Morning Alert   -   Thursday, May 23, 2019
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Morning news

NHK led with a report citing Treasury Secretary Mnuchin's testimony at a House of Representatives committee meeting yesterday. He reportedly said China is "taking a big step backward" in its trade talks with the U.S., but he is still hopeful that the two countries can get back to the negotiating table. TBS gave top coverage to the trial of a man and his mother for the alleged murder of his wife last year. NTV, TV Asahi, and Fuji TV reported on the arrest of a former member of the band KAT-TUN and his girlfriend for possession of marijuana.

National dailies gave prominent front-page coverage to the growing boycott of Huawei's smartphones and other IT products among telecom carriers around the world.


Abe "insisted" on hosting President Trump as first state guest in Reiwa Era

Mainichi gave prominent inside-page play to President Trump's Japan visit that begins on Saturday, underscoring that Prime Minister Abe was extremely keen to invite the U.S. leader to Japan as the first state guest in the Reiwa Era in a bid to elicit U.S. support for resolving outstanding decades-long diplomatic issues facing Japan such as North Korea's abduction of Japanese nationals and the Northern Territories dispute with Russia. The premier reportedly instructed his deputies to come up with unique ideas for entertaining the President during his visit in the hope of pleasing him and calling global attention to the ironclad bilateral alliance.

While noting that Abe has been successful in forging strong personal bonds with the President and using them effectively to advance Japan's national interests, the daily claimed that their political honeymoon may not last since the U.S. leader may choose to step up the pressure on Japan to obtain better deals on trade and other matters as "candidate Trump" in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

U.S. helicopters conduct "rehearsal" over Tokyo in preparation for presidential visit

Asahi wrote in its city section that five U.S. military helicopters landed at and took off from Hardy Barracks in central Tokyo on Wednesday afternoon, speculating that they were conducting a rehearsal ahead of President Trump's upcoming Japan trip. After taking off from Hardy Barracks, the five choppers reportedly headed to the golf course in Chiba where the two leaders are expected to play on Sunday. One accompanying color photo showed a Marine helicopter landing at Hardy Barracks, while another showed four others parked at a golf course.

In a related story, Mainichi wrote that the GOJ decided on Wednesday to prohibit drone flights over Haneda Airport, Mobara Country Club in Chiba, the Palace Hotel Tokyo, and other locations where President Trump is expected to visit during his stay. It added that Prime Minister Abe plans to host a private dinner for the President at a Japanese-style barbecue restaurant in Roppongi on Sunday.

U.S., Japan to confirm cooperation in space

Asahi wrote that during the upcoming summit in Tokyo next week, Prime Minister Abe and President Trump are likely to agree on enhanced cooperation for space exploration, noting that Tokyo plans to support America's goal of sending astronauts back to the moon. According to a GOJ source, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga proposed that Japan make further contributions to the U.S. space program when he met with Vice President Pence in Washington on May 10. Tokyo is also expected to increase its cooperation for the construction of a space station for lunar exploration.

Seoul mulling launch of fund to compensate requisitioned workers

Yomiuri took up the disclosure by a source on Japan-ROK relations that the Moon administration is looking into the idea of establishing a fund to compensate Korean citizens requisitioned by Japanese companies to work during the colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. According to the article, the launch of the fund is premised upon Japanese firms' compliance with Korean court rulings ordering them to compensate the victims. Koreans who would receive compensation from the envisaged fund would be individuals who have not participated in the ongoing civil suits. The papers speculated that the GOJ might not endorse the alleged proposal on the grounds that the issue was settled more than half a century ago.


U.S., Japan discuss autos, farm tariffs ahead of summit

Wednesday evening's Nikkei, Asahi, and Mainichi reported on trade talks held between working-level officials of the U.S. and Japan in Washington on Tuesday. The papers wrote that ahead of the U.S.-Japan summit slated for May 27, the two governments tried to sort out the points of contention on tariffs on autos and agricultural products. Deputy USTR Gerrish and Assistant USTR for Japan Beeman reportedly participated in the talks. According to Japan's TPP policy coordinator Shibuya, Deputy USTR Gerrish said that while a gap remains between the U.S. and Japan, the meeting was still meaningful in that each side learned where the other side stands. The two sides reportedly did not discuss proposed U.S. tariffs on auto imports on the grounds that they are "politically sensitive."

