Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, May 28, 2019
The following information reflects the reporting of the cited news media and does not reflect the opinions of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Japan Media Highlights is intended for USG use only and should not be forwarded. Visit the website here. For more information, contact TokyoMATT@state.gov.


Morning news

NHK led with a roundup of the third day of President Trump's visit to Japan yesterday. NTV and TV Asahi gave top coverage to the continuing search for three missing crew members of a cargo ship that sank in waters off Chiba Prefecture on Sunday morning after a collision with another cargo ship. TBS reported on the unseasonal hot weather yesterday, with reports of many people suffering from heatstroke. Fuji TV gave top coverage to a video of a man swinging from a crane for fun posted on social media.

All national dailies gave prominent front- and inside-page coverage to President Trump's activities in Tokyo on Monday.


U.S., Japanese leaders discuss DPRK, Iran, and trade in summit meeting

All national papers gave top coverage to yesterday's summit at the Akasaka Palace between President Trump and Prime Minister Abe, focusing on their agreeing on Iran, North Korea, and bilateral trade. The two leaders reportedly agreed to completely align their policies on the DPRK, with President Trump expressing "full support" for the premier's desire to hold a summit with Chairman Kim without preconditions. On Iran, President Trump reportedly welcomed the prime minister's plan to visit there next month to defuse the escalating tensions by saying at the outset of the summit: "That would be fine. Nobody wants to see terrible things happen." According to an unnamed senior GOJ official cited by Sankei, Abe explained to the President during an informal dinner on Sunday that he was urged by the Iranian foreign minister, who hurriedly came to Tokyo earlier this month, to visit Tehran. In reply, the President reportedly said: "I want you to be there". Shinzo is the only person" qualified to serve as a mediator.

Nikkei wrote that the U.S. and Japan each appear to be playing the role of mediator for the other, explaining that President Trump is doing so to help Abe realize a meeting with Kim Jong Un while Abe intends to assist the President in achieving reconciliation with Tehran.

On the trade front, the prime minister told the press after the summit that he and President Trump reached a consensus for expediting bilateral discussions by lower-ranking officials to conclude quickly a trade liberalization deal that would be "beneficial to both nations." According to the dailies, the President repeatedly voiced a strong desire to produce concrete results soon after Japan's Upper House election in July. He was quoted as saying before the bilateral meeting: "Trade-wise, I think we will be announcing some things, probably in August." He also told the press later: "Just over one week ago, U.S. beef gained full access to Japanese markets for the first time since 2003. We hope to have even more to announce on the trade very, very soon."

Abe eager to use his good offices to defuse tensions over Iran

All national papers reported that President Trump embraced Prime Minister Abe's plan to visit Iran in mid-June, highlighting his remarks ahead of the opening of the bilateral summit: "I know that the prime minister and Japan have a very good relationship with Iran, so we'll see what happens. The prime minister has already spoken to me about that. And I do believe that Iran would like to talk." Asahi claimed that President Trump urged the premier to visit Japan when they held talks in Washington in late April, conjecturing that the U.S. leader may be counting on Abe to open a channel of communication with Tehran so that he can play up that his administration achieved reconciliation with another U.S. adversary in addition to North Korea.

Yomiuri wrote that GOJ officials, who have been involved in coordination between Tokyo and Tehran for the prime minister's Iran trip, breathed a sigh of relief following the remarks, since they were not so sure whether the President would endorse Abe's desire to play the role of mediator. The premier is reportedly keenly interested in serving as an intermediary based on the assessment that his mediation efforts could command strong attention amid the rising global concern about tensions there and ahead of the G20 summit in late June. The papers added, however, that Tokyo and Washington are still at odds over the Iran nuclear agreement.

Abe succeeds in enlisting U.S. backing for his new DPRK approach

All national papers reported that Prime Minister Abe seemed pleased with President Trump's endorsement of his overture for dialogue with the DPRK. When meeting with the families of the Japanese abductees at the Akasaka Palace right after the summit, the President reportedly said: "The United States remains committed to the issue of abductions, which I know is a top priority for Prime Minister Abe". The United States will continue to support Japan's effort" to bring the victims home.

The dailies observed, however, that despite the premier's statement that Japan and the U.S. are "completely on the same page" with regard to North Korea, differences of opinion remain over North Korea's latest provocations. Although PM Abe said Japan takes issue with the DPRK's recent launches of short-range ballistic missiles, which he described as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions, the President told the press: "My people think it could have been a violation, as you know. I view it differently." While also quoting the President as saying: "All I know is that there have been no nuclear tests". There have been no long-range missiles going out," Sankei and Mainichi voiced apprehension that North Korea may take advantage of these remarks to test the President's patience by escalating provocations. According to Mainichi, an unnamed high-ranking Japanese diplomat said: "Although working-level officials of the two governments are completely in sync, the U.S.'s DPRK policy will ultimately be shaped by the President's views."

Asahi added that PM Abe, who recently made a policy turnaround on North Korea, voiced support for the President's conciliatory approach toward Kim Jong Un by telling the press: "President Trump cracked open the shell of mistrust with Chairman Kim Jong Un, pointed to the bright future beyond the denuclearization, and urged North Korea to act. It's a new approach. I commend his new approach."

