Morning Alert   -   Thursday, July 11, 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 report on remarks by Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Dunford on Tuesday regarding forming a coalition of the willing to ensure safe passage in the Strait of Hormuz. The general reportedly said that the protection of civilian vessels is basically the duty of the navy of each nation. NTV aired a news flash on a murder in Tahara, Aichi Prefecture, this morning. TV Asahi and TBS filed follow-up reports on the man who fled in his car when police came to search his house in Kumamoto City on Tuesday. Fuji TV reported that tourist guidebooks with figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu on the cover distributed free by Sendai are being sold online.

Main front-page stories in national papers included JCS Chairman Dunford's remarks on the formation of a coalition, alleged illicit exports by South Korean enterprises of chemical weapons materials to pro-DPRK Middle East countries, and Japan Post's acknowledgement that its insurance unit has engaged in improper sales to elderly people.


U.S. looking to form coalition for patrol in Arabian Sea

All national papers front-paged press remarks made on Tuesday by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Dunford reportedly noted that the U.S. has been in contact with allied nations about the launch of a coalition of the willing to ensure the safety of ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen. The general indicated that while the U.S. would provide "command and control" ships, coalition members would escort their countries' commercial vessels under the proposal. He reportedly said: "The expectation is that the actual patrolling and escort would be done by others." The dailies interpreted the remarks as meaning that the Trump administration is likely to ask Japan and other allies dependent on oil supplies from the Middle East to take on greater responsibility for the safety of shipping in the region. Mainichi speculated that while the U.S. military would perhaps not hesitate to take a leading role in the proposed coalition, it will probably opt for a "supporting role" out of deference to President Trump, who has insisted that countries which import oil from the region should be at the forefront of safeguarding waters near the Strait of Hormuz. The dailies added that the U.S. idea is meant to highlight the international community's unity against Iran.

The dailies said the GOJ has not yet been asked to join the coalition, quoting a number of sources as saying: "No official proposal has yet been made by the U.S. side." Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Nogami stopped short of commenting on the U.S. proposal, simply saying: "Japan and the U.S are in close communication". Safety of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz is critically important to ensure Japan's energy security."

According to the articles, a present consensus within the GOJ reportedly holds that a dispatch of SDF warships for patrol operations in the region would be difficult at the moment since attacks on commercial tankers have been infrequent. Legal hurdles also reportedly stand in the way of Japan's dispatching assets to the region. The dailies explained that while the comprehensive security laws allow the SDF to provide logistics support to a multinational coalition in certain circumstances, such operations would be possible only when the UN Security Council enacts a relevant resolution, which does not exist at present. As the current circumstances in the region also do not constitute a situation that could have a serious impact on Japan's peace and security, the SDF would not be able to offer logistics support to the U.S. military. Diverting SDF ships currently engaged in the multilateral anti-piracy mission off the Somalian coast for the proposed patrol in the Arabian Sea is also believed to be impossible since the law governing the operation stipulates that the mission is limited to combating pirates. Japan's participation in a U.S.-led coalition near the Persian Gulf would also probably damage its friendly bilateral ties with Iran, say the papers.

ROK firms allegedly smuggled dual use chemicals to pro-DPRK countries in Middle East

Sankei led with a finding that the ROK government has punished several local companies for illicitly shipping to Syria, Iran, Pakistan, and other nations in the Middle East and Africa chemical agents that can be used for manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Noting that Japan cited "inappropriate cases" on the part of South Korea in justifying the adoption of tighter export regulations for ROK-bound semiconductor materials, the daily underscored that the finding points to Seoul's failure to enforce strict controls on exports of strategic materials.

All TV networks reported on Wednesday evening or this morning that the ROK government disclosed yesterday that it had detected 156 cases of the illegal export of sensitive materials in the last four years until March 2019, apparently in an effort to show that it has been managing the export of strategic substances properly.

ROK to reject Japan's call for launch of arbitration panel on forced labor dispute

Asahi reported from Seoul on remarks made on Wednesday by an unnamed senior Blue House official. The official reportedly indicated that the Moon administration will not heed Japan's demand for the launch of a three-member arbitration panel comprising third country nationals for the settlement of the requisitioned workers dispute.

DOS spokesperson comments on "freeze" of DPRK nuclear programs

Asahi and Yomiuri took up a press briefing on Tuesday by Department of State spokeswoman Ortagus, who commented on media speculation that the Trump administration is considering a "nuclear freeze" as an option to jumpstart the stalled denuclearization talks with North Korea. "That would never be the resolution of a process or the end of a process," she said. "I don't think that the administration has ever characterized a freeze as being the end goal. That's would be at the beginning of the process." The dailies interpreted the comment as meaning that Washington might endorse denuclearization in stages when bilateral talks are resumed later this month.

Abe mulls meeting with Iranian president in September

In a dispatch on Wednesday evening, Jiji Press cited GOJ sources as saying that Prime Minister Abe is considering meeting again with Iranian President Rouhani when he visits New York for the UN General Assembly in September in the hope to play a mediating role between the U.S. and Iran. These sources reportedly said that the specific schedule will be finalized after the Upper House election on July 21.


Rear Adm. Fort becomes new commander of U.S. Navy forces in Japan

NHK and TBS reported on Wednesday afternoon on the change of command at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka with Rear Adm. Brian Fort becoming the new commander of U.S. Navy forces in Japan. Fort reportedly stated at the change of command ceremony that he would like to work for "unprecedentedly strong relations" with the Maritime Self-Defense Force.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team