Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, November 27, 2018
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Morning news

NHK and TV Asahi led with reports saying that a family of six was murdered in Miyazaki on Monday. NTV and Fuji TV led with reports that Koji Hanada, former sumo grand champion under the name of Takanohana, got divorced in October. TBS led with updates on the arrest of former Nissan Motors Chairman Ghosn.

Major front-page stories in national dailies included a GOJ plan to adopt measures to mitigate the economic slowdown likely to be triggered by the hike in the consumption tax next October, the planned passage at the Lower House today of legislation opening Japan to more foreign laborers, and updates on the arrest of former Nissan Motors Chairman Ghosn. The papers reported on Ghosn's dismissal as the chairman of Mitsubishi Motors and allegations that Nissan covered losses of 1.7 billion yen that Ghosn sustained in his personal asset portfolio during the 2008 global economic meltdown.


South Korean politicians visit Takeshima

All papers reported that a group of some 20 South Koreans, including eight parliamentarians, visited Takeshima (Liancourt Rocks) on Monday to inspect patrol facilities there. According to the articles, the GOJ lodged a protest by saying that the visit is unacceptable because it runs counter to Japan's position. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga voiced "extreme regret" as the visit came amid a "series of moves that are detrimental to bilateral relations."

In a related development, Sankei wrote that a South Korean maritime research ship has repeatedly intruded in Japan's territorial waters around Takeshima over the past few days, speculating that the operation was probably aimed at continuously collecting maritime data and intended to reinforce Seoul's effective control of the contested outcrops. Tokyo reportedly filed a protest against this operation on the grounds that it cannot be construed as "innocent passage" through Japan's territorial waters as defined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Abe avoids referring to "four islands" in Diet testimony on Northern Territories

Asahi took up yesterday' interpellation at the Lower House Budget Committee, during which Prime Minister Abe was grilled by lawmakers on his approach to the territorial dispute with Russia. The daily claimed that the premier was apparently careful not to refer to "four islands" in what was a clear departure from the decades-long policy of seeking the return of all islands in one fell swoop in favor of seeking the return of the two smaller ones first. According to the daily, Abe also avoided referring to the "illegal occupation" of the islands perhaps so as not to displease Moscow, which insists that the Soviet Union took control of them legally as a result of its victory in WWII.

Other papers also reported that the prime minister vowed at the same parliamentary session to resolve the territorial dispute before he steps down in 2021. "President Putin and I share a strong desire to put a definitive end to the territorial row without passing it down to the next generation," said Abe, who also explained that he is careful about the language he uses on the territorial dispute because talks with Moscow have run into difficulties in the past on account of discussions in the Japanese parliament. The prime minister reportedly underscored the importance of dealing with the matter flexibly by saying: "Making Japan's case alone would be insufficient [to settle the dispute]. No progress has been made in the past 70 years". There are many Russians who do not want peace negotiations with Japan to move forward."

Meanwhile, Mainichi wrote that Japan is in caught in a dilemma between the U.S. and Russia with regard to Moscow's call for assurances that no U.S. bases will be established on the Northern Territories if they revert to Japan. As the two bigger islands of Kunashiri and Etorofu are extremely critical to Russia's security since they are situated at the entrance to the Sea of Okhotsk where Russia's nuclear submarines are based, Tokyo is reportedly afraid that the Russian government will seek such assurances in writing, which Washington would likely to reject on the grounds that it would constrain U.S. military operations. Because the U.S. has stated in response to Japan's prodding that the Senkaku Islands fall under the scope of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, the daily speculated that if Tokyo chooses not to seek a similar U.S. commitment when it comes to the Northern Territories in response to Russia's request, China may also call for the Senkakus to be treated in the same way.

Abe to cut short overseas trip to ensure enactment of foreign laborers bill

Sankei wrote that Prime Minister Abe has decided to cancel his plans to visit the UK and the Netherlands in early December so as to concentrate on Diet deliberations on the proposed immigration law revisions aimed at accommodating more foreign workers. The premier had initially planned to visit the two European nations following his attendance at the G20 summit in Argentina and a subsequent tour of Uruguay and Paraguay. He now plans to leave Japan on Nov. 29 and return home from Latin America on Dec. 4, instead of Dec. 7 as originally scheduled.

Nikkei carried a similar story, noting that while in Buenos Aires, Abe is expected to hold individual summits with the leaders of the U.S., China, and Russia on the sidelines of the G20 confab. In his meeting with President Trump, Abe is likely to discuss the planned start in January of new bilateral trade talks.


Plebiscite on Futenma transfer to be held in late February

All national dailies except Nikkei wrote that the Okinawa prefectural government has informally decided to conduct on Feb. 24 a prefecture-wide referendum on the ongoing FRF construction off Camp Schwab, predicting that an official announcement will be made as early as today by Governor Tamaki. Although the results of the vote will not be legally binding, the governor is reportedly hoping to derail the relocation initiative by reaffirming local voters' opposition to it.

Japan to stipulate introduction of aircraft carrier in new defense guidelines

Nikkei speculated that the GOJ is likely to call for the introduction of an aircraft carrier when it updates the National Defense Program Guidelines in December, noting that the MSDF's Izumo helicopter destroyer will be refitted to accommodate F-35Bs, which have short take-off and vertical-landing capabilities. The remodeled destroyer will be used for air defense in the Pacific and remote island defense in the event of a contingency. As the GOJ has long maintained that Japan cannot possess an "attack aircraft carrier" under its peace-oriented Constitution, the daily projected that the opposition bloc is set to object to the planned upgrade of the warship, which could also trigger strong reactions from some of the nation's neighbors.


One in three local manufacturers concerned about growing protectionism abroad

Yomiuri published the results of a Japan Bank for International Cooperation survey of some 600 Japanese industrial producers on the protectionist trade policies pursued by the U.S., China, and other nations. Almost 34% of local manufacturers, many of them auto-related companies, reportedly projected future losses as a result of rising costs associated with higher tariffs imposed by the U.S. and China and the growing reluctance of Japanese enterprises to make new capital investment in the two trading giants. Nikkei ran a similar item.


American members of Osaka football team arrested for drug trafficking

Yomiuri and Mainichi reported that two American members of the Osaka-based Panasonic Impulse football team were arrested yesterday for marijuana trafficking and possession. One of the suspects allegedly used an international mail service to import 160,000 yen worth of marijuana from the United States in late September.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team