Press Conference by Prime Minister Kishida
March 3, 2022
Today I will explain to you Japan’s responses to major issues confronting us domestically and internationally, including Russian aggression against Ukraine, rising crude oil prices, and COVID-19.
First I will address aggression by Russia against Ukraine.
Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine is an attempt to unilaterally change the status quo by force. It is an act that undermines the very foundation of not Europe alone, but rather the entire international order, including Asia. It is an outrage that blatantly violates international law and I once again condemn it in the strongest terms.
We cannot under any circumstances accept unilateral changes to the status quo by force or coercion like that which is now taking place. With the security environment in East Asia rapidly becoming more and more severe, fully defending this principle, which is the very foundation of the international order, is of extreme importance from the perspective of Japan’s future diplomacy and security. Japan will unite with the international community as a whole in taking resolute actions.
Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces raising their level of alert is outrageous. With Japan being the only country to have ever suffered the devastation of atomic bombings during war, and also speaking as a prime minister with his roots in Hiroshima, where an atomic bomb was dropped, we cannot accept the threat, to say nothing of the use, of nuclear weapons by any chance. I have been making forceful appeals on this point at summit-level diplomatic occasions and at international meetings.
Japan stands together with the citizens of Ukraine who are doing their utmost in taking actions to defend their sovereignty and territory, as well as their homeland and their families. In order to support Ukrainians facing a national crisis, Japan is working in cooperation with UNHCR, UNICEF, and other international organizations to provide US$100 million in emergency humanitarian assistance, including assistance for people evacuating to Poland and other neighboring countries and assistance for children.
In order to further demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Ukraine, Japan will move forward with accepting into Japan people who evacuated from Ukraine to third countries including Poland.
Japan, together with the other G7 members and the wider international community, will impose heavy sanctions on Russia. In view of that, in addition to freezing the assets of persons related to the Government of Russia, including President Putin, today we took the decision to freeze the assets of Russian business oligarchs and other selected individuals.
In terms of finance, Japan will join with Europe and the United States to isolate Russia from the international financial system and the global economy. Towards that end, in addition to our measures restricting transactions with Russia’s central bank, today we took domestic measures necessary to exclude seven Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system. Alongside this we imposed sanctions strengthening export controls on controlled items on the internationally agreed list and on generic goods such as semiconductors.
Moreover, in view of the clear involvement by Belarus in the recent aggression, today we decided on sanctions against Belarus that target both individuals and entities, including President Lukashenko, as well as export control measures.
We will do everything in our power to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals. Yesterday, in a telephone summit meeting with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland, I asked for cooperation in facilitating the smooth entry into Poland of Japanese nationals currently in Ukraine, and Prime Minister Morawiecki responded that Poland will provide all possible assistance. We have already chartered planes to transfer evacuating Japanese nationals from Poland to third countries. We will continue to work to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals and assist in their departure from Ukraine, centering our efforts on our temporary liaison offices established in the Ukrainian city of Lviv as well as the Polish city of Rzeszow, which is close to the border with Ukraine.
I myself am proactively engaging in diplomacy at the summit level. This week again I have held discussions with the leaders of Ukraine, France, Germany, Poland, and the Lao PDR by telephone and I also attended G7 and NATO summit meetings via conference calls organized by President Biden of the U.S. After this press conference ends, from 11 PM I will participate in a Quad summit meeting among the leaders of Japan, Australia, India, and the United States via video conference call, where we will have an exchange of views regarding responses to the Ukraine situation.
Circumstances are changing day by day. Japan is using sanctions to contribute to breaking out of the situation, imposing them in close cooperation with the other G7 nations while also urging other Asian countries to participate.
In reaction to recent circumstances, the price of crude oil continues to rise sharply. The crude oil futures price of WTI, a benchmark for crude oil, was at the US$91 per barrel level at the end of last week, and that jumped sharply to as much as US$110 as of this morning. Taking the perspective of minimizing the negative impacts upon people’s daily lives and business operations, we are now compiling emergency measures to address this, which we will announce tomorrow. Making use of a little over 360 billion yen from the general reserve fund, we will work to ensure that we deliver support swiftly to people facing difficult times.
