Press Conference by Foreign Press Secretary OHTAKA Masato
Wednesday, January 29, 2020, 5:08 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Novel Coronavirus (Chartered Plane Dispatch)
NHK, WATANABE: During Minister Motegi’s answers in the Diet earlier, he stated that a chartered plane will fly during the same time slot as yesterday. Can you please tell us the details at present about this second chartered flight, including the departure time, the number of Japanese people planned to board the plane in China, and if the operation schedule will be similar to the one yesterday?
Mr. OHTAKA Masato, Press Secretary: There are basically no changes to the situation described earlier by Minister Motegi. As Minister Motegi stated, coordination is being conducted to arrange charter planes so that people who wish to return to Japan will do so. The final coordination is now being conducted to be able to dispatch a second flight tonight during the same time slot as the first flight yesterday. All efforts are being exerted to this.
NHK, WATANABE: At present, how many people are planned to board the flight?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: At present, final coordination is being conducted for various aspects, but there will not be any major changes from the situation yesterday. At the very least, we are continuing to advance final coordination for the same scale as yesterday.
Asahi Shimbun, ONO: I would like to express my respect for the efforts by MOFA concerning the coronavirus infection. Now, if I may, I would like to ask a question. I believe that MOFA surveyed Japanese residents living in Hubei Province about if they wanted to be repatriated. Around when was this specifically begun in the affected areas?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: I am not aware at present of the specific time when that began. Of course, as the situation rapidly developed and Wuhan is at the epicenter, we have been saying from a quite early stage that we have been continuously confirming the safety of Japanese nationals. Amidst that we have been establishing contact and maintaining it. As various developments have occurred after that, we have been making efforts to provide detailed information, including what will happen going forward to each Japanese national.
In this process, we have of course been asking if people would like to return to Japan and totalizing the number. In the end, we earnestly discussed what could be done to enable all people who wish to return to Japan to do so at the earliest timing, and advanced various coordination for that, which has led to where we are now.
Asahi Shimbun, ONO: A message was uploaded to the MOFA website on January 26 at 4:30 p.m. that a survey is being conducted on people who would like to return to Japan. After 5 p.m. on the same day, Minister Motegi tweeted from his personal Twitter account requesting people to share the message. After that at around 6 p.m., Prime Minister Abe held a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence. That was the flow.
However, I confirmed that the fact that MOFA was conducting or even considering a survey of people who wish to return to Japan was not released at all to news media. Is there any reason why the news media was not informed of this.
Press Secretary OHTAKA: I do not know, and would have to confirm the details. However, I believe that it is standard to provide careful explanations to reporters in as open a manner as possible, and that we must provide necessary timely information. Although I will not know about this matter unless I confirm the details, there have of course been various developments. Amidst all these developments including the general situation of the coronavirus, regional conditions, and how to dispatch local embassy personnel, we have followed the policy that I mentioned, but I personally believe that we cannot preclude times when we cannot do everything since we are all only human. However, I believe that it is of course our stance to be as transparent as possible so you know about our efforts.
Asahi Shimbun, ONO: Minister Motegi mentioned the survey of people who wish to return to Japan while stating about the Japan-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting during his doorstep interview held after 9:45 p.m. on 26 January. I believe that the point of Minister Motegi mentioning the survey was probably to urge people in Wuhan or surrounding areas to return to Japan and to show that the Government of Japan would help them with repatriation. I believe that it was probably necessary to widely deliver that message to related people.
We in the news media have been providing coverage with the sentiment of providing a message to the people who are most concerned and troubled about this situation. However, there was absolutely no release of the information that a survey of people who wish to return to Japan is being conducted. Minister Motegi only mentioned it. Also, on that day, although it cannot be helped, it was extremely difficult to receive information from the people concerned at the Consular Affairs Bureau. As a result, I regret that this might have blocked the ability to convey what was happening and the situation to the people in China as well as the families in Japan of those people in China. As you have been saying that earnest efforts are being conducted, what are your thoughts on this response?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: I just stated what should be done. We are exerting all efforts amidst this situation that is rapidly developing and we do not know what scale it will reach. In that sense, this is not over and various things will probably occur going forward, and we still do not know how long it will be until it is resolved. There are of course times when we have to reflect on whether what we have done was truly good and correct it. Currently everything is still ongoing and developing considerably, and of course we need to appropriately compile our reflections, but the reality is that we are in a rough situation in various ways.
