Morning Alert   -   Monday, September 24, 2018
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Morning news

NHK gave top play to a report on a meeting of officials from OPEC and its allies, including Russia, in Algeria on Sunday at which they agreed to make efforts to continue to increase oil production in order to dispel growing concerns over a shortage of oil supplies in response to the U.S. plan to strengthen economic sanctions on Iran in November. NTV and TV Asahi led with reports that Naomi Osaka was defeated in the Toray Pan Pacific Tournament final on Sunday. Fuji TV gave top play to Typhoon Trami, which is increasing in strength and may approach the Japanese mainland toward the end of this week. TBS gave top play to a report on the murder of a female resident of an upscale facility for senior citizens in Machida, Tokyo.

Major front-page items in national papers included a Health Ministry plan for legislation mandating corporations draw up measures to prevent "power harassment," the results of public opinion surveys pointing to steady public support for Prime Minister Abe, and the successful launch on Sunday of an H2B rocket carrying the Kounotori 7, a cargo spacecraft that will deliver supplies to the International Space Station.


Japan prepared to start bilateral trade talks with U.S.

Over the weekend all national papers published numerous articles on U.S.-Japan trade, with some projecting that the GOJ is apparently ready to begin new trade talks in the face of what the papers characterized as relentless U.S. pressure. The papers speculated that Tokyo has concluded that it will have no choice but to enter bilateral tariff talks in order to avoid the possibility of additional U.S. tariffs on Japanese vehicles. Sunday's Yomiuri claimed in its lead story that the Abe administration is poised to launch a new venue for trade talks with the U.S. on the condition that the Trump administration will not impose additional tariffs on Japanese auto imports. Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Motegi is likely to propose the idea during his second round of "free, fair, and reciprocal" (FFR) talks with USTR Lighthizer in New York on Tuesday. According to the paper, Japanese tariffs on beef and other U.S. agricultural products as well as Japanese autos will probably be taken up in the envisaged dialogue.

The daily claimed in an accompanying article that the GOJ is inclined to start new trade talks with the Trump administration based on the judgment that President Trump may go ahead and impose additional auto tariffs if Japan flatly rejects a U.S. call for bilateral FTA negotiations. From the Japanese standpoint, rather than a venue for forging an FTA with the U.S., the new talks will be a mechanism to urge Washington to return to the TPP. The Abe administration will reportedly enter new trade negotiations on the premise of the standards agreed to in the TPP accord signed by the 12 nations in 2016. The daily added that Japan is determined to reject any U.S. request for restricting auto exports to the U.S. market.

Other papers conjectured that Japan is likely to accept a U.S. request for bilateral trade talks on reducing import tariffs on American products in exchange for U.S. assurances that it will not level higher tariffs on Japanese vehicles. Mainichi speculated that Motegi and Lighthizer will probably agree on the launch of new trade talks to increase bilateral trade and investment. The daily also claimed that President Trump is extremely eager to win trade concessions from Japan ahead of the November midterm elections since he has already forged trade agreements with Mexico and the EU. Nikkei claimed that the Abe administration will agree to start new trade talks to head off a possible bilateral "trade war" in the belief that the global economy would be thrown into chaos if a "trade war" were to break out between the U.S. and Japan on top of the trade conflict between the U.S. and China. Nikkei and Yomiuri also wrote that in entering new trade talks with the Trump administration, Japan will probably attempt to take a page from the playbook of the EU, which successfully headed off tariffs on its auto exports to the U.S. by agreeing to launch talks seeking the "elimination of tariffs, nontariff barriers, and subsidies" in trans-Atlantic trade.

Today's Asahi said Japan is bracing for stronger trade pressure from President Trump, quoting a USG source as saying that the U.S. leader is now zeroing in on Japan so "Japan had better be prepared for the upcoming summit." The daily claimed that when meeting with PM Abe in the past, President Trump mentioned Ohio, Michigan, and other U.S. states and said: "We want billions of dollars of investment from Japan right now."

