Morning Alert   -   Wednesday, October 23, 2019
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Morning news

All TV networks and national papers led with reports on the ceremony for the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito on Tuesday, noting that some 2,000 guests attended the event, including about 420 dignitaries from about 190 countries and international organizations.


President Trump sends congratulatory message on imperial enthronement

All national dailies except Asahi published a message released by President Trump celebrating the imperial enthronement on Tuesday. The U.S. leader was quoted as saying: "The advent of the imperial era known as 'Reiwa' " comes at a time in which the bonds of friendship between the American and Japanese people have never been stronger. Our global partnership is an unshakeable pillar of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and the world."

TBS aired an interview with Transportation Secretary Chao, who represented the USG at the enthronement ceremony. She reportedly said it was a perfect ceremony based on tradition and history and that Japan was able to introduce a great deal of its culture to the world by inviting guests and broadcasting the event. Nikkei wrote that Secretary Chao plans to pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Abe today.

In a related development, Mainichi wrote that Foreign Minister Motegi spoke by phone with Secretary of State Pompeo last night and expressed gratitude for President Trump's message on the imperial enthronement. The Japanese minister also conveyed Japan's intention to deploy an SDF unit to the Middle East independent of the U.S. plan to form a multinational coalition to protect critical waterways in the region. The two officials reportedly confirmed greater mutual coordination to ease tensions and ensure stability in the region. Nikkei also reported on the teleconference.

Secretary Chao calls for bipartisan approach to infrastructure investment in the U.S.

Tuesday's Nikkei carried an interview with Secretary of Transportation Chao. She reportedly called for bipartisan cooperation in legislating the $2-trillion infrastructure investment bill that the Trump administration and Democrats agreed to pursue in April. Secretary Chao reportedly expressed concern that the momentum for enactment has been lost due to the launch of the impeachment inquiry. She reportedly explained that all members of Congress are worried about the condition and safety of the nation's transportation system. In a bid to win Democrats' cooperation for the bill, Secretary Chao allegedly suggested that the Trump administration will not rule out their proposed gasoline tax hike as a way to finance infrastructure investment.

According to the business daily, Secretary Chao projected that her department will soon make a final decision on new auto emissions regulations, explaining that under the new rules "automakers will not be forced to make massive investments in cars for which there is no demand."

Commenting on the imperial enthronement ceremony, Secretary Chao reportedly said she was greatly honored to attend the event and has been following the life of Empress Masako since they both graduated from Harvard University.

Japanese, ROK governments pessimistic Abe-Lee meeting will lead to breakthrough

Tuesday's Mainichi published a prominent inside-page article on Prime Minister Abe's plan to hold talks with South Korean Premier Lee in Tokyo on Thursday, saying that GOJ officials do not anticipate that the talks will lead to a breakthrough in the stalled political relations. The South Korean side is also not optimistic about the prospects, with a source close to Premier Lee reportedly saying that because the session will be very brief, it should not even be regarded as a "meeting." According to the paper, PM Abe's distrust of President Moon runs deep and Tokyo attaches higher priority to resolving the requisitioned workers dispute than other issues such as export controls and the GSOMIA. On the other hand, the Blue House reportedly regards the export controls as the most pressing issue for resolution in order to achieve reconciliation.

In a related story, today's Sankei reported on Premier Lee's attendance at the imperial enthronement ceremony yesterday, quoting him as saying that he was honored to attend the event. He reportedly posted a tweet saying he plans to meet with PM Abe and other Japanese politicians and businesspeople to exchange views on how to promote bilateral dialogue. Sankei added that Lee is also expected to interact with local college students while in Tokyo.

Japan's exports to South Korea plummet

Tuesday's Asahi took up trade statistics for September released on Monday by the Finance Ministry showing that the volume of Korea-bound goods declined 15% from last year. While noting that exports decreased 9.4% in August, the paper attributed the accelerated plunge to the Korean boycott of Japanese products. As food and auto exports reportedly plunged by 62% and 49%, respectively, the paper predicted that Japanese manufacturers of these products may be forced to conduct a review of their business strategies for South Korea.

