Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, January 14, 2020
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Morning news

Most TV networks gave top coverage to reports that Kento Momota, the No. 1 male badminton player in the world, was injured and hospitalized after a van carrying him and four others collided with a truck in Malaysia on Monday, a day after he won the Malaysia Masters' men's singles. TBS led with a report that Queen Elizabeth released a statement on Monday expressing her full support for the decision by Prince Harry and his wife to step down as senior members of the royal family.

Major front-page items in national dailies included reports on GOJ moves to prevent the Chinese from marketing drones and conducting maritime research in Japan, plans to integrate traffic data collected by different road management organizations to minimize congestion during the Olympics, and Shikoku Electric Power Co.'s start of operations on Monday night to remove mixed oxide (MOX) and other spent nuclear fuel from one of its offline nuclear reactors in Ehime Prefecture.


U.S., Japan, ROK to hold foreign ministerial meeting in San Francisco

Saturday's Mainichi reported that the U.S., Japanese, and South Korean foreign ministers will assemble in San Francisco on Tuesday to discuss North Korea's denuclearization. Foreign Minister Motegi will also hold bilateral talks with Secretary Pompeo and ROK Foreign Minister Kang.

Noting that Defense Minister Kono will also travel to the U.S. for talks with Defense Secretary Esper on Tuesday, Monday's Nikkei said the two key Japanese officials' visits to the U.S. are intended to demonstrate at home and abroad the two allies' commitment to and coordination for regional and global peace and stability. Pointing out that Jan. 19 marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-Japan security treaty, the daily said Tokyo is hoping that close communication between the defense and diplomatic authorities over Iran and North Korea will boost the deterrence of the alliance.

Abe meets with senior Saudi officials

The Monday and Tuesday editions of all national dailies reported from Riyadh on Prime Minister Abe's meetings with top Saudi Arabian leaders, including King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farham over the weekend. The premier briefed the Saudi officials on Japan's plan to send military assets to the Middle East to ensure the safety of Japanese tankers and cargo vessels there. The crown prince endorsed the Japanese plan by saying: "We support Japan's commitment completely." The two sides reportedly exchanged views on the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, agreeing to enhance cooperation to defuse the situation. They also reportedly discussed bilateral relations with an eye toward deepening economic and energy partnership. Mainichi and Sankei said that although Abe is keen to serve as a facilitator of dialogue between the U.S.-Saudi camp and Iran, this will be extremely difficult.

Meanwhile, NHK reported this morning that visiting PM Abe and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Shekih Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan agreed on Monday that various diplomatic efforts must be made to bring stability to the Middle East. During an hourlong meeting in Abu Dhabi, the two leaders reportedly agreed to work closely with Saudi Arabia and other nations. On the deployment of SDF units to the region, the Crown Prince reportedly said his country will provide concrete cooperation and support. Abe reportedly told the Crown Prince that all visitors from UAE to Japan will be exempted from visas. The two leaders also agreed to increase the amount of crude oil from the Emirate of Abu Dhabi stored in tanks in Japan from 1 million to 1.3 million kiloliters. The network said Abe will visit Oman on the last leg of his Middle East tour today.

President Trump reportedly sent birthday greeting to Kim Jong Un

Saturday's Yomiuri and Sankei reported from Seoul that according to a senior Blue House official who met with President Trump briefly at the White House on Wednesday, the President asked him to give North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a letter congratulating him on his birthday, which is Jan. 8. The letter was reportedly delivered to the DPRK via the South Korean government. The papers speculated that the U.S. leader conveyed in the letter his desire to maintain positive relations with Chairman Kim and urged him not to stage provocations.

In a follow-up development, all Sunday papers reported that a senior North Korean official dismissed South Korea's account of the letter by saying President Trump sent it to Chairman Kim directly. The DPRK official reportedly added that Pyongyang has no plans to resume dialogue with Washington unless the U.S. relaxes its sanctions on the Kim regime.

