Morning Alert   -   Wednesday, December 26, 2018
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Morning news

All broadcasters led with reports on the release on bail from the Tokyo Detention Center of former Nissan executive Greg Kelly. In a statement issued upon his release, Kelly categorically denied the allegation of underreporting Carlos Ghosn's remuneration, emphasizing that the court will find him innocent.

All national dailies except Asahi gave top play to reports on the plunge in Tokyo stock prices with the Nikkei index falling below the 20,000 benchmark on Tuesday. Asahi led with the results of a National Cancer Center Japan survey on pain relief for cancer patients.


Japan concerned about departure of Defense Secretary Mattis

The Saturday morning editions of all national dailies focused on Defense Secretary Mattis's plan to step down, noting that U.S. allies and friends are worried about their ties with the Trump administration following the imminent departure of the Secretary since he has attached importance to Washington's traditional alliances with Europe and Asia. Mainichi wrote that although the GOJ is calm on the surface, some Abe administration officials have voiced regret about Secretary Mattis's departure because he is very knowledgeable about the security situation in Northeast Asia. An unnamed senior GOJ official reportedly said: "Secretary Mattis is the official whom we can most trust" within the Trump administration. Yomiuri quoted a diplomatic source based in Washington as saying: "The resignation of Secretary Mattis may embolden President Trump to step up his excessive demands on U.S. allies."

In follow-up reports, all Tuesday morning papers wrote that Secretary Mattis will step down on Jan. 1 and Deputy Secretary Shanahan will become the acting Pentagon chief on the same day.

ROK warship directs fire-control radar at Japanese plane

All Saturday morning papers highlighted the disclosure by Defense Minister Iwaya on Friday that a South Korean navy destroyer's fire-control radar lit up an MSDF P-1 patrol plane off Ishikawa Prefecture earlier in the day. The GOJ reportedly lodged a protest against what it called a "dangerous act that could have triggered an unforeseen situation." The location was reportedly within Japan's EEZ in the Sea of Japan and far from the disputed Liancourt Rocks (Takeshima). Tokyo reportedly dismissed Seoul's explanation that the radar was activated to "search for a missing North Korea vessel" and not to track the Japanese patrol plane. Mainichi and Sankei opined that the latest incident is bound to aggravate bilateral relations, which have already hit a new low following the dispute over requisitioned workers.

In a follow-up development, all Tuesday morning papers reported on a meeting between MOFA Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau Director General Kanasugi and his ROK counterpart in Seoul on Monday, during which the two sides remained at odds over the alleged incident. The South Korean side emphasized that no action that endangered the Japanese plane was taken and expressed regret that Tokyo informed the media without verifying the facts.

Mainichi and Sankei wrote on Wednesday that the Ministry of Defense issued a statement on Tuesday saying that it has confirmed that the radar lit up the patrol plane multiple times. All national dailies on Wednesday wrote that Iwaya made a comment on the issue at a regular press briefing on Tuesday. Yomiuri and Mainichi quoted him as saying that there are errors of fact in the South Korean explanation.

GOJ to bypass prefectural government when providing subsidies to Okinawa towns

All Saturday morning papers reported that the GOJ has come up with a mechanism to circumvent the Okinawa prefectural government when providing subsidies to local municipalities in a bid to deepen bonds with local cities and towns. In compiling the FY2019 budget, the central government decided to maintain the same level of funding for economic development of the island prefecture, but the portion of the budget that the prefectural government is authorized to use freely was reduced. Mainichi speculated that the Abe administration is anxious to highlight Tokyo's strong commitment to Okinawa's economic development ahead of the referendum on Futenma relocation on Feb. 24 and a special by-election to select a Lower House member on April 21.

Ginowan mayor announces plan to skip referendum on Henoko project

All national dailies reported on Wednesday that Ginowan Mayor Matsukawa announced on Tuesday that his municipality will not perform administrative work for holding the prefecture-wide referendum slated for Feb.24 on the relocation of the Futenma functions to Henoko following the city assembly's rejection of a supplementary budget for conducting the vote. Ginowan is the second municipality to announce the rejection of the administrative work following the city of Miyakojima. Yomiuri speculated that the rejection of Ginowan, which hosts the Futenma Air Station, may cast doubt on the legitimacy of the vote. Sankei quoted Mayor Matsukawa as telling reporters on Tuesday that the referendum fails to cite the need to remove the danger at the Futenma base and that the results of the vote may lead to the base's remaining in its present location permanently.

U.S., Japan, UK conduct joint training

Monday's Sankei wrote that the MSDF participated in the first-ever trilateral joint training with the navies of the U.S. and the UK off the coast of Honshu in the Pacific on Saturday, saying that the training was intended to keep China's maritime push in check. The MSDF destroyer Izumo and other MSDF vessels cooperated with U.S. Navy and Royal Navy frigates and patrol planes to perform mock drills in which an American submarine posed as an enemy craft.


