Press Conferences

Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu

Friday, January 31, 2020, 2:53 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs

This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only.

Opening Remarks

Response to the Novel Coronavirus

Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Amidst various operations currently being conducted as well as the response to the Diet, please firstly understand that this will be a limited press conference. I would like to give opening remarks regarding the response to the novel coronavirus.

Today at 10:20 a.m., the third chartered plane carrying 149 Japanese nationals arrived at Haneda Airport. A total of 565 Japanese nationals have been repatriated to Japan on three flights so far. Most of the Japanese residents living within Wuhan City who wanted to swiftly return to Japan have been repatriated. I am aware that there are still about 140 people in the affected areas who wish to return to Japan, whom have wished for repatriation at different timings. Coordination is being conducted to dispatch chartered planes and for other efforts while listening to the requests of these Japanese nationals.

MOFA is united under my direction to ensure the safety and the swift repatriation of Japanese nationals with close cooperation with related agencies and ministries. In addition, a response headquarters headed by Ambassador Yokoi is responding at the Embassy of Japan in China. From January 27, 10 embassy personnel, including medical officers and Chinese-speaking personnel, traveled 1,200 km over 17 hours into Wuhan City, and have been exerting all efforts to support the evacuation of Japanese nationals.

In relation to this, amidst China’s own earnest efforts toward halting the spread of the novel coronavirus, Japan highly appreciates China’s cooperation for all aspects for the repatriation of Japanese nationals living in Hubei Province. Japan will continue to exert all efforts to cooperate with China’s initiatives to halt the spread of the infections.

In addition, early in the morning today, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a Public Health Emergency of International Concern for the novel coronavirus. Based on this announcement and considering concerns about the further increase in the number of infected people and the geographic spread, travel bans and issuance of travel advisories including evacuation advisories by major countries, and the possibility of further increases in transportation restrictions including the suspension of flights, MOFA again issued an alert and spot information, including consideration for temporary repatriation, to Japanese residents in the affected areas this morning.

In addition, at 1:55 p.m. today, MOFA raised the Warning on Infectious Diseases Level to Level 2 for all of China, meaning to “avoid non-essential travel.” We have continued to keep Hubei Province at Level 3: “Avoid All Travel.”

To respond to infections by the novel coronavirus going forward, MOFA will continue to cooperate with local governments and related organizations, conduct information-gathering and necessary coordination, issue information and alerts to Japanese residents and overseas travelers at appropriate times, and work to ensure their safety.

Situation in the Middle East (Announcement of the Vision for Peace in the Middle East by the United States)

Pan Orient News, Azhari: I would like to ask about the Middle East. What is Japan’s position on the so-called “deal of the century” planned for the Middle East announced by President Trump recently? That plan did not deal with the annexed parts of Arabic land including Syria and Palestine. We know that Japan is against the de facto annex of land of other countries. So what is your position on this point?

Minister MOTEGI: The United States plays a major role for peace in the Middle East, and I would like to appreciate President Trump showing his intention to strongly contribute to this matter. Japan supports the “two-state solution.” Taking the opportunity of the United States proposing this vision for peace, I hope that concrete movements will progress for reopening direct discussions between Israel and Palestine to swiftly realize fair, permanent, and comprehensive peace.

As well as continuing to urge both Israel and Palestine to work on initiatives for peace, Japan will support creating an environment which contributes to realizing peace in the Middle East through initiatives such as the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” concept and the Conference on Cooperation among East Asian Countries for Palestinian Development (CEAPAD).

Novel Coronavirus (Timing of the Chartered Planes Dispatches)

NHK, YAMAMOTO: In relation to the novel coronavirus, when is it being considered to dispatch the fourth chartered plane?

Minister MOTEGI: Earnest coordination on all aspects is currently being conducted with China. As I stated earlier, we are listening to requests of Japanese nationals for the different times that they would like to be repatriated and other requests. For people living outside Wuhan, we have to consider the means of moving them to Wuhan. Although I do not think that the fourth flight will be dispatched this week, we are pursuing various means. In any event, we are advancing coordination for all aspects to enable the swift repatriation of all Japanese nationals who wish to return to Japan.

The United Kingdom’s Withdrawal from the European Union

Sankei Shimbun, RIKITAKE: I would like to ask about Brexit. The withdrawal procedure has finished on January 31, and the United Kingdom will withdraw from the EU the same day. I believe that trade negotiations will begin at some point between Japan and the United Kingdom, but on the other hand, security aspects and strengthening bilateral relations at the government level will be important going forward. What are your thoughts on how to strengthen bilateral relations going forward?

Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, I would like to appreciate that the withdrawal agreement was approved by the parliaments of both the United Kingdom and the EU and that a path was established for Brexit with agreement by both the United Kingdom and the EU, in other words that it was possible to avoid a no-deal Brexit. The United Kingdom will withdraw from the EU at the end of January 2020 with the entry into force of this agreement, and the transition period will be until December 2020. Through negotiations concerning future relations between the United Kingdom and the EU, Japan expects that there will be minimal effects on the economic activities of Japanese companies and on the global economy.

In terms of what the Government of Japan will do for relations with the United Kingdom going forward, as agreed at the summit level between Japan and the United Kingdom, based on the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), we will quickly work on building a new economic partnership with the United Kingdom after its withdrawal from the EU. Additionally, by supporting the possibility of the United Kingdom joining the TPP11 and other matters, we will aim to build even stronger trade and investment relations.