U.S. keen to open Japan's farm market

Saturday evening's Nikkei reported on a Reuters story quoting an unnamed senior White House official as saying that when meeting with Prime Minister Abe in New York on Sept. 26, President Trump will ask Japan to further open its market to American products. The Japanese daily predicted that the U.S. leader may make a direct request for increased access to the Japanese farm sector.

Japanese firms reviewing production plans amid U.S.-China "trade war"

Sunday's Nikkei ran a prominent inside-page article on what it described as the escalated "trade war" between the United States and China, noting that the mounting trade animosity between the two economic giants has prompted many Japanese manufacturers to take a second look at their operations in China since additional U.S. tariffs are being imposed on their U.S.-bound products assembled there. The daily wrote that some of the manufacturers have already decided to shift production lines from China to other Asian nations, including Japan, while others are inclined to tap foreign suppliers other than China to procure components so as to maintain their products' competitiveness in the U.S. market.


Abe departs for U.S. for UNGA and talks with President Trump

All Monday papers reported that Prime Minister Abe left for New York yesterday to attend the UNGA conference and hold a summit with President Trump. Upon his departure, the premier told the press that he will have a dinner with the U.S. leader on the evening of Sept. 23 ahead of their summit on Sept. 26. He is also scheduled to meet with South Korean President Moon on Sept. 25. Asked by reporters about these summits, Abe said: "I would like to align our policies on North Korea and deepen coordination with the U.S., and South Korea." On trade with the U.S., the premier stated: "I would like to hold constructive discussions with President Trump based on the results of the "free, fair, and reciprocal" (FFR) talks". The President and I share the broad goal of realizing the economic development of the Indo-Pacific region through expanding U.S.-Japan trade and investment further in a mutually beneficial manner."

Secretary Pompeo comments on DPRK

All papers reported over the weekend on remarks made on Fox News on Friday by Secretary of State Pompeo regarding U.S.-DPRK relations following the recent inter-Korean summit. "There's still a little bit of work to do to make sure that the conditions are right and that the two leaders are put in a position where we could make substantial progress," he was quoted as saying. "I'm hoping I'll be back in Pyongyang before too long to make some more progress. And if that's the case, I'm very hopeful that Chairman Kim and President Trump will get a chance to meet in the near future as well."

U.S. apprehensive about inter-Korean economic cooperation

Saturday morning's Asahi reported from Seoul that the Trump administration suspects that the inter-Korean agreement reached last week on connecting the two nations through roads and railways may infringe upon existing UN economic sanctions against the DPRK. In order to address such U.S. concerns, the South Korean government probably will not take any action to implement the accord this year based on the assessment that work can start next year contingent on the issuance of a declaration to end the Korean War. The daily added that the Moon administration may be planning to invite President Trump to Seoul this year when Chairman Kim is expected to travel there so that the three leaders can jointly declare an end to the Korean War.

Japan issues not discussed in inter-Korean summit

Saturday morning's Asahi reported on the disclosure by several GOJ sources that ROK President Moon and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un did not discuss any issues related to Japan, such as the abductions or a Japan-DPRK summit, during their talks in Pyongyang last week. In a briefing to the Japanese government on the results of the inter-Korean summit, the South Korean government explained that no issues related to Japan were addressed by the two leaders.

Canada to help monitor illicit ship-to-ship cargo transfers to DPRK

All Sunday papers reported on a MOFA announcement on Saturday that Canada will join Japan, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand in cracking down on maritime trafficking of sanctioned items bound for North Korea. A Canadian aircraft will be deployed to Kadena AB to conduct surveillance of ship-to-ship cargo transfers in the East China Sea.

Japan, Australia to hold summit in November

Saturday evening's Asahi highlighted an Australian Broadcasting Corporation report claiming that Prime Minister Abe will visit Darwin, Australia, to hold talks with Prime Minister Morrison before they attend the APEC leaders' summit in Papua New Guinea on Nov. 18. It will be the first visit by a Japanese premier to the northern Australian city that the Japanese Imperial Army bombed during WWII. In the summit with the new Australian leader, PM Abe is likely to discuss bilateral defense cooperation in view of China's military buildup. While in Darwin, the Japanese leader is also expected to tour an LNG platform being developed by a Japanese oil firm.


