Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu
Friday, May 22, 2020, 3:06 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. Firstly, I would like to speak about the raising of Warning on Infectious Disease Levels. The novel coronavirus is still currently spreading mainly in emerging countries and developing countries, and the situation still continues where caution is needed.
As of May 22, over five million people have been confirmed to be infected with the novel coronavirus in 188 countries and regions, and there have been over 320,000 deaths worldwide. Due to this situation, taking into comprehensive consideration such as the rate of infected people per 10,000 people, the Warning on Infectious Disease Level will be newly raised to Level 3: Avoid All Travel for 11 countries.
Specifically, the countries are India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in Asia; Argentina and El Salvador in Central and South America; the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan in Europe and Central Asia; and Afghanistan, Ghana, the Republic of Guinea, and South Africa in the Middle East and Africa. As a result, a total of 111 countries and regions are now at Level 3.
Due to the raising of the Warning on Infectious Disease Levels, border enforcement measures, including increasing the regions that are subject to denial of entry into Japan and strengthening quarantines, will be implemented in coordination with related ministries and agencies such as the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and through discussions at the National Security Council and the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters.
(2) Japanese Nationals Leaving Foreign Countries Where International Flights Etc. are Suspended and Returning to Japan
Minister MOTEGI: The other matter is about repatriation of Japanese nationals. Thus far, the number of Japanese nationals who have been repatriated has risen to 9,800. There are about 190 Japanese nationals in 25 countries who wish to return to Japan. Among them, about 90 people are scheduled to return to Japan within this month.
In particular, today, about 60 people are scheduled to leave Nepal aboard a private chartered flight.
Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) Relations (Review of the Export Control Implementation, Issue of the Former Civilian Workers from the Korean Peninsula)
Yomiuri Shimbun, OYABU: I would like to ask about Japan-ROK relations. Some people in the ROK are calling for the Japan-ROK General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) to be terminated if Japan does not indicate a path toward revoking its more severe export control measures by the end of this month. What are your thoughts on this?
Also, no solutions can be seen concerning the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, including the fact that there was rejection of the proposal by National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang to solicit donations in Japan and the ROK. How do you aim to break the deadlock to improve Japan-ROK relations?
Minister MOTEGI: Regarding your first question, as I have repeatedly stated so far, review of the export control measures should be conducted based on the maintaining of the export control system and its implementation conditions. The Japan-ROK GSOMIA is a completely different matter, as I have stated many times.
In regard to your second question, is it correct to understand that you are asking about the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula?
I would like to refrain from commenting about what I think will happen with discussions in the legislature of another country. In any event, regarding the issue of the former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula, there is no change to our policy of continuing to strongly request the ROK side to swiftly remedy its breach of international law.
Beginning of the Session of the National People's Congress of China (National Defense Budget)
Yomiuri Shimbun, OYABU: I would like to ask about the National People’s Congress of China. The annual defense budget of China was set to be 6.6% higher than last year. As the economy has taken a hit due to the novel coronavirus, it can be said that China is taking a posture of continuing to expand its armaments. What is your reaction to China’s public posture?
Minister MOTEGI: China’s national defense budget has been continuously increasing at a high rate not only this year, but over a long period of time. I believe that it would be desirable for China to further increase its transparency in particular regarding its national defense policies and military force, including its national defense expenditure.
The Government of Japan will continue to monitor the related movements with great interest, and appeal to China to increase its transparency regarding its national defense policies through dialogues and exchanges in the security field.
Novel Coronavirus (Raising of Warning on Infectious Diseases Levels, Extension of the Measures to Suspend the Validity of Visas)
NHK, KIMURA: Firstly, with regards to the immigration restrictions including the suspension of the validity of visas that had already been issued, which are reaching the time limit of the end of May, what will happen with the measures after the end of May?
Also, is it correct to understand that the Warning on Infectious Diseases Levels have been raised as of this press conference?
Minister MOTEGI: Firstly, it is correct to understand that the Warning on Infectious Disease Levels has been raised earlier today.
Also, there has been no decision at the present point about what to do about the current border enforcement measures and other such matters from June. Even if it is said that the novel coronavirus situation in Japan is winding down, I believe that this is still a situation in which caution is needed. I cannot imagine that the border enforcement measures will end soon on June 1 at the current rate.
Beginning of the Session of the National People's Congress of China (Situation in Hong Kong)
Nikkei Shimbun, MIZOROGI: I would like to ask about the National People's Congress of China. Regarding Hong Kong, the Hong Kong national security law, which would prohibit acts of treason and other such acts, will be a topic of discussion. The Government of Japan has been emphasizing that the prosperity of a free and open Hong Kong under “one country, two systems” is important. Some people are saying that this law could weaken “one country, two systems.” What is your view of this development? What are you considering as a response?
Minister MOTEGI: The National People's Congress of China session just began today. The detailed discussions will be held going forward, and I would like to monitor this with interest. As I have stated through now, Hong Kong is an extremely important partner for Japan with which we have close economic relations and people-to-people exchanges. I would like to emphasize again that it is important for a free and open Hong Kong to prosper in a stable manner under “one country, two systems.”
Novel Coronavirus (Relaxation of Immigration Restrictions)
TV Asahi, OISHI: I would like to ask about relaxation of immigration restrictions. At the recent meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, you indicated your idea about relaxing immigration restrictions step by step beginning with businesspeople and experts, then international exchange students and workers, and then tourists. Can you please tell us the current status of coordination?
