Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, July 23, 2019
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Morning news

NHK, TV Asahi, Fuji TV, and all national dailies led with reports on Prime Minister Abe's press conference on Monday following the Upper House election on Sunday. NTV and TBS reported on the scandal involving the major Osaka-based entertainment group Yoshimoto Kogyo and its comedians who accepted money from people connected to organized crime for appearing at their party.


NSA Bolton holds talks with senior GOJ officials

All national dailies reported on visiting National Security Advisor Bolton's meetings with Foreign Minister Kono and Defense Minister Iwaya yesterday, speculating that they exchanged views on the proposed launch of a coalition of the willing designed to safeguard critical waterways in the Middle East. According to a MOFA briefing, the U.S. official and Kono reportedly confirmed close coordination between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea to denuclearize North Korea. Kono also briefed Bolton on the status of Japan-ROK relations. While noting that President Trump has hinted at his readiness to mediate between Japan and South Korea, Mainichi quoted a MOFA source as saying: "[Bolton] took note of Japan's position. He did not mention arbitration." The top White House security strategist told the press after his session with Kono: "We talked about all the issues that confront us."

According to Yomiuri, the defense minister and Bolton discussed "Operation Sentinel" but did not go into the details. At the beginning of the session, Bolton reportedly said: "We are now at a very critical moment for enhancing the bilateral alliance." He told the press afterward: "The minister and I discussed how to strengthen the alliance going forward in a variety of ways and I'm sure those discussions will continue over next days and weeks. But I am very optimistic that the outcome will be very, very productive."

NSA Bolton issues statement on death of IAEA chief Amano

NHK and NTV reported that National Security Advisor Bolton issued a statement on the passing of IAEA Director General Amano. Bolton said: "His commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and his championing of peaceful nuclear energy have been unparalleled in leading the International Atomic Energy Agency for almost a decade". He will be sorely missed. On behalf of President Trump and the United States, my deepest condolences extend to the family and friends of Yukiya at this difficult time."

Abe comments on "Operation Sentinel"

Yomiuri and Mainichi took up press remarks made by Prime Minister Abe regarding "Operation Sentinel," which the Trump administration is hoping to launch in partnership with Japan and others to protect tankers and other commercial ships in and near the Strait of Hormuz. Abe was quoted as saying: "We need to discern what the U.S.'s intentions are. I'm not sure what the U.S. wants [Japan to do]." The premier reportedly emphasized that he will continue diplomatic efforts to ease tensions between the U.S. and Iran by capitalizing on Tokyo's friendship with Tehran. "The international community, including the U.S., recognizes the importance of dialogue," said the premier. "Japan is expected to play a role in making the Strait of Hormuz a sea of tranquility."

According to Mainichi, Komeito Chief Representative Yamaguchi urged the prime minister yesterday to be cautious in responding to the U.S. calls for joining the coalition by saying that priority should be given to diplomacy. The daily quoted an unnamed senior MOFA official as saying: "The U.S. initiative is still in the planning stages. It is too early to study SDF deployment."

GOJ convenes briefing for foreign diplomats on control of exports to ROK

Yomiuri, Sankei, and Nikkei wrote that MOFA and METI jointly organized a briefing on Monday for Tokyo-based foreign diplomats regarding Japan's decision to tighten control of the export of semiconductor materials to South Korea in a bid to win their understanding for the measure, which was undertaken "for national security reasons." The Japanese briefers reportedly stressed that it was not taken in retaliation for Seoul's posturing over the requisitioned labor dispute. At the same time, they also reportedly said: "This is a matter of trust. The South Koreans have trampled on bilateral promises with Japan, including regarding comfort women. We want them to keep their promises." Officials of dozens of foreign missions including the U.S. and many European embassies reportedly took part in the event. The papers noted the absence of representatives from the South Korean Embassy.

Japan, China, ROK to hold foreign ministerial meeting

Asahi reported that arrangements are being made for the foreign ministers of Japan, China, and South Korea to assemble in China in late August for talks about issues of mutual concern including North Korea's denuclearization. Foreign Minister Kono is also likely to hold bilateral meetings with his Chinese counterpart Wang and ROK counterpart Kang on the sidelines.


Abe reiterates need for parliamentary debate on constitutional revision

All national papers reported on Prime Minister Abe's press conference on Monday following the ruling coalition's victory in the Upper House election a day earlier, highlighting his strong pitch for Diet discussions on constitutional amendment even though the political forces in favor of revision lost their two-thirds majority in the chamber. While noting that amending the nation's supreme law was one of the focal points of his campaign, the prime minister insisted that the ruling coalition's victory showed that he was given a strong mandate to pursue his signature policy.

"The voters' verdict was that the parliament should at least hold discussions," said the prime minister. He went on to explain, however, that he will not be obstinate in pursuing the LDP's draft revision that includes a provision to make the existence of the SDF explicit. "I think our proposal is best, but I will not insist on it. I will engage in discussions in a flexible manner." Abe reportedly suggested that he will try to elicit support for parliamentary discussions from like-minded politicians in the opposition camp.

According to Asahi, the LDP's junior ruling partner Komeito and some opposition parties reacted strongly to Abe's call for debate on constitutional amendment. Komeito Chief Representative Yamaguchi took issue with Abe's interpretation of the election results during a TV appearance last night by saying: "The prime minister was exaggerating when he said the outcome was evidence of the voters' desire for debate on constitutional revision. I'm not so sure about the need to amend it at this stage." Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Edano, whose party won big in Sunday's race, underscored yesterday that it is not necessary to conduct parliamentary discussion on the matter by telling the press: "The popular will was made clear. The political forces against constitutional revision now occupy more than one-third of the seats in the House of Councilors." While other opposition parties are similarly opposed to Abe's desire to promote discussions on amending the supreme law, DPFP leader Tamaki was reportedly accommodating in responding to the premier's calls. "I sensed on the campaign trail that the voters wanted parliamentary debate," he said. "The Diet must begin discussions."


U.S., Japan to resume trade talks

Nikkei, Sankei, and Mainichi wrote that senior Japanese officials will visit Washington tomorrow for three days of talks with their U.S. counterparts on bilateral free trade. The papers speculated that now that the Upper House election is over, the Trump administration is likely to ratchet up the pressure so as to wrap up the negotiations quickly and conclude a deal focusing on agricultural products. Noting that Prime Minister Abe may hold talks with President Trump on the margins of the G7 summit in France in late August and/or the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in late September, the dailies predicted that the two nations may try to strike a compromise by then. Mainichi speculated that Japan will only accommodate the U.S. request for lower tariffs on American farm products if the U.S. reduces tariffs on Japanese auto imports.


Ambassador Hagerty departs Japan

Asahi, Sankei, and Nikkei reported that Ambassador Hagerty left Japan on Monday. The Ambassador reportedly told the press upon departure at Haneda Airport that he will "begin a new life." Asked the reason for his resignation, he reportedly only said: "Our time has come." The Ambassador also reportedly said: "The fact that the Japanese people hosted President Trump as the first state guest in the Reiwa era was the greatest honor". "Our biggest regret is that we will not be here to see the Olympics come together." Nikkei took up the Ambassador's farewell video, quoting him as saying: "Our two nations face significant challenges in the 21st century, but we will continue to confront them, united and with purpose and resolve." NHK, Fuji TV, and TBS aired brief reports on the Ambassador's departure in their news programs on Monday evening or Tuesday morning.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team