Morning Alert   -   Monday, October 28, 2019
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Morning news

NHK, TBS, and Fuji TV led with reports on the damage caused by torrential rain on Friday in Chiba and Fukushima Prefectures, where ten people died and two are missing. NTV and TV Asahi gave top coverage to Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu's victory in Skate Canada International.

The national dailies gave prominent front-page coverage to President Trump's announcement of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a U.S. military operation. The papers said that while the "Islamic State" may have been eliminated, the prospects for stability in Syria and the region remain uncertain given that radical Muslims are still very active there. The dailies conjectured that following the death of a "terror icon," President Trump may be tempted to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops, which some reportedly fear will make the region even more unstable.

Other major items in the papers included Japan's plan to develop a system to help navigate the Arctic Sea, the damage in Chiba and Fukushima Prefectures caused by a recent typhoon and heavy rains, and the Health Ministry's plan to lower the prices of certain drugs.


A/S Stilwell presses ROK to continue defense intelligence cooperation with Japan

The Sunday editions of all national papers except Asahi took up a press briefing on Saturday by Assistant Secretary of State Stilwell, focusing on his call for the Moon administration not to terminate military intelligence sharing with Japan by going ahead with its plan not to extend the GSOMIA arrangement beyond Nov. 22. Nikkei quoted him as saying: "The United States will continue to encourage these two critical allies to resolve bilateral frictions". [We will] bring the two sides together and encourage both to take a larger view of this issue. This is a security issue. It affects all three of us." A/S Stilwell reportedly stressed that speedy defense data exchange between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea is useful and that all parties are aware of the importance of trilateral coordination on this front. The papers added that A/S Stilwell is expected to visit Seoul on Nov. 5.

According to Yomiuri, A/S Stilwell also voiced concern about the dispute between Tokyo and Seoul over export controls. He reportedly stressed that security cooperation must not be affected by economic issues by saying: "Let's not let economic issues spill into security."

As for Japan's intention to deploy military assets to the Middle East for naval security operations, A/S Stilwell was quoted by Nikkei as saying: "We certainly very much appreciate Japan's decision to contribute as much as possible. Clearly the U.S. has interests in making sure there's stability in the Middle East."

A/S Stilwell also reportedly commented on U.S.-DPRK relations by saying that the Trump administration will continue to put more pressure on North Korea to achieve denuclearization. He added that Washington is "very much aware" of the threat North Korea's ballistic missile program poses to Japan. According to Yomiuri, the USG official reportedly declined to specify to what extent the Trump administration is willing to tolerate North Korea's provocations, such as repeated launches of short-range ballistic missiles. He was quoted as saying that red lines should remain "ambiguous."

Meanwhile, Saturday's Sankei wrote that upon his arrival at Narita Airport on Friday to take part in the Mount Fuji Dialogue, A/S Stilwell told the press that the U.S.-Japan alliance is "the most important in the world and the cornerstone of regional security in the Asia-Pacific region."

Senior DOD official voices concern about China's high-handed approach

Saturday morning's Nikkei front-paged an interview with DOD Assistant Secretary Randall Schriver, in which he commented on the continued social unrest in Hong Kong. While expressing hope for the Hong Kong government to heed legitimate demands made by protestors, the Pentagon official said the U.S. is concerned that Beijing's iron-fist posturing will further undermine Hong Kong's autonomy. On the massive military parade that the Chinese staged on its national day on Oct. 1, A/S Schriver said it was used to deflect attention from the nation's economic slowdown.

With regard to the GOJ's intention to deploy military assets to the Middle East, the DOD official reportedly voiced gratitude to Japan for making a decision that was satisfactory to the United States. He projected that Japanese maritime operations in the region will be carried out in coordination with the U.S.-led coalition.

