Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, May 21, 2019
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Morning news

NHK, NTV, TV Asahi, and TBS led with reports on heavy rain in eastern Japan this morning. Fuji TV led with a story on a video posted online by a former employee of Mister Donut showing improper behavior in the kitchen.

Major front-page items in national dailies included GDP data pointing to unexpected growth of the Japanese economy, a likely surge in premiums for non-life insurance policies due to frequent natural disasters, growing deficits in national health insurance accounts managed by major municipalities, and the results of surveys on the citizen judge system that started in Japan ten years ago.


Japan to roll out red carpet for President Trump

Nikkei published a prominent inside-page story on President Trump's trip to Japan starting on Saturday, saying that the GOJ has been making unprecedented preparations for hosting the first state guest in the Reiwa Era since Prime Minister Abe views the U.S. leader's visit as a golden opportunity to call global attention to the ironclad bilateral alliance. Pointing out that the President is expected to visit a sumo stadium, golf course, and MSDF base in addition to holding a bilateral summit and having an audience with the Emperor and Empress, the daily wrote that the Abe administration is set to accord the highest degree of hospitality to President Trump in the belief that Japan's diplomatic presence has risen in the international community due to the strong bonds between the two officials. Pointing out that the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif hastily came to Tokyo last week for talks with PM Abe and Foreign Minister Kono probably in the hope that the GOJ will be able to mediate between Tehran and Washington, the article speculated that the top Iranian diplomat, who was on an Asian trip, chose to visit Japan ahead of China perhaps with the upcoming Trump-Abe summit in mind.

In a related development, NHK reported online today that Foreign Minister Kono and Secretary of State Pompeo held a 20-minute teleconference on Monday evening in which they confirmed that the two sides will continue to coordinate on various policies in order to make President Trump's visit to Japan a success.

Meanwhile, Sankei and Mainichi took up remarks made to senior LDP officials on Monday by PM Abe, who said when he and President Trump visit Ryogoku Kokugikan together to watch sumo on May 26, the U.S. leader plans to present a "U.S. presidential cup" to the winner of the tournament. Speaking on the bilateral summit to be held on the next day, Abe said: "I would like to confirm and highlight the unity of the bilateral alliance."

Japan asks ROK to hold discussions on dispute over wartime requisitioned workers

All papers reported on a MOFA announcement on Monday that it officially asked the South Korean government earlier in the day to accept a Japanese request for the launch of a three-member arbitration panel including a member from a third country to iron out bilateral differences over the South Korean Supreme Court rulings ordering Japanese firms to pay compensation to Korean citizens requisitioned to work during the colonial rule of the peninsula. The request, which was based on the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claim, was conveyed by Vice Foreign Minister Akiba to South Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam yesterday. Foreign Minister Kono reportedly justified the request by telling the Diet on Monday: "We have been extremely keen to see South Korea address the issue. However, South Korean Premier Li, who is responsible for the matter, has said that there is a limit to what the Moon administration can do." Nikkei said Tokyo chose to take a different path to achieve a breakthrough by involving a third party in the bilateral impasse, while Mainichi conjectured that the Abe administration is taking a hard line toward Seoul based on the assessment that this will please conservative voters ahead of the Upper House election.

Because the launch of such a committee is not legally binding, the papers believe that Seoul will not heed the Japanese request. The ROK Foreign Ministry reportedly commented on Japan's request by saying: "We will look into it carefully while taking into account various elements." According to Asahi, a South Korean diplomatic source said that if the ROK agreed to the Japanese request, bilateral relations would "get out of control" due to public reaction. Yomiuri speculated that the Moon administration will continue to treat the matter with benign neglect in the belief that the friction over requisitioned workers is a civilian dispute between the South Korean victims and the Japanese enterprises involved. Sankei speculated that although the South Korean leader has voiced hope for holding talks with Prime Minister Abe when he visits Osaka next month to attend the G20 confab, Abe probably will not agree to hold such a summit unless Seoul takes tangible steps to resolve the dispute.

Japan-China summit to be held in Osaka

Yomiuri reported that coordination is underway between Japan and China for Prime Minister Abe and President Xi to hold talks on the margins of the G20 conference in Osaka in late June, noting that although the two governments at one point considered organizing a summit in Tokyo, the idea was nixed since the Chinese leader will not visit Japan as a state guest this time. According to Yomiuri, no joint document will be released upon conclusion of the Osaka session


Motegi, USTR Lighthizer to hold talks before Abe-Trump summit

In a dispatch filed early Tuesday morning, Kyodo News cited unnamed Japanese government sources as saying that Economic Revitalization Minister Motegi and USTR Lighthizer will hold a ministerial meeting to discuss tariffs on agricultural and industrial products before President Trump's summit with Prime Minister Abe on May 27. These sources also said that bilateral working-level talks will take place in Washington before the ministerial. Kyodo further reported that the sources stated that a trade deal is unlikely during the presidential visit because there remain points of disagreement between the two sides and so no joint statement will be issued after the summit.

TV Tokyo reported this morning that it has learned that Lighthizer is due to arrive in Tokyo on May 24.

Data shows continued growth of Japanese economy

All national dailies gave prominent play to GDP data released yesterday by the Cabinet Office showing that the Japanese economy grew at an annualized rate of 2.1% in the first quarter of this year. They underscored that the figure may be somewhat misleading since it reflects a plunge in imports. Japanese imports reportedly fell faster than exports, which means that net exports technically fueled the growth in the economy by 0.4 points. While pointing out that corporate capital investment and consumer spending were not so robust, the articles noted that various figures in the GDP data probably represent the weakening of domestic demand due in part to the economic slowdown in China triggered by the "trade war" with the U.S. Japanese business leaders and economists are reportedly becoming increasingly bearish about Japan's economic prospects in anticipation of the escalating Sino-U.S. trade friction.

U.S. airlines to be given additional slots at Haneda

Yomiuri reported that the Land and Transport Ministry on Monday unveiled a draft plan for new landing slots for international flights at Haneda Airport, explaining that Delta, United, American, and Hawaiian Airlines may be allowed to operate extra flights between Japan and a total of 10 U.S. locations, including Seattle, Detroit, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Honolulu. A final decision will be made by taking into account the four U.S. carriers' views.


First-ever quadrilateral naval drills held between Japan, U.S., France, Australia

Sankei wrote that an MSDF destroyer is currently carrying out joint training with its counterparts from the U.S, France, and Australia in the Indian Ocean, saying that the first-ever quadrilateral naval exercise is apparently intended to hold China's maritime advancement in the South China Sea in check. A total of 10 warships, including a French aircraft carrier and an Australian submarine, are conducting anti-submarine warfare and various other drills. An unnamed senior Japanese Defense Ministry official said that the French Navy's engagement in the Indo-Pacific region is very significant.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team