Morning Alert   -   Monday, May 13, 2019
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Morning news

NHK led with a report on the U.S.'s plan to impose higher tariffs on all imports from China today. TV Asahi gave top coverage to a report that Abdul Hakim Sani Brown ran the 100 meter dash in 9.99 seconds at a regional U.S. collegiate athletics competition on Saturday, becoming the second Japanese sprinter to break the 10-second barrier. TBS gave top coverage to a report on two men who were caught on security footage writing graffiti on shop doors and windows in Tokyo on May 5. NTV aired a report on the unusually warm weather yesterday and the forecast for today. Fuji TV reported on a viral tweet by a woman who said that actor Takashi Sorimachi helped her when she fainted on May 9.

Major front-page stories in national dailies included a steady increase in the volume of low-level radioactive water at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the relatively poor business performance by Japanese firms as a result of the economic slowdown in China, and South Korea's alleged use of underwater drones to carry out maritime research in the vicinity of the Liancourt Rocks in the Sea of Japan.


Sumo Association confirms President Trump to present trophy at Summer Tournament

Kyodo News filed a report on Sunday evening citing sources at the Japan Sumo Association confirming that President Trump will attend the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan later this month and present a newly made trophy to the winner. The sources revealed that the President is likely to watch the final three bouts on the closing day of the meet on May 26. The association is reportedly making arrangements for him to watch the bouts from a specially situated dining table near the raised ring at the center of the hall while also taking security into consideration. Asahi carried a similar report on Sunday, saying that the new trophy will be called the "Trump Cup."

Kono comments on latest DPRK projectile launch

Nikkei front-paged a report on Saturday on Foreign Minister Kono's comments on North Korea's latest projectile launch in light of both the U.S. and Japanese governments determining that the projectiles were ballistic missiles. Kono was quoted as telling reporters in Moscow on Friday that the launch was a "clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions." He said that Japan will closely cooperate with the U.S. and the ROK to make sure that the international community continues to fully implement the resolutions.

Meanwhile, Mainichi reported on Saturday that the Japanese government's policy of seeking an "unconditional" summit with the DPRK remains unchanged.

U.S. rolls out red carpet for CCS Suga on his "diplomatic debut"

On Sunday all national dailies filed roundups of Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga's visit to the U.S., which was highlighted by meetings with Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan, Secretary of State Pompeo, and Vice President Pence. The papers observed that in what they referred to as his "no-risk courtesy call diplomacy," Suga limited himself to seeking U.S. cooperation in dealing with North Korea and support for an early solution to the abduction issue and confirming the Henoko relocation plan, without achieving any notable results.

Asahi said that the Japanese Foreign Ministry's arranging meetings for Suga with high-level officials even though he was practically unknown to the White House showed that he is emerging as a possible candidate for the next prime minister, according to an unnamed U.S. government official. Furthermore, the members of his entourage, including his interpreter, were practically the same as those who accompany Prime Minister Abe. A source traveling with Suga expressed the opinion that a crucial point of his trip was whether he would be able to meet with Vice President Pence, "who is regarded as the next U.S. president after President Trump." A Japanese government official was quoted as commenting that "the point was not what results he could produce but whether he would be able to make his presence felt in the U.S. government."

Japan-Russia foreign ministerial fails to narrow gap on territorial issue

All national dailies reported on Saturday that Japan and Russia remained wide apart on the Northern Territories issue at a bilateral foreign ministerial on Friday. Foreign Minister Lavrov reportedly insisted that Japan should accept the results of World War II and rejected Japan's position that the islands were occupied illegally by the Soviet Union after the war. However, Foreign Minister Kono and Lavrov agreed to step up discussions on joint economic activities on the islands, with a bureau-chief-level meeting scheduled for May 21 to discuss a framework for the movement of people between the two countries. They also agreed to hold a 2+2 meeting of foreign and defense ministers in Tokyo in late May.

Abe to visit China later this year

This morning Mainichi front-paged a story saying that coordination is underway between Japan and China for Prime Minister Abe to visit China in August or December to attend an annual trilateral summit also involving South Korea. While the Chinese have reportedly proposed that a three-way meeting be held in either in August or December, the Japanese side is rather negative about the idea of holding it in the summer due to the prime minister's planned participation in the G7 summit in France and the TICAD (Tokyo International Conference of Africa's Development) in Yokohama. The Chinese have also reportedly stressed that the Japanese leader should visit China ahead of President Xi's trip to Japan as a state guest. The paper noted that Abe is committed to attending the trilateral summit irrespective of the timing in order to strengthen bilateral relations, projecting that the two governments will discuss details of the two leaders' reciprocal visits when the Chinese Communist Party's top official responsible for foreign affairs Yang Jiechi visits Japan later this week.