Novel Coronavirus (Number of People aboard the Chartered Plane)

Mainichi Shimbun, TADOKORO: I would like to ask a question about the chartered plane as discussed earlier. The third flight had just under 150 people while the first and second flights had over 200 people, meaning there was a difference of about 50 people. Besides the Japanese people within Wuhan City who were easy to board, did you look for whether there were other people who could take the remaining 50 spots, such as Chinese spouses of Japanese nationals or Japanese people living outside Wuhan City, but they could not board the flight? Can you please tell us the background for the decrease of about 50 people?

Minister MOTEGI: As I stated in my opening remarks, we are firstly conducting operations for the repatriation of Japanese nationals who wish to do so quickly and for whom it is physically possible. Based on the results of coordination with the Government of China for the chartered planes thus far, including the number of people who can board, only Japanese nationals have boarded the flights. Going forward, it will be necessary to conduct coordination based on the policies of the Government of China such as what to do for Chinese spouses married to Japanese nationals. We are advancing coordination on all sides including with the Government of China on what we can do going forward.

Speed is extremely important for such issues. Is it fine to make people wait two days for a chartered plane? I do not make such decisions.

Novel Coronavirus (Cost Burden for the Chartered Planes)

Kyodo News, TAKAO: In relation to the novel coronavirus, I would like to ask about the cost burden for the chartered planes. Today, Prime Minister Abe indicated that there would be consideration in the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives of having the Government of Japan pay for all of the costs of the chartered planes. On the other hand, I believe that there were people who evacuated from Wuhan on their own volition and at their own expense before the dispatch of the chartered planes by the Government. From the perspective of fairness, is the Government considering any sort of assistance or compensation for costs incurred by people who left China at their own expense?

Minister MOTEGI: The costs has not been received yet.

Kyodo News, TAKAO: I understand.

Warning on Infectious Diseases Level Increase

Kyodo News, TAKAO: Excuse me. I would like to ask a question related to the novel coronavirus from a slightly different perspective. It is about your explanation in your opening remarks that the Warning on Infectious Diseases Level was raised. I believe that the final decision on whether to travel or not is being entrusted to each individual citizen. The Warning on Infectious Disease Level has been increased to Level 2 for all of China, so for example, do you believe that people should refrain from traveling to China for sightseeing?

Minister MOTEGI: Level 2 means to “avoid non-essential travel,” so I believe that the Japanese people understand to a certain extent about what constitutes non-essential travel. I would also like them to consider the situation watching the daily news and to respond carefully.

Reuters, TAKENAKA: Areas in China besides Hubei Province are still at Level 2 and have not been raised to Level 3 like Hubei Province, but the infection has spread throughout all of China. What was the consideration behind this decision? Also, the United States and other countries have raised their level to level 4 for all of China, meaning “do not travel.” Can you please tell us about the Japanese approach that is different?

Minister MOTEGI: The WHO has announced a Public Health Emergency of International Concern twice in the past. We raised the Warning on Infectious Diseases Level to Level 2 for the rest of China taking into consideration past responses to global health emergencies by the Government of Japan, comprehensively considering the situation in the affected areas, and based on the three points I stated earlier.

Novel Coronavirus (Cost Burden for the Chartered Planes)

Asahi Shimbun, OTA: I would like to return to the matter of the cost burden for the chartered planes. I believe that in cases of evacuation by Japanese nationals in the past, the equivalent of economy fares has been requested. Do you intend to ask for understanding that this time is an exception?

Minister MOTEGI: Rather than calling an exception, it has been necessary to have such responses for this situation different from, for example, cases of evacuation or infections in the past. Based on the latest developments of the rapid increase in the number of infected people in Hubei Province, which contains Wuhan City, and the rapid changes in the situation such as the strengthening of transport restrictions in the area accompanying that, various responses are being requested for the Japanese nationals who have been repatriated, including medical exams at medical institutions after they return to Japan and temporarily staying at evacuation facilities or their own homes.

At the same time, today the WHO announced a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. We reconsidered our policy taking this into consideration. As a result, having the Government of Japan cover the costs of evacuation by chartered planes is being considered.

The cost of the chartered flights is not just the cost of chartering the planes, but rather includes various costs including various transport costs in the affected areas. We have requested the one-way economy fare in the past, but based on the circumstances, consideration is being conducted for the Government to cover that cost as well.

Novel Coronavirus (Immigration Control)

Kyodo News, TAKAO: I would like to ask about restrictions on entry into Japan. At the meeting of the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives today, Prime Minister Abe stated that infected people attempting to enter Japan would be denied entry. I believe that immigration control is unequivocally under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. What are your thoughts on what specific methods are being considered?

Minister MOTEGI: The entire Government of Japan has been taking various measures to strengthen quarantines in relation to immigration until now. Today, the Government also accelerated the date of classifying the novel coronavirus as a “designated infectious disease” to February 1. It has been decided to swiftly consider utilization of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to deny entry to infected people attempting to enter Japan and to strengthen immigration control even in cases in which it cannot be determined if people are infected. I would of course like you to inquire the Immigration Services Agency about the details.

Back to Press Conferences