Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Friday, January 24, 2020, 4:43 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Response to the Novel Coronavirus
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: In regard to the novel coronavirus originating in China, the Ministerial Meeting on Countermeasures Against the Novel Coronavirus was held this morning. In addition to the two cases of infection confirmed in Japan, numerous cases have been confirmed in various countries.
In addition to issuing information and alerts to Japanese residents and travelers in the affected areas through the Overseas Safety Website and email, MOFA also held an emergency explanatory meeting for Japanese residents in Beijing yesterday.
On January 21, MOFA issued a Level 1 Warning on Infectious Diseases for all of China, and yesterday on January 23, issued a Level 2 Warning on Infectious Diseases for Wuhan City, in other words raising the level to “avoid non-essential travel.”
MOFA is working especially for the health of Japanese nationals and confirmation of their safety in Wuhan City, where cutting off public transportation, closing train stations and airports, and other such measures have been announced. In order to immediately respond to cases in which Japanese residents need support, MOFA will provide information and respond even more carefully and in more detail.
In addition, today the authorities in six cities near Wuhan City have announced suspension of public transportation and closing of train stations and roads from the city, as there are concerns about the spread of the infection to more locations. The number of patients is growing in Wuhan City. Taking into account these local conditions, it is expected that the infection will further spread, so Infectious Disease Warning Information Level 3: Avoid All Travel will be issued today for Hubei Province. “Level 1: Exercise Caution” will continue for all other areas of China.
Thus far, MOFA has established a response headquarters headed by Ambassador Yokoi at the Embassy of Japan in China, which covers Wuhan, to respond to the situation. In addition, today, a task force was established within MOFA.
MOFA will continue to issue timely information and alerts to Japanese residents and travelers in the affected areas and work to ensure the safety of Japanese residents with a sense of urgency.
Situation in Myanmar (Issuance of the Order for Provisional Measures by the International Court of Justice (ICJ))
Jomo News, TERAJIMA: I would like to ask about the Rohingya issue. Yesterday, the ICJ issued a ruling for provisional protection measures requesting the Myanmar Government to prevent persecution of the Rohingya people. Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar MARUYAMA Ichiro stated his views about this issue to local media at the end of last year, which has garnered considerable criticism especially from Rohingya people who live in Tatebayashi City, Gunma Prefecture, which is in a similar area to and shares many services with your hometown. What is MOFA’s reaction to the ICJ ruling?
Minister MOTEGI: Are you asking about my personal connection to Ota City? Or are you asking me to speak about this issue as Minister for Foreign Affairs?
Jomo News, TERAJIMA: I am asking you to respond as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Minister MOTEGI: I will respond in that capacity then, setting aside the points you mentioned about my hometown.
Jomo News, TERAJIMA: I greatly apologize.
Minister MOTEGI: So, if I may, in regard to the case brought to the ICJ by Gambia that alleges that Myanmar is violating the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, I am aware that the ICJ issued a ruling on January 23 calling for Myanmar to take various provisional measures to prevent actions such as killing of members of a group as well as causing serious bodily or mental harm, as defined in Article II of said Convention.
Going forward, I expect that Myanmar will steadily implement the content of the order for provisional measures. I will issue the local embassy instructions to provide cooperation as much as possible toward that.
NHK, TAKANO: You mentioned earlier that Japan will issue warning information at level 3. When will it be issued, or has it already been done? Also, to confirm, will it be for all of Hubei Province, which includes Wuhan?
Minister MOTEGI: It is for all of Hubei Province. I have just announced that “Infectious Disease Warning Information Level 3: Avoid All Travel” will be issued, so it will be quickly issued.
Yomiuri Shimbun, ABE: In relation to this, you announced that a task force had been established at MOFA. Can you please tell us who its members are and what it will do?
Minister MOTEGI: The task force at MOFA, which is headed by the Foreign Policy Bureau Deputy Director-General, was established to cooperate and respond on behalf of MOFA while currently quickly compiling information regarding the infection situation of Japanese nationals and others by the novel coronavirus. The task force will of course work under my direction. Through this task force, cooperation will be carried out with related ministries and agencies and the response headquarters at the local embassy, as I introduced before. I would like to have an all-government response while firmly working to prioritize ensuring the safety of Japanese residents.
Currently, 710 Japanese nationals have been confirmed as being in Wuhan through MOFA’s resident report and “Tabiregi,” and they are being contacted sequentially to confirm their safety.
No information has been received that any Japanese nationals in the affected areas are in emergency situations. As continuing to cooperate with local governments and related organizations, confirming the safety of Japanese nationals, and providing detailed information, MOFA will maintain close contact to be able to respond to requests for supplies needed for daily life and support needs and to ask people in Wuhan what they would like to do.
NHK, WATANABE: I have a related question. The airports in Wuhan have been closed. If the situation worsens and the level goes up going forward, how far do you expect Japan will go to in order to protect Japanese nationals, such as sending rescue aircrafts depending on the situation?
Minister MOTEGI: I would like various measures to be taken for preparation and simulations. As I stated before, no information has been received at present that any Japanese nationals in the affected areas are in emergency situations. The reality is that they are in Wuhan and their movement is restricted. I would like to advance preparation to be able to provide all possible support while monitoring developments in the situation going forward.
Kyodo News, TAKAO: I would like to ask about the novel coronavirus. The blockade of Wuhan City is continuing with the city’s aircrafts and train public transportation not moving. How do you evaluate China’s response of deciding to have a blockade to prevent the spread of the infection?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe that China is responding with all efforts to curtail the infection. The Government of China of course knows best about the local situation, and I would like to firmly cooperate.
Kyodo News, TAKAO: I would like to ask another related question. Japanese people staying in the affected areas have concerns including how long their movement will be restricted. Has China provided any sort of explanation regarding the outlook by the Government of China and local authorities for when restrictions on movement will be lifted?
Minister MOTEGI: Various information-gathering is currently being conducted. We are also communicating with Japanese residents in the affected areas to provide information to inform them about the spread of the infection, what is effective as prevention measures, and other such information.
At present, I have not heard that the response by the Government of China has been decided. As has been stated, today is Chinese New Year’s Eve, so I believe that there are probably discussions about allowing movement again. MOFA will work to provide timely information while communicating with the Government of China and related organizations.
Case of Defendant Carlos Ghosn’s Departure from Japan
Pan Orient News, Azhari: My question is about the Middle East as usual. Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the Middle East has been very important for the development process there. Recently some reports said that Japan would like to choose this assistant with Lebanon as a leverage card to pressure Lebanon to hand over Carlos Ghosn to Japan. So what is your comment on this possibility?
Minister MOTEGI: Japan’s ODA is very highly appreciated not only in the Middle East but by countries around the world. It is appreciated for not only making “things,” but also greatly contributing to nation-building in various forms including fostering human resources and humanitarian assistance. In regard to Lebanon as you asked, based on the overall situation in the Middle East, at present we need to be cautious about taking measures that would further destabilize Lebanon, which is receiving an influx of Syrian refugees and facing an economic crisis. Have to be cautious.
Kyodo News, TAKAO: The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that President Xi Jinping of China held telephone talks respectively with President Macron of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany on January 22, and conveyed that China would cooperate and respond with the international community for the pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus. Has there been any high-level communication between Japan and China regarding this matter? Or are there plans for communication going forward?
Minister MOTEGI: As I stated in my opening remarks, the Government of Japan is currently taking all possible responses. We are also conducting information exchanges and cooperation at various levels with the Government of China. We will also make contact at the political level if a situation emerges in which it is necessary.