Morning Alert   -   Thursday, October 3, 2019
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Morning news

NHK aired a news flash saying that North Korea's state-run media reported this morning that the country succeeded in test-firing a Pukguksong-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile on Wednesday.

All commercial broadcasters and national dailies except Nikkei led with reports on a press conference held in Osaka on Wednesday, during which Kansai Electric Power Co. admitted that 20 of its executives accepted gifts from a former deputy mayor of Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, where one of the company's nuclear power plants is located. Two of the gifts were reportedly worth more than 100 million yen ($930,000) each.

Nikkei's lead item was a report on Japanese automakers' plans to hire more mid-career workers instead of recruiting fresh college graduates in large numbers.


DPRK steps up provocations ahead of denuclearization talks, but U.S. remains calm

All national papers gave prominent front- and inside-page coverage to North Korea's launch of what appeared to be an SLBM into the Sea of Japan on Wednesday. The projectile reportedly flew some 450 km and reached an altitude of about 910 km before landing in Japan's EEZ. As the latest provocation came only a few days before the planned resumption of denuclearization talks with the U.S. on Saturday, the articles conjectured that the Kim regime was keen to display its steady progress in developing missile technology so as to win concessions from President Trump, who reportedly appears eager to seal a nuclear deal with Pyongyang in the run-up to the presidential election next year. While saying that the Trump administration has condoned the previous launches of ballistic and other type of projectiles on eight different occasions since late July, the dailies also speculated that Chairman Kim may have been eager to gauge the U.S. reaction to the testing of an SLBM, which reportedly could have flown some 2,000 km if it had not been launched on a lofted trajectory.

The papers reported that the State Department issued a statement urging the DPRK to exercise restraint and comply with its obligations under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Yomiuri wrote in a correspondent's report from Washington that the Trump administration seems to be taking a wait-and-see attitude, quoting an unnamed senior USG official as saying: "We are aware of the reports on North Korea's launch of a projectile. We are paying close attention to the situation while coordinating closely with our allies in the region." Pointing out that the official did not criticize the launch, the daily noted the Trump administration may not take issue with the latest provocation since the President is eager to maintain cordial ties with Chairman Kim. Sankei conjectured that Kim is apparently capitalizing on the President's willingness to condone the launch of short-range missiles to test one new projectile after another.

Mainichi speculated that the USG is probably responding to the latest provocation calmly in order to prioritize progress on the upcoming denuclearization talks by working level officials. The paper also expressed the view that since President Trump is reportedly being pushed into a corner due to the impeachment inquiry over Ukraine, he may be tempted to make a major concession by giving North Korea sanctions relief in a bid to play up his diplomatic accomplishments.

LDP displeased with Abe's lukewarm response to DPRK missile launch

All national papers wrote that Prime Minister Abe on Wednesday condemned the latest DPRK missile launch by saying that it constituted a breach of UN Security Council resolutions. However, Asahi pointed out that Abe may have avoided talking about the need to apply "pressure" out of deference to President Trump's conciliatory line toward the Kim regime. The Abe administration is also reportedly hesitant to use tough language to avoid provoking North Korea since the premier is hoping to meet with Chairman Kim in person to resolve the abductions. LDP lawmakers are reportedly displeased with what they view as the Kantei's lukewarm response, with Secretary General Nikai telling the press: "We must let the international community know that Japan was upset. The current situation does not warrant a conciliatory stance" toward Pyongyang. In a gathering yesterday to discuss the latest DPRK provocation, the ruling party's defense clique reportedly emphasized the importance of applying greater pressure on North Korea and the need to step up the nation's deterrence capability while raising doubts about the United States' "nuclear umbrella."

South Korea asks Japan for DPRK missile data

Yomiuri and Nikkei wrote that according to the South Korean defense minister, the ROK government called on Japan on Wednesday to share Japanese intelligence on North Korea's latest ballistic missile launch based on the bilateral GSOMIA, which expires on Nov. 22. The GOJ is reportedly willing to provide relevant information, including data on the projectile's impact in Japan's EEZ, which the South Korean military may have had difficulty collecting. An unnamed Defense Ministry official said that there would be no reason to turn down a request for such information. On the other hand, the Japanese side did not ask Seoul for corresponding data. GOJ officials are reportedly hoping that the Moon administration will reconsider its decision to terminate the bilateral defense information sharing arrangement in the wake of the latest launch.


Pentagon official calls for reconciliation between Japan, ROK

Sankei took up a speech delivered at the Brookings Institution on Tuesday by Assistant Secretary of Defense Schriver, who stressed the importance of Japan and South Korea reestablishing their rapport quickly by saying that the protracted rift between the two allies could benefit China, Russia, and North Korea. The DOD official reportedly noted that Washington intends to play a constructive role in encouraging Tokyo and Seoul to mend their strained ties, adding that the three partners will eventually join hands again especially on the defense front in view of the regional security environment.


Japan keen to seal EPA with Turkey soon

Nikkei wrote that Japan is aiming to conclude a rough free trade agreement with Turkey later this month when President Erdogan visits Tokyo to attend the imperial enthronement ceremony on Oct. 22. According to the business daily, Japan may agree to lower import tariffs on Turkish pasta and cheese in exchange for corresponding reductions in Turkish duties on Japanese autos and auto parts. Both sides are reportedly keen to seal an EPA deal during a planned summit between President Erdogan and Prime Minister Abe. While noting that Ankara's ties with Washington have become strained due to Turkey's purchase of a Russian missile defense system, the daily added that Tokyo is still willing to deepen its economic bonds with Turkey in a bid to strengthen Japan's diplomatic standing in the Middle East.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team