First, as an emergency, stopgap measure for the near term, we will significantly expand and intensify the assistance we are providing to dampen down drastic fluctuations in fuel prices. We are currently engaged in activities to curb dramatic changes that have a cap of five yen. While this does keep fuel price rises in check, given the increasing tension in the Ukraine situation, we will substantially expand the provision cap to a maximum of 25 yen. By subsidizing the rise from the most recent retail prices, we will restrain the sudden rise in prices for petroleum prices.
In addition, we will expand compensation to fishing industry and greenhouse horticulture entities to address the sharp rise in the price of heavy oil and boldly provide compensation to taxi businesses to address the sharp rise in the price of liquefied petroleum gas at the same level as our activities to dampen down sharp changes in prices. We will simultaneously work through local governments in each local area to provide support for alleviating the impact on people’s daily lives, such as assistance for buying kerosene and assistance for heating costs.
In addition, in order to make cash flow more secure for small- and medium-sized enterprises impacted by the situation in Ukraine and by the rise in crude oil prices, we will set up special consultation counters for financing at 1,000 locations nationwide and provide support through low-interest loans.
Tomorrow, we will convene a meeting of the ministers concerned and take a decision on the details, which the Chief Cabinet Secretary will then announce.
Also, should crude oil prices continue to rise in the new fiscal year [starting April 1] reflecting developments in the Ukraine situation, the Government of Japan as a whole will carefully consider and respond to the situation, without excluding any options in terms of what would be the most effective and efficient measures, so as to minimize the negative impacts on people's daily lives and on business activities.
The energy issue is an international issue that cannot be successfully addressed by the actions of any single country. Japan will act in cooperation with the International Energy Agency and other international organizations as well as with our fellow G7 members, the world’s major consuming nations, in taking up such issues as how to stabilize the energy market, what the energy supply structure should look like, and the maldistribution of energy resources.
We are facing an extremely serious situation in the Russian aggression taking place in Ukraine. In order to lessen sharply rising energy prices’ negative impacts on the Japanese economy by even a little, it is imperative that we all work to conserve energy beyond our efforts to date and put in the effort to reduce our usage of petroleum and natural gas, even if only a little. I ask for the understanding and cooperation of each of our citizens.
Next, I will address our measures to combat COVID-19.
I extend my heartfelt sympathy to all those who have caught COVID-19 and are suffering, and I express my sincere condolences for those who lost their lives to this illness.
As for the state of infections nationwide, the ratio of the number of new infections in the current week compared to the number a week prior has been less than 1.0 for 19 consecutive days, so the trend towards improvement is becoming even more firmly established. At the same time, in some areas, following a spread of infections, the number of patients with severe symptoms is increasing and clusters are arising, resulting in some prefectures still having a high level of hospital bed occupancy. We will continue down the path I mentioned two weeks ago, namely, to move further toward the exit of the sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in a gradual manner, while at the same time maintaining our basic approach and our caution in implementing measures to mitigate COVID-19 and also putting our strengthened local medical systems into operation.
There are three points I wish to raise.
The first is regarding the priority measures to prevent the spread of disease now in effect in 31 prefectures, which are scheduled to terminate on March 6. In the 13 prefectures of Fukushima, Niigata, Nagano, Mie, Wakayama, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kochi, Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima, there will be no extension of these measures and the measures will be lifted on March 6.
In contrast to this, for the remaining 18 prefectures, we will extend the period that these measures are in effect for roughly two weeks, until March 21, the final day of the long weekend. In these prefectures, while the spread of new Omicron strain infections has started to slow down, we have taken this decision out of an abundance of caution, after also listening to the views of the local governments, based on hospital bed occupancy ratios remaining at a high level and other factors.
Regarding these matters, I will consult with the experts tomorrow and, after reporting to the Diet, make a formal decision. From now, once we see the exit point of the sixth wave more clearly, we will advance further efforts to restore economic and social activities. Meanwhile, we must pay close attention to the possibility of the infection situation worsening again because of the existing Omicron strain being replaced by the BA.2 lineage. Should there be signs of a worsening of the situation, we will review our measures accordingly.
My second point is regarding the administration of vaccines. Through the cooperation of local governments, the Self-Defense Forces, and medical practitioners, among many others, we realized the administration of one million doses per day in mid-February and the pace of vaccine administration has picked up further from there. We have already sent out vaccine vouchers to more than 60 million people and municipalities and workplaces are accepting applications to have it administered. We will continue to do our utmost to enable as many people as possible among those wishing to receive the vaccine to get it without delay.