However, based on what you pointed out today, in my capacity as Press Secretary, I have recognized anew the role that you all play in relation to the people of Japan. I believe that those of us working in this field must all firmly share that recognition.
NHK, TAKANO: What is the latest number of people who wish to return to Japan?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Various numbers have been released until now, but work is ongoing to confirm the remaining number of people who wish to return to Japan. Although I cannot go as far as to say a number, my sense now is that there is a high probability that there will be a considerable increase. In any event, I would like to provide an explanation to you all about this at the appropriate timing as soon as possible.
NHK, TAKANO: I believe that it has been said that about 650 people in total wish to return to Japan, including the people who just returned to Japan. Do you mean that there is a high probability that the number will increase than that?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: It has often been said that there are 440 people who still wish to return to Japan, subtracting the people who already returned to Japan from the 650 people. There is a possibility that that number will further increase.
NHK, TAKANO: What are the reasons for that?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: We are currently confirming that. However, I believe the background is probably that it has been conveyed to many people that we dispatched a plane and 206 people have returned to Japan.
NHK, TAKANO: I would like to confirm this just in case. You replied to the first question that the second flight will have about the same scale as the first of about 200 people. If you consider possibilities of the increase in the number of people who wish to return to Japan, would the option of a bigger plane be considered?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Our policy has always been the same thus far and will not change going forward. We are working on bringing back to Japan all people who wish to do so at the earliest possible timing. We are exerting efforts now while exploring the very best and feasible options.
Yomiuri Shimbun, YANADA: In relation to this, is it correct to understand that the increase in the number of people who wish to return to Japan is from people who decided after the dispatch of the first flight and contacted the embassy or elsewhere?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Frankly, information on the detailed process has not been received yet. It is fine to understand that we have been making constant efforts to confirm people’s wishes. Of course, please understand that I am speaking based on my sense of the situation since around the time of the first flight.
Nikkei Shimbun, KATO: I would like to confirm something about the first flight that returned to Japan this morning. Various countries including the United States and Australia are conducting negotiations with China toward support for repatriation, but is it correct to understand that Japan is the first to have gone into Wuhan to repatriate Japanese residents? I believe that the operation at present is to have planes land one by one, so is it correct to understand that various countries have only received permission for one plane to land at once?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Frankly speaking, I do not have any certain data on hand regarding the movements of other countries, so I do not want to give a careless response. However, it is unmistakable that Japan entered considerably quickly.
NHK, WATANABE: In regard to the second flight today, will it use the same equipment as the first flight or a different one? Also, as asked earlier, what is the policy now about changing the plane to a larger size with a little more capacity depending on the number of people?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: I believe that is a matter of availability and other issues. We are exerting all efforts to explore various options to be able to bring back to Japan all people who wish to do so as quickly as possible.
NHK, WATANABE: I would just like to confirm this. Is it correct to understand that today’s flight will depart from Haneda Airport?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Final coordination is now being conducted for those details.
NHK, WATANABE: I believe that it took the various press outlets considerable time, over half a day, to confirm this yesterday. Can you please tell us whether the flight will depart from Narita or Haneda Airport, including the standby situation?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Speaking on condition that the final confirmation is still being conducted, please understand that coordination is being conducted with the idea that it is generally best to take second and third actions as much as possible based on what has been experienced thus far, rather than trying something new, which is true for us as well.
Nikkei Shimbun, MIYASAKA: I believe that emergency relief goods were sent by the Government of Japan and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government aboard the first flight when it departed yesterday from Japan. Is it being considered or has it been decided to do something similar for the second and subsequent flights?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Consideration is of course being conducted on emergency relief goods. There are probably various capacity-related issues we have to consider in relation to loading and unloading the emergency relief goods, which would be slightly related to where luggage would be. We will choose the optimal method while considering various factors. We will continue such efforts if we can. All our efforts are ongoing, and did not end yesterday with the first flight.
