Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, April 21, 2020, 3:04 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Current Situation of the Novel Coronavirus
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would firstly like to explain the current situation of the novel coronavirus. The total number of infected people around the world is over 2.411 million people as of 11 a.m. this morning. Although infections are continuing to spread, during the one-day period from yesterday to today, the number of newly-infected people was about 72,500, marking the fourth consecutive day in which the number of new infections was lower than the previous day. The number of deaths in one day was about 4,900, which is the first time the number has been under 5,000 since April 4.
I would also like to touch upon the operations for repatriation to Japan from countries where movement is difficult. A total of 7,524 Japanese nationals have been repatriated from such countries through now. There are still about 1,100 Japanese nationals who wish to leave overseas countries and return to Japan. Among them, the number of people expected to be repatriated this month has risen to 450 people. We have steadily built up results in terms of repatriating Japanese nationals.
A major development since my previous press conference was the repatriation of about 300 Japanese nationals who were in Africa aboard a flight that departed from Ethiopia last week on Saturday, April 18. The Japanese nationals who were staying or residing in 15 African countries first gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia using charter planes that traveled on 10 routes arranged by travel agencies, third-party countries, and others. After this, they transferred to other flights, such as a regular flight by Ethiopian Airlines and a private chartered flight, and arrived in Japan by yesterday. About 70 people who wanted to return to the Republic of Korea (ROK) from Africa also took these planes to Incheon International Airport.
There have been cases through now of Japanese nationals flying with ROK nationals and others aboard planes arranged by the ROK. This time, ROK nationals flew aboard a repatriation flight arranged by Japan. Japan highly appreciates that Japan-ROK cooperation is advancing at a practical level as well.
We will continue to pour all our efforts into ensuring the safety of and supporting Japanese nationals by providing information to Japanese nationals who are abroad, as well as appealing to local authorities.
I mentioned earlier that 450 Japanese nationals out of 1,100 are expected to be repatriated. That leaves about 650 people who are staying a little longer abroad because of their companies, their work being related to JICA, or are very likely to return to Japan but are still working out the timing. These people are not included among the 450 I mentioned earlier. In that sense, I believe that, of the 1,100 people, those who will return to Japan will probably further increase. On the other hand, considering the general circumstances around the world, little by little, some of the people who have until now decided to stay where they are, are beginning to wish to be repatriated. This will in turn lead to additional people who newly wish to be repatriated. We will firmly advance operations sequentially for people who newly wish to return to Japan. In any event, we will pour all our efforts into providing support for repatriation of people who wish to return to Japan from countries particularly where vulnerable including the medical system.
Novel Coronavirus (Taiwan’s Free of Charge Provision of Masks to Japan)
TBS, HASHIGUCHI: I would like to ask a question in relation to the novel coronavirus. 2 million masks arrived at Narita Airport this morning as part of Taiwan’s international contributions. What is your reaction to this development?
Minister MOTEGI: I would like to once again express gratitude for the warm encouragement and support from Taiwan. I would like to continue to increase cooperation and collaboration with related countries and regions against the novel coronavirus, a common threat faced by all of humankind. The medical materials provided as support this time were contributed to Japan through the Japan-Republic of China Diet Members’ Consultative Council. It is my understanding that the Council will coordinate matters such as specifically which hospitals will receive the contributed masks.
Reports that Chairman Kim Jong-un of the Workers’ Party of Korea is Seriously Ill
Yomiuri Shimbun, OYABU: I would like to ask about the situation in North Korea. There are reports in the United States that Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea is seriously ill after undergoing surgery. What does the Government of Japan know now about whether this is true?
Minister MOTEGI: I am aware of the reports. I believe that there has been speculation and reports regarding Chairman Kim’s movements through now, not just recently. Japan is monitoring and analyzing the situation in North Korea with high interest, including the novel coronavirus situation. Amidst this, in regard to Chairman Kim’s movements, we have received various reports that after he attended a Workers’ Party of Korea Politburo meeting on April 11, it is not clear whether or not he attended the Supreme People's Assembly session on April 12 or the event commemorating the birthday of Kim Il Sung on April 15. We will continue to exert all efforts for information-gathering and analysis while closely cooperating with the United States and others.
China’s Announcement of the Establishment of New Administrative Districts in the South China Sea
Kyodo News, ONOZUKA: I would like to ask about the South China Sea and China’s movements. Yesterday, the Government of China established new administrative districts on the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands. Although China is justifying this as being a measure in line with its domestic law, what is the Government of Japan’s position and what will the future response be to China’s movement to strengthen its effective control over the South China Sea?
Minister MOTEGI: We are monitoring the recent situation in the South China Sea with concern. Issues concerning the South China Sea are legitimate matters of concern for the international community that are directly related to regional peace and stability. Japan strongly opposes any actions that increase tensions in the South China Sea. Japan has consistently supported realizing the rule of law in maritime areas through now, and places emphasis on the importance of having all the parties related to the South China Sea issue exert efforts toward the peaceful resolution of conflicts based on international law.
Above all, due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, strengthening regional cooperation was just confirmed by the leaders at the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit. I believe that actions in line with that spirit are important.