Morning Alert   -   Monday, May 20, 2019
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Morning news

NHK led with a report on the forecast for torrential rain in Miyazaki Prefecture and other areas of Kyushu today, prompting the Meteorological Agency to call for evacuation due to the risk of landslides. NTV and TV Asahi reported on the rescue of 314 stranded people on Yakushima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture, amid the heaviest rainfall in 50 years since Saturday. TBS reported on the release from the hospital on Saturday of the 87-year-old driver who was injured in a traffic accident last month in Tokyo that killed a child and her mother. Fuji TV led with security footage showing a man stealing a wallet at a bowling alley in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, on Saturday.

Top stories in national dailies included a Defense Ministry plan to deploy MSDF retirees for logistical missions on account of a shortage of personnel (Yomiuri), a GOJ plan to support developing nations' efforts to reduce plastic waste (Sankei), a survey showing that half of major Japanese companies allow their employees to take side jobs (Nikkei), a survey showing that 70% of regional banks in Japan saw net profit declines in FY 2018 (Asahi), and a worldwide campaign against climate change led by a Swedish teen activist (Mainichi).


President Trump, PM Abe unlikely to issue joint statement at talks in late May

Kyodo News filed a report on Saturday saying that Japan and the United States are unlikely to issue a joint statement when their leaders meet in Tokyo later this month, apparently to avoid exposing their differing views on bilateral trade and North Korea issues, Japanese government sources said Saturday. According to the sources, President Trump and PM Abe are facing difficulty in striking a bilateral trade agreement that Washington views as a means to reduce the hefty U.S. trade deficit with Japan. The report said that the longtime security allies have also found themselves not on the same page in dealing with Pyongyang following its recent launch of short-range ballistic missiles, with Japan protesting the move as a violation of UN resolutions and President Trump reportedly saying he does not regard it as a "breach of trust" by North Korea.

Kyodo said that when President Obama visited Japan in 2014 as a state guest, the two governments crafted a joint statement that touched on, among other issues, the U.S. defense commitment extending to the Senkaku Islands. Instead of issuing such a document this time, the Japanese government reportedly plans to showcase the "strong relationship of trust" between President Trump and PM Abe through a joint press conference after their talks and by having the two watch sumo bouts at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan, the sources said. Abe apparently hopes to win support from President Trump in efforts to settle the issue of past abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea and tell him that he is seeking to seal a trade deal that will benefit both sides, they said.

Kyodo quoted a Japanese Foreign Ministry source as saying that the government plans to explain to the public that there is no need to prepare a new statement as the two countries issued one following their summit in February 2017 in Washington.

President Trump, PM Abe to agree on U.S.-Japan cooperation in lunar exploration

Monday's Nikkei front-paged a report claiming that President Trump and Prime Minister Abe are expected to sign an agreement on U.S.-Japan cooperation in lunar exploration and other space-related projects when they meet in Tokyo on May 27. The paper wrote that Japan will begin preparations for joining the U.S. project to put a manned space station into lunar orbit to use as a base for missions to the moon and strengthen cooperation with the United States in monitoring space debris and other objects in space. Saying that this will be the first time for the U.S. and Japanese leaders to conclude an agreement on lunar exploration and monitoring space debris, the paper conjectured that the United States and Japan will strengthen their security cooperation by continuing to take the lead in the use of outer space in view of rapid technological development by China and other nations.

Abe reiterates readiness to meet Kim Jong Un unconditionally

All national dailies reported on Monday on a gathering held in Tokyo on Sunday to support family members of Japanese abductees at which Prime Minister Abe reiterated his hope to hold unconditional and candid talks with DPRK leader Kim Jong Un. Asahi and Sankei wrote that the premier stated at the gathering that Chairman Kim must now understand that the United States attaches importance to the abduction issue because President Trump brought it up in his talks with Kim in February. Sankei wrote that Takuya Yokota, the brother of abductee Megumi Yokota, told the gathering that he confirmed at his meetings with USG officials in Washington earlier this month that the U.S. government is determined to resolve the issue.

In a related story, Yomiuri reported on the results of its nationwide public opinion poll conducted on May 17-19, in which 52% of the respondents supported Abe's stance of seeking talks with Kim Jong Un without preconditions, while 33% did not.

Abe meets senior Chinese official in preparation for Xi's planned visit to Japan

Saturday morning's Yomiuri, Nikkei, and Sankei wrote that Prime Minister Abe held talks with Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, at the Kantei on Friday. The two officials discussed preparations for a planned visit to Japan by Chinese President Xi Jinping to participate in the G20 summit in Osaka in June. The premier reportedly told the Chinese official that he is hoping to utilize Xi's visit to Japan as an opportunity to further develop the bilateral ties between Japan and China and create a new era for the two nations. Yang reportedly said in reply that he is confident that the ties between the two nations will develop in a healthy and stable manner with the guidance of the two leaders, who share important values.

