Morning Alert   -   Monday, November 18, 2019
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Morning news

All broadcasters except TV Asahi led with reports on the arrest of actress Erika Sawajiri on Saturday on suspicion of possessing the synthetic drug MDMA. TV Asahi led with a report on Japan's victory in the Premier12 baseball championship game on Sunday by defeating defending champion South Korea.

Most national dailies gave prominent front-page coverage to articles on the imminent expiration of the GSOMIA military data exchange arrangement between Japan and South Korea following bilateral defense ministerial talks in Thailand yesterday.


GSOMIA likely to expire despite U.S. lobbying

All Monday morning papers highlighted a meeting between the defense ministers of South Korea and Japan and talks involving them and their U.S. counterpart in Bangkok on Sunday. The dailies wrote that despite intense lobbying by Defense Minister Kono and Defense Secretary Esper, ROK Defense Minister Jeong underscored that Japan needs to make concessions in order to maintain the GSOMIA defense information sharing arrangement. He reportedly reiterated an extension would require that Tokyo end its tighter control over certain Korean-bound exports. As Japan does not intend to link the defense pact with its export control regime, the papers projected that GSOMIA will expire on Nov. 23. Sankei quoted a GOJ source as saying: "There is no leeway for us to make concessions. President Moon apparently does not intend to decide [to extend the pact]. Expiration is unavoidable." Asahi projected that the expiration will make it more difficult for Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. to conduct accurate and timely analysis of DPRK missile launches.

The papers said that while ROK defense authorities are willing to maintain GSOMIA in the face of U.S. pressure, the Blue House appears adamant about its cancellation. The dailies speculated that President Moon would not be able to make an about-face and extend the intelligence accord at the last minute given that a majority of Koreans, especially his progressive supporters, are in favor of ending it. The papers predicted that Moon would "lose face" and his political fate would be jeopardized if ahead of the general election next April he were to decide against the termination without obtaining concessions from Japan.

The Saturday editions of all national dailies reported from Seoul on Secretary Esper's meetings with President Moon and Defense Minister Jeong, saying the ROK officials effectively turned down the Secretary's request for South Korea to extend GSOMIA. The Secretary stressed the importance of maintaining GSOMIA, adding that its expiration would benefit the DPRK and China. However, President Moon said in reply that extending the agreement would be difficult as long as Tokyo maintains tighter controls over certain Korea-bound exports, arguing that South Korea cannot share military intelligence with Japan since the nation declared that South Korea is "unreliable" when implementing the new export control measures.

Asserting that the Trump administration is poised to link the GSOMIA issue to ongoing negotiations on host nation support, Yomiuri claimed that an idea has emerged within the ROK government on extending the accord while suspending actual data exchange for the time being in a bid to head off U.S. pressure. Sunday's Yomiuri claimed that the GOJ decided on Friday not to heed the Korean demand for easing its export control in exchange for GSOMIA continuation, adding that this "final decision" was conveyed to the United States.

Nikkei asserted that the Trump administration's distrust of the Moon administration runs deep, conjecturing that if GSOMIA expires, Seoul will pay a "high price" in the form of having to pay more for hosting U.S. troops. Asahi said the GSOMIA issue has now developed into a "problem between Washington and Seoul" because the Japan-ROK intelligence pact sits at the core of the trilateral security regime. The paper claimed the U.S. view is that a statement from Japan saying that it considers South Korea to be a "reliable security partner" would be helpful in persuading Seoul to extend GSOMIA. A source close to the Blue House also reportedly told the daily that the ROK government does not necessarily expect Japan to relax its tighter export control at this stage and that the ROK government might be able to extend GSOMIA if Tokyo were to simply make an announcement that it is willing to hold consultations on the matter.

Sankei wrote that the GOJ is displeased because the Moon administration appears to be "underestimating" the nuclear and missile threat posed by North Korea, quoting a Defense Ministry source as saying that discussions between the defense authorities of Japan and the ROK on GSOMIA will be "useless under the anti-Japanese president." Mainichi quoted an unnamed MOD official as saying that the issues of GSOMIA and export control cannot be resolved without settling first the requisitioned worker dispute.