Incoming Chinese envoy voices support for Japan's DPRK policy

All national dailies reported on Saturday on a news conference held by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou for Japanese media outlets in Beijing on Friday. Kong, who is also China's special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, will take up post of ambassador to Japan later this month. Kong reportedly stressed the need for Japan and North Korea to hold dialogue. He voiced support for Prime Minister Abe's proposal to meet with Kim Jong Un unconditionally and his expectation for Japan to play a constructive political role in resolving Korean Peninsula issues. He also said that the DPRK's recent projectile launches "have not reversed the direction" of a thaw on the Peninsula. On Friday Kyodo News and Jiji Press filed dispatches on the news conference.

ROK employs drones to conduct oceanic surveys near Liancourt Rocks

Sankei wrote in its lead item today that South Korea has been using underwater drones to carry out maritime surveys around Takeshima since 2016, noting that the GOJ is alarmed by Seoul's accelerated efforts to collect maritime data apparently intended to defend the disputed outcrops and tap underwater resources in the vicinity.


U.S. raises tariffs on all Chinese products due to deadlock in trade talks

All national dailies ran prominent reports on Sunday saying that on account of the failure of the two-day U.S.-China ministerial trade talks in Washington to reach an agreement, the U.S. invoked additional tariffs on imports from China on Friday and plans to further raise tariffs on all remaining Chinese products on Monday. The papers voiced concern that this will not only seriously hurt U.S. consumers but may also plunge Asian supply chains into chaos.

Yomiuri reported on Saturday morning that Trade Minister Seko commented on Friday that he is still hoping for progress in the U.S.-China trade talks. With regard to concerns that the impasse in the U.S.-China talks might cause the U.S. to press for an early trade agreement with Japan, Economic Revitalization Minister Motegi emphasized that the two sets of talks are different in nature and substance and that the talks with Japan will not be affected.

USTR Lighthizer, Minister Motegi speak by phone on U.S.-Japan trade talks

All national dailies reported on Sunday that USTR Lighthizer and Economic Revitalization Minister Motegi held informal talks over the phone on Friday and Saturday (Japan time). They agreed to have working-level officials arrange the schedule and agenda for the bilateral trade talks ahead of the U.S.-Japan summit in late May and to speak by phone again after the preparations are complete. Mainichi said the two officials talked over the phone for about one hour.

Nikkei reported on Saturday that when the two officials spoke on Friday, Lighthizer reportedly asked for the bilateral trade talks to be accelerated and the two officials confirmed the negotiation schedule, agreeing to continue coordination ahead of the U.S.-Japan summit meetings to be held in late May and late June. Nikkei said a Japanese government source conjectured that the USTR took the time to speak with Motegi in the midst of tense negotiations with China on Friday because President Trump is keen to conclude a bilateral trade deal at an early date in order to put pressure on China and Europe in their trade talks.

G20 agriculture chiefs discuss use of artificial intelligence, robots to increase productivity

All national dailies reported today on a two-day G20 agricultural ministerial that ended in Niigata on Sunday. The participants released a communique emphasizing the importance of using artificial intelligence and robotic technology to increase agricultural productivity amid the looming shortage of food around the world. They also reportedly pledged mutual efforts to reduce food waste by improving food distribution networks and address climate change, which has a significant impact on agricultural production.

Japan's Agriculture Minister Yoshikawa reportedly met with his U.S. counterpart Perdue ahead of the start of the G20 confab on Saturday. The U.S. official sought the early opening of the Japanese market to U.S. farm products through the bilateral trade talks since American farmers have been disadvantaged by the effectuation of the TPP and the Japan-EU EPA, while Yoshikawa asked for the lifting of bans on products from Fukushima and insisted that tariffs on agricultural products cannot be lowered beyond the level set under the TPP and other existing trade agreements.

