Morning Alert   -   Monday, June 3, 2019
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Morning news

NHK led with a follow-up report on the mass stabbing incident in Kawasaki last week. TBS gave top coverage to an accident involving an automated train on the Yokohama Seaside Line. TV Asahi reported on former Vice Agriculture Minister Kumazawa's fatal stabbing of his son on Saturday, while NTV reported on the stabbing of a man in his 70s by his grandson in Tokyo yesterday. Fuji TV gave top coverage to dash cam footage showing two cars driving on the sidewalk in Tokyo on May 26.

Major front-page items in national dailies included the growing popularity of mobile banking, major Japanese companies' eagerness to hire digital savvy college graduates, and the Kantei's alleged failure to produce the minutes of meetings between Prime Minister Abe and senior government officials.


Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan rolls out Indo-Pacific strategy in Singapore

The Saturday evening editions of the national dailies reported on a speech that Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan gave during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Saturday, highlighting his remark apparently made in reference to China that actors who seek to undermine the rules-based international order pose the greatest long-term threat to countries in the Indo-Pacific region. He also reportedly warned: "Behavior that erodes other nations' sovereignty and sows distrust of China's intentions must end." While reiterating the Trump administration's commitment to achieving an open and free Indo-Pacific region, the Secretary also reportedly stressed that U.S. allies and friends must increase their defense contributions since Washington has already borne enormous costs for ensuring regional security.

Acting Secretary Shanahan reportedly defended the Trump administration's policy of excluding Huawei products from the 5G market on the grounds that the security of next-generation, high-speed telecommunications networks involving the Chinese tech giant cannot be guaranteed due to its close connections with the Chinese government.

On Sunday the national dailies published their takes on Shanahan's speech. Noting that the Chinese defense minister criticized Washington's security posture toward Taiwan at the same security conference, Nikkei wrote that neither the U.S. nor China intend to abandon their quest for military hegemony especially in view of the prolonged bilateral trade conflict. Yomiuri wrote that the Trump administration is extremely alarmed by China's relentless arms buildup and maritime advancement. The paper cited an unnamed senior Pentagon official as saying that China's militarization of the South China Sea has already reached the point of no return, and claimed that Washington is prepared to apply pressure on China for years to come in coordination with regional powers so as to prevent it from further expanding its sphere of influence.

On the other hand, Asahi said Shanahan's speech was more moderate in criticizing China than the remarks given by his predecessor Mattis at the same venue a year ago. The daily speculated that Shanahan used softer rhetoric than Mattis did in view of growing concern among some Asian powers about the escalating Sino-U.S. trade friction possibly spilling over into the security arena. The paper said that although Shanahan may have elected to take a conciliatory line for now, the prospects for U.S.-China relations remain uncertain, adding that improvement depends on whether President Trump will meet with President Xi on the margins of the G20 summit in Osaka.

The dailies also focused on Defense Minister Iwaya's remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue, during which he welcomed Shanahan's pledge of a lasting U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The Japanese minister emphasized that U.S. presence is indispensable to ensuring stability in Northeast Asia. Mainichi wrote on Sunday that although Iwaya backed Shanahan's criticism of China, the Japanese government needs to conduct balanced diplomacy toward Beijing amid the growing momentum for bilateral reconciliation, as evidenced by President Xi's planned visit to Osaka in late June and Defense Minister Iwaya's trip to China scheduled for later this year.

Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan holds talks with regional partners

On Monday the national papers gave prominent coverage to a trilateral defense ministerial meeting between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea convened in Singapore on Sunday, noting that although the three nations agreed to maintain economic sanctions on North Korea to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, they reportedly did not mention "pressure" against it in a joint statement released afterward perhaps out of deference to the Moon administration's conciliatory line toward its northern neighbor. Acting Secretary Shanahan, Defense Minister Iwaya, and Defense Minister Jeong reportedly forged a consensus on promoting trilateral defense cooperation through greater intelligence sharing, policy consultations, and joint military training. The Japanese official reportedly told the press after the meeting: "All three of us were on the same wavelength. We had meaningful discussions."

