Morning Alert   -   Thursday, January 24, 2019
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Morning news

NHK led with a report on snowstorms in northern Japan. TV Asahi and Fuji TV gave top coverage to a gas explosion in Shinagawa, Tokyo, last night. TBS reported on a nationwide influenza epidemic, with reports of group infections in a number of nursing homes and flu-related accidents. NTV aired a follow-up report on the alleged financial problems of the family of Princess Mako's boyfriend Kei Komuro.

Top stories in national dailies included the Japan-ROK foreign ministerial meeting in Davos (Yomiuri, Sankei), a drop in China's production of high-tech products (Nikkei), and follow-up reports on the data scandal involving the labor ministry (Asahi, Mainichi).


Japan, ROK divided over low-altitude flights, requisitioned workers, fire-control radar

All national dailies reported on bilateral talks held between Foreign Minister Kono and his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha in Davos on Wednesday. The papers noted that this was the first face-to-face meeting between the two ministers since bilateral relations between Japan and South Korea chilled over the issues of the South Korean court order to a Japanese firm to pay compensation to requisitioned workers and the alleged fire-control radar incident. The papers wrote that although Kono and Kang confirmed the need to closely communicate with each other to develop bilateral relations, there is still a gap between them because the ROK official reiterated Seoul's fresh allegation that an MSDF vessel deliberately flew at a low altitude near South Korean naval vessels multiple times in recent days. Nikkei wrote that there is no sign of them being able to mend their ties. However, the papers added that the two foreign ministers confirmed their nations' bilateral and trilateral cooperation with the United States in view of the possibility of a second U.S.-DPRK summit being held in February or later.

South Korea accuses Japan of low-altitude flights near ROK naval vessels

All national dailies wrote that South Korea's Ministry of Defense released a statement on Wednesday accusing Japan of "deliberately flying a patrol plane around 60 to 70 meters above South Korean naval vessels" in the East China Sea at around 2 p.m. on Wednesday, insisting that this was a "clear provocation" against South Korea. The ROK government also alleged that similar low-altitude flights were made by Japanese aircraft near South Korean vessels on Jan. 18 and 22. However, Defense Minister Iwaya immediately dismissed South Korea's allegations by saying that the MSDF patrol plane in question maintained an altitude of at least 150 meters and distance of 500 meters from the ROK vessel and was flying in accordance with relevant domestic and international laws.

The papers wrote that at the outset of a bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Kono in Davos on Wednesday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha reiterated Seoul's allegation by saying it is "very regrettable" that there have been multiple low-altitude flights by Japanese aircraft. Kono reportedly dismissed South Korea's allegation by saying that Seoul's announcement was "regrettable."

PM Abe plans to speak by phone with President Trump ahead of second U.S.-DPRK summit

NHK reported online this morning that during a meeting with European and U.S. media outlets yesterday in Davos, Switzerland, Prime Minister Abe was quoted as saying: "Japan and the U.S. adopt the same position on the complete denuclearization of North Korea." He also said: "Considering that the Diet is convening next week and President Trump is very busy, I don't think a summit meeting will be possible, so I would like to speak with him by phone," thus indicating his intention to hold a teleconference with President Trump before the President holds his second summit with DPRK leader Kim Jong Un in late February.

Abe calls for rebuilding WTO in Davos speech

All national dailies reported on a speech delivered by Prime Minister Abe at an annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday. The papers wrote that Abe stressed the need for rebuilding the WTO and expressed Japan's readiness to take the lead in establishing international rules for digital data transfer by saying that Japan is determined to preserve and committed to enhancing the free, open, and rules-based international order. He also stated that the trade system should be "fair, transparent, and effective in such areas as intellectual property right protection, e-commerce, and government procurement." The papers speculated that Abe made this statement with China in mind. He also said that it is necessary for Japan, the United States, and Europe to work together on reforming the WTO, especially with regard to rules on government subsidies.

Pope Francis plans to visit Japan in November

Asahi, Yomiuri, and Sankei wrote that according to Italian media reports, Pope Francis said on Wednesday that he plans to visit Japan in November. The papers wrote that if the trip is realized, it will be the first papal visit to Japan since Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1981. The papers also wrote that the Pope is hoping to travel to Hiroshima and Nagasaki during his stay in Japan.


Third choice being considered for Okinawa referendum to encourage participation

NHK reported online on Wednesday evening that Okinawa Governor Tamaki and members of the ruling parties in the prefectural assembly decided during a meeting earlier in the day to consider revising the relevant ordinances to give voters the choice of voting for "neither," in addition to "yes" or "no," in the referendum on Henoko relocation set to take place on Feb. 24. This is said to be an attempt to encourage the participation of Ginowan and four other cities that have opted to boycott the referendum on the grounds that "yes" and "no" alone cannot accurately reflect the popular will. Assembly Chairman Shinzato will convene a meeting of ruling and opposition party representatives on Jan. 24 to coordinate on ordinance revisions. Mayor Shimoji of Miyakojima, one of the boycotting cities, was quoted as saying that "ideally, [the ordinances] should be passed by a unanimous vote in the prefectural assembly," adding that he won't be able to make a decision until he sees the voting results. TBS aired a similar report.

Japan, Australia agree to conclude visiting forces agreement at early date

Asahi wrote that Defense Minister Iwaya and his Australian counterpart Payne agreed on Wednesday in Tokyo that Japan and Australia will seek to conclude a visiting forces agreement at an early date to facilitate joint training between the SDF and the Australian military.


Japan logs first goods trade deficit in three years

All national dailies wrote that the Ministry of Finance released data showing that Japan logged a goods trade deficit of 1.20 trillion yen ($11 billion) in 2018, the first deficit in three years. Imports rose 9.7% from a year earlier to 82.69 trillion yen ($754 billion), outpacing a 4.1% increase in exports to 81.49 trillion yen ($743 billion). Noting that exports to China in December sank 7% from a year earlier, the papers speculated that the slowdown in the Chinese economy amid the ongoing trade friction contributed to the decline in Japan's exports to the nation. With regard to trade with the United States, Japan's surplus declined by 8.1% to 6.45 trillion yen ($58 billion) amid falling auto and auto parts exports and a rise in oil and aircraft imports.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team