Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, March 9, 2021, 11:10 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Vaccine-Related Support for Developing Countries
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would firstly like to speak about one matter. It is about vaccine-related support for developing countries.
Today, the Government of Japan decided to extend Emergency Grant Aid of approximately 4.5 billion yen to 25 Southeast and Southwest Asian and Pacific Island countries for cold chain equipment including medical equipment such as cold-storage facilities and transportation, as “Last One Mile Support” to ensure vaccination down to the last person.
Japan has been focusing on strengthening health care systems in developing countries under the principle of ensuring human security for many years. During past summits, Japan has promoted infection control measures and led initiatives toward achieving universal health coverage that “leaves no one behind.”
For the response to the novel coronavirus as well, based on such views, Japan has led formulation of multilateral frameworks for vaccine provision, such as the COVAX Facility, to equitably deliver vaccines including to developing countries. In terms of financial support, we have also announced our contribution of $200 million.
On the other hand, for the COVAX Facility framework, establishment of cold chains within developing countries is not always part of the COVAX scheme. To complement the multilateral COVAX framework, Japan will leverage its longstanding experience and implement “Last One Mile Support” at an unprecedented speed to deliver vaccines to all people after it has entered various countries, including cold storage and transportation of vaccines.
The support of 4.5 billion yen decided today is the first step. As support for novel coronavirus countermeasures going forward, Japan will implement effective vaccine-related support through smooth assistance based in various countries’ central hospitals where Japan has provided capacity support by dispatching JICA specialists and others, while utilizing already-provided medical equipment and emergency support loans.
Japan will continue to extend support to deploy vaccines to every person in the world with a view to containing the novel coronavirus as quickly as possible. That is all from me.
Vaccine-Related Support for Developing Countries
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: You just spoke about vaccine support for developing countries. In relation to this, China is also showing a similar approach of actively providing its domestically-produced vaccine to developing countries and others. This is being called terms such as “vaccine diplomacy.” Please tell us Japan’s position on China’s approach.
Minister Motegi: In any event, there is insufficient provision of vaccines to developing countries, and various countries are providing such support to developing countries on a bilateral basis. There will also be vaccine support through multilateral frameworks. There is insufficient vaccine provision, so I believe it is necessary to create a system combining such support to ensure as much vaccine provision to developing countries as possible and so every person can ultimately be vaccinated.
I believe that various countries understand this, but this is ultimately being implemented for the purposes of supporting developing countries and responding to international health issues. I do not believe that such support should be implemented internationally for a different purpose, that is, being used as a diplomacy method.
Sankei Shimbun, Ishinabe: I would like to ask a related question. You explained that the cold chains within developing countries are not always part of the COVAX scheme. Was Japan the first in the move toward establishing such cold chains among developed countries? Is it an unusual example?
Minister Motegi: For example, vaccines such as the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at quite a cold temperature. That is being done in various countries. But at the very least, I have not heard of any examples of a foreign country responding to the issue of the lack of cold containers when delivering a foreign vaccine.
I believe it is important for various countries to firmly create ways for vaccines to reach developing countries overall while showing their strengths in their specialty fields. I believe that Japan should play a leading role in establishing cold chains.
Situation in Myanmar
TV Asahi, Sato: I would like to ask three questions about Myanmar. First, tensions are rising in Myanmar as casualties emerge one after the other that seem to have been caused by shooting by security forces. My first question is to ask again how you view this situation.
As for my next question, Japan has been continuing to urge the Myanmar military using its own communication pipelines thus far, and yesterday you held a Japan-Thailand Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk. As tensions rise while Japan is urging Myanmar in this way in cooperation with the international community, when will Japan begin to take a new option such as sanctions? That is my second question.
As for my third question, according to the Japanese embassy in Myanmar, Ambassador Maruyama held a talk with the Foreign Minister from the military. What kind of discussion did they have, and what do you think it will lead to? Please answer those three questions.
Minister Motegi: We are strongly concerned about the situation in Myanmar where many civilians in protests across Myanmar were injured or killed by the use of force including shootings by the Myanmar security apparatus, and many others have been detained.
An unofficial ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting was held on February 24, during which various ASEAN countries called for the de-escalation of the situation. Unfortunately, since then through the end of February and into March, the situation has intensified, and become serious.
Currently, the priority issue is how to end the escalation and calm the situation. Of course, after that there will be work to ultimately restore the democratic process in Myanmar. As long as the situation is not deescalated, that path will not be seen. Currently, we are searching for what countermeasures would be effective toward deescalating the situation and breaking the deadlock. I have stated the three requests of Japan many times. Japan has also spoken about these requests with the Myanmar military in various ways.
I am also conducting Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talks and other communication with various countries. In addition to western countries, I held a telephone talk with Foreign Minister Retno of Indonesia last week and a telephone talk with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Don of Thailand yesterday. As Thailand shares a long national border with Myanmar and has had bilateral relations of various governmental, economic, and people-to-people exchanges through now, the new Foreign Minister of Myanmar paid his first visit to Thailand and also met with Foreign Minister Retno of Indonesia there. As Thailand is playing a major role, I had an in-depth exchange of views with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Don on matters such as Thailand’s views, ASEAN’s views, and Japan’s views.
In addition, Ambassador Maruyama conveyed the three requests of Japan to Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin yesterday in Naypyidaw. He conveyed Japan’s serious concerns and strongly requested Myanmar to take action to break the deadlock.
In regard to what we will do going forward, of course there are the issues of people’s livelihoods and humanitarian issues. I believe that we must continue support amidst the situation that is causing difficulties for the people of Myanmar.
Additionally, for example, Japan is the country that provides the most ODA to Myanmar. In regard to what we will do going forward, we will conduct consideration while taking into account the situation and how to break the deadlock.
Novel Coronavirus (Border Enforcement Measures)
Jiji Press, Nakayama: In relation to border enforcement measures against the novel coronavirus, currently new foreign athletes cannot enter Japan to join some professional baseball teams. Please tell us if there is a plan to address the issue and the future outlook.
Minister Motegi: During the period of the state of emergency, there has been temporary suspension of measures that allow new entry into Japan from all countries and regions. In regard to entry into Japan due to special exceptional circumstances, during the state of emergency we are allowing entry into Japan on an exceptional basis limited to people who truly need to enter the country based on their individual circumstances, such as people who have circumstances that ought to receive humanitarian consideration and people with circumstances in which public interest would be harmed if they do not enter Japan.
For professional sports, foreign athletes and others entering a team is one form of special exceptional circumstances. For example, people are allowed to re-enter Japan for professional baseball and other sports. In regard to new entry into Japan, even if there are quarantine measures in the country, I believe that we would like to think about the direction of allowing entry in the case of special exceptional circumstances if there is a visa application. In regard to the baseball players for which this situation has arisen, it seems there were process-related issues such as the case where applications were made for new entries when they should have been for re-entry. If this is cleared up, I believe the situation will be resolved more quickly.
Situation in Myanmar (ODA for Myanmar)
Asahi Shimbun, Abe: You mentioned ODA for Myanmar earlier. You stated that comprehensive consideration will be conducted on the situation in Myanmar. When would you like to make a decision on handling new ODA?
Minister Motegi: I do not know. We are monitoring the situation, so I cannot say when.