Morning Alert   -   Monday, January 27, 2020
The following information reflects the reporting of the cited news media and does not reflect the opinions of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Japan Media Highlights is intended for USG use only and should not be forwarded. Visit the website here. For more information, contact TokyoMATT@state.gov.


Morning news

All national papers, NHK, NTV, and TBS gave top coverage to reports on the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, saying that Prime Minister Abe told the press on Sunday evening that the GOJ has decided to evacuate all Japanese citizens in Wuhan who wish to return home using chartered government planes. The media outlets reported that Japan's fourth case of the new coronavirus was confirmed on Sunday. The patient, a tourist from Wuhan visiting Aichi Prefecture, is reportedly in stable condition. Fuji TV and TV Asahi led with reports that former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.


Senior USG officials call for Japan to pay more for stationing U.S. troops

Sunday's Yomiuri and Sankei focused on a press conference on Friday by Deputy Assistant Secretary Knapper during which he reportedly urged Japan and other U.S. allies to make greater financial contributions to the cost of stationing the U.S. military. Asahi also took up a speech delivered in Washington on Friday by Assistant Secretary Stilwell during which he suggested that the Trump administration will keep pressing U.S. allies, including Japan, to pay more of the cost of stationing U.S. troops. While referring to China's military buildup, A/S Stilwell reportedly stated: "We should all reflect on the fact that the security situation in the region is definitely different than it was 5 years ago or 10 years ago". Capabilities of our alliance friends to contribute have also increased."

Okinawa election in June to determine speed of FRF construction

Saturday's Nikkei reported that the Okinawa prefectural assembly election scheduled for June is likely to have a significant impact on the construction of the Futenma replacement facility off Camp Schwab, as politicians close to Governor Tamaki currently hold a comfortable majority in the local legislature. The assembly endorsed the local government's moves to file lawsuits against the central government to block the relocation initiative by funding the litigation costs. If LDP-backed and other conservative politicians were to clinch a majority in the June race, it would become difficult for the governor to continue waging these legal battles. Since the GOJ is expected to ask Tamaki in the near future to accept an FRF design change for the large-scale engineering work needed to fortify the soft seabed in the vicinity, the daily said the FRF construction may be delayed further depending on the results of the summer election.

U.S. military determined to hold on to "perks" in Tokyo metropolitan area

Sunday's Asahi carried prominent front- and inside-page reports on the Yokota Airspace, claiming that the U.S. military dismissed a Japanese proposal last year to allow commercial planes to use the Yokota Air Base to transport passengers during the Tokyo Olympics. The U.S. military reportedly rejected Japan's argument that allowing commercial planes to use the airspace would give the impression that the U.S. military is serious about cooperating with the international sports event. A senior Defense Ministry official speculated that the U.S. military is perhaps concerned that accommodating commercial flights at Yokota even for a limited period could eventually lead to indefinite civilian use and the possible return of the installation. While quoting a GOJ source as saying, "Even Italy and Germany, which were also defeated in World War II, have retained control of the airspace over their capitals," Asahi described the Yokota Airspace, Hardy Barracks, and Hotel New Sano in central Tokyo and North Dock in Yokohama as "perks" the U.S. military has enjoyed for six decades. The daily asserted that there is no firm legal justification for the U.S. military to have such perks.

Japan calls for improvement of U.S. foreign military sales program

Sunday's Sankei wrote that the GOJ is pressing the USG to improve the administration of the foreign military sales (FMS) program since the delivery deadlines for purchased defense hardware have frequently not been met. According to the article, Tokyo is also unhappy with certain elements of the FMS mechanism because sometimes the U.S. has allegedly refused to quote prices for orders and prices have been raised after contracts were signed. But since Japan is not permitted to import advanced weapons systems from U.S. defense manufacturers directly, it has no option other than to rely on the government-sponsored FMS system to procure state-of-the-art defense equipment at a time when the security situation surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly harsh.

U.S. military aircraft makes unscheduled landing in waters off Okinawa

All national dailies reported briefly on Sunday that a U.S. Navy helicopter made an unscheduled landing in waters off the east coast of Okinawa on Saturday afternoon. The five crewmembers aboard the MH-60 aircraft were rescued safely and airlifted to Camp Foster following rescue operations conducted jointly by the U.S. military, the ASDF, and the Japan Coast Guard.


Chinese leader likely to visit Japan in second week of April

Asahi wrote on Saturday that Japan and China are arranging for Chinese leader Xi to travel to Japan as a state guest on April 6. During his four-day stay in Japan, he will reportedly have an audience with the Emperor and travel to the countryside. Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi may visit Tokyo in February and Foreign Minister Wang may visit in March to work out the details of Xi's visit. Japan is reportedly hoping that Xi and Prime Minister Abe will release a political document setting forth the tone of the bilateral relationship and that China will agree to lift its ban on food imports from Fukushima and nine other prefectures.

In a related story, Asahi took up Lower House LDP Diet member Nobuo Kishi's recent trip to Taiwan, where he met with President Tsai to congratulate her on her reelection. Noting that Kishi is regarded as an envoy of Prime Minister Abe since he is his younger brother, the daily conjectured that the visit was arranged to address opposition among anti-Chinese LDP lawmakers to Abe's plan to roll out the red carpet for Xi.