Yomiuri and Nikkei observed that although the three partners confirmed close mutual coordination on North Korea, Japan and South Korea apparently had different perceptions of the short-range missiles that the Kim regime launched in early May. Iwaya expressed regret over the launches by calling them a violation of relevant UN resolutions, but the South Korean minister said Seoul is still investigating the launches to determine their exact nature. Secretary Shanahan reportedly did not make substantive remarks on the subject in the trilateral meeting perhaps out of deference to President Trump, who apparently has not taken issue with the latest launches.

Mainichi and Nikkei also reported on a trilateral session that Shanahan held with his Japanese and Australian counterparts on Saturday, noting that the three ministers agreed to formulate common guidelines on naval security, international terrorism, and defense in cyberspace and outer space. They also reportedly agreed on greater coordination on North Korea's denuclearization.

Informal Japan, South Korea defense ministerial held in Singapore

On Sunday the national dailies wrote from Singapore that Defense Minister Iwaya held informal talks with his ROK counterpart Jeong on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, saying that this was the first session between the two since the radar illumination incident took place last December. Although Iwaya asked that the ROK military take measures to prevent a recurrence, the South Korean minister reportedly dismissed the request by saying no such incident occurred in the first place. Iwaya told the press afterward that although the two sides remain at odds over the incident, they chose to hold the meeting to promote future-oriented defense cooperation amid North Korea's nuclear and missile development.

Mainichi wrote on Monday that the Japanese and ROK defense authorities made efforts to patch up the bilateral relations that were strained over the radar illumination incident by putting the issue on hold in part out of consideration for the U.S.'s call for quick rapprochement between its two key allies. The daily quoted Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan as saying at the beginning of the trilateral ministerial session: "I am pleased that the U.S., Japan, and South Korea have a shared vision of making the Indo-Pacific region free and open. The U.S. will continue this trilateral mechanism and strengthen defense cooperation." Yomiuri claimed that South Korea had pleaded with Japan to hold an informal meeting between Iwaya and Jeong on the sidelines of the Shangri-La confab because President Trump allegedly urged President Moon during their Washington summit in April to rectify Seoul's ties with Tokyo. The daily asserted that the Moon administration desperately needs Washington's support in advancing its signature policy of promoting inter-Korean reconciliation.

Japanese defense minister to visit China this year

All Sunday national papers reported on a Japan-China defense ministerial meeting convened in Singapore on Saturday, saying that Defense Minister Iwaya and his Chinese counterpart Wei agreed to arrange a trip to Beijing by the Japanese minister later this year. This will be the first trip to China by the top Japanese defense official since March 2009. The two ministers reportedly reached a consensus on deepening bilateral defense exchanges at high levels, including reciprocal visits by the top SDF and PLA generals. They also reportedly confirmed coordination on North Korea's denuclearization, and Iwaya reportedly conveyed concern about China's maritime advancement in the South and East China Seas.

Sunday's Sankei took a highly critical view of Iwaya's meetings with his Chinese and ROK counterparts, arguing that the Japanese official failed to take a tough stance on China's repeated intrusions into territorial waters around the Senkakus and the radar illumination incident. The paper claimed that Iwaya's "appeasement" could not only trigger distrust of Japan among other nations but also undermine the morale of SDF personnel.


Abe likely to meet with Iran's supreme leader

Sunday's Mainichi front-paged the disclosure by a GOJ source that when Prime Minister Abe visits Tehran in mid-June, he is likely to hold talks with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The prime minister has reportedly decided that meeting with Khamenei will be indispensable to broker peace between the U.S. and Iran since the supreme leader has the ultimate say in the country's politics and foreign policy. Abe is expected to meet with President Rouhani on June 12, followed by a meeting with Khamenei on the next day. The daily added, however, that Iran's supreme leader is not taking a conciliatory line toward the U.S., quoting him as saying last month: "Dialogue with the United States is harmful." The GOJ reportedly believes that foreign policy moderate Rouhani might not be able to contain anti-American conservatives.

