Morning Alert   -   Thursday, September 12, 2019
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Morning news

NHK, NTV, and TV Asahi led with reports on the continued power outage in parts of Chiba Prefecture as a result of damage caused by Typhoon Faxai. All national dailies and TBS and Fuji TV gave top coverage to the cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, with the TV outlets focusing on Shinjiro Koizumi's appointment as environment minister.


Abe reiterates commitment to constitutional reform following cabinet reshuffle

All national papers reported extensively on a press conference by Prime Minister Abe last night following the launch of his new cabinet. He vowed to amend the Constitution "without fail" and announced a plan to form a new government taskforce to create a viable and sustainable social security system. Asked about his decision to retain Deputy Prime Minister Aso, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, LDP Secretary General Nikai, and Policy Research Council Chairman Kishida, the premier said he wanted to create a "stable political foundation" for implementing constitutional amendment.

While pointing out that many of the new cabinet members are close confidants of Abe, Asahi and Mainichi said he probably tapped the LDP's Shinichiro Koizumi as environment minister in a bid to deflect potential criticism that his new cabinet is mainly composed of his friends and allies. The dailies noted that TV coverage of the cabinet reshuffle was largely focused on Koizumi's appointment.

Mainichi asserted that the appointment of Motegi as foreign minister and Kono as defense minister signaled the premier's determination not to make concessions to Seoul. The daily said Motegi is known as a "tough negotiator," so he is expected to pressure the Moon administration to change its position on the bilateral dispute over compensation for requisitioned workers. On U.S.-Japan relations, the liberal paper said that while the two nations are expected to sign a new trade accord later this month, they will need to launch separate negotiations in the near future on Japan's host nation support for the U.S. military.

Nikkei speculated that PM Abe's decision to keep Kono in his cabinet was based on public opinion, claiming that the prime minister took note of the many messages posted on social media supporting Kono's use of strong language against the Moon administration. The premier reportedly gave Kono a different post based on the assessment that his departure from the cabinet would send the "wrong signal" to Seoul. The business daily separately reported that FM Motegi will make his diplomatic debut when he attends the UN General Assembly in New York in late September, forecasting that he may hold talks with his foreign counterparts, including Secretary of State Pompeo, on the sidelines. The paper added that the Motegi-Kono team will be tasked with figuring out how Japan should respond to the U.S.'s call for participation in a coalition to protect strategic waterways in the Middle East.

Foreign reactions to new Japanese cabinet

Sankei took up a statement released by the State Department concerning the launch of a new cabinet in Japan, quoting it as saying: "We expect we will sustain and deepen our close cooperation with the Government of Japan across the range of regional and global issues. U.S.-Japan relations and our alliance are stronger than ever, and we look forward to strengthening our cooperative efforts to ensure peace and prosperity in Asia and around the world." The daily cited an unnamed retired U.S. diplomat familiar with Japan as welcoming the appointment of Kono as defense chief. China was also reportedly pleased that Kono has remained in the cabinet, with its Foreign Ministry spokesperson saying yesterday that Beijing appreciates his "considerable efforts" towards the development of Sino-Japanese relations as foreign minister.

Meanwhile, other papers focused on the ROK's negative reaction to the new cabinet lineup on account of the presence of a large number of ministers who are ideologically close to the prime minister. The South Korean media reportedly voiced apprehension that the Abe administration may take an even harder line toward the Moon administration on the diplomatic and defense fronts under the stewardship of Motegi and Kono.


U.S. diplomacy may become conciliatory following departure of NSA Bolton

All national dailies gave prominent coverage to President Trump's decision to dismiss National Security Advisor Bolton, projecting that the departure of a "foreign policy hawk" may allow President Trump to take a conciliatory line toward North Korea, Iran, and other foes. Asahi conjectured that the U.S. leader apparently regarded his top security advisor as an "obstacle" to achieving diplomatic accomplishments early in the run-up to the presidential election next year since Bolton opposed many of his diplomatic overtures. While claiming that Bolton served as a check on what it called the President's "improvisational" diplomatic decision-making, the daily projected that President Trump will probably become the dominant force in the U.S.'s foreign policy apparatus. The daily expressed concern that the Trump administration may be inclined to take a softer approach toward the denuclearization of North Korea and make concessions at the expense of Japanese interests. Pointing out that Bolton was very close to National Security Secretariat Secretary General Yachi, who will step down, the article conjectured that the concurrent departure of the two officials may weaken bilateral coordination on North Korea and other pressing diplomatic issues.

Other papers carried similar analytical pieces, with Yomiuri spotlighting speculation by a well-known Japanese academic that Bolton's departure will probably allow Prime Minister Abe to redouble his efforts to arbitrate between the U.S. and Iran. However, the scholar expressed concern that Japan's national security could be undermined if President Trump eases the pressure on the Kim regime.

Japan-ROK trade dispute brought to global arena

All national dailies took up South Korea's decision to file a suit with the WTO against Japan's decision to tighten exports of three semiconductor-related materials. Nikkei noted that although the bilateral dispute over export control will be closely examined by the world trade body, it may not be settled anytime soon as the WTO customarily takes about two years to render a decision on a trade conflict between member states. The daily voiced concern that the bilateral friction will become protracted given that Moon is unlikely to ease his hard line toward Tokyo so as to galvanize his liberal supporters, many of whom tend to be critical of Japan, ahead of the general election next spring.

Japanese business leaders meet with Chinese premier

All national papers wrote from Beijing that a Japanese business delegation led by Nippon Steel's Senior Advisor Muneoka paid a courtesy call on Chinese Premier Li yesterday and called for additional Chinese efforts to resolve the escalating trade conflict with the U.S. through dialogue. According to the articles, the Chinese leader pledged to continue trade negotiations with the Trump administration in "good faith," reportedly telling the visitors that Sino-U.S. trade is "critical and inseparable from the development of the global economy and trade."

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team