Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Friday, April 24, 2020, 2:44 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) Raising of Warning on Infectious Diseases Levels
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would like to speak about two matters in my opening remarks. Firstly, I would like to speak about the raising of the Warning on Infectious Diseases Levels. We can see the continued global increase in infected people and deaths due to the novel coronavirus, and infections are increasingly spreading geographically. As of April 24, over 2.65 million people have been confirmed to be infected in 185 countries and regions, and there have been about 180,000 deaths around the world.
Due to this situation, taking into comprehensive consideration various circumstances including the rate of infected people per 10,000 people, the Warning on Infectious Diseases Level will be newly raised to Level 3: Avoid All Travel for 14 countries. In Europe, it will be raised for three countries: Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. This means that all the countries in Europe are at Level 3. In the Middle East, it will be raised for five countries: the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, in Central and South America, it will be raised for Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, and Peru. It will also be raised for Djibouti in Africa. Those are the 14 countries. As a result, a total of 87 countries and regions will be at Level 3.
Furthermore, the rest of the world besides these 87 countries and regions will continue to be at Warning on Infectious Diseases Level 2.
Due to the raising of the Warning on Infectious Disease Levels, I believe that border control measures will be taken, such as increasing the regions subject to denial of immigration and strengthening quarantines, with cooperation among the ministries and agencies concerned including the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW), following discussions in the National Security Council and the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters.
(2) Situation of Japanese Nationals Leaving Foreign Countries and Returning to Japan
Minister MOTEGI: I would also like to speak about the situation of Japanese nationals leaving countries where it is difficult to do so and returning to Japan. As of this morning at 8 a.m., about 7,700 Japanese nationals have left foreign countries and returned to Japan. There are about 1,050 Japanese nationals who wish to return to Japan in about 50 countries around the world. Among them, final coordination is being conducted for about 470 people to return to Japan this month. We have been steadily building up results in terms of the repatriation of Japanese nationals to Japan.
In particular, over 120 people are scheduled to depart from South Africa aboard a private chartered plane from Ethiopian Airlines today. In addition, late tonight, just under 150 people are scheduled to depart from Fiji aboard a private chartered plane from Fiji Airways at 11:59 p.m.
Going forward, based on the circumstances of the spread of the novel coronavirus and other matters, we will exert all efforts to provide support to Japanese nationals to ensure their safety as well as repatriation, by constantly reviewing the Warning on Infectious Disease Levels, implementing border control measures in cooperation with the ministries and agencies concerned, providing necessary information to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals through the MOFA website and consular emails, and providing as much support as possible through diplomatic missions to Japanese residents and travelers in foreign countries.
Raising of Warning on Infectious Diseases Levels
NHK, KIMURA: I would like to confirm two points in relation to your opening remarks. I believe that the countries and regions that were raised to Level 3 through now all became subject to denial of immigration. Is it correct to understand that the countries raised to Level 3 now will also all be subject to that?
Minister MOTEGI: As I stated earlier in my opening remarks, coordination will be conducted later with related ministries and agencies including the MOJ, the MHLW, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), and finally decisions will be made at the National Security Council of Japan and the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters. I believe that will probably be the process.
NHK, KIMURA: Excuses me, I would like to confirm a simple fact. Is it correct to understand that the Level has already been raised?
Minister MOTEGI: It was raised now.
Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma (Leak of Firefighting Foam)
Asahi Shimbun, NIKAIDO: In relation to the issue of the leak of firefighting foam that included Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) at the U.S. military’s MCAS Futenma, today the United States is conducting work to remove the soil with the presence of Japanese officials. The work is still being conducted, but it is expected that soil sample testing, which Okinawa Prefecture and others had requested, will not be permitted. Does the Government of Japan intend to permit soil sample testing?
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, regarding this matter, studies in which Japan accessed the site have already been conducted three times based on the Supplementary Agreement on Environmental Stewardship with Japan-U.S. cooperation. I believe this is highly significant, and had not happened before now. I recognize that the leakage incident that occurred on April 10 is a serious one that is causing concern to citizens. I have been issuing severe protests to the U.S. side. The United States also takes this seriously, and is working to investigate the cause and formulate measures to prevent recurrence. Additionally, as I stated at the beginning, Japanese officials have accessed MCAS Futenma on April 16 and 21 as well as today.
