Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, February 4, 2020, 5:37 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Response to the Novel Coronavirus
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would firstly like to report about the response to the novel coronavirus. Currently, over 20,000 people infected with the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in 27 countries and regions, and there are concerns that the number of infected people will rise and that infections will spread geographically going forward.
Until now, 565 Japanese nationals have been repatriated using three chartered flights. In relation to this, amidst China’s own earnest efforts to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, I would like to again express great appreciation on behalf of Japan for China’s full-scale cooperation for repatriating Japanese nationals living in Hubei Province. Japan will continue to exert all efforts for cooperation with the initiatives of the Government of China to halt the spread of infections.
As I stated in my previous press conference, following the dispatch of the third flight, there are now about 140 Japanese nationals in and outside Wuhan City who would like to be repatriated, although their desired timings for repatriation are different. While listening to their requests, we are conducting coordination on all fronts including with the Government of China.
During this process, from a humanitarian perspective, we are earnestly conducting coordination with China to receive approval to take aboard charter flights people who have some kind of relationship with Japanese nationals, such as spouses with Chinese nationality.
We will conduct coordination to be able to dispatch the fourth chartered plane at the earliest possible timing from the middle of this week. We are continuing to conduct coordination to enable as many Japanese nationals living in the affected areas as possible to be repatriated aboard the fourth flight. We will also continue to seek various methods for the Japanese nationals who remain in China after the fourth flight, and conduct coordination on all aspects to enable repatriation of all people who wish to return to Japan.
On February 2, Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province announced restrictions on going outside and partial closure of highways. Based on the possibility that measures restricting mobility could spread to other regions and cities going forward, yesterday we issued an alert and spot information including a request for Japanese nationals living in China and overseas travelers to consider temporarily returning to Japan.
Furthermore, the announcement of suspension and reduction of flights by Japanese airlines in the afternoon of February 4 is expected to influence the movements of Japanese nationals living in China and overseas travelers. In response to this, we issued spot information including a request to consider swiftly returning to Japan temporarily.
Under my direction, MOFA will continue to work as one to cooperate with local governments and related organizations, conduct information-gathering, ensure the safety of Japanese nationals, and issue timely alerts.
Influenza Epidemic in the United States
Independent Web Journal, TAGAMI: Influenza is rampant in the United States and has killed more people than the novel coronavirus. Is MOFA aware of this? Also, if you know this, then why don’t you issue more information and alerts? Can you please answer this?
Minister MOTEGI: I am aware that the influenza in the United States has led to many fatalities and patients. I would firstly like to express my condolences for the people who have passed away. The Government of Japan is monitoring the situation, including the effects on Japanese nationals living in the United States. Although the Government of the United States has not requested any special support at the current stage, we will monitor the situation to see what effects there will be and respond if necessary.
Novel Coronavirus (Reasons for Disembarkation Denial)
Hong Kong Phoenix TV, Li: I would like to ask about visas. The Embassy of Japan in Beijing announced information on Weibo that among Japan’s new measures restricting immigration, there is a restriction on entry into Japan by people with passports from Hubei Province and people who have visited Hubei Province within the last two weeks. According to the information issued by the embassy, visa applications will not be accepted for people who fall under these two conditions. The season is starting in which many Chinese exchange students apply for visas for the new school term. Can you please confirm whether their applications will not be accepted if those two conditions apply to them?
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, to give an accurate answer, the Cabinet decided on January 31 that for the time being, foreign nationals with a record of visiting Hubei Province, China within 14 days from the date they want to enter Japan, as well as foreign nationals who have Chinese passports issued in Hubei Province, will be denied disembarkation in Japan under the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, unless there are special circumstances. Foreign nationals who correspond to this reason for denial of disembarkation will not be able to enter Japan, and will thus not be issued visas.
Hong Kong Phoenix TV, Li: Their applications will not be accepted?
Minister MOTEGI: Visas will not be issued.
Novel Coronavirus (Support from Japan to China)
Singapore Lianhe Zaobao, Foo: Given the situation in China, I would like to know what support measures Japan is taking as a neighboring country. Also, certain countries are banning their nationals from entering China, but why isn’t Japan doing this?
