Morning Alert   -   Thursday, September 13, 2018
The following information reflects the reporting of the cited news media and does not reflect the opinions of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Japan Media Highlights is intended for USG use only and should not be forwarded. Visit the website here. For more information, contact TokyoMATT@state.gov.


Morning news

NHK gave top play to a report on the situation in Hokkaido one week after a powerful earthquake struck the island, saying that 41 people have been killed and 1,592 people are still living in shelters. TV Asahi led with a report on President Putin's sudden proposal to conclude a peace treaty before resolving the territorial dispute. Fuji TV gave top play to a report that an object that appeared to be a bomb was found on a runway at Narita Airport this morning. TBS gave top play to a report that Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka arrived at Haneda Airport early this morning. NTV led with a report that Japanese pop stars Hideaki Takizawa and Tsubasa Imai announced that they will dissolve their duo this year.

Most papers led with reports on Russian President Putin's proposal to conclude a peace treaty with Japan this year.


Putin proposes peace treaty with Japan by year's end without preconditions

All papers reported heavily on Russian President Putin's remarks in Vladivostok on Wednesday, in which he proposed concluding a peace treaty with Tokyo this year without preconditions. By saying that Japan and Russia will be able to continue discussions on the Northern Territories dispute after "becoming friends" by concluding a peace treaty, the Russian leader was apparently hinting at his desire to put off addressing the territorial dispute. He also reportedly mentioned the 1956 Japan-Russia Joint Declaration that stipulated the return of Habomai and Shikotan Islands after the signing of a peace treaty, underscoring that the parliaments of the two nations ratified the pact. With this reference, Putin perhaps wanted to justify his idea that talks on the territorial dispute can be conducted even after the conclusion of a peace treaty.

According to the papers, the Russian vice foreign minister disclosed afterward that Putin's idea had not been presented to the Japanese side beforehand and that it should be discussed with his Japanese counterpart. Asahi speculated that the unexpected proposal was an attempt by Putin to "pull the rug out from under" Japan out of frustration that bilateral negotiations on the contested isles have gone nowhere for many decades despite a series of "new approaches" pursued by the Japanese side, including the latest one advocated by Prime Minister Abe.

According to the dailies, the Japanese government was caught by surprise by the Russian leader's proposal, which was probably intended to further delay the deadlocked territorial negotiations. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga commented on it by telling the press yesterday: "We would like to negotiate patiently in line with the basic policy of concluding a peace treaty by resolving the issue of sovereignty of the Northern Territories first. This position will not change." Japanese officials are reportedly perplexed by what Putin himself called an "off-the-cuff" proposal, wondering whether the Russian leader brought it up as a diplomatic bluff or a serious suggestion to achieve a breakthrough. Yomiuri speculated that Japan will dismiss the proposal in the belief that if heeded, it would make the resolution of the territorial dispute almost impossible. Sankei claimed that Tokyo is treating Putin's proposal with benign neglect because it was designed to pressure Japan in a bid to attract Japanese business investment amid the prolonged economic slump in Russia.

Prime Minister Abe to visit China in October

All dailies took up yesterday's summit held in Vladivostok between Prime Minister Abe and Chinese President Xi, during which the two politicians agreed to expedite coordination for the Japanese leader's travel to China next month. Asahi asserted that Abe is anxious to highlight the planned visit as the first diplomatic accomplishment under his envisaged third term as the LDP president, while the Chinese side is keen to deepen ties with Japan at a time when its relations with the U.S. have become strained over bilateral trade and North Korea. The paper quoted a Chinese diplomatic source as saying: "It is important to court Japan, which is a U.S. ally. A scenario in which the U.S. and Japan join hands to apply pressure on China must be avoided at all costs." Nikkei said Xi is conducting a "charm offensive" and has extended overtures to Japan, Europe, and India to prepare for what the daily characterized as a prolonged trade war with the U.S. Pointing out that such thorny issues as the Senkaku dispute have yet to be resolved, Asahi called the two leaders' accord a "strategic rapprochement."

Nikkei projected that Abe will probably visit Beijing around Oct. 23, the date when the bilateral peace treaty took effect 40 years ago, adding that he will probably also tour regional areas such as Guangdong and Shenzhen.

In a related development, all papers wrote that a Japanese business delegation led by Chairman Muneoka of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal paid a courtesy call on Chinese Premier Li in Beijing yesterday and confirmed mutual cooperation on a range of issues, including bilateral commercial projects in third countries. Asahi characterized the economic ties between the two nations as being in a “honeymoon” phase, noting that the two sides are keenly interested in deepening economic cooperation amid rising protectionism in the U.S. The paper added that some Japanese business officials are apprehensive that Japan’s technology could be stolen, as the Chinese government is committed to promoting its “Made in China 2025” initiative, which the Trump administration reportedly views as an attempt to establish technological hegemony.

Opposition party leader meets with officials of LGBT groups in Washington

Yomiuri reported that Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Edano held a series of meetings in Washington on Tuesday with officials of NGOs focusing on LGBT issues and women's empowerment, explaining that the chief representative of Japan's largest opposition party was keen to call attention to his party's goal of accepting sexual minorities and people with different values so as to play up the differences between his party and the ruling LDP. The daily said that through his trip to the U.S. capital, Edano is hoping to learn about "grassroots politics" in America, noting that he also plans to hold talks with Senator Sanders.

Sankei wrote that the CDPJ leader met with former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Zumwalt and told him that Japan should deepen its alliance relationship with the U.S.

Foreign Minister Kono holds talks with Aung San Suu Kyi

All papers reported that Foreign Minister Kono held talks with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in Hanoi on Wednesday and urged her to renew her nation's efforts to resolve the Rohingya crisis quickly. In the third session of its kind this year, the Japanese diplomat also expressed concern about the jail sentence given to Reuters reporters by a Myanmar court for covering a Rohingya massacre. In reply, Suu Kyi said her government will cooperate with UN-affiliated agencies to return the Muslim refugees to their homes.

Pope may visit Japan next year

Asahi, Yomiuri, and Mainichi wrote that Pope Francis told a Japanese Catholic delegation on Wednesday that he is considering visiting Japan in 2019, adding that if the visit is realized, it will be the first trip to Japan by a pope in 38 years.


NAFTA renegotiation with Canada may influence trade talks with Japan

On the second round of "free, fair, and reciprocal" (FFR) trade talks between the U.S. and Japan to be held around Sept. 21, Nikkei speculated that the prospects might be affected by the Trump administration's NAFTA renegotiation with the Canadian government. The paper projected that if a deal with Canada has not been reached before the U.S. and Japan delegations meet, the USG will probably continue to focus on talks with Ottawa, but if a new NAFTA agreement has been forged, Washington will probably zero in on Japan and apply greater pressure to seek concessions on beef and autos by hinting at raising tariffs on Japanese auto imports.


Japanese warship successfully intercepts mock missile

Nikkei and Mainichi reported on an MOD announcement that an updated MSDF Aegis warship conducted a missile interception test off Hawaii and successfully destroyed a mock projectile with a SM-3 block IB interceptor. Another interception test involving a separate MSDF destroyer will be carried out by March next year. The ministry is reportedly aiming to have a total of eight Aegis destroyers fitted with BMD capabilities by the end of FY2020.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team