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Editorial: Why won’t Japan ease travel restrictions on Taiwan?

  • July 6, 2020
  • , Japan Forward , 8:08 a.m.
  • English Press
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Japan has lifted some of its restrictions on travel into and out of Japan which were imposed in order to guard against the spread of the novel coronavirus. Oddly, however, it has given Taiwan the cold shoulder.


On June 25, a party from Japan’s business community took off from Tokyo International Airport at Narita. Destination: Vietnam. This marked the first step in Japan’s resumption of normal overseas air traffic. (RELATED ARTICLE: Expect New Travel Rules As Japan Resumes Partial Business Travel With Vietnam)


Phased relaxation of restrictions on Japan’s inbound and outbound travels is a must if we are to get the country’s economy out of the deep freeze. However, the core premise we need to follow in doing so is that all policies should aim at preventing a recurrence of the spread of the coronavirus within Japan. To that end, we must have in place a comprehensive testing regime.


As part of its policy to stop the coronavirus at “the water’s edge,” Japan has refused entry to foreigners from 111 nations and regions. 


While maintaining this general policy, the government will now make exceptions for travelers from four countries that have managed to bring the coronavirus under control, namely Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand. As a result, immigration restrictions will be relaxed for travelers from those countries.


During the first phase of the relaxation initiative, mutual entry permission for business-related travelers — including executives, managers, technicians, and technical trainees — will be permitted between Japan and these four countries, subject to PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing and certain other restrictions.


At a June 25 press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga emphasized, “It is absolutely essential that Japan further develops its testing capacity and system.” 


Suga’s proposals to introduce saliva-based PCR testing and dedicated PCR centers for travelers from overseas are quite reasonable.    


Nevertheless, the number of test screening personnel at airports seems to be inadequate. So, if we are to allow an increase in the number of international travelers, now is the time to secure sufficient staff. 


On the one hand, it is only natural that we should be looking to mutually relax immigration restrictions along with other countries where the coronavirus situation has improved. On the other hand, we should not rush to loosen restrictions on travelers from countries where there is still a grave danger of the spread of the coronavirus, even if we have close economic relations with the countries in question.


For example, China has relaxed restrictions on travel from Japan. But the Chinese capital of Beijing has just experienced an outbreak, indicating that the coronavirus is spreading there once again. In fact, a local Beijing official has warned that the city “has entered a wartime situation.” Public health officials there continue to conduct large-scale PCR testing. 


China being the country where COVID-19 originated, we need to treat resumption of traffic to and from there with the utmost caution.


Nevertheless, in one respect, the new policy of the Japanese government on the selective restriction of travel restrictions raises serious doubts. Specifically, what was the reason for the exclusion of Taiwan from the initial list of countries benefiting from the relaxation?


Taiwan is not located on the Chinese mainland, and the authorities in Taiwan quickly brought COVID-19 under control. In fact, it is fair to say that it became a global model for successful coronavirus containment. 


Indeed, Japan lauded Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 at the annual World Health Assembly of the World Health Organization held in Geneva in May.


No doubt, Japan did not include Taiwan on the list of nations for which immigration restrictions would be relaxed out of fear of a hostile reaction from China.


We should not succumb to such irresponsible speculation on what might please or not please the Chinese government. In light of Taiwan’s admirable accomplishments in controlling the threat of the coronavirus, now is the time to allow resumption of travel with our island neighbor. 

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