Morning Alert   -   Friday, April 26, 2019
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Morning news

NHK, most commercial networks, Asahi, and Sankei led with reports that former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn was released on bail yesterday. Other front-page included the Putin-Kim summit in Vladivostok and an update on the Sri Lanka attacks.


Ambassador Hagerty comments on U.S.-Japan trade talks

NHK reported online this morning that ahead of a summit between President Trump and Prime Minister Abe slated for Saturday, Ambassador Hagerty delivered a speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington. The network said that referring to Japan's tariff cuts on imports from nations based on the TPP and the Japan-EU EPA, the Ambassador reportedly said that the United States is lagging behind other countries in trade negotiations with Japan, and that American farmers and businesses are at a disadvantage. The Ambassador reportedly added that since the United States and Japan are the closest allies in the world, their economic relations should not be inferior to those of other nations. The paper claimed that the Ambassador expressed strong expectations that progress will be made and that the U.S.-Japan summit on April 27 and President Trump's planned visit to Japan next month will lead to an agreement in the U.S.-Japan trade talks at an early date.

In a related development, Kyodo News filed a Washington-datelined report saying that Ambassador Hagerty told the press on Thursday he hopes for "rapid progress" in the negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement. The Ambassador was quoted as saying: "My hope is that the negotiators will bring things to closure rather quickly". I look forward to seeing really rapid progress." Kyodo said the Ambassador made the remarks a day before President Trump and Prime Minister Abe are expected to focus on trade and North Korea at a White House meeting. The wire service added that USTR Lighthizer and Economic Revitalization Minister Motegi held talks in the U.S. capital on Thursday to lay the groundwork for the U.S.-Japan summit.

Japan aims to seal basic agreement on trade talks with U.S. after Upper House election

According to Nikkei, the Abe administration is aiming to wait until after the Upper House election scheduled for late July to conclude a basic agreement on trade liberalization talks with the U.S. so as to minimize the negotiations' impact on the LDP's performance in the key race. The paper speculated that the Japanese side is envisaging setting a "rough direction" toward a conclusion when Prime Minister Abe holds planned talks with President Trump in June on the sidelines of the G20 summit by establishing that the talks will cover autos, agriculture, and digital trade. Abe is reportedly set to propose a timeframe for a conclusion, possibly by the end of this year, so as to give consideration to the Trump administration's desire to conclude a free trade deal quickly. The daily wrote that after a deal is reached on the three main areas, discussions will then focus on other fields, including investment, suspecting that such negotiations probably will not begin until after the U.S. presidential election in 2020.

Gap remains between U.S, Japan over currency clause

NHK reported online on a meeting in Washington on Thursday between Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Finance Minister Aso, noting that the officials apparently discussed the U.S. desire to include a currency stipulation in a bilateral free trade agreement. Although Aso reportedly insisted that the issue of currency should be dealt with separately from the trade talks, they apparently agreed to continue discussions on the subject.


CCS Suga to visit U.S. next month

Asahi carried a prominent inside-page article on press remarks by Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga yesterday regarding his planned trip to the U.S. from May 9 through 12. The government spokesman reportedly stressed that the abduction issue and base issues in Okinawa will be the primary topics of his discussions with Vice President Pence and other senior U.S. officials. Noting that the chief cabinet secretary customarily does not travel abroad since he or she is expected to take the lead in crisis management at the Kantei, the daily pointed out that Suga's U.S. trip is highly unusual. As he has been in the limelight following his announcement of the new era name of Reiwa on April 1, he is rapidly gaining political clout within the Abe administration. The daily said some LDP lawmakers believe Suga's U.S. trip perhaps indicates his desire to run in the LDP presidential election to succeed Prime Minister Abe. The paper added that Suga's diplomatic skills are still untested, with his only notable diplomatic activities to date being his regular meetings with former Ambassador Kennedy and Ambassador Hagerty.

Nikkei also reported on Suga's U.S. trip, pointing out that in addition to visiting the U.S. capital, he is expected to attend a GOJ-sponsored symposium on the abductions that will be held at the UN headquarters in New York.

Russia, North Korea confirm solidarity

All national dailies gave extensive coverage to the summit between Russian President Putin and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un in Vladivostok on Thursday, saying that the two officials agreed that a regime guarantee for North Korea is imperative to achieve denuclearization. Meeting the press afterward, President Putin reportedly mentioned the possibility of jumpstarting the Six-Party Talks, which have been suspended since 2008. The papers conjectured that Chairman Kim will try to entice President Trump into holding a third summit with him by obtaining the support of Russia and China. Nikkei wrote that the U.S. has no plans to make concessions to North Korea, projecting that during his summit meeting with Prime Minister Abe in Washington on Friday, President Trump will probably reaffirm the need to maintain pressure on the Kim regime.

Meanwhile, Yomiuri reported on the GOJ reaction to the Russia-DPRK summit, saying that the government is wary of the resumption of the Six-Party Talks based on the assessment that U.S.-DPRK negotiations will be the most effective diplomatic framework for achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The paper quoted an unnamed senior Japanese diplomat as saying: "Russia is afraid to take a backseat in the U.S.-orchestrated denuclearization talks". The Putin-Kim meeting was diplomatic grandstanding, so it will have no effect on denuclearization.

Chinese vessel suspected of involvement in ship-to-ship transfer with DPRK

Asahi and Sankei reported that on Thursday MOFA disclosed two recent cases of apparent ship-to-ship transfer of petroleum involving DPRK tankers in the East China Sea, noting that a Chinese vessel is suspected of participating in one of the transfers.

Abe holds talks with group of East European leaders

All national dailies reported that Prime Minister Abe met with the leaders of Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary in Bratislava on Thursday, saying that he asked for their cooperation in resolving the abduction issue since they have diplomatic relations with North Korea. The leaders reportedly agreed to enhance collaboration to establish international rules on the digital economy and data transfer. As the East European countries are very interested in China's Belt and Road initiative, the dailies wrote that Japan is keen to prevent them from being lured over to the Chinese camp. This was the second summit in six months between Abe and the leaders of the so-called Visegrád Group.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team