Japan reportedly authorizes exports of key semiconductor material

Monday's Nikkei and Mainichi took up Korean media reports claiming that the GOJ has recently authorized exports of liquid hydrogen fluoride for use by South Korean semiconductor producers. Nikkei added that the GOJ is hopeful that the latest authorization, which comes on the heels of those for other semiconductor materials, will encourage the Moon administration to retract its decision to end GSOMIA.

U.S., ROK to put off joint air training

All national dailies reported today that following his meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong in Bangkok on Sunday, Secretary of Defense Esper told the press that bilateral air drills slated for later this month will be postponed as "an act of goodwill to contribute to an environment conducive to diplomacy and the advancement of peace" on the Korean Peninsula. The papers speculated that the postponement was intended to prevent derailing the denuclearization talks with North Korea. The Secretary reportedly urged the Kim regime to return to the negotiating table without preconditions and respond to the U.S. offer by demonstrating the "same goodwill," such as refraining from missile launches.

USG official congratulates Abe ahead of his becoming longest-serving prime minister

Sunday's Sankei reported from Washington on remarks made to the press on Friday by an unnamed high-ranking State Department official, who commented on the fact that Prime Minister Abe will become the longest-serving leader in Japanese history on Nov. 20. The official was quoted as saying: "We congratulate him because this signifies positive progress for the development of Japan's economic interests and political stability... It's good for the stability and continuity of U.S.-Japan relations."

China releases detained Japanese scholar

The Saturday editions of all national dailies highlighted the disclosure by Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga on Friday that Nobu Iwatani, a Hokkaido University professor who had been detained in Beijing since mid-February for unspecified reasons, was released and safely returned home on Friday afternoon. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson separately acknowledged the release of the professor, explaining that although he had been apprehended for collecting classified Chinese materials, he was released because he expressed "regret and remorse."

The papers emphasized that it is extremely unusual for the Chinese government to release a foreign individual being held on espionage charges this early, suspecting that Beijing made a concession in view of the warming bilateral ties evidenced by President Xi's planned state visit to Japan next spring. Mainichi pointed out growing opposition within the ruling LDP to inviting the Chinese leader as a state guest in the face of Iwatani's detention. The paper quoted Foreign Minister Motegi as saying when announcing his release: "We're dealing with outstanding issues one by one without fail so that we can welcome President Xi in a positive environment."

According to Yomiuri, when meeting with Chinese Premier Li in Bangkok on Nov. 4, Prime Minister Abe called for the swift release of Iwatani by saying that if the detention were prolonged, it would make President Xi's trip to Japan "difficult." Premier Li reportedly said in reply that he would "take note" of the request. The daily claimed that the researcher was arrested for possessing documents related to the Kuomintang, which he allegedly purchased at a secondhand bookstore in the Chinese capital.

The papers added that at least nine Japanese nationals are still being detained in China for espionage, with Asahi and Sankei conjecturing that the Chinese government chose to release Iwatani amid rising concerns within the Japanese academic community about the case having adverse effects on bilateral educational exchanges.

U.S. joins hands with Japan, Australia to rein in China's "debt-trap" diplomacy

Sunday's Nikkei carried a prominent inside-page article on the Blue Dot Network initiative that the U.S. launched recently in partnership with Japan and Australia to help develop infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region. The initiative calls for the establishment of "global trust standards," such as respect for transparency and accountability, local labor and human rights, rule of law, and the environment, to spur private investment in infrastructure. The daily said it is designed to counter China's Belt and Road initiative, which has been described as "debt trap diplomacy."

LDP expresses "strong concern" about social unrest in Hong Kong

Mainichi wrote on Saturday that the ruling LDP adopted a resolution on Friday voicing "strong concern" about the prolonged civil unrest in Hong Kong. The party urged the Hong Kong authorities to make additional efforts to bring the situation under control, release information on the circumstances surrounding the death of protestors, and adopt measures to ensure the safety of Japanese citizens and corporations.