High-ranking White House official expresses support for demonstrators in Hong Kong

Saturday evening's Nikkei front-paged remarks made by Senior Advisor to the Vice President Tom Rose during a panel discussion at the Mount Fuji Dialogue earlier in the day. He reportedly said the United States is "with the citizens of Hong Kong," voicing support for its pro-democracy movement. He reportedly went on to say: "Hong Kong and Taiwan stand as examples of a different and better way for the Chinese people to govern themselves." Rose also reportedly emphasized that the U.S. is committed to deterring military conflict with China by "outpacing her military modernization." He was also quoted as saying: "We can help downgrade the credibility of the Chinese Communist Party by winning back our technological leadership and showing the world the superiority of our open and free way of life."

Pentagon official calls for greater U.S.-Japan space partnership

Today's Nikkei front-paged remarks made to the daily by DOD Principal Director for Space Policy John Hill, who was visiting Japan to attend the Mount Fuji Dialogue. The Pentagon official reportedly called China's development of anti-satellite weapons a "very disturbing threat," explaining that China has been investing heavily in this area since the late 1990s. The official stressed the importance of stronger U.S.-Japan collaboration in outer space, noting that while Japan has experience with communication satellites and ground-based radar to observe satellites, it lacks experience in applying those capabilities militarily. He was quoted as saying that "there's great potential" for U.S.-Japan space cooperation in this field.

South Korea looking into several options to resolve forced labor dispute with Japan

Sunday's Sankei front-paged a report from Seoul claiming that the Moon administration is still studying several options for resolving the requisitioned worker dispute with Japan, including the idea of having Japanese and Korean enterprises pay compensation to the victims that was immediately rejected by the GOJ when it was officially proposed in June. According to the article, other proposals include the ROK government joining Japanese and Korean companies in extending compensation to the former requisitioned workers. The daily projected that Tokyo would reject any option involving payment of compensation by Japanese firms, adding that if the seized financial assets of two Japanese steel companies in South Korea were to be liquidated, it would deal a "fatal blow" to bilateral relations.

Japan, ROK to promote grassroots exchange

Yomiuri reported today that Land and Transportation Minister Akaba met with his ROK counterpart in Hokkaido yesterday. The two officials agreed to promote bilateral tourism and cultural exchanges in the private sector in the face of the continued decline in the number of Korean travelers to Japan. The two officials, however, were reportedly not able to identify specific measures to reactivate tourism and other exchange programs.

In a related development, Sankei and Nikkei took up remarks made yesterday in a Tokyo symposium by Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, who noted that he has detected a slight change in Seoul's approach toward Tokyo. He was quoted as saying: "South Korea has apparently come to the conclusion that this cannot be sustained and we need to have some kind of dialogue."

DPRK calls for U.S. concessions in denuclearization talks

Today's Yomiuri and Sankei took up a statement released yesterday by North Korean Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol regarding the prolonged stalemate in denuclearization talks with the U.S. The senior DPRK official reportedly noted that his country is running out of patience with the U.S., underscoring that the Trump administration would be "seriously mistaken" if it ignored the end-of-year deadline set by Kim Jong Un for the U.S. to propose mutually acceptable terms for denuclearization. He said the continued U.S. hostility means "there could be an exchange of fire at any moment."

Top Chinese diplomat comments on ties with Japan

Sunday's Mainichi highlighted remarks made on Saturday by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang during a private-sector conference on bilateral relations with Japan. Speaking on President Xi's purported visit to Japan next spring, Wang said it will be an epoch-making event that will open a new era in Sino-Japanese ties. However, he also urged Japan to deal with the history and Taiwan issues properly to further advance bilateral relations. With the Trump administration apparently in mind, the top Chinese diplomat reportedly underscored the importance of mutual coordination by saying: "As responsible stakeholders, both China and Japan need to exercise a spirit of partnership in the face of 'our country first' policies and protectionism."

Northern Territories tour to take place in late October

Asahi, Yomiuri, and Mainichi wrote on Saturday that MOFA disclosed on Friday that the first-ever sightseeing tour of the Northern Territories will take place from Oct. 30 through Nov. 3. A total of 44 individuals, including 11 Japanese government officials, are expected to join the trip to Kunashiri and Etorofu Islands, which was postponed in mid-October.


