Morning Alert   -   Wednesday, May 8, 2019
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Morning news

President Trump's announcement on raising tariffs on Chinese imports and Prime Minister Abe's open call for an "unconditional meeting" with DPRK leader Kim Jong Un were the two major stories in the national dailies.

NHK led with a report that Iran will announce today its retaliation to U.S. sanctions and America's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement. Iran has reportedly indicated that its retaliation may include military action and the resumption of part of its nuclear program but that it will continue to uphold the agreement. A former leader of Iran's Revolutionary Guard interviewed by NHK reportedly said that Iran or its allies may launch military attacks and that the U.S. should remove its sanctions if it wants to avoid conflict. NTV and TV Asahi aired reports on the first business day of the Reiwa Era yesterday. TBS reported that faculty members and employees of Nihon University announced yesterday that they will sue the board of directors for damaging the university's reputation over a scandal involving the school's rugby team last year. Fuji TV gave top coverage to the arrest of a man yesterday for driving a stolen vehicle following a car chase with the police.


U.S., Japan making all-out effort to locate crashed SDF fighter off Aomori

Asahi ran a prominent inside-page story on joint efforts by the SDF and the U.S. military to locate the wreckage of a Japanese F-35A that crashed off the coast of Aomori Prefecture a month ago. The two militaries have reportedly mobilized various platforms, including a MEXT research ship and a Guam-based B-52, to pinpoint and retrieve the plane out of concern that its onboard state-of-the-art technology will be stolen by the Chinese or the Russians. According to an unnamed SDF official, secret information about the fighter could be divulged even by analyzing part of the aircraft's fuselage. A GOJ source said the fact that the U.S. military has made such strenuous efforts to locate a missing ASDF fighter shows that it is a "treasure trove" of advanced aviation technology. Defense Minister Iwaya reportedly disclosed on Friday that although parts of the cockpit and flight recorder of the stealth fighter have been retrieved, they do not contain the memory chips that recorded the flight data ahead of the crash.

The paper noted that depending on the cause of the fatal accident, Japan may be forced to conduct a review of its plan to procure a total of 147 F-35s, speculating that it may have been pilot error as a result of spatial disorientation, an aircraft defect, or an error in the assembly process. Pointing out that the ASDF's F-35s have been grounded since the accident, the daily projected that it may be a while before their operations are resumed because the investigation is likely to become prolonged.

Mageshima owner discontinues discussions with GOJ on sale of island

Asahi reported that the owner of Mageshima in Kagoshima notified the Defense Ministry in writing yesterday that it will discontinue negotiations on the proposed sale of the island, citing the ministry's alleged unwillingness to hold communications with it. "We've decided to give up on selling the island and instead pursue an alternative option," said the president of the company that owns the island, who took the post in February by ousting his predecessor. The former president had concluded a tentative agreement with the ministry in January on selling the isle at a price of 16 billion yen ($150 million). The daily added that as a result, the outlook for Japan's plan to use the uninhabited islet as a platform for FCLP training by the U.S. military has gone back to square one.

Former Okinawa area coordinator proposed dual use of FRF off Camp Schwab

Sankei took up the disclosure by several GOJ sources that while in office the former Okinawa Area Coordinator, Lt. Gen. Nicholson, submitted a proposal to allow commercial planes to use the Futenma Replacement Facility to be built off Camp Schwab. He also reportedly called for the joint use of the Marine base with the SDF semi-permanently, although the Japanese side reportedly turned down the suggestion on joint use by calling it "premature." The daily added that as the dual use of the FRF would require a longer runway entailing a major design change, Governor Tamaki would be unlikely to endorse such a proposal.


U.S., ROK "hesitant" to call DPRK projectiles "missiles"

On North Korea's launch of short-range projectiles over the weekend, Asahi and Sankei wrote that although most security analysts suspect they were short-range ballistic missiles probably modeled after Russia's Iskander mobile missile, U.S. and ROK officials have not outwardly criticized the North from concern that the Kim regime might walk away from dialogue in response. According to the papers, a short-range missile launch would be a clear violation of relevant UN resolutions. The dailies highlighted Secretary Pompeo's remarks on TV and President Trump's tweet expressing willingness to continue discussions with the DPRK, with Asahi conjecturing that the top U.S. officials are concerned that criticizing Pyongyang for breaching the UN resolutions would be tantamount to casting doubt on the Trump administration's "diplomatic accomplishment" of improving ties with the Kim regime.