Mainichi Shimbun, TADOKORO: In relation to your point earlier about the increasing number of people who wish to be repatriated, I believe that there are some Japanese people remaining in Hubei Province who do not wish to be repatriated, although I do not know how many. I imagine that among them, there could be an increase in people who originally did not wish to be repatriated who changed their minds. Although you probably do not know now how many people there are who do not wish to be repatriated, is it possible to find out?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: I do not have that number now. As far as I am aware, we do not have that information.
Mainichi Shimbun, TADOKORO: Perhaps the companies these people belong to know how many of them are remaining and do not wish to return to Japan?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: We of course need to be aware as much as possible of the movements of Japanese nationals. We are aware of this, but what I mean is that I do not have data on hand now that I can share with you all now.
Mainichi Shimbun, TADOKORO: I understand.
TV Asahi, OISHI: I would like to confirm one point. Is it correct to understand that the number of people who wish to return to Japan includes not only Japanese people, but also their spouses and others, who may not be Japanese, who want to fly aboard the chartered plane dispatched by Japan? Also, the first flight had only Japanese nationals, but for the second flight today, what coordination is being conducted with the Government of China regarding people with other nationalities?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: The number is of people who wish to return to Japan, so it of course includes Japanese nationals. However, we are currently confirming people’s wishes without necessarily excluding other people besides Japanese nationals.
TV Asahi, OISHI: Will the second flight today be for Japanese nationals?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Final coordination is still being conducted for that. There are cases in which various coordination is necessary with China for people other than Japanese nationals, so there are still areas that will be finally decided after that.
NHK, WATANABE: In relation to the question just now, in that case, does that mean that the initial solicitation process was for all people including Japanese nationals as well as their spouses and children who are Chinese nationals? Or was it only for Japanese nationals, and later increased because of the need that they wanted their spouses to accompany them to Japan? How was this handled? You stated that the number who wish to return to Japan is increasing. Are eligible people only within Hubei Province centered on Wuhan? Or is the number increasing because there are people outside that area who are worried and want to board a flight? Can you please explain more about the original solicitation framework, and whether cases are predicted in which there are people who still have to undergo processing because the Chinese side will not allow them to board a flight due to their nationality, and later those spouses are allowed to board flights?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: What I can say is that we are confirming people’s wishes, and have absolutely no intention of strictly limiting this to only Japanese nationals. We are confirming people’s wishes with the assumption of including spouses who do not have Japanese nationality. During this stage of confirming people’s wishes, we are absolutely not establishing such a high wall between Japanese nationals and non-Japanese nationals.
However, we must conduct coordination based on the policies of the Government of China for spouses who have Chinese nationality. We are thus earnestly conducting coordination for all aspects including the Government of China for what we can do, and must continue to do so.
In terms of eligible regions, we are working with the intention that we must reach out to many different people including around Wuhan.
NHK, WATANABE: In that case, are you also soliciting Japanese people living outside Hubei Province? You said it was also outside Wuhan. You said that you have been reaching out soliciting people regardless of their nationality, including Japanese people and their spouses and families, but that the first flight only had Japanese nationals because of restrictions by the Chinese side. Then, non-Japanese spouses of Japanese nationals residing in China who have other nationalities besides Chinese were not on that flight? Since the solicitation has not restricted nationality from the beginning, does that mean that flights beginning with the second one today will possibly allow non-Japanese nationals to fly? I believe that the Chinese side has placed some restrictions but when do you think such people will become able to board a plane through negotiations with China? I believe that there is maximum consideration about families being broken up. What are your thoughts on this?
Press Secretary OHTAKA: Regarding your first question, I do not have the exact data on hand now about the geographic scope. Therefore, it is my current understanding that it was within Hubei Province, but I will provide the exact information later when I have another opportunity to do so, which will clarify whether or not those outside Hubei Province were included as well.
In regard to this flight, we are prioritizing areas including those near the epicenter where the risk is high and where there are very many people. As a result of prioritizing such people and having them board the plane, it has been Japanese nationals, as I have been stating.
However, as you pointed out, there are humanitarian aspects and we must not allow families to be broken up, so that is an aspect for which we are conducting various coordination with the Chinese side in China. At present, the first flight has prioritized bringing people back to Japan who are most at risk.