Morning Alert   -   Wednesday, August 28, 2019
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Morning news

TBS led with a report saying ROK President Moon's nominee for justice minister, Cho Kuk, is being investigated for alleged corruption. NHK, TV Asahi, and Fuji TV aired reports on serious flooding in northern Kyushu since last night on account of torrential rains. NTV's top story was about a truck that burst into flames on a Tokyo expressway yesterday.

All national dailies gave prominent top coverage to the Health Ministry's release yesterday of estimates showing that public pension benefits will decline steadily during the coming decades.


U.S., Japan to continue discussions on auto tariffs even after signing trade deal

Yomiuri front-paged the outline of the "rough" U.S.-Japan trade agreement endorsed on Sunday by President Trump and Prime Minister Abe, highlighting Japan's plan to continue consultations with the USG on its demand for the removal of 2.5% U.S. import tariffs on Japanese passenger cars even after the two leaders ink the deal officially next month. The paper wrote that since the President effectively promised last September that he would not impose additional duties on Japanese products during the trade negotiations, Tokyo is reportedly hoping to head off such tariffs by continuing discussions.

Yomiuri also predicted in a separate piece that the GOJ probably will not make public the specifics of the trade deal worked out by USTR Lighthizer and Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Motegi until the last minute on the grounds that much more administrative work is needed to finalize the "rough" agreement. The daily conjectured that the GOJ may still be uncertain about the prospects for the trade deal because President Trump noted even after his summit with Abe in France that although he is not currently looking to impose new tariffs on Japanese autos, it is something he might do at a later date. The daily said Abe will try to obtain a personal commitment from the President's not to raise duties on Japanese autos at their summit in New York in September where they plan to sign a formal trade agreement.

Asahi and Mainichi also focused on the President's saying he might impose auto tariffs on Japanese vehicles at a later date, speculating that the U.S. leader may want to keep the option open in order to extract trade concessions from Tokyo. According to Nikkei, Motegi reportedly told the press yesterday that Abe confirmed with the President during their summit on Sunday that no additional tariffs will be imposed on Japanese autos and that the matter will be properly addressed in the final stages of the bilateral trade negotiations.

In a related story, Asahi took up press remarks made yesterday by Finance Minister Aso, who stressed that the U.S.-Japan trade pact does not include a currency provision.

Companies, agriculture experts voice doubts about Abe's pledge to purchase U.S. corn

Mainichi wrote that some Japanese firms and agricultural specialists are perplexed by the GOJ explanation that Prime Minister Abe told President Trump that the Japanese private sector will import surplus corn from the U.S. in anticipation of a shortage of corn for animal feed due to insect damage to crops in western Japan. According to the paper, even the Agriculture Ministry has acknowledged that the damage is not very serious. Food importers are concerned that the planned purchase of 2.7 million tons of U.S. corn – the amount that Japan imports quarterly – would probably be too much for animal feed, projecting that some of it will have to be stockpiled and that will entail additional costs.


Japan, Iran hold foreign ministerial meeting

All national dailies wrote that Foreign Minister Kono met with his Iranian counterpart Zarif in Yokohama last night and called on the Iranian government to abide by the nuclear agreement. They reportedly agreed to continue close communications to ease tensions in the Middle East. The two diplomats apparently exchanged views on the U.S.'s plan to form a coalition to protect critical sea lanes in the region and its reinstatement of economic sanctions centered on a ban on the import of Iranian oil. At the onset of the session, Kono said Japan will continue diplomatic efforts to deescalate tensions, while Zarif noted in reply that dialogue is necessary since both Iran and Japan share a "special interest" in the safety and security of the Persian Gulf and the energy market. The dailies conjectured that the Iranian minister probably asked Japan not to join the U.S.-orchestrated coalition and to resume imports of Iranian oil. Kono reportedly refrained from disclosing to the press the details of what he described as "extremely candid discussions" with the Iranian visitor. Zarif is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Abe today.

On a related note, Mainichi speculated that the absence of discussion of Operation Sentinel during the summit meeting between President Trump and PM Abe in France on Sunday could indicate that the U.S. leader is losing interest in the plan. An unnamed senior MOFA diplomat said: "President Trump is not fixated on the coalition initiative. He is looking to hold dialogue."

South Korea's favored trading status officially revoked

All national papers reported that a GOJ ordinance revoking South Korea's favored nation status for trading sensitive items officially took effect at midnight today, explaining that henceforth Japanese companies wishing to export dual-use materials to the ROK will need to obtain permission from METI in each instance. Until yesterday, three-year across-the-board permits were granted to those enterprises. As South Korean firms may now find it more cumbersome and time-consuming to import such products from Japanese business partners, the dailies projected that the ROK government is bound to step up its opposition to Tokyo's moves to restrict Korea-bound exports. According to Asahi, many Korean industrialists are concerned about the outlook for business in view of Japan's tighter export control procedures.

Japan-ROK parliamentary union chair rejects offer to reconsider GSOMIA decision

NHK reported this morning that former Finance Minister Nukaga, who chairs the Japan-ROK parliamentary union, spoke with ROK Prime Minister Lee on the phone yesterday and told him that his proposal to reconsider the ROK's decision to scrap its GSOMIA with Japan if Japan decides not to remove the ROK's preferential trade status is unacceptable because it would not be a real solution. Lee reportedly told him that the proposal was made after consulting with President Moon, but Nukaga said the ROK must first show that it stands by its international commitments and is seeking a solution to the requisitioned workers issue. Lee reportedly indicated that the ROK would like to resolve issues through dialogue.

Japan says DPRK tested "new missile"

All national dailies spotlighted the disclosure by Defense Minister Iwaya on Tuesday that the ministry has concluded that North Korea tested a "new type" of short-range ballistic missile when it fired two projectiles into the Sea of Japan on Aug. 24. He suggested that the trajectory of the two missiles was different from the trajectories of past DPRK projectiles, adding that by conducting missile tests repeatedly, the Kim regime was trying to perfect its missile technology.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team