Press Conference by
Tuesday, March 24, 2020, 11:08 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (Teleconference Format)
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would like to speak about tomorrow’s G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
The G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will be held in a teleconference format from 8 p.m. tomorrow, March 25, Japan time, to around 12 a.m. on March 26, although it might be slightly longer.
The G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was originally planned to be held in Pittsburgh in the United States from March 24 to 25, but it will now be held in a teleconference format for the first time in history.
Despite the severe environment in which the novel coronavirus is spreading globally and the G7 Foreign Ministers cannot gather in person, I believe that the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Teleconference Meeting will express our shared recognition of the importance of confirming cooperation and showing our determination to lead international initiatives.
Based on the discussions at the G7 Summit Teleconference Meeting held on March 16, I will firmly explain Japan’s efforts and the necessity of international cooperation, and confirm cooperation among the G7 Foreign Ministers as well.
In addition, it is also planned to hold discussions regarding urgent issues faced by the international community and regional situations, including not only the issues of the novel coronavirus but also North Korea, Iran, and the situation in the Middle East. I will actively participate in the discussions while firmly explaining Japan’s positions.
Novel Coronavirus (Japanese Nationals Stranded in Peru)
NHK, YAMAMOTO: In relation to the novel coronavirus, I would like to ask about the Japanese nationals stranded in Peru. At the House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting yesterday, it was disclosed that Japanese tourists in Peru are unable to leave the country. What response is being taken now toward supporting their repatriation, and are there other cases in which Japanese people cannot depart in countries and regions besides Peru?
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, currently about 230 Japanese tourists and other travelers are being affected by mobility restrictions implemented in Peru in locations including Cusco and Machu Pichu. All flights have stopped so they are forced to stay there. According to information gathered by the Embassy of Japan in Peru, there are no people whose health is deteriorating badly. Nevertheless, we are appealing to the Government of Peru for their repatriation as soon as possible.
It seems that there are many people abroad who visited on tours planned by travel agencies. For example, a travel agency is considering sending a chartered plane now. It seems that consideration is being conducted about whether it would be possible to repatriate people aboard a non-regular flight, such as on a private chartered plane. The Embassy of Japan in Peru will provide as much support as possible, including such consideration. Cusco is located on considerably high ground at an altitude of about 3,400 meters. There are senior citizens among the stranded travelers. Even if they are not having health problems now, we are currently cooperating with local hospitals to ensure that they will be taken care of at the hospitals if they have any problems.
Various overseas countries are now implementing mobility restrictions. It is difficult to give a single number for all stranded Japanese nationals because the situations are different in each country, and also different for Italy and Europe, for example. As of yesterday, over 50 countries have taken measures to suspend international flights. In that sense, it is possible that there are Japanese residents and travelers in those countries who are experiencing difficulties returning to Japan or in other matters. The Japanese diplomatic missions in each of these countries will continue to carefully obtain such information as much as possible and to provide as much support as possible for people who need it.
Novel Coronavirus (Measures Regarding Suspension of Validity of Visas)
Phoenix TV, Li: Measures were taken to restrict entry into Japan and suspend the validity of visas for travelers from China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) on March 5. However, in the case of people already staying in Japan who temporarily return to China and have a visa for reentry, they can reenter Japan. Will they be required to wait for two weeks at a designated location under Japan’s immigration restriction measure? The Government of Japan has announced that the measures will be in place until March 31 at present. Can you please tell us whether the measures will be continued? Will they be continued to the end of April like the measures for Europe and other countries?
Minister MOTEGI: At present, the period for immigration restrictions has not been decided. On the other hand, the measure on waiting in a designated location 14 days after arriving will be until March 31. As the novel coronavirus infections are currently continuing to spread globally, I believe that a decision on suspending this measure on March 31 will be made this week or before March 31. Unless the novel coronavirus dramatically disappears from tomorrow around the world, I believe that it would be unthinkable to completely remove the measures by March 31.
Phoenix TV, Li: I have another question. Visa validity has been completely suspended and embassies are not issuing visas for people in China now. However, there are many exchange students scheduled to come to Japan for the new school term beginning in April. Can you please tell us whether the Government of Japan will take a relief measure concerning visas for these people if the novel coronavirus situation calms down, or if this is being considered?
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, Japan is not only applying this measure to China. 128 countries around the world are now implementing the same measures, such as immigration restrictions, as Japan. These are certainly not diplomatic measures.
We of course understand that this will have various effects on, for example, exchange students, the economy, and people-to-people exchanges. Despite that, I believe that now it is the agreed recognition that the international community must cooperate to stop the novel coronavirus, which has spread so much around the world and killed so many people. We are taking these measures because it is a situation in which they must be taken.
Novel Coronavirus (Discussion Topics at the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting)
Kyodo News, TAKAO: I would like to ask about the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Teleconference Meeting that you explained at the beginning. During the Japan-China-ROK Foreign Ministers’ Teleconference Meeting last week, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China mentioned the Tokyo Olympic Games, and you explained Japan’s position of aiming to hold them in a complete form. The situation has probably changed since then. Do you intend to discuss anything in regard to the Tokyo Olympic Games at the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting?