Japan, Russia hold deputy foreign ministerial talks

Yomiuri wrote on Saturday that Deputy Foreign Minister Mori held talks with his Russian counterpart in Tokyo on Friday on the Middle East situation and North Korea's denuclearization. Mori apparently expressed concern over the Russian military's operations in the vicinity of the Northern Territories, while the Russian official conveyed Moscow's concern about Japan's plan to deploy Aegis Ashore batteries.

Meanwhile, today's Mainichi wrote that according to several sources involved in Russo-Japanese relations, Moscow has been asking Tokyo during their bilateral peace treaty talks to provide an assurance in writing that the "U.S. military in Japan would not pose a security threat to Russia" even if the four contested islands were returned to Japan. Russia also reportedly pressed Japan to acknowledge in writing that its occupation of the disputed territories after WWII was legitimate. The paper added in a separate piece that the alleged Russian demand for documenting these points reflects its concern about the U.S.-Japan alliance. While noting that Prime Minister Abe is anxious to conclude a bilateral peace treaty by resolving the territorial dispute before he steps down in September 2021, the daily wrote that the goal will be difficult to achieve because of Moscow's tough stance.

Japan welcomes reelection of Taiwanese leader

Sunday's Mainichi, Yomiuri, and Sankei reported that Foreign Minister Motegi released a statement on Taiwan President Tsai's reelection as president on Saturday. "Taiwan is an important partner and a precious friend with whom we share basic values and maintain close economic relations and robust people-to-people exchanges," said Motegi. "We plan to deepen our bilateral cooperation and exchanges further." Yomiuri noted that the Abe administration is hoping to promote coordination with the Tsai administration to deter China's maritime advancement. While saying Tokyo welcomes Tsai's victory because of her pro-U.S. and pro-Japanese line, Mainichi noted that Japan is also afraid that a possible rise in tensions between Taipei and Beijing as a result of her hard line toward China may undermine stability in East Asia.

In follow-up articles, all national dailies reported on Monday that China voiced strong displeasure on Sunday over the messages issued by Japan, the U.S. and the UK welcoming Tsai's reelection.

Japan to strengthen cooperation with ASEAN

Saturday's Yomiuri took up a speech by Foreign Minister Motegi at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta on Friday in which he mentioned Japan's plan to enhance cooperation with ASEAN members to create a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The minister said Tokyo will cooperate with ASEAN in such areas as maritime security, free trade, public health, and disaster prevention. Motegi also met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo and other senior officials to confirm bilateral coordination. According to Nikkei, Motegi and the Indonesian foreign minister agreed to convene a bilateral 2+2 foreign and defense ministerial meeting later this year.


U.S.-Japan alliance being tested amid China's rise, U.S.'s alleged isolationist approach

Monday's Asahi published prominent front- and inside-page articles on Japan's deployment of military assets to the Middle East for intelligence collection independent of the U.S.-led Operation Sentinel, claiming that Tokyo only chose to commit troops in response to repeated U.S. requests. An unnamed senior MOFA official was quoted as saying: "The bilateral alliance will be tested over host nation support and trade talks. It is necessary to show deference to the U.S." The paper projected that the bilateral alliance will experience difficult moments due to what it described as the U.S.'s isolationist tendencies and to China's growing economic and military presence. It also noted that Russia and China are anxious to stage military provocations by capitalizing on the apparent erosion of the trilateral partnership between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. The paper quoted a Brookings Institution report released last October as saying: "American decision-makers need to remember that the Japan-U.S. alliance is an indispensable feature of America's wider international strategy."

MSDF planes depart Japan to gather intelligence in Middle East

The Sunday editions of all national papers reported that a 60-member MSDF unit departed Okinawa for the Middle East on Saturday aboard two P-3C planes, saying that they are expected to start collecting intelligence on Jan. 20 to ensure the safety of Japanese commercial vessels in the Gulf of Oman and other designated areas while simultaneously engaging in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. During a sendoff event at an SDF base, Defense Minister Kono said: "It is extremely important to ensure the freedom of navigation of Japanese ships in the Middle East, which is the world's primary supplier of energy". I want you to carry out your duties with courage and pride."

