Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, May 7, 2019
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Morning news

NHK and NTV led with reports on the first business day of the Reiwa Era. Fuji TV reported on several instances of foreigners selling Japanese flags in Tokyo around the time of the era change. TV Asahi aired a follow-up report on the emergency landing of an airliner in Moscow on Sunday. TBS gave top coverage to the birth of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's son last night.

No papers were published this morning due to a press holiday.


President Trump, PM Abe speak by phone

All TV networks reported on Monday on a teleconference between President Trump and Prime Minister Abe earlier in the evening. According to the networks, Abe told reporters that he and the President exchanged views on the North Korea situation and closely coordinated on a response to its launch of projectiles on May 4. He said they agreed that experts of both countries will cooperate closely in analyzing information on the projectiles. NHK showed Abe saying that Japan and the U.S. are in complete agreement on working toward the early implementation of the agreement on the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula signed at the U.S.-DPRK summit last year. He stressed that he and the President are in "complete agreement" on "all aspects" of how to respond to North Korea going forward. The TV networks reported that Abe reiterated his readiness to meet with the DPRK's Kim Jong Un "unconditionally" over the abduction issue and stated that he is determined not to miss any opportunity to resolve it. NHK reported that the two leaders also agreed on the full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the need for close Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation to resolve the abduction, nuclear, and missile issues. Abe reportedly told President Trump that President Putin and President Xi hold share their view on North Korea's denuclearization and will play a "positive role" in addressing this issue. According to the network, President Trump was pleased with Abe's remarks. NHK also reported online that the two leaders agreed to step up the U.S.-Japan trade talks and exchanged views on the U.S.-China trade friction.

DPRK launches short-range projectiles

All Sunday papers reported that North Korea fired several short-range projectiles on Saturday, each traveling 70 to 200 km northeast before landing in the Sea of Japan. Security analysts reportedly suspect that the projectiles were fired from a multiple launch rocket system. According to the dailies, the provocation was apparently intended to warn the U.S. and tighten discipline within the DPRK Army amid stalled bilateral denuclearization talks. The papers conjectured that Chairman Kim is trying to test the U.S. leader's patience, speculating that the North might gradually step up its provocations to gauge what it will take to trigger a strong reaction from the U.S. However, outlets wrote that the launch of short-range missiles does not violate UN Security Council resolutions, surmising that the Kim regime is not willing to break off dialogue with the Trump administration at least for the time being.

Secretary of State Pompeo held a teleconference with Foreign Minister Kono on Saturday to discuss the situation, during which they reportedly agreed on close bilateral cooperation as well as trilateral cooperation with South Korea. The GOJ reportedly reacted calmly to the launches based on the assessment that they will not have any immediate effect on national security. Defense Minister Iwaya reportedly told the press on Saturday while in Hanoi that his ministry will maintain vigilance against potential future provocations by the North.

In follow-up reports on Monday, all papers spotlighted an announcement made on Sunday by the DPRK state media regarding the launches. The papers highlighted the view held by some defense experts that judging from the images of the projectiles released by the media outlet, they may have been short-range ballistic missiles similar to Russia's Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile, which would constitute a violation of the UN resolutions.

Meanwhile, Monday's Yomiuri took up remarks made on a Sunday talk show by Secretary Pompeo, who said the launches "didn't present a threat to the United States or its allies," or derail the Trump administration's attempts to reach a denuclearization deal with North Korea.

In a related story, Kyodo reported on Saturday that Special Representative for North Korea Biegun will visit Japan on May 7-8 to discuss bilateral efforts to achieve the final and fully-verified denuclearization of North Korea.

Abductees' families meet with USG officials

All dailies reported over the weekend that family members of the Japanese abductees visited Washington and met with National Security Council Senior Asia Director Pottinger and Special Representative for North Korea Biegun. The visitors reportedly conveyed their gratitude for President Trump's bringing up their loved ones during his Hanoi summit with Chairman Kim. They also reportedly asked the senior U.S. officials for their continued support to resolve the issue and requested an opportunity to meet with the President when he visits Tokyo in late May.

PM Abe eager to hold "unconditional" summit with Kim Jong Un

Sankei ran a front-page report on May 2 on its exclusive interview with Prime Minister Abe on the previous day, in which the premier said that he would like to engage in a "candid straight-from-the-shoulder discussion" with the DPRK's Kim Jong Un "without any preconditions" at an early date. The paper suggested that this was an attempt by Abe to move the deadlocked abduction issue forward by sending a strong message to North Korea. Abe also stressed the importance of Japan's taking the initiative in dealing with North Korea while at the same time reiterating the need to cooperate with the international community. He said meeting face-to-face with Kim is the "only way" to "break the wall of mutual distrust." He expressed hope that Kim will act as a leader capable of making "flexible, strategic" decisions on what is best for his country. He was quoted as saying that "to resolve the abduction issue, the two countries must first normalize diplomatic relations based on the Pyongyang Declaration of 2002."

Abe also revealed that during his recent visit to the U.S., in addition to his meeting with President Trump at the White House, he also spent about 50 minutes talking one-on-one with the President on the abduction and other issues during their ride to the golf course. He indicated that he hopes the President will meet with the abductees' families during his visit to Japan starting on May 25.

