Morning Alert   -   Thursday, January 23, 2020
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Morning news

All broadcasters gave top coverage to reports that the death toll from the Wuhan coronavirus has risen to 17. TV Asahi reported that a store in Hakone, Kanagawa, caused a stir by putting up a sign saying Chinese must not enter the store or visit Hakone or even Japan because they will spread the new virus.

Major front-page items in national dailies included the rapid spread of the coronavirus in China, President Trump's impeachment trial, and Prime Minister Abe's remarks at the Diet yesterday expressing his resolve to move forward with a plan to launch integrated resorts with casinos in Japan in the mid-2020s.


U.S., Japan discuss defense equipment procurement

Nikkei, Sankei, and Yomiuri took up a meeting held in Tokyo yesterday between Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) Director Hooper and Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) Director General Takeda concerning the prolonged delay in delivery of defense equipment that Japan has purchased under the U.S. foreign military sales (FMS) program. The two sides reportedly agreed that Washington-based ATLA officials and DSCA officials should communicate more often to share information on the status of deliveries. According to Sankei, the delivery deadlines for a total of 132 items of defense hardware worth 32.6 billion yen ($296 million) have not been met. Yomiuri said the number of ATLA officials based in the U.S. capital will be increased from four to ten in FY2020.

Nikkei added that Defense Minister Kono held talks with Hooper on Tuesday and underscored the importance of improving the administration of the FMS process. The Pentagon official reportedly responded that FMS enables Japan to introduce "the best equipment quickly in the most efficient manner." The Defense Ministry is reportedly not pleased with some elements of the FMS mechanism because the United States sometimes refuses to quote prices for orders and prices have been raised after contracts were signed. The ministry is concerned that procurement under the FMS program will put pressure on the defense budget, as President Trump and other U.S. officials may push Japan to buy more American weapons systems.

MSDF may collect intelligence on Iran

Mainichi reported that during a briefing for opposition lawmakers on Wednesday concerning the deployment of MSDF assets to the Middle East for maritime security operations, Defense Ministry officials suggested that the deployed unit may gather information on the Iranian military and the Revolutionary Guard Corps. The officials noted that targets' nationalities are not relevant in collecting intelligence. They also hinted that data collected on Iranians may be shared with the United States.

Meanwhile, Nikkei highlighted press remarks made yesterday by Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, who indicated that MSDF assets may coordinate with their South Korean counterparts while gathering information in the Middle East since Seoul has recently decided to send military assets to the region independent of the U.S.-orchestrated Operation Sentinel. "It is extremely important to coordinate and communicate with countries with which we share objectives," the government spokesman said. "We would like to pay close attention to South Korea's plan."

Nikkei separately reported on Prime Minister Abe's remarks at the Diet on Wednesday. He reportedly emphasized the significance of his decision to deploy SDF assets to the Middle East. He also explained that Japan will make "utmost diplomatic efforts to ease tensions and maintain and strengthen friendly bilateral relations." The daily added that Abe has elected not to express support for the U.S. operation to take down Iranian General Soleimani not only because Tokyo has maintained amicable ties with Tehran but also in light of ongoing discussions in the United States about the appropriateness and legal basis of the military operation.


LDP divided over Abe's plan to roll out red carpet for Chinese leader

Yomiuri noted that conservative LDP politicians remain strongly opposed to Prime Minister Abe's plan to invite Chinese leader Xi to visit Japan as a state guest in view of Beijing's aggressive naval operations in the vicinity of the Senkakus and crackdown on Muslims in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. While the LDP leadership headed by Secretary General Nikai fully supports the plan in the belief that rolling out the red carpet to the top Chinese politician is critical for managing bilateral relations, Abe is reportedly performing a balancing act between the proponents and opponents. In an apparent bid to please anti-Chinese LDP parliamentarians, Abe chose to mention Taiwan in his key policy speech at the Diet last week but not his plan to accord state guest status to Xi. According to the article, Taiwanese President Tsai posted a tweet in Japanese saying: "I was very pleased that the word Taiwan elicited cheers in Japan's parliament."

In a related story, Sankei wrote that arrangements are underway for Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi to travel to Tokyo in February to expedite arrangements for Xi's state visit to Japan in the spring. As the top Chinese official in charge of diplomacy, Yang is likely to hold talks with National Security Secretariat Secretary General Kitamura.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team