Chinese intelligence chief made secret trip to Japan in October

Sunday's Yomiuri front-paged the finding that China's Minister of State Security Chen Wenqing made a secret visit to Japan for several days from late October through early November to exchange views with Japanese diplomats and intelligence officials on North Korea and international terrorism in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022. The article noted that it is rare for China's top intelligence official to visit Japan, claiming that the trip signifies steady improvement in relations between Tokyo and Beijing. The daily added that China appears eager to deepen intelligence cooperation with Japan perhaps in a bid to keep the Trump administration's hardline stance toward it in check.

Japan braces for Russia taking tough stance in territorial talks

Saturday morning's Asahi wrote that Russian President Putin's recent remark voicing doubt about whether Japan would be able to make an independent decision on the deployment of U.S. troops was intended to keep Tokyo in check ahead of the upcoming talks on the Northern Territories. The daily said the GOJ is bracing for Moscow's taking a hardline stance when Foreign Minister Kono visits Moscow for talks with Foreign Minister Lavrov on Jan. 14.

In a related story, Sunday's Yomiuri claimed that Prime Minister Abe is likely to hold a summit with President Putin in Moscow on Jan. 21 before attending the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Share of Japanese describing relations with U.S. as "good" decreases

On Saturday all national dailies took up the results of a Cabinet Office public opinion survey showing an increase in the number of Japanese who view the current state of U.S.-Japan relations negatively. According to the poll, 74% said trans-Pacific ties are in good shape, down 10 points from a year ago. Those who said bilateral relations are in bad shape rose to 22.7%, up 10.3 points. The papers attributed the drop in positive views of U.S.-Japan ties to President Trump's hardline stance on trade and other issues.

Korean requisitioned workers to take legal measure to seize assets of Japanese firm

All national dailies wrote on Tuesday morning that South Koreans who were requisitioned to work at Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal's plants during Japan's colonial rule are likely to ask a local court to seize its financial assets in South Korea since the firm has refused to hold talks with the victims on the ROK Supreme Court's ruling ordering compensation. Given that the two governments are still discussing how to defuse the dispute, the lawyers representing the plaintiffs reportedly stressed that they are still hoping to hold consultations with the Japanese steel company.


USTR to seek discussions with Japan on currency exchange

All weekend papers reported on a USTR announcement on Friday on the goals that the Trump administration aims to accomplish in the upcoming trade talks with Japan, explaining that Washington is set to seek discussions on a number of issues, including provisions on currency and autos, competition policy, investment, intellectual property, e-commerce, and agricultural trade. As the U.S.'s goals cover a range of areas almost equivalent to the comprehensive TPP11 accord, the dailies underscored that the Trump administration appears determined to pursue an FTA with Tokyo, which has stressed that the new trade talks will only address trade in goods.

According to Mainichi, a GOJ source noted that the goals presented by the USTR constitute a wish list and that the scope of the actual negotiations will be decided through bilateral discussions. The daily projected that if the U.S. aims to reach a conclusion by the end of next year, the scope of negotiations may be limited.

Meanwhile, Mainichi published an interview with Nick Giordano, vice president of the National Pork Producers Council, who said his organization is hoping for an early conclusion of bilateral trade talks and that his organization and most other U.S. industrial lobbies will be satisfied if the Trump administration is able to cut a deal with Japan at liberalization levels equal to the TPP11's.

White House economic advisor comments on trade with Japan, China

Sunday's Nikkei front-paged an interview with Director of Trade and Industrial Policy Peter Navarro, in which he took issue with the huge trade imbalance between the U.S. and Japan. He was quoted as saying: "The U.S. trade deficit with Japan is huge. President Trump is extremely serious about seeking balance and fair trade. In the auto sector, U.S. exports to Japan are less than 1% of Japanese exports to the U.S." He urged Tokyo to remove nontariff barriers, such as environmental and safety standards and called for Japanese automakers to start building engines and other key parts in America. While calling Japan an "important ally," the senior White House official reportedly insisted that Japan has taken advantage of the U.S. on trade. Asked if Washington will demand quantitative restrictions on Japanese auto exports to the U.S. market in bilateral trade negotiations, Navarro said it will be up to President Trump or USTR Lighthizer to decide. The daily also reported on his tough remarks on trade with China.

Japan to announce decision to withdraw from IWC

Wednesday's Sankei wrote that the GOJ decided at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) based on the judgement that it will be difficult for Japan to resume commercial whaling if it stays in the IWC because the organization has become dysfunctional due to the sharp differences between pro- and anti-whaling members. The paper wrote that the GOJ is planning to make an official announcement of the decision on Wednesday. Mainichi and Nikkei ran similar reports, with Nikkei quoting Fisheries Minister Yoshikawa as saying that Japan is seeking to resume commercial whaling as soon as possible and Mainichi speculating that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga may make the announcement.


Abe to enter his seventh year in office

All national dailies wrote on Wednesday that Prime Minister Abe, who was reelected as prime minister in December 2012, will finish his sixth year in office on Wednesday. The papers quoted Abe as telling reporters on Tuesday that although Japan experienced several major natural disasters this year, he hopes that next year will be a bright year for the nation.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team