Suga acknowledges China's detention of Japanese scholar

Nikkei and Sankei wrote on Tuesday that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga told the press on Monday that the GOJ confirmed that a Hokkaido University professor was taken into custody in China in mid-September. While refusing to disclose the details of the case due to its "sensitivity," Suga reportedly stressed that the GOJ has been providing as much assistance to the academic as possible from the standpoint of protecting Japanese nationals. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman reportedly commented on the subject on Monday by saying that China has been consistent in dealing with such matters based on the law.

Deputy PM Aso, Chinese Vice President Wang commit to strengthening bilateral ties

Today's Yomiuri reported that on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Aso held talks with Chinese Vice President Wang, who visited Tokyo to attend the imperial enthronement ceremony. The two politicians reportedly agreed to enhance bilateral relations with President Xi's proposed trip to Japan next spring in mind.

Chinese defense chief vows to protect Senkakus

Tuesday's Yomiuri focused on a speech delivered in Beijing on Monday by Chinese Defense Minister Wei. He reportedly voiced China's determination not to make any concessions on its territorial claim to the Senkaku Islands. "They are China's inherent territory," the minister said: "Since the territory was left to us by our ancestors, we will never let go of even a part of it."

U.S. to confiscate DPRK vessel held in Samoa

Asahi wrote today that a U.S. district court in New York authorized the Treasury Department on Monday to confiscate a North Korean cargo ship that was seized in Samoa in May on suspicion of exporting coal in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Because the vessel in question had allegedly been used by the Kim regime to earn foreign currency, the article said the confiscation will deal a heavy blow to the DPRK economy. As Pyongyang is bound to react sharply, the daily conjectured that the court ruling may scuttle the U.S.-DPRK denuclearization talks that were resumed earlier this month.


U.S., Japan start consultations on deployment of mid-range missiles

Tuesday's Asahi reported on the disclosure by an unnamed senior U.S. military official on Monday that discussions have begun between the USG and the GOJ on the Pentagon's plan to deploy intermediate-range ballistic missile in the Asia-Pacific region. According to the source, a high-ranking USG official visited Tokyo last week to exchange views on the matter with officials from MOFA, MOD, and the National Security Secretariat. The article added that it is uncertain whether the USG official mentioned the idea of basing missiles in Japan during the talks.

According to the article, the same U.S. military source reportedly welcomed Japan's plan to deploy an MSDF warship in the Middle East for maritime security operations independent of the U.S.-led coalition by saying: "We are confident that Japan will make contributions to the peace and stability of dangerous areas in the world."

Okinawa leader meets with members of Congress

Asahi carried a prominent inside-page article on Tuesday regarding Okinawa Governor Tamaki's visit to the U.S. last week, noting that he met with a total of 10 senators and representatives in Washington with the goal of conveying strong local opposition to the FRF construction off Camp Schwab amid ongoing deliberations on Capitol Hill on the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The Okinawa leader reportedly attached importance to meeting with members of Congress who have a say in the defense budget, since USG officials have been steadfast in moving forward with the realignment plan. Tamaki reportedly explained to the lawmakers the problems associated with the relocation project, such as the soft seabed in the vicinity. According to the governor, their reactions to his plea for a review of the initiative were mixed.

Concern grows about legal basis for planned deployment of warship to Middle East

Asahi reported on Tuesday that some MOD and SDF officials are uneasy about the Abe administration's plan to apply a provision of the Defense Ministry Establishment Act when sending MSDF assets to the Middle East to protect Japanese commercial vessels in the region. As the clause in question authorizes the ministry to conduct "research and study" for official duties, the GOJ has invoked it several times in the past to justify the mobilization of SDF units. Some legal experts have voiced doubts about invoking the article to commit defense assets overseas. MSDF officials are reportedly concerned that under the provision, the use of weapons would be severely restricted even if the warship or Japanese commercial vessels were threatened. The daily added that an MSDF warship will be dispatched to the region after SDF planes conduct patrol operations.

In a related article, Tuesday's Nikkei highlighted Japan's plan to operate an MSDF ship or patrol planes in the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, and the passage between Yemen and Somalia, but not in the Strait of Hormuz. The article explained that most of the Strait of Hormuz is made up of territorial waters of Iran and Oman and that neither nation regards the narrow strait to be "international waters" as designated by the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, which allows "innocent passage" of foreign ships. As the Iranians have strongly opposed Japan's possible participation in the U.S. initiative to launch a multinational coalition to protect the sea lanes through the Strait of Hormuz, the GOJ is reportedly hesitant to operate its military assets in the area.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team