Minister MOTEGI: It is not the case that all the discussion topics have been decided for the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. However, I believe that we can already see a certain direction regarding the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. At the very least, I do not believe that it will be a theme discussed for a long time at the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
Novel Coronavirus (Warning on Infectious Disease at Level 3)
NHK, TAKANO: I would like to ask about Japan’s immigration restrictions. Yesterday, MOFA set the Warning on Infectious Disease at Level 3 for Germany, France, Belgium, and other countries. It recommends to avoid all travel to these countries. Until now, the government has mostly taken measures to deny entry into Japan to people visiting from such countries. Can you please tell us the status of considerations by the Government of Japan?
Minister MOTEGI: We are taking immigration restriction measures and immigration denial measures for countries at Level 3. We are not considering giving preferential treatment to people because they come from a certain country, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Novel Coronavirus (Establishment of a Team to Protect Japanese Nationals)
Kyodo News, TAKAO: I would like to ask about the novel coronavirus. Some reports are saying that due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Government of Japan will establish an emergency response team to protect Japanese residents in foreign countries in April. Can you please tell us the current status of considerations about the team’s organization and other aspects?
Minister MOTEGI: Excuse me, but I do not know about those reports. I believe that we need to accumulate the various lessons we learn from the global spread of the novel coronavirus, and I am strongly aware of the need to strengthen our protection and support for Japanese residents living in foreign countries as well as Japanese travelers who are overseas.
Of course, Japanese diplomatic missions are providing as much support as possible. I believe that MOFA, centered on the Consular Affairs Bureau and various diplomatic missions, is making a quite detailed response. We are providing careful explanations and support for matters such as how to return to Japan and about hospitals.
For example, if a case emerges of a group of people who need support in an isolated location, or if something else occurs due to this situation, whether or not it is related to the novel coronavirus, then in that sense, such a mobile unit would be necessary.
As has been stated, a support team from the Embassy of Japan in China entered Wuhan and carried out various operations to repatriate Japanese people who had wanted to return to Japan. I believe that such a mobile, specialized unit like the team in Wuhan might be important to protect Japanese nationals going forward.
Novel Coronavirus (North Korea)
NHK, YAMAMOTO: In relation to the novel coronavirus, I would like to ask about analysis of the infections situation in North Korea. Some people believe that there are infected people in North Korea, and Defense Minister Kono indicated that the recent missile launch may be being used to tighten order in the country. What is MOFA’s analysis of the novel coronavirus situation within North Korea?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe that North Korea is not conveying complete, clear information about infections. Although they are saying that no one is infected, that is not consistent with information that they have to make such an emergency response. As the novel coronavirus is spreading in countries everywhere from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere, many people in Japan and the ROK have been confirmed to have been infected with the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan. Amidst this, I believe that it would be absolutely miraculous if there were no infected people in North Korea, which shares borders with both China and the ROK. Such a situation would be extremely unthinkable in human history. I have never heard of such an example, such as that there was a country in Europe where the black plague did not spread during the Middle Ages. If that were true, it would be miraculous. With that in mind, I believe that, in addition to the issue of the novel coronavirus itself, there is no doubt that at the very least, North Korea is experiencing economic effects due to blockades at its borders.I believe that North Korea’s recent missile launch could be interpreted, in a sense, as a message to its people to turn their eyes outside the country. Also, the U.S.-North Korea meeting has been delayed in the run-up to the presidential election in the United States. North Korea may be aiming to send some sort of message to the United States. Furthermore, it was also part of a series of movements related to improving North Korea’s missile capability itself. Moreover, it may have been a combination of the three reasons I just stated. We will analyze this well going forward while exchanging and sharing information with the United States, the ROK, and others.
Novel Coronavirus (Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games)
NHK, WATANABE: I would like to ask about the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The circumstances have been changing and there is no choice but to extend the Olympic Games. I believe that there was consideration of diplomacy using the opportunity of the Olympic Games. What is your reaction to this situation including the possible postponement of the Olympic Games?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe that when you said “extend,” you meant “postpone.” “Extend” would mean holding the Games from July to around December.
NHK, WATANABE: I mean “postpone” when the Games are held.
Minister MOTEGI: At the board of directors meeting yesterday, the IOC announced that it would begin considerations concerning the 2020 Tokyo Games aimed to be held for the next four weeks of scenarios, including about changing the dates of the Games, in order to protect the health of all related people and to cooperate to contain the novel coronavirus.
The IOC decision is in line with the policy stated by Prime Minister Abe of “holding the Games in a complete form.” If it would be difficult to “hold the Games in a complete form” this summer, then there will be no choice but to decide to postpone them from the perspective of putting the athletes first.
Of course, many spectators and dignitaries are to come from overseas for such a major international event, and we would like to conduct various diplomatic activities utilizing this opportunity but if the Games are postponed, of course people will not gather and we will not be able to carry out such diplomatic activities. However, in place of that, we will continue various diplomatic initiatives using alternative methods.
As has been stated, various meetings have been postponed or cancelled, and there is the question of how much of that can be made up for. We will continue various efforts such as the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Teleconference Meeting tomorrow. I hope that the spread of the virus is contained as quickly as possible, including for diplomatic activities, and that we will return to normal in terms of movement of people and things. The Government of Japan will work as one to advance initiatives toward that.
What has happened has happened, and we cannot fight it. I believe that it is important to proactively consider what is best amidst that.