Kono discusses infrastructure development with Central Asian nations

Sunday's Yomiuri wrote that Foreign Minister Kono held a meeting with his central Asian counterparts from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan on Saturday in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, and signed a joint statement pledging Japan's support for developing "high-quality infrastructure" in Central Asia. The paper wrote that Japan is planning to increase its involvement in the region through cooperation on infrastructure development and other efforts in view of China's growing influence there through its "Belt and Road" initiative.


Japan, EU react to President Trump's proclamation on auto imports posing security threat

Saturday evening's Nikkei front-paged a New York-datelined report claiming that criticism is spreading in Japanese and European industrial circles against President Trump's proclamation on Friday that imported autos and auto parts pose a threat to the national security of the United States. The paper claimed that although the Trump administration has decided to delay a decision on additional tariffs for up to 180 days, there is still a risk of auto trade friction escalating between the United States and Japan and the EU.

The paper wrote that Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. criticized the proclamation in a statement on Friday by calling it "a major setback for American consumers, workers, and the auto industry." The statement went on to say, "Today's proclamation sends a message to Toyota that our investments are not welcomed, and the contributions from each of our employees across America are not valued." Nikkei wrote that it is unusual for Toyota to criticize the U.S. government.

The paper also wrote that the U.S. auto industry has been opposed to additional tariffs out of concern that the cost of procuring parts could rise and trade partners might take retaliatory measures. Nikkei added that although the U.S. auto industry was apparently relieved by the USG's decision to delay additional tariffs, it remains wary of future developments. According to the paper, the American Automotive Policy Council issued a statement saying that higher auto tariffs could slow the U.S. economy and hamper employment in the United States. The paper quoted Cody Lusk, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association, as saying that the "spurious claim" that imported autos and auto parts pose a national security threat will create uncertainty for the 9,600 import car dealers in the United States and the 578,000 Americans they employ.

Sunday's Nikkei, Yomiuri, Asahi, and Sankei ran follow-up stories, with Nikkei speculating that the strong tone of criticism in Toyota's statement demonstrates the company's strong sense of crisis. Sankei wrote that U.S. Chamber of Commerce Vice President Bradley said in a statement: "The importation of passenger cars and auto parts is not a threat to national security. This is a misuse of the administration's trade authority." Yomiuri wrote that Japan and the EU are strongly concerned about the steps to be taken by the United States in the future following President Trump's announcement on delaying imposing additional tariffs on imported vehicles and parts from these trade partners. Quoting the President as stating in the proclamation, "Domestic conditions of competition must be improved by reducing imports," the paper interpreted this remark as an expression of willingness to impose import restrictions on autos and auto parts, noting that he instructed the USTR to pursue negotiations with Japan and the EU. The paper wrote that the GOJ has been maintaining the position that it cannot accept quantitative restrictions.

Concerning the U.S.-Japan trade talks, Asahi conjectured that the United States is hoping to reach an agreement on agricultural products swiftly in response to calls from U.S. farmers, speculating, however, that President Trump could still make tough requests of Japan in the future by indicating an intention to impose additional tariffs if the two nations fail to achieve progress in their trade talks.

Huawei CEO keen on strengthening cooperation with Japan

NTV reported on Sunday evening on an exclusive interview with Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei at the company's entertainment facility for foreign dignitaries in Shenzhen, China, which replicates a traditional street scene in Kyoto. Ren criticized the U.S. ban on Huawei products for violating the principle of the rule of law. He hinted at the possibility of Huawei withdrawing from the U.S. market, stating that the U.S. is free not to sell products to Huawei and Huawei is free not to buy from the U.S. He also pointed out that the U.S. telecom industry will suffer as a result of the ban on Huawei products. The CEO indicated his desire to strengthen cooperation with Japan. He denied the existence of a "backdoor" used by Huawei to steal confidential information, saying his company is willing to sign an anti-espionage agreement with the Japanese government. Fuji TV carried a similar interview with Ren on Sunday morning.

Japan lifts age restrictions on beef imports from U.S.

Saturday morning's Nikkei wrote that on Friday the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare lifted Japan's age restrictions on beef imports from the United States by removing a ban on beef from cattle older than 30 months for the first time since the measures were imposed in 2003 to counter BSE. The paper wrote that the health ministry also lifted similar restrictions on beef from Canada and Ireland. The paper noted that the food safety commission of the Cabinet Office reached a conclusion in January that the risk to human health would be negligible even if the restrictions were removed. The paper wrote that concern is growing among American ranchers that their products are becoming less competitive in the Japanese market because Japan has been incrementally lowering tariffs on beef imports following the effectuation of the TPP and the Japan-EU EAP, while tariffs on its beef imports from the United States have remained at high levels because the United States has left the TPP.


