Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, April 28, 2020, 2:47 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) Japanese Nationals Leaving Foreign Countries and Returning to Japan
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would like to report about three matters. Firstly, in regard to the situation of Japanese nationals returning to Japan after leaving countries where it is difficult to do so due to suspension of international flights, 8,040 people have been repatriated to Japan thus far. There are still 640 Japanese nationals in about 40 countries who wish to return to Japan. Among those Japanese nationals who wish to return to Japan, timelines are in place for 450 people. I believe we have made considerable progress in our repatriation operations.
In particular, it is planned for about 120 people to depart today from Saudi Arabia aboard a special private flight from Saudi Arabian Airlines. Additionally, it is planned for 150 people to depart on April 30 from Bangladesh aboard a private chartered flight from Biman Bangladesh Airlines.
About two weeks ago, a considerable number of Japanese nationals were searching for ways to leave countries in Africa, Central and South America, and other regions. However, if we look at countries in Africa and other regions now, we can see that the number of Japanese nationals who wish to return to Japan is under 10 or a very low number within various countries. We will continue to provide as much support as possible to Japanese nationals in various regions based on their needs and other matters.
(2) Border Enforcement Measures
Minister MOTEGI: The second matter is in relation to border enforcement measures. Last Friday, April 24, MOFA raised the Warning on Infectious Diseases Levels to Level 3 for 14 countries. Moreover, yesterday the National Security Council (NSC) decided that these 14 countries will be subject to denial of immigration.
In addition, in regard to measures that the NSC had decided to implement through the end of April, including suspension of the validity of visas, suspension of visa exemption measures, and suspension of adoption of measures for visa exemption through the APEC Business Travel Card, the NSC has now decided to renew the implementation period for these measures through the end of May.
(3) Latest Status of Coordination for Provision of Avigan
Minister MOTEGI: Lastly, the third matter is in relation to the provision of Avigan. From a humanitarian perspective, Japan will provide a total of 1 million U.S. dollars in emergency grant aid in order to supply Avigan free of charge to countries that wish to have it, and expand clinical research concerning the novel coronavirus. We have received requests for provision of Avigan from over 70 countries through diplomatic channels up until now. Coordination has already been completed to provide Avigan to 38 countries free of charge within a certain limit.
I have heard from the procurement agency, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), that it is conducting coordination in order to be able to start delivering Avigan to the countries for which procedures have been completed around the Golden Week holiday. I will announce the countries to which Avigan has been supplied, as well as the timing, after the medication is supplied.
Medication development is extremely important for bringing the novel coronavirus situation under control. We will strengthen private and public sector initiatives for medication development and further advance international cooperation.
Novel Coronavirus (Japanese Nationals Leaving Foreign Countries and Returning to Japan)
NHK, YAMAMOTO: You explained the situation of repatriation of Japanese nationals from areas where it is difficult to leave the country in your opening remarks. Your explanations were by area, as you told us about Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh. What other areas still have many Japanese nationals who wish to return to Japan?
Minister MOTEGI: As of now, there are no countries with such a large number of Japanese nationals who wish to return to Japan. There are no countries with over 100 such Japanese nationals. There are Japanese nationals related to certain companies who probably wish to return to Japan in Algeria, and prospects are good that they will all be repatriated through three operations later on.
On the other hand, there is a possibility that there will be Japanese nationals who newly wish to return to Japan. For example, if there is a plan to charter a flight from a private airline in a country somewhere, then we tell the Japanese nationals in that country about the plan and ask again if they would like to return to Japan. We will continue to provide as much support as possible to enable repatriation of all Japanese nationals who wish to do so, while implementing a careful response including asking the Japanese nationals in each country two or three times about their wish to return to Japan.
Novel Coronavirus (Evaluation of China’s Transparency)
Pan Orient News, Azhari: There seems to be escalation (of tensions) between China and US over COVID-19. Some American officials including Vice President Pence expressed skepticism over how reliable China’s numbers are, and how transparent China has been with its data on the disease. Does japan trust Chinese official numbers on COVID-19 and do you think there’s good transparency adopted there?