Meanwhile, Sunday's Sankei highlighted press remarks made on Friday by Deputy Assistant Secretary Knapper regarding Xi's planned Japan visit. According to Knapper, the Trump administration is hoping that the Chinese leader's visit will become an opportunity for the U.S. and Japan to advance their shared goals regarding China.

DPRK taps hardliner as top diplomat

According to the Saturday editions of Yomiuri and Nikkei, the North Korean government confirmed on Friday that Ri Son Gwon, a former defense commander with limited diplomatic experience, has been appointed the country's new foreign minister. Noting that Ri is known for taking a hard line toward South Korea as one of the principal officials responsible for reunification, the articles projected that the new top DPRK diplomat will probably take a tough approach toward the United States and that the deadlock in the denuclearization talks is likely to become prolonged as a result.

U.S. opposed to ROK plan to resume economic cooperation with DPRK

Monday's Yomiuri reported from Seoul on the disclosure by a source involved in U.S.-Japan-ROK relations that a top U.S. security official conveyed to his South Korean counterpart in early January U.S. opposition to the ROK government's plan to resume economic cooperation programs with the DPRK, such as Mount Kumgang tourism and the Kaesong Industrial Complex. In response to the proposal allegedly made by ROK President Moon's senior security aide during a White House meeting on Jan. 7, National Security Advisor O'Brien reportedly stated that Seoul should be careful about promoting inter-Korean initiatives in violation of UN sanctions. Noting that the South Korean leader is extremely keen to play up improvements in inter-Korean relations ahead of the general election scheduled for April 15, the daily speculated that if Seoul ignores U.S. opposition and resumes such cooperation, its ties with Washington will be damaged. The daily added that South Korea's recent decision to deploy military assets to the Middle East for maritime security operations was perhaps intended to ease Washington's opposition to the resumption of inter-Korean economic cooperation.


Environment minister's remarks on Vietnam coal plant project cause stir within GOJ

Saturday's Nikkei highlighted remarks made on Friday by Environment Minister Koizumi calling for a review of a project involving Japanese, U.S., and Chinese companies to construct a coal power plant in Vietnam. Some GOJ officials are troubled by the minister's objection because the initiative was orchestrated by Mitsubishi Corp. and backed by the Japan Bank of International Cooperation as a program to deepen ties between Tokyo and Hanoi. While noting that many international banks have recently become cautious about financing coal power projects, the daily predicted that the apparent disarray within the GOJ over the Vietnam project may adversely affect infrastructure development initiatives pursued by Japanese firms abroad.


GOJ to submit legislation to encourage domestic development of drones

Sunday's Nikkei wrote that the GOJ plans to submit to the Diet in February a bill designed to promote the development of domestic drones because a Chinese manufacturer's de facto monopoly on the drone market is viewed as a national security risk. The daily said that if the legislation is enacted, domestic manufacturers will be able to receive various financial incentives when their products meet the technological, security, and other guidelines that the GOJ plans to draw up for drone production.


China suspends tour sales to contain Wuhan coronavirus

The Sunday editions of all national dailies wrote that the Chinese government instructed all travel agencies to stop selling domestic and international tours as part of its effort to contain the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus. The papers said the drastic measure represents the Chinese leadership's strong concern about growing domestic and international criticism of its apparent failure to stop the spread of the virus at an early stage. Noting that Japan's tourism industry has benefited greatly from a rapid increase in the number of Chinese visitors in the past several years, the dailies predicted China's travel ban is likely to deal a severe blow to the GOJ's goal of hosting 40 million foreign tourists this year since Chinese accounted for one-fourth of the foreigners who visited Japan in 2019.

The papers separately reported that Japan's third and fourth cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Both patients are Chinese nationals from Wuhan who are visiting Japan as tourists.

Former SoftBank employee arrested for leaking information to Russia

The Sunday editions of all national papers wrote that the Tokyo Metropolitan Police arrested a former employee of Japanese telecom giant SoftBank on Saturday on suspicion of illegally obtaining business secrets. The 49-year-old suspect allegedly gave memory devices containing classified data he downloaded from a SoftBank computer server to Tokyo-based Russian government officials on several occasions in return for cash before he was fired late last year. The stolen data was reportedly related to SoftBank's telecommunications technology, but the company said it was "not highly classified" information. According to the articles, the police have asked the Russian Embassy to have the two diplomats report to the police for questioning, but one of them has already returned to Russia.

While claiming that Russia has been actively conducting industrial espionage by targeting Japanese commercial enterprises lately, Yomiuri noted that the Russian Embassy posted a message on Facebook dismissing the Japanese allegation.


Cabinet support remains steady

Today's Nikkei front-paged the results of its latest public opinion poll that put support for the Abe administration at 48%, unchanged from a month ago, and nonsupport at 45%, up four points. Some 58% approved of the SDF dispatch to the Middle East for naval security operations, while 35% felt otherwise.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team