Secretary Perdue speaks on trade with Japan

On Saturday NHK, Kyodo, and Jiji, and on Sunday Mainichi highlighted Agriculture Secretary Perdue's comments on trade with Japan. According to NHK, Secretary Perdue said that Japan should increase its imports of U.S. farm products in the ongoing bilateral trade talks in order to reduce the U.S.'s huge trade deficit. He said that U.S. consumers are good customers for Japanese products and play a role in enriching the Japanese economy, so the U.S. is also asking for "proper treatment" from Japan. He indicated that in light of the close economic and security relations between the two countries, he hopes for a deal in the trade talks. Kyodo quoted the secretary as saying that the good personal relationship between President Trump and Prime Minister Abe will help achieve economic outcomes that are "mutually beneficial."

Monday's Nikkei also published an interview with Secretary Perdue, in which he reportedly voiced hope for a swift agricultural trade agreement with Japan. The USDA chief also commented on the trade friction between the U.S. and China, reportedly explaining that the Trump administration is considering announcing a plan in the near future for the U.S. government to purchase additional products from American farmers in the event that China hikes duties on U.S. food items in retaliation for the latest imposition of high tariffs on Chinese imports. The Secretary underscored that Washington is committed to minimizing the losses to be borne by American farmers as a result of the escalated trade conflict with Beijing.


Ambassador Hagerty discusses U.S.-Japan trade talks on news show

During a report on the U.S.-Japan trade talks on Friday evening, TV Tokyo's World Business Satellite program aired an exclusive interview with Ambassador Hagerty held at his residence. The program noted that President Trump said during his summit meeting with Prime Minister Abe on April 26 that the two countries might sign a trade agreement when he visits Japan later this month, and this has been perceived in Japan as part of the President's tough negotiating strategy. However, the Ambassador was shown telling his two interviewers that the President is actually being more patient than he had expected. When asked when he expects the two countries to reach a basic trade agreement, the Ambassador said "yesterday." He explained that the U.S.'s goal is to reach an agreement "as soon as is practically possible" because since the two countries started their trade talks, Japan has signed multilateral trade agreements such as the TPP and the Japan-EU EPA and these have put American farmers at a relative disadvantage. The Ambassador said that correcting this situation is an urgent matter in order to enable American businesses and farmers to compete at parity or under better terms than other countries.

The Ambassador also suggested that rather than the U.S. raise tariffs or impose restrictions on Japanese autos a better solution would be for Japanese automakers to invest in the U.S. and increase local production. He confirmed that as long as the two countries continue to negotiate "in good faith," no additional tariffs will be imposed on Japanese auto exports, but said that the U.S. does not want to see a worsening of its trade deficit with Japan while the trade talks are still going on.

Following the interview, the program's commentator Takita explained that the U.S.-Japan trade talks are very different from the U.S.-China talks in that the latter are a battle for hegemony while based on his conversation with the Ambassador, the former are the "reconfirmation" of a situation where the bilateral relationship has never been better. He said he got the feeling that a lot of progress has been made in bilateral coordination at all levels, so he is optimistic about the outlook for the trade talks. Takita also stated that he got the strong impression that the Ambassador is very supportive of a Japan-DPRK summit to discuss the abduction and other issues.


Japan still unable to jointly develop and export weapons

Nikkei reported on Sunday that five years after Japan relaxed its three principles on arms exports so that it would supposedly be able to participate in joint development of weapons and export Japanese defense equipment, Japan has yet to undertake any projects on either front. Japan has been unable to participate in the U.S.-led development of F-35A fighters, which it plans to procure in bulk, because the development started before the policy change. Furthermore, Japan's attempts to export submarines, aircraft, and flying boats have all failed. In light of U.S. concerns about the leakage of military secrets, especially to China, which are hindering joint development, the Defense Ministry will require defense contractors to adopt the U.S. Defense Department's cybersecurity standards from FY2020.

Japan establishes terror intelligence team for Europe

Mainichi front-paged a story on the recent launch by the Japanese government of a taskforce charged with gathering information on terrorism in Europe, saying that corresponding teams responsible for Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa have already been in operation for the past several years. The European team was reportedly added to the Counter Terrorism Unit – Japan (CTUJ) at the Kantei in response to a recent surge in terror incidents on the European continent.


Public support for Abe increases

Monday's Nikkei front-paged the results of its latest public opinion survey that put support for the Abe cabinet at 55%, up 7 points from a month ago, and nonsupport at 35%, down 7 points.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team