Saturday's Mainichi and Sunday's Asahi both ran prominent inside-page articles on concerns of Middle East-bound Japanese MSDF members, explaining that they are worried about whether they can perform two separate missions simultaneously. Under the cabinet decision on the deployment, the P-3C unit is tasked with collecting intelligence for ensuring the safety of Japanese commercial ships "to the extent that the mission does not hinder the anti-piracy operation." An unnamed MSDF pilot cited by Mainichi reportedly said it is impossible to perform two separate missions during a single flight. The MSDF personnel are reportedly wondering whether they can properly deal with a situation in which a Japanese ship is about to be attacked while a separate Japanese vessel is already being targeted by pirates.

In a related story, today's Sankei published the results of its latest public opinion poll that put support for the SDF deployment to the Middle East at 49% and nonsupport at 35.3%. More than four out of five respondents said Japan should conduct diplomacy in a manner that allows it to maintain friendly relations with both the U.S. and Iran.

U.S. military to provide land for burial of pigs culled to prevent spread of swine fever

Okinawa Times and Ryukyu Shimpo reported online on Sunday that the U.S. military has accepted Okinawa Mayor Kuwae's request for the use of land within a military installation to bury thousands of pigs to prevent the spread of swine fever. According to the articles, the U.S. military authorities granted the city's request to bury them on the land occupied by the Kadena Ammunition Depot. The dailies quoted 18th Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Joel Carey as saying: "Okinawa is our home and we want to do everything we can to help our neighbors. I'm glad that Mayor Kuwae asked for our help and that we were able to provide the assistance he needed." The mayor reportedly voiced appreciation for the military's quick response. The city plans to cull close to 4,700 pigs to contain the disease. The papers added that the site in the U.S. installation may only be used when other locations in the municipality are no longer able to accept the culled animals.

Japan to prevent Chinese from conducting maritime research in territorial waters

Tuesday's Yomiuri wrote in its lead story that the GOJ has decided not to allow Chinese companies to conduct geographical research in Japan's territorial waters in order to prevent China from using data on the ocean floor for military purposes. The GOJ will reportedly ask local firms to submit information on Chinese enterprises to which they intend to contract out maritime research for commercial purposes to check whether the plans raise national security concerns. According to the article, the government was alarmed when it learned last April that a Chinese company had been hired by a Japanese wind power generation operator to conduct research on the seabed off the coast of Akita where the Defense Ministry plans to install an Aegis Ashore platform. The project was reportedly canceled at the last minute due to the GOJ's opposition.

GOJ to support domestic development of small drones

Today's Asahi gave top coverage to a GOJ plan to assist Japanese companies in procuring and developing small UAVs that can withstand cyberattacks out of concern that such vehicles could be hijacked or the images and other data captured by them could be stolen remotely in the 5G era given that most of the models currently on the domestic market are produced in China. The government plans to enact legislation intended to offer various financial incentives for domestic enterprises to procure and develop small drones that can withstand cyberattacks.


Ordinary Diet session to start on Jan. 20

Sankei and Mainichi reported on Saturday that the GOJ decided on Friday to convene this fiscal year's regular Diet session on Jan. 20, saying that the Abe administration plans to submit some 60 pieces of legislation on such key policy issues as pension reform. The political scandal related to the casino law and the deployment of SDF assets to the Middle East will be the key points of contention between the ruling and the opposition blocs during the 150-day session that runs through June 17.


Prosecutors seek arrest warrants for two Americans who helped Ghosn escape

Jiji reported on Friday that Tokyo prosecutors are looking to obtain arrest warrants for two American nationals on suspicion that they abetted former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn in jumping bail and escaping from Japan in violation of the immigration control law. The prosecutors are reportedly planning to ask the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO) to put the pair on its wanted list for allegedly smuggling Ghosn out of Japan via Kansai International Airport. They are reportedly actively investigating Ghosn's escape in the belief that more people were probably involved in its planning and execution.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team