My third point concerns our border measures. We have eased the framework of these measures since March 1, resuming the acceptance of entry by foreign nationals for purposes other than tourism. We began accepting foreign nationals’ applications for entry to Japan on February 25 and have already received more than 160,000 applications. The end of the fiscal year also sees a peak in demand among Japanese nationals to return to Japan to enter school, transfer to new jobs, and so on. Taking that point into consideration, beginning March 14, we will raise the daily cap on the number of those entering Japan from 5,000 to 7,000. From now, we will increase the number of international arrivals and departures in stages while keeping an eye on the state of infections both domestically and internationally. A large number of international students have a sense of unease over whether or not they will be able to enter Japan at the timing they desire, to enter in time for the new semester in April. Because of COVID-19, we are at a state of 150,000 international students looking forward to coming to Japan over the past two years. We will establish a “Smooth Entry to Japan Scheme for International Students” so that our international students, who can be called Japan’s treasure, are able to enter Japan smoothly while the minds of the Japanese people remain well at ease. We will provide support to make use of empty seats on flights, focusing on weekdays when relatively few business travelers arrive, to enable these students to enter Japan on a priority basis.
From now, as we head into the end of this fiscal and academic year and the beginning of the new year, events will be held at which many people gather, such as graduation ceremonies and spring vacation, school entrance ceremonies, and also cherry blossom viewing parties, to name a few. This is also the season when many people move in order to join new companies or new schools. Infections have previously taken advantage of such opportunities to help them spread. In light of that, I would like to ask everyone to refrain from activities with a high risk of spreading infections and to once again be mindful to thoroughly carry out the basic preventive measures of wearing masks, washing their hands, and avoiding the three Cs [of closed spaces, crowded spaces, and close-contact settings] while ensuring good ventilation.
Finally, I want to talk about “Packages of measures to revitalize small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).” As infections continue to spread, we will compile and develop “revitalization packages” that will provide support for boldly taking on challenges intended to foster business continuity among SMEs as they finish out the current fiscal year and head into the next, as well as efforts aimed at the revival of businesses that look firmly ahead to the post-COVID-19 world.
The first of these packages provides liquidity support. With regard to approaches that target changes in loan conditions, the ministers in charge will respond to end-of-the-fiscal-year demand for credit by making requests of financial institutions and other initiatives. In addition, in order to support companies in continuing their businesses from this fiscal year into the next, unsecured loans that are interest free in real terms originally due at the end of the fiscal year will enjoy an extension of the repayment deadline until the end of June, and in order to lighten the repayment burden on business operators, we will extend borrowing periods from 15 to 20 years. Together with that, in order to strengthen the financial foundations of our business operators, we will also extend until the end of fiscal 2022 support provided through capital subordinated loans.
The second package provides comprehensive support for SMEs burdened by increasing amounts of debt as they work to improve their profitability, revitalize their business, or attempt business operations once more. First, by bringing together the aggregate strength of more than 30,000 approved support institutions nationwide, including financial institutions, tax accountants, and others, we will provide comprehensive, “escort runner”-type support to improve the profitability of SMEs. Beyond that, we will draw up “Guidelines for revitalizing SME businesses” so that, when necessary, through the cooperation of financial institutions, debt forgiveness can be provided so that efforts to improve profitability proceed smoothly, and we will promote business revitalization in forms that do not make it a rule to have the management resign. In all 47 prefectures around the country, we will establish a system that supports in a unified manner efforts to improve profitability, revitalize businesses, or attempt business operations once more, and we will work to provide support across entire communities for SMEs facing hard times. Mr. Hagiuda, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, will announce the details of this package tomorrow.
Both domestically and overseas, historic events that will dramatically change the world, Japan, the economy, and also our daily lives are occurring one after the other. Keeping our eyes fixed on the major trends, we will be agile in compiling the policies that are best for the Japanese people, without being bound by precedent. We will firmly maintain this position of the Kishida Cabinet while listening carefully to the voices of people in various positions and situations in society.
I sincerely ask all of you for your understanding and cooperation. Thank you.