Morning Alert   -   Thursday, January 10, 2019
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Morning news

NHK, TBS, Fuji-TV, Yomiuri, and Mainichi led with reports on Japan's request that South Korea begin bilateral talks on the ROK court's approval of the seizure of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.'s assets in response to a request from Korean requisitioned workers. NTV led with a report on the rising number of flu patients in Japan, while TV Asahi gave top coverage to Japan's victory over Turkmenistan in an AFC Asian Cup preliminary match on Wednesday in the UAE.

Other front-page items in the national papers included a Health Ministry's idea of allowing selected doctors to perform up to 2,000 hours of overtime per annum, Apple's decision to reduce iPhone production by 10% from an initial plan in the first quarter of this year, and Tokyo prosecutors' plan to indict former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn tomorrow on a separate charge of breach of trust. Sankei claimed that prosecutors have asked relevant authorities in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Lebanon for investigative cooperation to probe the dubious transfer of 7 billion yen ($64 million) from Nissan to several Arab businessmen that was allegedly made upon Ghosn's instructions.


Japan requests talks with ROK over approval of seizure of steelmaker's assets

All national dailies wrote that on Wednesday the GOJ requested the ROK government begin talks with Japan on a South Korea court's approval of the seizure of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.'s assets in response to a petition filed by Korean requisitioned workers. Vice Foreign Minister Akiba relayed to the South Korean ambassador to Japan a request for discussions based on the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims. Akiba reportedly said there clearly is a dispute between the two governments over the interpretation of the pact, which Japan believes settled "completely and finally" all disputes related to wartime compensation.

The Moon administration reportedly responded by issuing a statement last night saying that it will closely examine the Japanese request. It also urged Japan to manage the situation carefully and in a cool-headed manner. The dailies said although Tokyo regards the court's approval of the asset seizure as a very serious matter, it is unclear whether Seoul will agree to such talks, speculating that in the event that it rejects the Japanese request, the Abe administration may invoke a provision of the 1965 accord to propose the launch of an arbitration panel involving a third country or file a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice.

Sankei claimed that the GOJ decided to ask for bilateral consultations immediately after the Korean court's authorization of the asset seizure in a bid to demonstrate at home and abroad that Tokyo is determined to take a stern approach to the matter. While quoting an unnamed senior MOFA official as saying that Japan's "patience has hit its limits," the daily speculated that the Abe administration hoped to warn Seoul ahead of President Moon's first press conference of the year scheduled for today that the dispute is serious enough to rock the legal foundation of bilateral relations. Sankei speculated that Japan's potential retaliatory measures may include a hike in tariffs on Korean imports, the discontinuation of visa waver for Korean tourists, and the recall of the Japanese ambassador to Korea. Mainichi wrote that economic sanctions such as seizing the ROK government's assets in Japan might be unrealistic since the necessary legal arrangements would be time-consuming, adding that adopting such punitive measures would complicate bilateral coordination on North Korea.

Concerning South Korea's response, Asahi said the Moon administration has been looking into measures regarding the court rulings ordering two Japanese steelmakers to pay compensation to the victims, noting that while the establishment of a fund to pay compensation is one idea, Japan is likely to oppose this proposal if it is asked to finance such a foundation. Yomiuri speculated that the Korean public would react very strongly if measures to be taken by the Moon administration are not compatible with the Supreme Court verdicts. While noting that close attention will be paid to President Moon's possible comments on the dispute during a planned press conference today, the daily expressed concern that additional lawsuits seeking compensation may be filed one after another by other requisitioned workers if the ROK government fails to announce its response to the Supreme Court rulings swiftly.


GOJ to pay 16 billion yen for Mageshima

Asahi wrote that the Abe administration agreed to pay 16 billion yen ($147 million), more than three times the original offer of 4.5 billion yen ($41 million), to persuade the owner of Mageshima to sell the island, which will serve as a relocation site for the U.S. military's carrier landing practice (FCLP). The paper said the GOJ had been under pressure from the U.S., which has reportedly been frustrated with Tokyo's failure to implement the 2011 bilateral accord to move FCLP from Iwoto.

While noting that the GOJ plans to build SDF facilities on the island not just for FCLP but also for use as a logistical hub in the event of a contingency, the daily said local officials and some residents are not enthusiastic about hosting U.S. drills. Mayor Yasaka of Nishinoomote, the Tanegashima city that includes Mageshima, said there are "better ways" to use the island.

USFJ leader comments on Northern Territories

All national dailies except Yomiuri highlighted a press conference at the JNPC on Wednesday by USFJ Commander Martinez, who reportedly dismissed the idea of basing U.S. troops in the Northern Territories if they were returned to Japan. "At present, there is no possibility of deploying U.S. forces to these islands," said the Air Force general, who added: "We hope that constructive dialogue will take place [between Japan and Russia] to resolve the longstanding territorial dispute." The USFJ commander also commented on the FRF construction initiative off Camp Schwab by saying: "We are aware that it has become a major controversy". We hope the Japanese government and Okinawa will continue dialogue and cooperate to find a solution."


Top UK diplomat voices strong desire to start free trade talks with Japan

Asahi published an interview with British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt, who said London is very interested in launching trade liberalization negotiations with Japan. He also emphasized his government's desire to join the TPP11 by saying: "I don't think TPP membership and FTA negotiations are incompatible." Speaking on Brexit, the British official noted that top priority would be given to concluding an FTA with the EU and that such an accord would ensure that UK-based Japanese companies would be able to maintain the same level of access to the European continent as they enjoy now.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team