Morning Alert   -   Thursday, December 13, 2018
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Morning news

NHK, TBS, and Fuji TV led with reports that British Prime Minister May survived a vote of no confidence triggered by MPs of her own party. NTV and TV Asahi gave top coverage to reports saying 16-year-old Sota Fujii became the youngest shogi player to score 100 victories in professional competition.

Major front-page stories in national dailies included a Canadian court's decision to release Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on bail, a GOJ panel's recommendation to set up a taskforce charged with monitoring the business operations of IT platform operators such as Google and Amazon for the purpose of protecting personal information, and Hitachi's plan to purchase a Swiss firm's electricity distribution business.


GOJ officials hopeful for delayed launch of U.S.-Japan trade talks

Nikkei claimed that some GOJ officials are now hoping that the planned start of bilateral trade talks with the U.S. in January will be postponed based on the view that USTR Lighthizer, who is expected to head the U.S. negotiating team, will probably have to prioritize the trade talks with China that are set to conclude by the end of February. The Japanese officials reportedly project that what they refer to as "TAG" talks may not begin until after the conclusion of the U.S.-China negotiations, with one of them reportedly saying: "Japan would benefit from a conflict between the U.S. and China." According to Nikkei, the officials are hoping that if Japan takes a tough approach toward China over such issues as telecom equipment procurement, it will help mitigate U.S. trade pressure on Tokyo. The daily conjectured that further escalation of trade friction between Washington and Beijing might allow Tokyo to avoid making significant trade concessions ahead of President Trump's purported visit to Japan in June for the G20 summit.

Nikkei added, however, that other GOJ officials are worried that even though Lighthizer may be preoccupied with dealing with China, lower-ranking USG officials and the U.S. auto, agriculture, and other industries could still step up their pressure in the service sector. The daily predicted that Japan will have difficulty responding to possible U.S. requests, such as the adoption of a currency stipulation, a review of drug pricing, and a relaxation of food safety standards.

Japan-EU EPA to take effect in February

Nikkei predicted in a front-page story that the Japan-EU EPA is likely to take effect on Feb. 1 following the European parliament's endorsement of the free trade pact on Wednesday. On the same day the European legislature also endorsed a strategic partnership agreement with Tokyo intended to strengthen bilateral cooperation in a wide range of areas including diplomacy and human rights.


DPRK unresponsive to U.S. proposal for bilateral summit

Asahi highlighted the disclosure by several unnamed USG officials that North Korea has not responded to a U.S. offer to hold a summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un early next year, noting that this signifies a wide chasm between the two parties over the speed and scope of North Korea's denuclearization. The daily speculated that it is unclear whether a second summit between the two leaders will be convened in January or February as previously suggested by the President and other senior USG officials, adding that recently Special Representative for North Korea Biegun has been unable to make contact with DPRK officials.

In a related item, Sankei wrote that an inter-Korean summit between Kim Jong Un and President Moon is unlikely to take place this year despite the two leaders' agreement in September that Kim would visit Seoul "in the near future." According to the daily, the Kim regime is apparently "upset" over the Moon administration's failure to promote inter-Korean economic cooperation and persuade the U.S. to relax economic sanctions.

Top Japanese, ROK diplomats discuss forced labor dispute

All papers wrote that Foreign Minister Kono spoke by phone with his South Korean counterpart Kang on Wednesday and told her that Japan can't accept the ROK Supreme Court's rulings ordering Japanese firms to pay compensation to Korean nationals who were requisitioned to work in their plants during WWII. The Japanese official reportedly expressed concern about the plaintiffs' moves to seize the Japanese corporations' financial assets. The two ministers reportedly agreed to continue close communications by arranging a meeting on the sidelines of an international conference.


Okinawa governor to meet with Suga today

All papers reported that Okinawa Governor Tamaki is expected to discuss Futenma relocation with Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga at the Kantei today, noting that the Okinawa leader will not be able to meet with Prime Minister Abe as requested due to a scheduling conflict. The governor is likely to ask Suga not to go ahead with a plan to start pouring earth into waters off Camp Schwab on Friday. On the landfill work, the government spokesman told the press yesterday: "We will move forward with the FRF construction work in accordance with relevant statutes while giving maximum consideration to the natural environment and the living environment."

In a related development, Mainichi wrote that the Okinawa prefectural government issued administrative instructions to the Okinawa Defense Bureau yesterday asking it to halt preparations for the landfill operation immediately on the grounds that the bureau has failed to submit a document verifying the quality of the earth to be used for landfill. The instructions are reportedly not legally binding.

Japan to procure 40 F-35Bs

Sankei claimed in a front-page article that the Defense Ministry has decided to purchase about 40 F-35Bs and that the procurement of half of them will be stipulated in the next five-year Mid-Term Defense Program that is expected to be approved by the cabinet on Dec. 18. The ASDF plans to use the first batch to launch a stealth fighter squadron for deployment on the SDF destroyer Izumo, which will be refurbished as a "multi-purpose" warship. However, the fighters will not be always be carried on the Izumo in order to deflect criticism that Japan possesses an "attack aircraft carrier."

GOJ to ask firms in selected sectors not to procure Chinese telecom equipment

Nikkei front-paged a story noting that the GOJ plans to ask the private sector not to use telecommunications equipment that may contain malicious programs intended to steal data and/or disrupt business operations. According to the daily, the GOJ will issue the request to companies and organizations in 14 areas, including financial services, aviation, railways, utilities, medicine, and distribution, based on the assessment that information leakage or disruption of services in these sectors as a result of malicious programs installed in such equipment could cripple the nation's social and economic infrastructure. With the purported request, the GOJ is reportedly aiming to exclude telecom equipment produced by Chinese tech titans such as Huawei and ZTE. The paper added that the private sector will not necessarily be required to comply with the GOJ requests.

All radioactive waste generated by Operation Tomodachi removed from Yokosuka

NHK reported on Wednesday evening that the Yokosuka city government announced earlier in the day that as of Tuesday, all radioactive waste from decontamination work by the U.S. Navy as part of Operation Tomodachi during the Great East Japan Earthquake that was stored on the Yokosuka base had been removed from the base for disposal by TEPCO. The city government said it will ask the U.S. Navy through MOFA to appropriately handle any further radioactive waste on ships.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team