Japan to delay procurement of Ospreys

Sunday's Sankei led with an informal MOD decision to put off the procurement of MSDF Ospreys for the GSDF planned for this fall in view of strong opposition to hosting the tilt-rotor planes in the vicinity of Saga Airport and GSDF Camp Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture. The five MV-22s that Japan had planned to procure this autumn will be kept in the United States for the time being until the conditions for the deployment are met, such as obtaining local consent, which the ministry views as a "top priority."

Other papers carried similar stories today, noting that Defense Minister Onodera effectively acknowledged the delay by telling the press yesterday: "We have not been informed by the U.S. side of the specific schedule for delivery."

Close contest anticipated in Okinawa election

Yomiuri, Kyodo, and Asahi published their predictions for the Okinawa gubernatorial election this coming Sunday based on their over-the-phone public opinion and field surveys. Yomiuri and Kyodo noted that former Liberal Party Diet member Tamaki and former Ginowan Mayor Sakima are competing neck and neck. Asahi, however, wrote that Tamaki is slightly ahead of Sakima, who is backed by the Abe administration. Support for Tamaki appears to be relatively strong among independents and female and elderly voters. All three outlets found that U.S. base issues including Futenma relocation appear to be the top issue on voters' minds in choosing the next Okinawa leader. Three out of five respondents expressed opposition to the Henoko relocation plan in the Yomiuri and Kyodo surveys.


Abe to retain key cabinet officials

All papers reported over the weekend that when Prime Minister Abe launches his new cabinet possibly on Oct. 2, he is likely to keep key cabinet members in their current portfolios, including Finance Miniser Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, Foreign Minister Kono, Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Motegi, Trade Minister Seko, and Health and Labor Minister Kato. However, Agriculture Minister Saito will probably be replaced since he supported former LDP Secretary General Ishiba in the party presidential election last week.

As for the results of the presidential race, Saturday's Mainichi said Abe's failure to win a "landslide victory" over Ishiba apparently signified simmering dissatisfaction among rank-and-file LDP members in rural areas with the prime minister's leadership and economic policy. The daily projected that the Okinawa gubernatorial election on Sept. 30, the nationwide local elections next April, and the Upper House election in the summer of 2019 may determine the fate of the third Abe administration, which will be launched on Oct. 1 or 2.

Support for Abe improves

Today's Nikkei front-paged the results of its latest public opinion survey that put approval of the Abe administration at 55%, up 7 points from a month ago, and disapproval at 39%, down 3 points. Some 55% welcomed the reelection of Abe as LDP president, whereas 38% did not. Asked if they trust the premier, 57% said yes while 41% replied no. The daily said distrust of the prime minister still runs deep, especially among non-affiliated voters, adding that almost seven out of ten respondents said he should not rush to submit to the parliament an LDP proposal on constitutional revision.

According to the results of Yomiuri's latest opinion poll that were published today, support for Abe remained unchanged from a month ago at 50%. Some 46% welcomed Abe's reelection as LDP leader while 41% did not. About 51% were opposed to Abe's idea of submitting to the extraordinary Diet session this autumn the LDP's proposal on constitutional revision and only about 36% were in favor of the idea.

Meanwhile, the Nikkei poll found that three out of four respondents said Japan should not heed President Trump's request for Japan to reduce the trade surplus with the U.S., while only 12% said otherwise.

GOJ considering amending law to allow more foreign lawyers to practice in Japan

Saturday morning's Yomiuri reported that the GOJ is considering amending the Act on Special Measures concerning the Handling of Legal Services by Foreign Lawyers with the goal of revitalizing the "international arbitration" market in Japan. With the envisaged revision, foreign lawyers with less legal experience abroad will be allowed to practice law in Japan. They will also be allowed to open law firms in partnership with Japanese lawyers. The GOJ is reportedly hoping that more international arbitration on business disputes will take place in Japan as a result of an increase in foreign lawyers.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team