The dailies published follow-up stories this morning, conjecturing that while Japan's top priority is for the Trump administration to abandon the idea of restricting Japanese auto imports, the U.S. appears extremely eager to seal a deal on agricultural trade quickly. Yomiuri claimed that during the Washington session, the two sides agreed to arrange a meeting or teleconference between Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Motegi and USTR Lighthizer ahead of President Trump's visit to Japan. The two officials will also probably hold talks prior to the G20 summit in Osaka in late June. While quoting an unnamed senior GOJ official as saying that U.S.-Japan trade negotiations have arrived at an "impasse," Sankei projected that neither side will be able to make concessions readily ahead of their major elections at home.

Japanese mobile carriers postpone sales of new Huawei smartphones

Wednesday evening's Yomiuri led with a report saying that KDDI and SoftBank, Japan's two major mobile carriers, said on Wednesday that they will put off sales of Huawei's new smartphone models for their mobile services that were initially scheduled to begin later this month. The paper wrote that NTT Docomo, another major mobile carrier, is also planning to stop taking orders for the new Huawei smartphone models, originally scheduled for the summer. KDDI and SoftBank said that they made the decision because it remains unclear whether Google will continue providing its services, including the Android operating system, to Huawei following the Commerce Department's announcement last week that it will prohibit U.S. firms from doing business with the Chinese tech giant. The daily wrote that the trade friction between the U.S. and China has begun to impact Japanese consumers.

Other national dailies ran similar stories, spotlighting Panasonic's decision to suspend some business transactions with Huawei. Asahi noted that amid escalating Sino-U.S. trade tensions, some Japanese companies have begun relocating their factories from China to elsewhere in Asia. The paper explained that tit-for-tat sanctions between the world's two largest economies have made it difficult for Japanese companies to maintain their supply chains centered on manufacturing platforms on the Chinese mainland, projecting that the fourth round of U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, if enforced as planned, would prompt more Japanese firms to "depart from China." Sankei wrote that the U.S. sanctions have apparently undercut Huawei's growing presence in the IT sector.

Japan calls for WTO reforms

All papers reported from Paris that Foreign Minister Kono met with WTO Director General Azevêdo on Wednesday and called for reform of the trade body's dispute settlement mechanism in view of Japan's recent defeat in a WTO suit against South Korea's ban on Japanese seafood. Calling the WTO decision "extremely regrettable," the top Japanese diplomat stressed that an overhaul of the dispute settlement mechanism is imperative to restore trust in the WTO. Kono also reportedly held talks with USTR Lighthizer in the French capital on the same day, during which they agreed on mutual coordination for promoting WTO reforms. The top U.S. trade official reportedly said to the Japanese minister: "We share Japan's view on what needs to be addressed [when pursuing WTO reforms]. We don't want Japan to become a victim of problems associated with the WTO's appellate body."


Japan running into difficulties determining cause of F-35 crash

Mainichi published a prominent inside-page article on the crash of an ASDF F-35A in waters off Aomori in early April, saying that the fuselage of the fighter and its pilot have not yet been retrieved and that Japan's probe into the cause of the accident has run into difficulties since the stealth aircraft is viewed as a "treasure trove of military secrets." Noting that the GOJ plans to introduce close to 135 F-35s in response to President Trump's strong call for Japan to "buy American," the daily suspected that MOD investigations into what an unnamed ministry official called a "politicaly sensitive aircraft" may not be able to arrive at a conclusion quickly. An unnamed senior MOD official projected that the ongoing ban on F-35 flights will be lifted eventually pending the completion of measures to ensure pilot safety. The daily added that it is uncertain whether the U.S. will be willing to share the aircraft's secrets when Japan moves ahead with the investigation.

GOJ to inform Chiba city of the provisional deployment of Japanese Ospreys

Yomiuri wrote that the Defense Ministry plans to notify the Kisarazu municipal government tomorrow of its plan to deploy GSDF MV-22s at a local SDF camp on a temporary basis starting next March.

Japan to strengthen security cooperation with Singapore

Yomiuri wrote that Defense Minister Iwaya held talks with his Singaporean counterpart in Tokyo yesterday, during which they agreed on mutual defense cooperation by promoting port visits by their warships. The two officials also affirmed coordination to crack down on North Korea's attempts at sea to circumvent UN Security Council trade sanctions.


Suspect admits to additional illumination of U.S. military planes with laser

Asahi and Sankei wrote that the man arrested earlier this week for shining a green laser at a U.S. military plane that was conducting a training flight near Yokota AB in February has confessed that he had been performing such illegal acts since three years ago. About 40 similar incidents have occurred in the vicinity of the U.S. installation in the past 15 months and the suspect is allegedly being held accountable for at least a dozen of them.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team