Resignation of trade minister deals blow to Abe administration

The Saturday morning editions of all national dailies reported extensively on the repercussions of the abrupt resignation of Trade Minister Sugawara over a donation scandal in his home constituency. Given that Sugawara was appointed just a month ago based on a recommendation from Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga even though he had been accused by the press of dubious donation practices, the articles noted that some LDP lawmakers are strongly criticizing Suga, who has wielded strong clout within the Abe administration. The papers speculated that CCS Suga's grip on power may weaken as a result. Yomiuri conjectured that the latest scandal may make it difficult for Prime Minister Abe to pursue his signature policy of constitutional amendment.

While noting that Sugawara was quickly replaced by former Minister for Regional Revitalization Kajiyama, the papers still voiced concern that the sudden switch may stymie METI's efforts to swiftly address such daunting tasks as the money scandal involving executives of Kansai Electric Power Co., the recovery of small businesses hit hard by devastating Typhoon Hagibis, the dispute over export controls with South Korea, and the final phase of the 16-member RCEP free trade negotiations. Mainichi wrote that the new trade minister probably will not be able to participate in the RCEP trade ministerial conference scheduled for Nov. 1 in Bangkok because he will be required to attend Diet sessions amid the escalating confrontation between the ruling and opposition camps over the Sugawara controversy.


Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff to visit Japan

Mainichi wrote on Sunday that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Milley is likely to visit Japan and South Korea in mid-November with the goal of affirming bilateral and trilateral defense coordination in dealing with North Korea's nuclear and missile development. This will be the general's first tour of the region since he was sworn in as the U.S. military's top official about a month ago. The daily added that he will visit the two Asian allies right before Seoul's planned non-extension of the bilateral GSOMIA with Tokyo beyond Nov. 22.

GOJ coordinating internally to deploy military assets to Middle East

Sankei wrote today that although internal coordination is underway within the GOJ to deploy an SDF warship and/or aircraft for maritime security operations in the Middle East, the dispatch may take place later than the target date of early next year due to cautious views and strong opposition within the ruling and opposition camps. The daily added that the GOJ may operate such assets in the Strait of Hormuz, in addition to the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, and the passage between Yemen and Djibouti.

GOJ to develop system for navigation in Arctic Ocean

Monday's Yomiuri led with a GOJ plan to develop a system to help commercial vessels navigate the Arctic ocean safely, explaining that the equipment will be designed to determine the distance to and depth of icebergs and drift ice using special radar. The data will be combined with other imagery gathered by satellites so as to identify safe routes that will also conserve fuel. Through this scheme, the GOJ is reportedly aiming to secure maritime interests in the area amid accelerated moves by the U.S., China, Russia, and others to do the same.


GOJ convenes briefing for general public on U.S-Japan trade deal

Monday's Sankei wrote very briefly that the GOJ organized a briefing in Tokyo yesterday for consumer and other NGOs regarding the U.S.-Japan trade agreements. While GOJ officials reportedly emphasized such achievements as heading off higher auto tariffs and greater Japanese access to the U.S. agricultural market, some participants reportedly took issue with Japan's failure to persuade the U.S. to eliminate its duties on Japanese auto imports.

International conference on excess steel production to be terminated

Sunday's Nikkei and Yomiuri reported on the Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity (GFSEC) ministerial conference held in Tokyo on Saturday, noting that the 33-member assembly for discussing excess capacity to produce steel will end this year due to China's strong opposition to continuing the framework beyond 2020. Noting that the GFSEC was launched in 2016 first by G20 member states to work out a mechanism to prevent excess production of steel products, Nikkei expressed qualms that surplus production of steel may remain unchecked as a result of the abolition. Yomiuri added that the U.S., Japan, and the Europeans called for the continuation of the framework.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team