Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, May 12, 2020, 3:35 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) Raising of Warning on Infectious Diseases Levels
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: In regard to raising the Warning on Infectious Disease Levels, as novel coronavirus infections continue to spread centered on emerging countries and developing countries, vigilance is still necessary. As of May 12, over 4.1 million people in 187 countries and regions have been confirmed to be infected and there have been 280,000 deaths around the world.
There has been a slight shift in the areas where infections have been spreading. Based on comprehensive consideration of various circumstances including this shift, the ratio of infected people per 10,000 people, and indicators, we will newly raise the Warning on Infectious Disease Level to Level 3: Avoid All Travel for 13 countries.
Basically, the 13 countries that will be raised to Level 3 are the Maldives in Asia; Uruguay, Colombia, the Bahamas, Honduras, and Mexico in Central and South America; Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in Europe; and Cape Verde, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Equatorial Guinea in Africa. As a result, a total of 100 countries and regions will be at Level 3.
Due to the raising of the Warning on Infectious Disease Levels, I believe that border enforcement measures, including increasing the regions that are subject to denial of entry into Japan and strengthening quarantines, will soon be implemented in coordination with related ministries and agencies and through discussions at the National Security Council and the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters.
(2) Japanese Nationals Leaving Foreign Countries Where Flights Etc. are Suspended and Returning to Japan
Minister MOTEGI: In regard to the situation of repatriation of Japanese nationals from foreign countries, close to 9,000 Japanese nationals have left foreign countries and returned to Japan thus far. There are still about 300 Japanese nationals in 30 countries who wish to return to Japan. Among them, about 150 people are planned to return to Japan within the next couple of days. We will continue to exert all efforts to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals, support repatriation, and more.
Novel Coronavirus (Meeting on the Novel Coronavirus Disease among Foreign Ministers of Interested Countries, Hosted by the United States)
Sankei Shimbun, RIKITAKE: I would like to ask about the teleconference meeting with seven countries hosted by the United States that was held yesterday. According to the press release, you stated that it is important to tackle various challenges while bearing in mind the state of the international order after the situation winds down. To the extent possible, can you please tell us what you were specifically speaking about, as well as your thoughts about the state of the international order after the situation winds down?
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, as stated in the outline of the teleconference Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with seven countries that was quickly uploaded after the meeting ended, it is impossible for any single country to effectively tackle the spread of infections alone. Under this recognition, I believe this situation became an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of cooperation and collaboration by the international community.
In addition, in order to effectively tackle the novel coronavirus based on the current circumstances, we confirmed the importance of advancing global public health measures while countries share information, lessons learned, and insights in a free, transparent, and timely manner.
Based on this recognition, discussion was held from the viewpoint that it is necessary to implement initiatives from a mid- to long-term perspective that go beyond just containing the spread of novel coronavirus infections, the foremost priority at present, including a review on the response of the international community to the current situation and supporting developing countries with vulnerable healthcare systems.
In short, there are questions about what information was shared, including from the initial stage, as well as the speed and transparency of the information-sharing and whether the World Health Organization (WHO) functioned adequately amidst this. It is necessary to discuss what functions need to be strengthened for when a similar situation occurs in future.
Furthermore, as we head toward the end of this situation while movement restrictions and other measures are continued, we must also have discussions on how to relax these measures. We also held discussions on how the international community as a whole should approach support for countries with vulnerable healthcare systems.
Novel Coronavirus (Participation by Taiwan as an Observer in the World Health Assembly (WHA) of the WHO
Yomiuri Shimbun, OYABU: You just mentioned the WHO. In relation to that, the WHA will be held from May 18. You mentioned strengthening the functions of the WHO. It has been pointed out that Taiwan is not participating, which creates a geographical vacuum. Can you please tell us your recognition of this issue?
Minister MOTEGI: As I have stated many times, I believe it is necessary for the international community to cooperate to respond to this issue. Also, Japan has been consistently asserting that the creation of a geographical vacuum is not good for responses to issues in the field of global health. From this perspective, Japan has been consistently supporting Taiwan’s participation as an observer in the WHA.