When Japanese officials accessed MCAS Futenma the previous time on April 21, they conducted water sampling from the perspective of grasping whether there was contamination around the leakage route of the firefighting foam. In addition, Japanese officials also accessed MCAS Futenma today to observe the United States side conducting soil replacement work around the hanger where it was possible that the firefighting foam leaked, which was done as a measure to prevent recurrence of further contamination.
In regard to soil sampling, consideration will be conducted on whether it is necessary after analyzing the results of the access to MCAS Futenma thus far.
Asahi Shimbun, NIKAIDO: Excuse me, I have a related question. Okinawa Prefecture and others are requesting soil sampling tests. Is it correct to understand that the Government of Japan is requesting sampling, including of the soil around the hanger?
Minister MOTEGI: No. As I stated before, firstly, consideration will be made on whether soil sampling is needed based on analysis of the results of the access to MCAS Futenma thus far.
Situation in North Korea (Reports that Chairman Kim Jong-un is Seriously Ill)
Yomiuri Shimbun, YANADA: My first question is in relation to North Korea. I would like to ask about the health of Chairman Kim Jong-un of the Workers’ Party of Korea. President Trump stated that the reports that he is in critical condition are untrue. There have been various statements about this. What does the Government of Japan know about the current situation, and how do you think the situation will affect the denuclearization negotiations going forward?
Minister MOTEGI: I have received various questions about the situation in North Korea, including about the spread of the novel coronavirus thus far. We have been closely monitoring and analyzing the situation with great interest. Amidst this, we have received various reports and information about movements concerning Chairman Kim. The Government of Japan is monitoring the situation with great interest. We will continue to exert all efforts for information-gathering and analysis.
There are difficulties for acquiring solid information concerning internal affairs in North Korea. It cannot be confirmed whether Chairman Kim attended the event commemorating the birthday of Kim Il Sung, so these reports began around April 15. However, I believe there have been cases in the past when Chairman Kim’s whereabouts could not be clearly confirmed for over a week.
I think that at least there have not been any additional reports with a higher degree of accuracy than the recent report on CNN. We would like to further investigate the accuracy of such information.
Additionally, regarding the response to North Korea, there is no change to the Government of Japan’s aim of normalizing relations with North Korea, in accordance with the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, through comprehensively resolving outstanding issues of concern such as the abductions, nuclear and missile issues as well as settlement of the unfortunate past. We will respond appropriately while closely cooperating with the United States and others.
Situation in the Middle East (Recognition of the Situation and Japan’s Role)
Yomiuri Shimbun, YANADA: I would like to ask another question, this time in relation to the situation in the Middle East. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran recently launched a satellite, and the United States has condemned this. What is the Government of Japan’s view of this? Also, you recently held a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Jordan. Amidst various effects due to the novel coronavirus including stagnation of diplomacy, what is your recognition about the kind of effect there will be on the situation in the Middle East, and are you concerned?
Minister MOTEGI: In regard to the situation in the Middle East, particularly the situation concerning Iran, Japan has been urging various countries concerned to avoid escalation of the situation since the killing of General Soleimani on January 3 when tensions rose instantaneously and when there was an attack on a base in Iraq on January 8. Looking at the general situation, although there have been some separate incidents, we believe that as of now the situation has not escalated in a major way.
There are currently several major issues in the Middle East now, including Syria, a major axis of conflict issue, as well as the issue of peace in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine. How can progress be achieved for these issues? During the Japan-Jordan Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talk yesterday, we discussed the latter issue a little. Also, as novel coronavirus infections are spreading among developing countries, including Iran, Japan has decided on its own independent support measures and is advancing them. We discussed such topics during the telephone talk.
In addition, as has been stated, I said during the telephone talk that Japan wants to aim to resolve matters through peaceful dialogue and advance independent diplomatic activities by leveraging our unique position in which we have an alliance with the United States and longstanding friendly relations with various Middle Eastern countries including Iraq. Foreign Minister Safadi of Jordan expressed appreciation for Japan’s support measures thus far for Jordan and the Middle East. He also said that Japan is playing a very major role, and that he has expectations for that. I answered that Japan would certainly like to play such a role.