North Korea calls PM Abe's proposal for unconditional meeting with Kim "insolent"

NHK reported this morning that North Korea issued a statement on relations with Japan through its state-run media on Sunday evening. The statement criticized Prime Minister Abe by name, claiming that his proposal to hold a summit meeting with its leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions is insolent since Japan continues to maintain a hostile policy toward the DPRK. The statement reiterated that Japan needs to "make a decision to atone for all its past sins and start a new page in history." TV Asahi carried a similar report, citing Kyodo as saying that this was the first time North Korea has reacted to Abe's proposal.

Japan, Russia highly unlikely to conclude peace treaty in near future

All papers reported on Saturday on a Japan-Russia foreign ministerial meeting held in Tokyo on Friday, saying that Foreign Minister Kono and his counterpart Lavrov agreed to arrange a summit between Prime Minister Abe and President Putin in Osaka on June 29 on the margins of the G20 conference. However, the papers expressed the view that Japan's goal of sealing a basic accord on a bilateral peace treaty during the summit has now become even more elusive since the two top diplomats reportedly remained sharply at odds over the Northern Territories. Kono reportedly dismissed Lavrov's call for Tokyo to acknowledge Moscow's sovereignty over the four contested islands. They also reportedly failed to make any meaningful progress on the proposed joint economic activities in the disputed territories.

Noting that Japan had long insisted on the simultaneous return of all four disputed isles, Asahi wrote that Abe's diplomatic "gambit" on winning the reversion of the smaller islands in a bid to achieve a breakthrough in the decades-long territorial row has apparently fallen through. The daily projected that the Japanese side is now hoping to make progress on the joint economic activities in the Abe-Putin session in Osaka.

Philippines to end ban on imports of Fukushima seafood

Asahi, Nikkei, and Sankei reported on Saturday that during a meeting with Prime Minister Abe in Tokyo on Friday, Philippine President Duterte explained that his government has decided to end the Philippines' ban on seafood imports from Fukushima Prefecture that has been in place since the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011.


U.S. tariffs prompt Japanese firms to consider moving plants out of China

In reports on China's adoption of a third round of retaliatory duties on U.S. imports, all national papers wrote over the weekend that the Trump administration's policy of imposing high tariffs has promoted some Japanese manufacturers to look into the possibility of relocating their assembly lines from China to other Asian countries because their U.S.-bound products will become less competitive as a result of high U.S. tariffs.

The papers also reported on President Trump's announcement that he plans to impose a 5% tariff on Mexican imports to the U.S. in response to illegal immigration. The dailies noted that since almost 700,000 cars assembled at Japanese-operated factories in Mexico were exported to the U.S. in 2018, more than 1,000 Japanese firms operating there will be hit hard in the event that the tariffs are imposed as proposed. Nikkei added the international community would react strongly to the imposition of such tariffs in connection with illegal immigration.

Opposition leader comments on U.S.-Japan trade

Sunday's Yomiuri focused on press remarks made on Saturday by Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Edano about the Tokyo summit between Prime Minister Abe and President Trump last week. "Based on the remarks made by President Trump, it is obvious that the premier has made concessions on U.S. agricultural imports beyond the scope of the TPP," said the top official of the largest opposition party. "If the Japanese government says this is not the case, they will have to refute it in a manner that is clear to the U.S. government". We will have to address this as a major campaign issue for the Upper House election based on the assumption that the premier has sealed a secret trade accord."


JNN polls shows slight increase in cabinet support rate

TBS reported this morning on the results of a JNN poll conducted on June 1 and 2 showing that the Abe cabinet's support rate stood at 59.1%, up 1.7 points from last month, while the disapproval rate was 36.9%, down 3.4 points. In addition, only 30% of the respondents were in favor of dissolving the Lower House for a simultaneous election with the Upper House election this summer, while 42% were against the idea. Asked who would be their choice for the next LDP president, 31% opted for Shinjiro Koizumi, followed by Prime Minister Abe at 21% and former Secretary General Ishiba at 18%.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team