Ambassador of Japan to Indonesia Ishii’s Communication with Foreign Minister Retno
Economic Monthly, Susilo: I would like to ask this as I do not know about the practices of Japanese diplomats. The Ambassador of Japan to Indonesia sent a message to the Foreign Minister of Indonesia one day. The content was an invitation to hold discussions regarding current bilateral agreements and other matters. However, this message was sent at 11:40 p.m., close to midnight, so my question is whether such a practice is appropriate.
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, it is a matter of the relationship between the Ambassador and the Foreign Minister. I too receive Line messages and short emails from various countries at many different times, even at midnight. I generally look at them after I wake up. I basically believe that there are various ways of communicating based on the relationship of the people, and that some people might think that directly calling someone might be rude, but that it is possible to receive Line messages and short emails at any time of day. At any rate, that is my sense.
At the same time, I believe that it is proof of the good relations being built between people from the Government of Indonesia and Japan’s Ambassador that short emails and Line messages can be sent at such a time.
Novel Coronavirus (Raising of Warning on Infectious Diseases Levels)
NHK, YAMAMOTO: I would like to ask two questions in relation to the Warning on Infectious Disease Levels that you introduced in your opening remarks. First, is it correct to understand that 13 countries have been raised to Level 3 at the present point?
Minister MOTEGI: Yes, that is correct.
NHK, YAMAMOTO: You also mentioned in your opening remarks that there has been a slight shift in the areas where infections are spreading, and I believe that there are some countries and regions where there has been a shift to decreasing infections. In terms of a so-called “exit strategy,” from what perspective will bringing the Warning on Infectious Diseases Levels down be approached going forward?
Minister MOTEGI: As I stated in my opening remarks, the novel coronavirus originated in China but has spread to the Republic of Korea (ROK), Europe, and the United States. Amidst this, looking at the current situation, although there are some countries that are quite calm, including in Southeast Asia, such as Viet Nam, it is said that it is not possible to make predictions about India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other countries in Southwest Asia, and trends of increasing infections can be seen in some areas.
Also, in the Middle East where the number of infected people has been relatively small thus far, infections have been spreading in some countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates where there are many foreign workers, although Iran is maintaining a lull in infections. Infections are particularly spreading in Gulf countries.
In terms of the Americas, there has been a shift from North America to Central and South America, and there are countries such as Brazil where many people are becoming infected. Also, in terms of the situation in Africa, there are various issues with testing systems and their geographic dispersion. In general, infections are growing on a gentle curve. The overall population of Africa is about 1.2 billion, which is reminiscent of India, and I believe that a shift is occurring to a curve close to that of India.
On the other hand, if we turn our eyes to Europe, although countries such as Italy, Spain, Germany, and France have recovered to a calmer situation to a certain extent, unfortunately the number of infected people in the United Kingdom continues to be high. We can also see a shift occurring of a rapid increase in the number of infected people in Russia as well as similar trends in neighboring countries such as Belarus.
Amidst this, one exit strategy would be that we must first end the situation in Japan. In order to resume allowing people to travel, we must achieve a situation in which foreign people can come to Japan from overseas.
At the same time, with regards to whether it is safe to travel to other countries, I believe that we will make decisions while observing within certain time frames various circumstances including changes in the number of infected people, the healthcare systems, and the basic reproduction numbers of countries.
At the very least, although we are not conducting specific consideration concerning “exit strategies” at the present point, we will of course conduct consideration at the appropriate timing, and must consider Warnings on Infectious Diseases overseas and border enforcement measures.
Pursuit of a Japanese Fishing Boat by Chinese Government Vessels around the Senkaku Islands
TV Asahi, OISHI: Chinese government vessels entered Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands for three consecutive days. What is your reaction to China repeatedly taking such actions? Also, it seems that a Spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that there was an “illegal disruption” by Japan, so what is your reaction to that?
Minister MOTEGI: Japan has been repeatedly lodging severe protests to the Chinese side at the director-general level and the ambassador level in Tokyo and Beijing about the matter you pointed out, strongly requesting Chinese vessels to stop approaching and pursuing Japanese fishing boats and to quickly leave Japan’s territorial waters.
We are currently in a situation in which cooperation and collaboration among countries is necessary for the novel coronavirus issue. We will strongly request China to take a positive response for this issue as well.