Morning Alert   -   Wednesday, September 4, 2019
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Morning news

NHK led with a report saying that British Prime Minister Johnson declared that he will call a general election if the parliament passes a bill to further postpone Brexit. TV Asahi and TBS reported on localized downpours in Yokohama last night that caused flooding and power outages in many places. NTV aired a follow-up report on yesterday's traffic accident in Kobe. Fuji TV gave top coverage to a report that sumo wrestler Takanofuji will skip the autumn tournament this month because he has been accused of assaulting his attendant on Aug. 31.

Major front-page items in national dailies included the beginning of the trial of a mother who was accused of causing the death of her daughter, Prime Minister Abe's plan to shuffle his cabinet next Wednesday, companies' limited use of government subsidies to allow employees suffering from cancer to continue working, and major fast-food companies' measures to deal with the planned consumption tax hike in October.


Abe insists that forced labor dispute must be resolved

All national dailies reported that Prime Minister Abe indicated yesterday that the GOJ will not ease its controls on exports of sensitive materials to South Korea unless the Moon administration addresses the dispute over wartime requisitioned workers. In a meeting with a senior LDP official who was told recently by ROK Premier Lee that the issues involving export restrictions and the termination of the GSOMIA defense information sharing pact should be resolved concurrently, Abe reportedly said: "I want South Korea to keep the promises made between the two states". Resolving the dispute over requisitioned workers is the top priority."

Mainichi published a prominent article on the background behind Japan's strengthening regulations on exports of ROK-bound semiconductor materials, claiming that while it was adopted to remind the Moon administration of Tokyo's firm position on settling the forced labor dispute, GOJ officials were surprised by Seoul's strong reaction. The daily said there is an emerging consensus within the GOJ that only time will resolve the differences between Tokyo and Seoul, with an unnamed high-ranking GOJ official reportedly saying: "Reconciliation will be difficult as long as President Moon is in office. We have no choice but to leave the matter as it stands." The paper added that Abe will not hold talks with Moon unless he comes up with concrete ideas to resolve the forced labor conflict.

Meanwhile, Yomiuri wrote that according to Trade Minister Seko, the chairman of an APEC meeting held in Santiago, Chile, on Aug. 30 warned a South Korean official not to bring up bilateral issues with Japan in the multinational conference. During the conference, the ROK official reportedly criticized Japan for imposing tighter export controls by saying they will affect global supply chains. The senior Chilean diplomat who was chairing the meeting reportedly expressed "regret" over the Korean official's remarks and said: "Bilateral issues should not be taken up in the APEC session."

DPRK official calls for Japanese investment in rare earth development

Asahi reported on remarks allegedly made to the daily recently by a North Korean government official involved in its economic policy. The unnamed official reportedly urged Japan to make substantial investments in the development of his country's rare earths, which, he stressed, are indispensable for Japanese industry. He also pressed Japan to resume economic exchanges by saying: "Instead of engaging in war with us, Japan could achieve a 'win-win' situation if it started economic exchanges." With regard to the stalled U.S.-DPRK denuclearization talks, the official explained that the Kim regime's goal is to have Washington remove all nuclear weapons that are capable of reaching North Korea from Okinawa, Guam, and Hawaii. "We are not saying the U.S. should get rid of all of its nuclear arsenals. We would abolish our atomic weapons if the denuclearization of the region were achieved."

Japan stresses importance of diplomacy in achieving safety of navigation in Middle East

Nikkei highlighted press remarks on Tuesday by Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, who was asked by a journalist whether Japan will commit troops to the U.S.-orchestrated "maritime security initiative" to defend critical sea lanes in the Middle East. The government spokesman reportedly underscored the importance of diplomacy by saying that Japan's positon on the U.S. proposal is to continue "diplomatic efforts." According to the daily, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif reportedly expressed opposition to the U.S. plan during a meeting with Prime Minister Abe in Tokyo on Aug. 28 by saying: "It is a clear-cut hostile act." The daily added that some GOJ officials have concluded that President Trump apparently does not consider the initiative to be a matter for immediate implementation.

In a related development, Asahi and Nikkei wrote that Foreign Minister Kono spoke by phone with his French counterpart yesterday to discuss the standoff between the United States and Iran. They agreed to continue mutual coordination to deescalate tensions.

Abe to meet with Putin tomorrow

Asahi and Sankei wrote that Prime Minister Abe plans to hold talks with Russian President Putin on the fringes of an international business confab in Vladivostok on Thursday. The papers noted that while the two leaders might forge a consensus on the promotion of "joint economic activities" on the disputed four islands, they probably will not be able to achieve any major breakthrough in the stalemated Northern Territories talks.

NHK reported last night that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Morgulov told the press in Vladivostok yesterday that progress in the Northern Territories issue is "unlikely" at the Abe-Putin meeting tomorrow because the negotiation is a long process and there is still a substantial gap between the two sides on territorial and other issues.


U.S.-Japan trade deal may constitute violation of WTO rules

Yomiuri reported that the provisional trade agreement that the U.S. and Japan have crafted may be deemed incompatible with WTO rules that prohibit discrimination among member states. Bilateral and multilateral free trade deals have customarily been regarded to have cleared this statutory hurdle when their tariff elimination rates exceed 90%. The paper explained that if the U.S. refuses Japan's call for the elimination of the 2.5% duties on Japanese auto imports, the U.S.'s tariff elimination rate would only be about 70%, which would probably constitute a violation of the WTO rules. While noting that President Trump appears to be extremely negative about removing the auto tariff, the daily predicted that the Japanese side will continue to press Washington to at least present a "roadmap" for the elimination in the last stages of the negotiations so that the final agreement complies with WTO rules.

METI asks ROK to explain decision to remove Japan from "white list"

NHK reported this morning that the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry submitted to the ROK government yesterday its comments and questions on Seoul's decision to remove Japan from its "white list" of nations eligible for preferential trade treatment. The ROK government is soliciting public views on this decision from Aug. 14 to Sept. 3. METI is reportedly asking the ROK to give the specific reasons and legal basis for this action, saying without such an explanation, the ROK's measure will be regarded as a "groundless arbitrary retaliatory action."


Motegi likely to be tapped as foreign minister

Yomiuri front-paged a story on the cabinet reshuffle that Prime Minister Abe plans to carry out on Sept. 11, forecasting that the prime minister is leaning toward appointing Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Motegi as foreign minister. However, as Abe is highly appreciative of the U.S.-Japan trade deal that Motegi worked out with USTR Lighthizer last month, the cabinet minister will reportedly be tasked with wrapping up the bilateral trade negotiations after he takes up the diplomatic portfolio.

Asahi and Nikkei claimed that Abe is likely to keep LDP Secretary General Nikai in his current post based on the assessment that the veteran lawmaker's political ability is indispensable for the stable management of the relationship between the Kantei and the ruling party.


Japan concluded DPRK fired at least two new types of missiles

All national dailies reported on press remarks made yesterday by Defense Minister Iwaya, who said the ministry has concluded that out of the 18 projectiles that North Korea has launched since May, ten of them were one of two new types of short-range missiles that use solid fuel. This conclusion was reportedly reached after analysis of the missiles' shapes, flight ranges, altitudes, and trajectories. The minister reportedly added that two of the missiles might have been another type of new missile.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team