Morning Alert   -   Thursday, October 31, 2019
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Morning news

All broadcasters led with reports on a fire that broke out early this morning at Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main buildings of the castle have already burned down, and firefighters are working to control the blaze that has also engulfed other buildings in the castle complex. There have been no immediate reports of injuries, and the police are looking into the cause of the fire.

NHK aired a news flash at around 8:30 a.m. saying that Justice Minister Kawai has stepped down following a tabloid's allegation that an illegal amount of remuneration was paid to the campaign staffers of his wife, who was elected to represent Hiroshima Prefecture in the Upper House race in July. According to the network, Prime Minister Abe is inclined to tap Masako Mori, former minister in charge of the declining birthrate, as Kawai's replacement.

Major front-page items in national papers included the finding that some 60% of Shinkansen trainyards and a quarter of some 2,200 industrial parks across Japan are susceptible to flooding, the UK's plan to hold a general election on Dec. 12 to determine the fate of Brexit, the Chilean government's decision to cancel the upcoming APEC summit, the embezzlement of $5 million worth of postage stamps by two postal officials in Tokyo, and a plan by METI to conduct a review of the electricity supply system in light of the prolonged power outage in parts of Chiba Prefecture due to Typhoon Faxai in September.


Local press express concern about President Trump's absence from East Asia Summit

Yomiuri, Asahi, and Sankei reported on the White House announcement concerning National Security Advisor O'Brien's attendance at the East Asia Summit in Bangkok in Bangkok on Nov. 4 on behalf of President Trump. The papers voiced concern that the decision will raise doubts at home and abroad about the U.S. commitment and credibility as a prominent member of the Indo-Pacific region. Noting that this is the third time for the U.S. leader to skip the key East Asia confab, Asahi quoted an ASEAN diplomatic source as saying that ASEAN has been "sidelined." The paper added that China's presence is bound to rise as a result of President Trump's absence, as Premier Li is expected to attend.

Chile cancels APEC leaders' summit in November

All national dailies highlighted an announcement made by the Chilean government yesterday that it has decided to call off this year's APEC leaders' summit and COP25 conference scheduled for mid-November in Santiago on the grounds that the government "has to concentrate on domestic affairs." The dailies explained that social unrest and anti-government demonstrations have continued for months following a hike in subway fares. Noting that President Trump had been aiming to negotiate a trade deal with Chinese President Xi on the sidelines of the event and that he will not attend the upcoming East Asia Summit in the Thai capital, Nikkei projected that U.S. diplomacy toward Asia may become stalled. Yomiuri said Prime Minister Abe's planned meetings with the Chinese and other leaders on the margins of the summit will be cancelled, adding that he may also have to reschedule a side trip to Brazil that he had been planning.

Upper House leader demands apology from ROK counterpart over remarks on Emperor

Sankei front-paged a finding that Upper House President Santo has sent a letter to her South Korean counterpart asking him to apologize for his remarks last year demanding that then-Emperor Akihito offer an apology to the former comfort women. The Japanese politician reportedly stated that she will not hold individual talks with National Assembly Speaker Moon when he visits Tokyo on Nov. 4 to attend the G20 Speakers' meeting that she plans to host. Santo has reportedly criticized Moon's remarks as "extremely rude and unacceptable."

In a related development, Asahi and Sankei took up the disclosure by South Korean Foreign Minister Kang at the National Assembly on Wednesday that President Moon expressed hope to hold a summit meeting with Prime Minister Abe in a letter that Premier Lee delivered to the Japanese leader in Tokyo last week. The top Korean diplomat added that such a meeting would be premised upon an "event that would bridge the gap" between the two capitals over such prolonged disputes as the requisitioned workers and export control issues.

Beer exports to South Korea drop to almost zero

Asahi and Sankei took up data released by the Finance Ministry, highlighting that in monetary terms, beer exports to South Korea in September amounted to only 588,000 yen ($5,500), down 99.9% from a year ago. Exports of other food products, such as soy sauce and sake, also plummeted by 70 to 90%. The plunges were reportedly attributed to the continued boycott of Japanese products by some local consumers. The corresponding figure for hydrogen fluoride, a key material used in the production of semiconductors, was 3.72 million yen ($35,000), down 99.4%. Japan's tightened screening of Korea-bound exports of the strategic material reportedly caused the decline.


Okinawa lodges protest against parachute training at Kadena

Mainichi and Asahi wrote that the Okinawa prefectural government filed a protest with the Okinawa Defense Bureau on Wednesday against the parachute drop training that the U.S. military conducted at Kadena Air Base on Tuesday night despite repeated requests not to do so. The prefectural government expressed anger over the U.S. military's repeated usage of the installation as a platform for such training. According to the daily, the USFJ released a statement yesterday justifying the nighttime training saying that it was carried out "fully in accordance with bilateral agreements." The statement reportedly referred to a bilateral accord authorizing the use of the Air Force facility in "exceptional cases," such as bad weather.

Okinawa files appeal with Supreme Court over verdict on FRF initiative

All national dailies wrote that the Okinawa prefectural government filed an appeal with the Supreme Court yesterday concerning the Fukuoka High Court's earlier ruling against its plea for the annulment of the land minister's rescindment of its cancellation of the landfill permit for the FRF construction off Camp Schwab.

Junior ruling party cautious about SDF deployment to Middle East

Nikkei, Yomiuri, and Mainichi reported that the Komeito party has voiced concern about the GOJ's plan to send to the Middle East a warship and/or military aircraft for maritime security operations. The junior ruling partner is reportedly cautious about the legal grounds for deployment and takes issue with the planned invocation of the Defense Ministry Establishment Act, which authorizes the ministry to conduct "research and study." The GOJ has reportedly explained that based on the provision, SDF assets will be mobilized to "collect intelligence." Komeito members are reportedly saying that an "exit strategy" should be drawn up ahead of committing military assets.

Experts offer technical advice on planned survey on Aegis Ashore deployment

All national papers except Sankei reported that the Defense Ministry convened a meeting on Wednesday of academics and other private-sector exports on civil engineering and electromagnetic waves tasked with offering technical advice on the ministry's plan to conduct a second survey to identify the optimum locations for hosting Aegis Ashore batteries. The taskforce was created in the wake of strong criticism that the initial survey, which identified two communities in Akita and Yamaguchi Prefectures, contained erroneous data due in part to the use of Google Earth and other mapping software.

USG approves export of equipment for updating Japanese fighters

Sankei wrote briefly that the State Department made an announcement on Tuesday regarding the Pentagon's notification to Congress of its approval of sales to Japan of equipment worth $4.5 billion for updating the electronic warfare capabilities of ASDF F-15s. Japan reportedly operates some 200 of the jets.


Ruling coalition proposes committee vote on U.S.-Japan trade deal next week

All national papers reported that the ruling coalition proposed to the opposition bloc on Wednesday that legislation on the U.S.-Japan trade agreements be put to a Lower House committee vote on Nov. 6. Both sides reportedly agreed to convene a joint session of the three relevant committees to deliberate the bills on Nov. 5. However, it is still uncertain whether the opposition bloc will heed the proposal on the vote.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team