GOJ finalizes plan to deploy Aegis Ashore in Akita, Yamaguchi

Monday's Yomiuri wrote that the Ministry of Defense has made a final decision to deploy the Aegis Ashore land-based missile interceptor systems at GSDF training areas in Akita and Yamaguchi Prefectures. The paper wrote that the ministry is set to start explaining the plan to the local communities in mid-May with the goal of beginning to operate the system around fiscal 2025. Noting that Japan will have to make a huge outlay for the procurement and operation of the expensive missile interceptor systems, the paper speculated that the ministry will seek cost reductions in future negotiations with the U.S. government and Lockheed Martin.

U.S. agrees to modify U.S. forces' training area to increase Narita Airport slots

Saturday morning's Yomiuri wrote that the governments of the United States and Japan agreed at a Joint Committee meeting on Friday that the United States will make changes to the location and shape of a U.S. military training area in waters off the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture this summer. The paper wrote that the changes will make it possible to increase slots for commercial flights at Narita Airport ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. According to the Ministry of Defense, the adjustments will be made to the Charlie water training area, over which the passage of commercial flights is restricted because U.S. warships use the area for live-firing drills and other training. The paper wrote that the adjustments are expected to add 40,000 slots sometime after late March in 2020 to the annual arrival and departure slots at Narita Airport, which currently stands at 300,000. Saturday morning's Mainichi ran a similar report.

U.S. may start moving Okinawa-based Marines to Guam in January 2025

Saturday morning's Asahi wrote that Guam Legislature Speaker Tina Rose Muna Barnes told the paper on May 16 that the U.S. Marine Corps informed the legislature in February that they are planning to start transferring Okinawa-based Marines to Guam between January and March 2025 and complete the transfer in about 18 months. The paper wrote that under the plan, the Marines are planning to transfer about 5,000 Marines and 2,400 dependents to Guam. About 1,700 of the 5,000 troops will reportedly be permanently based on Guam and the remainder will be rotated every six months.

GOJ to provide subsidies to households near Camp Schwab

Sunday's Sankei led with a report claiming that it learned from an informed source on Saturday that the GOJ is conducting coordination with the Nago municipal government to provide subsidies to individual households in the three districts near Camp Schwab to help them improve their facilities for water supply and sewage treatment. The paper wrote that this will be the first time for the GOJ to provide subsidies directly to individual households. Under the plan, the construction of necessary facilities at about 1,700 households in the Henoko, Toyohara, and Kushi districts will be covered by the GOJ's base-related funds for Nago.

GOJ to establish dialogue with private sector on development of defense equipment

Monday's Nikkei wrote that the GOJ is planning by the end of fiscal 2019 or later to set up a new framework for dialogue with the private sector on the development and procurement of defense equipment. The paper speculated the move is intended to strengthen Japan's defense capabilities in new security dimensions through enhanced coordination with the private sector.

Diet enacts law banning drone flights over U.S. bases

Saturday morning's Yomiuri, Nikkei, and Sankei wrote that legislation severely restricting drone flights over U.S. military and SDF facilities and venues for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2019 Rugby World Cup was enacted on Friday, explaining that the legislation is an amendment to the existing law that bans drone flights over key facilities such as the Kantei and the Imperial Palace due to terrorism concerns. The paper wrote that in response to concerns expressed by opposition parties and media outlets that the amendment could infringe on the people's right to know and disrupt news-gathering activities, Diet panels discussing the legislation adopted a supplementary resolution requesting the government ensure press freedom and the people's right to know.


Suga hints at possibility of "double election" in summer

All national dailies wrote on Saturday morning that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga hinted on Friday at the possibility of Prime Minister Abe dissolving the Lower House to hold a snap election to coincide with the Upper House election in the summer if opposition parties submit a no-confidence motion against his cabinet. According to the papers, when asked by reporters if a no-confidence resolution would be a sufficient reason to dissolve the Lower House, he replied, "Of course it would." Asahi noted that in the past, when asked about the possibility of a Lower House dissolution or snap election, Suga had always said that such a decision was the prerogative of the prime minister. While speculating that Suga was probably just trying to warn the opposition camp against introducing a no-confidence motion, the papers wrote that the fact that a key cabinet member made such a remark has caused wide political repercussions. According to the dailies, Suga's comment has triggered talk in political circles about a "double election" still being possible this summer by holding a snap Lower House election in conjunction with the already scheduled Upper House election. Asahi wrote that a double election could be held sometime between June 30 and Aug. 25.

However, Sunday papers wrote that Chairman of the LDP's Election Strategy Committee Amari apparently tried to downplay the remarks by Suga by saying that although the idea of holding a "double election" is possible in theory, Suga probably believes that there is little possibility of the prime minister dissolving the Lower House.


New York mayor asks Tokyo governor to support ban on Japan's ivory trade

Sunday's Mainichi ran a Kyodo report from New York saying that the Humane Society of the United States announced on Friday that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has sent a letter to Tokyo Governor Koike asking her to support efforts to end ivory trade in Japan before the 2020 Summer Olympics. According to the group, 37 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Sugiyama earlier this month asking the GOJ to join the effort to close domestic ivory markets. The paper wrote that international pressure on Japan regarding ivory trade has been increasing ahead of the Olympics.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team