U.S. allegedly pressed Japan to quadruple spending for hosting troops

Kyodo and Jiji reported on Saturday on a Foreign Policy article claiming that the Trump administration has demanded that Japan pay about four times as much per year for stationing U.S. troops. According to the magazine, then-National Security Advisor Bolton and NSC Asia Director Pottinger filed the request with the Japanese side when they visited Tokyo in July. The local outlets said that the figure, which would amount to roughly $8 billion, perhaps reflects President Trump's persistent complaint that the host nation support borne by Japan is insufficient. They also said Tokyo is bound to react sharply to what they referred to as an "outrageous demand," warning that it will damage Japanese sentiment toward America and hence weaken the bilateral alliance.

Sunday's Sankei ran a similar story, quoting an unnamed senior GOJ official as saying: "The U.S. hasn't made any request. Negotiations [on host nation support] haven't started yet." The paper also wrote that an unnamed high-ranking MOFA official said that no concrete figures have been mentioned.

Kono says U.S. should have reported 2016 mishap involving two planes off Okinawa

Saturday's Asahi took up remarks made at the Diet on Friday by Defense Minister Kono, who said that the U.S. military should have notified Japan at the time of a mishap involving two of its aircraft off the main island of Okinawa in April 2016. According to the minister, the U.S. side reported the case to the ministry only recently, attributing the delay to the fact that the incident occurred over international waters some 270 km off from Kadena AB, which the U.S. military considered to be outside the zone that required immediate notification.

Japan to develop electromagnetic wave device for neutralizing missiles

Sunday's Sankei led with a Defense Ministry plan to officially develop new equipment using "high-power microwaves" to neutralize enemy missiles and aircraft since promising results were achieved in preliminary research that began in FY2014. The ministry is hoping to earmark funds in the FY2021 budget at the earliest to develop the device, which will be mounted on ground- and sea-based launchers. The device will reportedly be able to intercept drones and multiple missiles simultaneously and may also be installed on the new ASDF fighter jet model that will succeed the F-2.

Japan, India to sign defense cooperation pact

Today's Nikkei wrote that Defense Minister Kono and his Indian counterpart held talks in Bangkok yesterday and confirmed a mutual commitment to the early signing of an acquisition and cross-servicing accord for the two militaries. Prime Minister Abe plans to visit India next month for talks with Indian Prime Minister Modi to discuss the subject. The two governments are also expected to convene a 2+2 foreign and defense ministerial meeting later this month.


Lower House to clear legislation on U.S.-Japan trade agreements soon

All national dailies reported on Saturday on the passage of the GOJ-sponsored bills on the U.S.-Japan trade agreements at the Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday, projecting that the full House of Representatives is expected to approve the two pieces of legislation on Tuesday. While noting that over 11 hours were spent deliberating the legislation, Asahi claimed that the discussions were somewhat "shallow" since the Abe administration dismissed the opposition bloc's requests for data to verify the GOJ's claims that the U.S. is committed to ending the existing tariffs and not imposing additional ones on Japanese auto imports. The daily pointed out that even the ruling Komeito party is skeptical of the GOJ estimate on the economic benefits of the bilateral pacts on goods and data trade, but the Abe administration is determined to move forward with parliamentary deliberations at an "unusually high speed" so as to meet the U.S. request for effectuating them on Jan. 1.

In a related story, Sunday's Asahi led with its estimate of the economic benefits of the trade agreements based on the assumption that the U.S. would not lift the existing tariff on Japanese auto imports. According to the Asahi estimate, the reduction in tariffs that Japan would pay to the U.S. as a result of the accords would only amount to $240 million, roughly 12% of the $2 billion that a GOJ estimate calculated based on the assumption that the auto tariff would be removed. Noting that the GOJ estimate showed that the corresponding figure for the U.S. would be $950 million, the daily insisted that if its estimate were to end up being accurate, Japan would be a "lopsided loser" in the bilateral trade deal. The daily speculated in a separate piece that the removal of the U.S. auto tariff is highly unlikely and neither side seems very eager to launch the second round of trade talks anytime soon. Tokyo is reportedly afraid that continuing to demand U.S. auto tariff elimination will backfire by prompting Washington to seek additional cutbacks in Japanese tariffs on U.S. agricultural imports. The paper quoted an GOJ source as saying there will be no additional trade agreements between the U.S. and Japan.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team