Minister MOTEGI: As you stated, there are various views about the Government of China’s announcements and other matters related to the novel coronavirus. I believe the Government of China itself recognizes that such views exist.
I would like to refrain from commenting. However, I will say that I believe that the foremost issue is to engage in international cooperation and collaboration in order to deal with the global spread of the novel coronavirus.
From that perspective, I have been emphasizing to China the importance of cooperation and collaboration, including transparent information-sharing, through several Japan-China Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talks with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi as well as other opportunities such as the Japan-China-Republic of Korea (ROK) Teleconference Meeting. I will continue such close communication.
It is necessary to recognize the importance of transparent, swift information-sharing not only for relations with China, but also for the entire international community. During the G7 Teleconference Meetings and the almost daily telephone talks I conduct with the foreign ministers of various countries, we are confirming that we will advance transparent, swift information-sharing, and how extremely important that is in order to defeat the novel coronavirus.
Novel Coronavirus (Resumption of Official Duties by Prime Minister Johnson of the United Kingdom)
Asahi Shimbun, SATO: Yesterday, Prime Minister Johnson of the United Kingdom resumed his official duties. Can you please tell us if you have some sort of message for Prime Minister Johnson? Also, can you please tell us if the Government of Japan sent some sort of message?
Minister MOTEGI: I will confirm whether the Government of Japan sent a message. I would like to sincerely congratulate Prime Minister Johnson for his resumption of his official duties following his temporary hospitalization in an intensive care unit.
The number of infected people in the United Kingdom is currently at an extremely high level. I hope that the citizens of the United Kingdom will unite under Prime Minister Johnson to work to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Japan-U.S. Trade Negotiations
Kyodo News, ONOZUKA: I would like to ask about Japan-U.S. trade negotiations. I believe that a goal was set to conclude consultations deciding fields handled by the second round of negotiations for the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement by the end of April 2020. Can you please tell us the outlook regarding this goal?
Minister MOTEGI: We did not establish that as a goal. Actually, paragraph 3 of the Joint Statement of Japan and the United States from September 2019 states intention, using the words “intend to.”
Consultations are certainly being conducted now between Japan and the United States in accordance with the Joint Statement from September 2019. Because negotiations will continue going forward, I would like to refrain from disclosing the details and outlook regarding communication with the United States thus far. In any event, we do not intend to conduct negotiations or reach an agreement inconsistent with Japan’s national interests.
Kyodo News, ONOZUKA: I would like to ask another question. Does that mean that it is correct to understand that there will not be any sort of output by the end of April?
Minister MOTEGI: It is not the end of April yet, and we are not at the negotiations stage yet. We are at the consultations stage.
Novel Coronavirus (Crisis Management Response Issues)
Nikkei Shimbun, KATO: I would like to ask a general question regarding the Government’s novel coronavirus measures. Deliberations regarding the supplementary budget began yesterday. Some people have pointed out that if you look at various foreign countries, some have already begun implementing their budgets, so Japan is a little slow. Amidst the various responses being implemented for this crisis, as a Cabinet member, do you believe that Japan is a little slow? Also, what do you think the issues are for implementing the various policies?
Minister MOTEGI: The novel coronavirus has been spreading in Europe and the United States at speeds that are probably higher than expected. Amidst this, I believe that the extent of implementing bold, large-scale policies all at once depends on the circumstances in each country.
I would like to humbly take into consideration the views that Japan’s response have been slow. Moreover, implementing policies is important. I believe that it is extremely important for the supplementary budget to be formulated as quickly as possible, and for the various support measures to firmly provide help to families and businesses, including the payments of 100,000 yen to all households.