In a related development, Sankei wrote that in a meeting with LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Kishida yesterday, Special Representative for North Korea Biegun reportedly described the launch as a "reflection of impatience" on the part of the North Koreans.

Meanwhile, Yomiuri and Sankei wrote that senior defense officials of the U.S., Japan, and South Korea will gather in Seoul on Thursday to discuss issues of mutual concern, including the latest launch of projectiles by North Korea.

Abe voices readiness to hold summit with Chairman Kim "unconditionally"

All papers reported that Prime Minister Abe on Tuesday conveyed a conciliatory message to North Korea by telling the press that he is eager to meet with Chairman Kim "without any preconditions." The prime minister also reportedly expressed this view to President Trump when they spoke by phone on Monday evening. Yomiuri wrote that Abe has reversed his policy on North Korea by shelving his previous insistence that dialogue with the DPRK must be premised upon the settlement of the abduction issue. Noting that the premier has apparently decided that top-level diplomacy will be necessary to achieve a breakthrough in stalled behind-the-scenes negotiations involving working-level officials, the daily surmised that Abe opted to take the initiative in the hope that Pyongyang will consider engaging in dialogue with Japan following the "breakdown" of the Hanoi summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim. The paper added that even if the DPRK leader does decide to heed Abe's call for an unconditional meeting, he might simply reiterate the regime's standard refrain that the abduction issue is already resolved.

Tokyo Shimbun highlighted remarks made by a DPRK source, who allegedly stressed that Japan must first lift the ban on travel to Japan by North Koreans if it wants to arrange a summit between Abe and Chairman Kim.

CCS Suga to depart for U.S. tomorrow

Sankei published a prominent inside-page article on Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga's plan to visit the U.S. starting tomorrow, saying that while in Washington he will be meeting with Secretary of State Pompeo, Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan, and Vice President Pence. Claiming that the U.S. is apparently prepared to roll out the red carpet for Suga, who plans to make his "diplomatic debut" with the upcoming U.S. tour, the daily speculated that although his clout has grown rapidly on the domestic political front, his foreign policy expertise is still untested. The paper projected that Suga will hold in-depth discussions with the U.S. officials on such key issues as North Korea's denuclearization, the abductions, and Okinawa military bases. Mainichi ran a similar story.

ROK parliamentary leader's envoy to visit Japan

Sankei claimed that South Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon's special envoy is likely to visit Japan next week to meet with senior LDP officials to clarify the politician's repeated remarks calling for the Emperor to apologize to former comfort women. The daily added that the emissary is seeking meetings with Prime Minister Abe and other senior GOJ officials.

Over ten nations endorse Japan's position on WTO ruling on Japanese food ban

Nikkei wrote that according to a MOFA source, more than ten nations, including the U.S, Canada, and Saudi Arabia, have endorsed Japan's position expressing "extreme regret" at the recent WTO ruling in favor of South Korea's import ban on Japanese seafood.


Escalated tension with China may effect U.S. trade negotiations with Japan

On President Trump's recent decision to impose higher tariffs on Chinese imports, Nikkei conjectured that since the U.S. leader appears to be extremely eager to negotiate agreements with trading partners quickly in the run-up to the presidential election next year, he may step up pressure on Japan if trade talks with the Chinese become prolonged. The daily claimed that up until now the President has been receptive to the premier's desire to put off reaching a trade deal with Washington until after the Upper House election in July, quoting him as allegedly saying during the April 26 meeting at the White House with Abe and other Japanese officials: "We don't have to be so impatient at least for now. I don't want us to be in a disadvantageous position compared with our foreign competitors, but the Japanese side has its own circumstances."

Mainichi carried a similar story, underscoring that President Trump's announcement on imposing a tariff of 25% on Chinese products represents his tough approach to trade negotiations.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team