Emperor, Empress host state dinner for President Trump, First Lady

All TV networks reported on last night's welcome reception hosted by the Emperor and the Empress at the Imperial Palace for President Trump and the First Lady. In his welcome speech, the Emperor touched on the long history of relations between Japan and the Imperial family and the United States. The President thanked the Emperor and the Empress for the honor of being invited as the first state guest in the Reiwa Era and remarked that the relationship nurtured by both countries over the years needs to be preserved and passed on to future generations. The Emperor and the Empress and the President and First Lady moved to another room after dinner for informal talks.


Schism remains over trade even after summit

All national dailies reported on the economic takeaways from the Trump-Abe summit, saying that President Trump is apparently determined to press Japan to open its market to American farmers and producers. As for the President's announcement on a possible trade deal in August, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary (DCCS) Nishimura, who sat in on the bilateral session, reportedly told the press last night that there was no agreement to reach a deal according to such a timeframe. Asahi wrote that from the Japanese viewpoint, bilateral trade negotiations are not close to reaching an accord in the summer. Speculating that President Trump is desperate for a swift accord on agricultural trade with his reelection bid in mind, the daily quoted an unnamed senior GOJ official as saying with regard to the two leaders' planned summit on the margins of the G20 confab in Osaka next month: "Although it is meant to showcase the bilateral political honeymoon, the President may capitalize on it to step up trade pressure."

While quoting the President as saying in the post-summit press conference, "I have nothing to do with TPP". I'm not bound by anything that anybody else signs with respect to the United States," the papers speculated that his remarks showed that Washington is poised to urge Japan to present a deal that offers U.S. farmers and ranchers benefits beyond those under the TPP and the Japan-EU EPA. Concerning this remark of the President's, DCCS Nishimura stressed that a bilateral trade accord will be built upon the Joint Statement that the two leaders released last September which reads in part: "For Japan, with regard to agricultural, forestry, and fishery products, outcomes related to market access as reflected in Japan's previous economic partnership agreements constitute the maximum level."

Mainichi said that as the Trump administration still retains the option of imposing high tariffs on Japanese car imports, the U.S. leader may hint at their imposition in a bid to elicit Japanese concessions. The papers said that as the President is now willing to wait for a trade deal until after the July elections, PM Abe "owes the President one," adding that Tokyo may be put into tighter corner as a result.

Yomiuri added that Japan is closely monitoring U.S.-China trade negotiations, bracing for President Trump's potentially stepping up pressure on Tokyo to produce quick deliverables in the event of a breakdown of the Sino-U.S. trade talks. The GOJ is also concerned that the Japanese economy would be hit hard if Washington goes ahead with the planned fourth round of high tariffs on Chinese imports, the paper said.


Defense Ministry releases results of Aegis Ashore surveys in Yamaguchi, Akita

NHK reported online on Monday afternoon that the Defense Ministry announced earlier in the day that its surveys conducted at the sites selected for the deployment of Aegis Ashore systems in Yamaguchi and Akita have shown that radio waves from Aegis Ashore radars would have no effect on the local residents. However, the ministry reportedly intends to strengthen security measures after deployment to address the local people's concern that these sites may be targeted for attack. State Minister of Defense Harada met with Akita Governor Satake and Mayor Hozumi on Monday to explain the survey results. National dailies also carried reports on Harada's meeting with Satake and Hozumi.

American civilian base worker in Okinawa arrested for causing death of local motorcyclist

NHK's local Okinawa TV station reported on Sunday evening that a car driven by an American civilian worker attached to the U.S. Air Force struck a motorcycle in Chatan, Okinawa, at around 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, causing the death of its rider, a 39-year-old Japanese national. The police arrested the driver on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in death and injury. Asahi and Sankei posted reports on the arrest on their websites on Sunday evening, while Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times ran similar reports in their Monday editions. Fuji TV aired a similar story on Monday morning.

U.S. service member arrested for robbery resulting in bodily injury

Asahi reported today that a USFJ member was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of robbery resulting in bodily injury for refusing to pay his taxi fare and beating up the driver in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. The U.S. soldier allegedly also strangled a female SDF member who happened to be near the scene to the point that she lost consciousness, so the police are considering charging him with attempted murder. Mainichi and NTV ran similar stories.

SDF to beef up transport capacity to Okinawa and neighboring islets

The Saturday evening edition of Yomiuri gave top play to a Defense Ministry's plan to construct in FY2023 three transport ships for the SDF as part of measures to protect the Nansei Islands stretching from southern Kyushu to the nation's westernmost island of Yonaguni. The three vessels, to be operated by a new marine transport unit manned by GSDF and MSDF personnel, are expected to be used for sealifting 5 to 15 tanks that can be offloaded on remote isles. Noting that five more of these vessels will be procured in the future, the article added that the ministry is expected to tap artificial intelligence to build a transportation network for quick delivery of weapons, ammunition, and other military supplies between the mainland and the Nansei Islands.


President Trump's tweet on "July elections" sparks speculation on "double election"

All papers reported that President Trump's tweet posted on Sunday regarding a trade deal with Japan has triggered speculation among Japanese politicians that Prime Minister Abe may have suggested to the President that he may dissolve the Lower House in the near future so as to hold a general election alongside the Upper House race scheduled for July 21. This was because the President used the plural, writing "until after their July elections," when describing the July race for the Upper House.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team