the Government of Japan (GOJ) hope to receive assistance? And what role does the GOJ expect the USFJ to play, in particular?

Minister: There are various kinds of offers ranging from rescue missions to provision of supplies, transportation capability, etc. Frankly speaking, at this point, there are initial offers indicating that various countries are willing to do anything that is possible. As I said earlier, we need to match supply with demand, so to speak, so we are currently at a stage where we are trying to match supply with demand, with the Emergency Headquarters at the Prime Minister’s Office determining what needs to be done and the MOFA collecting information on specifically what various countries are capable of doing right now. The same holds true for the USFJ. In such cases as the Great Hanshin Earthquake, the US military has provided relief supplies on its own, or in other words, using its transportation capability. Therefore, I believe that this time again, we will indeed be requesting the supplies and transportation capability that the US military possesses.

Nagai, Nihon Keizai Shimbun: May I understand that this will be the first time for the GOJ to request the cooperation of the USFJ in a disaster ever since the Great Hanshin Earthquake?

Minister: I will make a confirmation. However, I think there were other cases. I believe that the USFJ helped during the Niigata earthquake, etc. Japan and the United States have close relations, and since the US military in Japan is one of the resources of the United States, so to speak, my understanding is that we are having the USFJ operate as a part of the support efforts, not just because the latest situation is of the same class as the Great Hanshin Earthquake, in particular.

Oshima, Asahi Shimbun: If you have the information on hand, or if not, it would be helpful if we could receive it from the government or the officials in charge as soon as possible.

Minister: Although I have it here, the situation is changing every moment. I think that for example, if it were 9 p.m. right now, there would be information dated "as of 9 p.m.," so I believe it would be more accurate to look at.

Nishioka, Mainichi Newspapers: With your visit to Europe approaching, could there be any changes to your schedule, etc. as a result of the latest earthquake?

Minister: While I am aware that as a diplomatic schedule, it is an extremely important one, I believe that we probably have to use the word "unprecedented" to describe the latest disaster. As I believe that at least, it has already been confirmed that the scale of the earthquake is unprecedented, frankly speaking, I would like to respond to the situation accordingly, as I am not departing tomorrow.

Anai, Yomiuri Shimbun: With regard to the offers of assistance mentioned earlier, will the issue of how to accept offers for rescue operations be studied by the Emergency Headquarters at the Prime Minister’s Office? Also, please tell us what countries have offered rescue operations?

Minister: There are some countries that have offered specific assistance in their initial offers, shall I say, while other countries said that they would do anything within their capacity. I recall that from the US side, the US Embassy offered to help "in any way possible." However, among these countries, there are those whose offers include rescue operations and those that do not. Therefore, including such matters, we plan to put them all on a list.
   As I myself went to the disaster site in New Zealand, I understand that even though rescue operations need to be effectively utilized from an early stage, there is the issue of where to send rescue teams, how many of them to send, in what form they should be sent, and what they should do. Therefore, while the Emergency Headquarters is currently gradually sending firefighters, the police, and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to places where they are required, it is likely that we will be making decisions on the issue of where and in what form we should accept assistance from overseas, upon working out a comprehensive coordination with the Emergency Headquarters.

Takahashi, Fuji Television: I would like to make a confirmation; I feel that the US military will be the first to move, and I think that it has not been decided yet whether this will take place as early as tomorrow, but may I understand that the outlook is that the US military will be the very first to move?

Minister: (Yes,) because they are here. Other relief teams will basically be coming from their own countries. Therefore, I believe that it is highly likely that the US military will be the first to move along the details of actual request firmed up.

Takahashi, Fuji Television: Are you saying that you cannot tell what moves will be seen tomorrow, etc.?

Minister: As this is what it is all about, my understanding is that the nature of this matter is that, as I said earlier, upon confirming various needs, if we can provide supplies to meet those needs, we will make necessary requests from that point.

Deguchi, Kyodo News: You mentioned earlier that Ambassador Roos said that they would be on a 24-hour standby. With the weekend starting tomorrow, does the MOFA side intend to call together various bureau chief-level officials and convene its emergency headquarters intermittently? Are the various bureaus in charge of their respective regions making preparations with regard to accepting offers, etc. from the corresponding countries?

Minister: I have already given instructions for each division to assign necessary personnel to be on a 24-hour standby. Amid this situation, as you said that the weekend is starting tomorrow, I believe that we, including myself and the vice-ministers, will deal with the situation by setting up a system that will enable us to handle the situation regardless of the fact that the weekend starts tomorrow.

Nishigaki, Jiji Press: I believe that the Prime Minister has instructed all ministries and agencies to "open public facilities that are usable to those who have difficulties in returning home." Is there any action that the MOFA can take with respect to this?

Minister: At a time like this, I feel that it is only natural that each of us needs to respond flexibly, and we would like to respond as much as possible.

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