Sankei also carried a detailed account on May 3 of what Abe said in the interview, saying he reiterated his determination to revise the Constitution and expressed his thoughts on Emperor Naruhito's accession. He also revealed that President Trump explained the details of his meeting with Kim Jong Un in Hanoi and that the President told him he "clearly" conveyed to Kim his thinking on the abduction issue and engaged him in a "serious discussion" on this issue.

Meanwhile, Kyodo reported on Sunday on the disclosure by several GOJ sources that during his Hanoi meeting with President Trump, Chairman Kim reportedly said to the U.S. leader: "I understand that the abduction of Japanese nationals is an outstanding issue between North Korea and Japan. I will meet with Prime Minister Abe eventually." The GOJ reportedly views the alleged remarks as a positive sign since Kim did not repeat the standard refrain that the abduction issue is already settled. According to the sources, the President briefed Abe on Kim's purported statement during a teleconference that was held immediately after the summit.

Report says Suga may attempt to meet with DPRK official while in U.S.

Saturday's Mainichi reported on an article by an ROK media outlet citing a Washington-based diplomatic source as saying that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga may try to meet with a North Korean official when he visits the U.S. from May 9 to 12. However, several GOJ sources reportedly dismissed the possibility of such a meeting.

President Trump unlikely to speak at Japanese parliament

Sunday's Mainichi predicted that President Trump probably will not deliver a speech at the Diet when he visits Japan in late May as a state guest since his schedule is already filled with events, including a summit with Prime Minister Abe and a meeting with the Emperor and the Empress. According to an unnamed GOJ source, the President is attaching more importance to a summit meeting with the premier than to a parliamentary address since he will be able to play up the summit as a diplomatic accomplishment in the run-up to the presidential election campaign.


GOJ hoping to expedite work to reinforce soft seabed off Camp Schwab

In its top item on Monday, Yomiuri asserted that the Abe administration is aiming to shorten by six months to a year the time it will take to complete engineering work to reinforce the soft seabed off Camp Schwab by mobilizing as many workers, engineering platforms, and vessels as possible. The GOJ is reportedly hoping to complete the work in about 32 months instead of 44 months as initially planned. Although the GOJ is expected to draw up a new design for submission to the Okinawa prefectural government in the autumn in order to move forward with the work according to the new schedule, the daily suspected that Governor Tamaki is unlikely to approve such a change. The paper projected that the central government will file a lawsuit if the Okinawa leader rejects the design change.

SDF to station GSDF personnel on MSDF ships to defend remote islands

Saturday's Yomiuri led with a GOJ proposal on stationing 200 to 300 GSDF personnel on three Osumi-class MSDF transport vessels in order to reinforce the defense of remote islands and conduct patrol activities around the Senkakus. The GOJ is reportedly considering deploying personnel from the GSDF's Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, which is responsible for island defense, on the ships as early as next year. The proposed joint operations between the GSDF and the MSDF are intended to raise the SDF's presence in the East China Sea and to enhance deterrence capabilities by demonstrating Japan's will to defend its territory, in the words of an unnamed GOJ source. The daily added that some GOJ officials are concerned that deploying GSDF units on MSDF ships might be provocative and give China an excuse to bolster its naval activities around the disputed outcrops.

Okinawa finds Japan's SOFA inferior to those with European nations

Mainichi reported on Saturday on the results of an Okinawa prefectural government survey on the SOFAs that the U.S. maintains with Italy, Germany, the UK, and Belgium. The survey reportedly found that U.S. military training and operations in Europe are strictly regulated by local laws, marking a sharp contrast to the situation in Japan where the U.S. military is allowed to operate “without restriction.” The daily highlighted remarks made by Foreign Minister Kono in April, in which he voiced doubts about the significance of the Okinawa research by saying: Because the SOFA is only part of an integrated system involving various domestic laws, it is meaningless to pick one and compare it with others.


Senior LDP official visits U.S. to call attention to Japanese investment

Saturday morning's Nikkei published a prominent inside-page story on LDP General Council Chairman Kato's trip to the U.S. during the Golden Week holidays, highlighting his meeting with Kentucky Governor Bevin and tour of a Toyota plant in the state. Pointing out that Governor Bevin is close to President Trump, the daily speculated that the LDP official was keen to attract the attention of the governor and President Trump to corporate Japan's robust investment in America in light of the ongoing bilateral free trade talks in which autos are high on the agenda.

NEC Director Kudlow comments on trade talks with Japan

Sunday's Yomiuri and Mainichi took up press remarks made on Friday by National Economic Council Director Kudlow. He reportedly projected that the U.S. and Japan could conclude a trade deal when President Trump visits Tokyo later this month.


U.S., Japan to promote joint research on artificial intelligence

Saturday's Yomiuri reported from Washington that Education Minister Shibayama and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Droegemeier held talks on Thursday and agreed to strengthen research collaboration on artificial intelligence. They also confirmed closer coordination on the development of quantum computers.

According to the daily, the Japanese official also met with NASA Administrator Bridenstine. During their meeting they reportedly agreed to deepen discussions on bilateral cooperation for the construction of a space station orbiting the moon. The cabinet minister reportedly told the press afterward that the GOJ is prepared to make an official commitment to participate in the U.S.-orchestrated lunar space station initiative later this year.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team