Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Tuesday, May 19, 2020, 3:00 p.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1) Diplomatic Bluebook 2020
Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would like to report about two matters. Firstly, the 2020 Diplomatic Bluebook was distributed at the Cabinet meeting today. The Diplomatic Bluebook has been issued by MOFA since 1957 and has over 60 years of history. Last year was a historic one for Japanese diplomacy, as Japan held the G20 Osaka Summit, TICAD7, and more. In addition to content regarding developments in the international community that are increasingly complex and uncertain, this year’s Diplomatic Bluebook includes content that communicates implementation of “diplomacy that takes a panoramic perspective of the world map” and “diplomacy with both tolerance and strength,” including developments in Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) relations and Japan-China relations, conclusion of the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement, and efforts toward realizing a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”
In addition, since the end of last year, the novel coronavirus has been majorly affecting the entire world in various aspects including citizens’ lives, economics, society, and diplomacy. With regards to ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals who are overseas, the Bluebook mentions MOFA’s efforts including the repatriation operations in Wuhan and provision of various forms of information to Japanese nationals who are living or traveling overseas, to the extent possible up until early April.
Additionally, to make diplomacy more accessible to the public, the Diplomatic Bluebook contains columns on familiar subjects such as the Rugby World Cup and Executive Chefs for Ambassadors/Consuls-Generals of Japan.
This Diplomatic Bluebook is planned to be sold commercially from the end of June. In addition to the Japanese language version, English, French, and Spanish versions will be created going forward. Through this, we expect that Japanese nationals’ and foreign readers’ understanding will deepen regarding Japanese diplomacy.
I was Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy until last year, and worked on the creation of the Annual Report on the Japanese Economy and Public Finance (White Paper) during those two years. Two years ago, I spent probably over 20 hours working hard so it would be clear and interesting to the people of Japan, including ideas of making graphs easier to read as well as incorporating charts and photographs. For this year’s Diplomatic Bluebook as well, although I was busy, I carefully read and examined it in my own way.
Also, the Bluebook has been published after careful consultation with officials regarding the composition of the chapters. We would like people to read the whole book. I believe there are various individual matters, such as the intention of a specific wording, and the description of the phrase “Northern Territories.” Before that, I would like everyone to understand how the entire Diplomatic Bluebook is written and what the direction of Japanese diplomacy is.
(2) Japanese Nationals Leaving Foreign Countries Where International Flights Etc. are Suspended and Returning to Japan
Minister MOTEGI: I would also like to speak about the repatriation of Japanese nationals. About 9,700 Japanese nationals have been repatriated thus far, and soon it will be 10,000. There are still 140 Japanese nationals in 27 countries who wish to leave and return to Japan. Among them, about 52 people are planned to return to Japan within this week.
The World Health Assembly (WHA) of the World Health Organization (WHO) (Taiwan’s Non-participation)
NHK, YAMAMOTO: I would like to ask about the annual WHA of the WHO. Taiwan’s participation as an observer was an issue, but it was not approved. There is clear confrontation between the United States and China concerning responses by the WHO, including the issue of Taiwan. Can you please tell us again the Government of Japan’s position regarding such issues?
Minister MOTEGI: I believe it is regrettable that Taiwan was not able to participate as an observer in this year’s WHA as well. Japan does not believe that a geographical vacuum should be created when responding 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. We had been appealing for that for this year’s WHA as well.
For such an infectious disease that is having major effects on the entire world, it is important for various countries and regions to widely share information and expertise in a free, transparent, and timely manner. For novel coronavirus measures, I believe it is necessary for the international community to first cooperate to take the utmost measures.
At the same time, when infections wind down sufficiently, I believe it will be necessary to conduct a fair, independent, and comprehensive investigation regarding the initial response, including whether there are any points that should be improved regarding the functions of the WHO.
Novel Coronavirus (Public Communication by the Government of Japan)
Yomiuri Shimbun, OYABU: I would like to ask about public communication by the Government of Japan regarding the novel coronavirus. There has been high interest from various foreign countries regarding Japan’s PCR test system, the stay-at-home request, and other measures. As information circulates on various routes such as social media, what informative communication do you believe is effective?
Minister MOTEGI: Although we are of course at a stage in which we cannot speculate, I believe that the spread of novel coronavirus infections in Japan has calmed down considerably. We have not reached an explosive spread of infections. Although it is unfortunate that people have died, the number is relatively low compared to various foreign countries.
I try to scan foreign media as much as possible, and I believe that there is quite high appreciation for Japan’s public health-related efforts by citizens such as hand-washing and gargling, and for our response.
The recent edition of Le Figaro in France and other media organizations have written quite good articles. In that sense, speaking about specific matters, if you mention it, I believe that the responses by China, the United States, and Italy were not perfect and that there are various points to improve. Japan is the same. But I believe that the international community recognizes that Japan is implementing a firm response overall.
Furthermore, I think it is extremely important to convey accurate information regarding the situation in Japan and our efforts in a timely, appropriate manner both within and outside Japan. Firstly, on my level, I am holding Foreign Ministers’ Telephone Talks with various countries nearly every day, and at the outset I hold exchanges of views regarding the current infection situations and efforts in Japan and the other country. I also confirm the importance of the cooperation of the international community to work on this issue, as well as the importance of sharing information and expertise.
These efforts will be conducted by all of MOFA including the embassies in foreign countries. . Also, those are one-on-one responses, and we will also work through various teleconferences and more. I also believe that conveying accurate, fast information to everyone in the mass media and communication via the internet and social media are becoming increasingly important. MOFA and diplomatic missions are currently applying for accounts on various platforms.
For this regularly-held press conference as well, since exactly one month ago, we have been implementing Japanese as well as English live broadcasts on MOFA’s official Twitter account. Through various forms of media, we will work to be able to convey accurate information to the world so that misunderstandings do not arise about Japan’s novel coronavirus efforts.
ROK Situation (Diplomatic Bluebook, Comfort Women Issue)
Korea JoongAng Daily, Yoon: I have two questions. The 2020 Diplomatic Bluebook approved by the Cabinet today states that the ROK is an “important neighboring country.” This is the first time since 2017 that this phrase has been used. Can you please tell us the background for this change?
My second question is in relation to reports about current criticism in the ROK regarding a support organization for comfort women victims. The victim Lee Yong-su has also criticized the organization. What is the reaction of the Government of Japan to this matter?
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, regarding the Diplomatic Bluebook, within the limited number of pages, we make the writing as clear as possible regarding the various developments that occurred during the year. We come up with ideas each year such as creating special features. Rather than wondering about specific descriptions, overall, we would certainly like the Diplomatic Bluebook to be read from the perspective of the current direction of Japan’s diplomacy.
Amidst this, regarding Japan-ROK relations, there have been various circumstances concerning our two countries since last year, including good and bad. The aforementioned phrase was used taking all that into account.
In regard to your second question, I would basically like to refrain from commenting as it concerns a domestic issue within the ROK. However, in regard to the comfort women issue, there is no change to Japan’s position of continuing to strongly request the Government of the ROK to steadily implement the agreement between Japan and the ROK that confirmed the “final and irreversible resolution.”