Minister MOTEGI: Last Sunday, I held a telephone talk with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. I expressed my heartfelt condolences about the novel coronavirus, and requested they tell us if there is any support we can provide as a neighboring country. State Councilor Wang told me that there is a shortage of goods such as masks, and I have heard from the embassy and other sources about specific shortages, such as of masks, gloves, protective clothing, and the like. Japan has provided support by using the chartered flights, three of which have already been dispatched, to send relief goods. While monitoring how the situation develops going forward, we will send items that the Government of China and its people need, as one does to a friend in need.
In regard to the Warning on Infectious Diseases, we are taking measures such as successively raising the level while monitoring the situation in the affected areas. Hubei Province is currently at Level 3, and other regions are now at Level 2 taking into consideration the spread of the infections and other circumstances. We will conduct timely consideration of the Warning on Infectious Diseases going forward while monitoring changes in the situation.
Maiden Names in Passports
Asahi Shimbun, NARAZAKI: I would like to change the subject and ask about maiden names in passports. At the Budget Committee meeting today, consideration was conducted regarding making it possible to use maiden names in passports with just confirmation using the official family register or other means, and making it clear when a maiden name is used. Can you please tell us your thoughts on the current status of considerations and the outlook for implementation?
Minister MOTEGI: Consideration is currently being conducted regarding making it possible to use maiden names in passports with just confirmation of the maiden name using the official family register. The current method of writing the maiden name in parentheses is quite hard to understand, so I would like to have a method of writing the maiden name that does not impede smooth travel.
I believe that it will take some time to change to the new passport. During the time period until the change to the new method of writing names, in order to ensure smooth travel for passport-holders, we are responding by distributing leaflets explaining the system of writing other names on passports for authorities at travel destinations and uploading an explanation on the MOFA website. It will take time to change the system, but we would like to implement this from the second half of this year.
Novel Coronavirus (Fourth Chartered Flight)
NHK, YAMAMOTO: I would like to return to the matter of the novel coronavirus. I have two questions. My first question is concerning your statement that the fourth chartered flight would be dispatched from the middle of this week. Tomorrow is Wednesday, so has it not been ruled out that the flight could be dispatched tomorrow at the earliest? My second question is about issues concerning Chinese spouses of Japanese nationals and their families. I believe that many different cases are presumed, so is it correct to understand that the basic stance of the Government of Japan is requesting that all Chinese family members of Japanese nationals be allowed to return to Japan if they wish to do so?
Minister MOTEGI: In regard to your first question about dispatching a flight from the middle of this week, generally speaking, the days from Wednesday are the second half of the week. We are conducting coordination to dispatch the flight at the earliest possible timing from then. Regarding people who do not have Japanese nationality, we are conducting coordination by inquiring about the wishes of Japanese people first as much as possible and also of course responding to the policy of the Government of China. I hope that as many people as possible who wish to do so can return to Japan, including Japanese people, their spouses, and others. We will work so that as many people as possible can return to Japan on the fourth flight.
Novel Coronavirus (Relief Outside Hubei Province)
Kyodo News, TAKAO: In relation to the novel coronavirus, the Government of Japan has dispatched chartered flights to Wuhan in Hubei Province, China. If other areas are also cut off like Wuhan, such as with suspension of public transportation and road closures, due to concerns about the geographic spread of the novel coronavirus, will the Government of Japan consider dispatching chartered planes to those areas?
Minister MOTEGI: I mentioned Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province earlier, but I am certain that the infection rate there is very different compared to Wuhan. Also, as I stated before, we are issuing alerts and spot information including requesting people to consider temporarily returning to Japan. Amidst this, I believe that it is important for people to first make appropriate judgments.
Novel Coronavirus (Travel to Japan by Chinese People)
Asahi Shimbun, OTA: I would like to return to the matter of Chinese nationality. Do you know how many people with Chinese nationality currently want to return to Japan?
Minister MOTEGI: I am aware of the number of people to a certain extent, but I would like to refrain from saying the number because there are people who can and cannot say publicly if they want to return to Japan.
Novel Coronavirus (Possibility of a Fifth Flight)
NTV, MAENO: In relation to charter flights, you stated earlier that you want as many people as possible to be able to board the fourth flight. Is it correct to understand that you are not ruling out the option of dispatching a fifth flight?
Minister MOTEGI: As I stated in my opening remarks, we are conducting coordination so that as many people as possible can return to Japan on the fourth flight. We will continue to seek various methods, including charter flights, for the Japanese nationals who remain after that.