Moreover, speaking from my position as Minister for Foreign Affairs, amidst the global spread of the novel coronavirus, I believe that my most important job in terms of novel coronavirus measures is to ensure the safety of all Japanese nationals who are living or traveling overseas. As has been stated, a total of 828 people, including 720 Japanese nationals and other related people, have been repatriated from Wuhan and Hubei Province by dispatching five chartered flights, including the first flight that departed from Wuhan on January 28. We have achieved repatriation of all the people in Wuhan and Hubei Province who wished to return to Japan. We probably achieved that faster than any other country. We were absolutely faster than any other country.
As I stated in my opening remarks and as I always provide updates on, we have achieved progress for the situation of repatriating Japanese nationals using various means from countries where it is difficult to return from, including developing countries, as well as other countries. We are certainly not slower than other countries for this. We quickly took measures for this. That is what I believe. Of course, there are still Japanese nationals abroad who wish to return to Japan, so we will exert all efforts until the last person is repatriated.
Situation in North Korea (Movements of Chairman Kim Jong-un)
Pan Orient News, Azhari: I would like to talk about the North Korean leadership issue. There are some reports suggesting that Kim Jong-un is in a serious health situation. What is Japan’s position on that? Strategically speaking, is Japan’s strategy on the future of its relations with North Korea linked with who is in the leadership in Pyongyang, or does it have a different aspect?
Minister MOTEGI: I answered about this during my previous press conference and the one before that. We have been regularly monitoring and analyzing the situation in North Korea with great interest, and have received information including various intelligence.
Amidst this, although we are not currently at the stage in which we can say anything certain, 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.
Japan-Russia Relations (Change of the Date of Victory Day)
Yomiuri Shimbun, OYABU: I would like to ask about Japan-Russia relations. Russia changed the date of the end of World War II to September 3, the date which marks victory over Japan. What is your reaction to this? Also, there are reports that Japan told the Russian side that Prime Minister Abe will not attend the ceremony for the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany if the date is changed to September 3. Can you please tell us if that is true in your response?
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, I am aware that Russia postponed the ceremony planned for May 9 and intends to hold it within the year. However, I have not heard that a new date was decided. The date has not been decided, so I believe that, as a matter of course, no adjustments are yet being made to the Prime Minister’s schedule.
In addition, we are constantly monitoring with interest the domestic affairs in Russia and developments in its foreign policy. However, I would like to refrain from commenting on each separate matter. There is no change to the Government of Japan’s intention of persistently continuing negotiations under the basic policy of resolving the attributions issue and concluding a peace treaty. Frankly speaking, unless we see the resolution to a certain extent of the novel coronavirus issue, it will be quite difficult to advance actual in-person negotiations. When we reach such a situation in which that is possible, I would like to accelerate negotiations based on the in-depth discussions I have already had thus far with Foreign Minister Lavrov.
Novel Coronavirus (Latest Status of Coordination for Provision of Avigan)
TV Asahi, OISHI: I would like to ask about Avigan, which you mentioned in your opening remarks. You stated that coordination has already been completed to provide Avigan to 38 countries. As it is hoped that the medication will receive approval, can you please explain again the significance of the free provision of Avigan?
Minister MOTEGI: Treatment methods are extremely important to bring the novel coronavirus under control. Although it is certainly important to curb the spread of infections by methods such as preventing contact with people, it is ultimately important to have treatment. It is therefore extremely important to develop medicine in the short-term, and a vaccine in the mid- to long-term.
Amidst this, there have been several examples in which Avigan is effective for treatment. Such clinical research is of course being conducted in Japan, and we would like to spread it internationally. As I stated before, over 70 countries have indicated interest in this, and it has already been decided to provide Avigan to 38 countries. In addition, foreign countries that receive Avigan will provide clinical data to Japan. We are thus working with the sentiment that it is extremely important to quickly develop an effective medicine with international cooperation.
Yomiuri Shimbun, OYABU: I would like to confirm something else about Avigan. When you recently announced the provision of Avigan to foreign countries, you explained that it would be provided to Indonesia, Ukraine, and Iran. If possible, can you please tell us the two or three main countries among the 38 countries you mentioned before?
Minister MOTEGI: Please ask an official about that.