Also, denial of entry into Japan is currently being implemented in correlation with the Warning on Infectious Diseases Levels. Can you please also tell us if you expect that there will be the same measure for when the restrictions are relaxed?
Minister MOTEGI: It is not true that specific consideration is being conducted to lower Warning on Infectious Diseases Levels or to resume allowing people to travel internationally. Additionally, I believe that in order to advance such measures, firstly the spread of infections in Japan would have to wind down, as I stated earlier. At the same time, Japan will further monitor the circumstances overseas. Regarding whether travel to overseas countries and regions is safe or not, we would like to conduct deliberation on what approach is possible by comprehensively considering various circumstances such as the infection conditions and healthcare systems in the relevant countries.The way of thinking is that even in the case of relaxing immigration control, we of course would not open everything at once. I believe it would be step by step. For example, although this has not been decided, the first step might be to allow travel by people at the business manager level, as such people will probably be necessary to restart the Japanese economy in earnest.
It would also start with essential human resources such as experts. Next would be international exchange students, for instance. I believe it will be quite a long time before regular tourists would be allowed to enter Japan.
As for countries, I believe travel would be allowed sequentially from groups of countries where the novel coronavirus is winding down, and that it would not be to open up all at once to the entire world or to all places where there is a Warning on Infectious Diseases Level 2. Also, in such cases, it would be more desirable for Japan and the other country to mutually relax their restrictions, because it would involve people traveling between the two countries.
We will further monitor the situation, conduct consideration, and make decisions. I believe that we will use a matrix of sectors and countries to decide whether to resume international travel.
Dong-a Ilbo, KIM: In relation to this, there is a possibility that the state of emergency could be lifted next week for Tokyo and other areas. I have heard that there could be communication about relaxing immigration restrictions with countries such as the ROK and China in particular, centered on businesspeople from neighboring countries. Is there a possibility that relaxation measures for immigration restrictions could be implemented along with the lifting of the state of emergency?
Minister MOTEGI: No.
Diplomatic Bluebook (Statement by the Director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia)
Asahi Shimbun, NIKAIDO: Director of the Information and Press Department Zakharova of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia objected to the descriptions in this year’s Diplomatic Bluebook that state that Japan has sovereignty over the islands of the Northern Territories. At the meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives today, you answered that Japan’s position has not changed. Can you please tell us the reason for changing the description compared to last year as well as your reaction to the objection from the Russian side?
Minister MOTEGI: Many different statements are made around the world, so I would like to refrain from commenting about individual statements. The Government of Japan intends to continue to persistently work under the basic policy of resolving the attributions issue and concluding a peace treaty.
I have advanced discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia many times, but we of course have different viewpoints. However, he and I basically agreed to conduct peace treaty negotiations based on the agreement between Prime Minister Abe and President Putin to accelerate peace treaty negotiations based on the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration of 1956. There is no inconsistency with that point.
In a sense, the Diplomatic Bluebook is created with the objective of conveying the outline of Japanese diplomacy during the year taking into aspects including the international situation which changes over time. I believe it is basically important for it to be viewed as the overall picture of Japanese diplomacy.
If you look at Michelangelo’s David sculpture, I believe the head is big and the left knee is a little small. This is because the genius Michelangelo sculpted David to be close to the appearance of a real human when viewed from below. I believe that the correct way to view David is how closely the sculpture resembles a real human, rather than saying that it has a big head or small knee.
Novel Coronavirus (Re-entry into Japan by Foreign Residents of Japan)
Asahi Shimbun, NIKAIDO: I would like to ask about a different matter. In relation to your answers at the meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives today, there are news stories about foreign residents of Japan whose parents died. They could not receive permission to reenter Japan because of measures denying entry to Japan, and gave up on going back to their original country. I believe this fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, but you answered that you would like to consider granting permission to people who need it due to humanitarian considerations. I believe that measures have the reservation of “as long as there are no special circumstances.” Is it correct to understand that your answer at the meeting means that you think that people who experience death in the family should be able to temporarily visit their countries and then return to Japan?
Minister MOTEGI: I thought there would be additional questions about Michelangelo’s David. In relation to special circumstances, the Ministry of Justice makes the final decisions. However, I believe that there need to be humanitarian considerations in our future response, although of course we have conducted such consideration through now. Basically, I believe we will work hard to carefully respond to people facing issues and additionally conduct necessary considerations from a humanitarian perspective. I do not intend to say from my position as Foreign Minister which cases would definitely warrant reentry permission and which cases would absolutely not.
Diplomatic Bluebook (Japan-Russia Relations)
Asahi Shimbun, NIKAIDO: I have a question in relation to your answer earlier about Michelangelo’s David. I believe you were using it as a metaphor. I of course believe you were stating a metaphor for Japan’s diplomacy in general. However, in relation to Russia, there seem to be some descriptions concerning Japan-Russia relations that are different from last year. I interpreted your statement as indicating that there have been no substantial differences in the descriptions from last year and in Japan’s position. Is that interpretation correct?
Minister MOTEGI: There are two matters. The first is Japan’s position on the Northern Territories and our policy on advancing peace treaty negotiations. These have not changed at all. The second is what to write in the Diplomatic Bluebook. As I stated before, the Diplomatic Bluebook is written to clearly convey an outline of Japan’s diplomacy during the year based on the international situation at the time.