Morning Alert - Friday, July 10, 2020
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Morning news

NHK gave top coverage to the forecast for heavy rain in western Japan, including Kyushu, and in the Kanto and Tohoku regions. According to the network, 65 people had died, 1 had no vital signs, and 16 remained missing as of Thursday due to the devastating damage caused by the heavy rain in the Kyushu region.

All commercial networks and national dailies other than Nikkei led with reports that 224 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Tokyo on Thursday, the highest-ever daily tally for the capital. Nikkei gave top play to a report on companies that are rethinking the value of conventional office in light of the growing adoption of teleworking.


356 new COVID-19 cases confirmed across Japan on Thursday

All national papers reported that a total of 356 people tested positive nationwide yesterday, including 224 in Tokyo and 31 in Osaka. Three out of four patients in the nation’s capital were in their 20s or 30s. The public health authorities have reportedly been unable to trace the transmission routes of 104 of the 224 new cases in Tokyo. Governor Koike reportedly attributed the spike to aggressive testing targeting workers at nightlife establishments, projecting that the daily caseload may increase further as testing capacity now exceeds 6,500 per day. A total of 69 new cases were also detected in Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa Prefectures.

The dailies noted that Tokyo officials are concerned that community transmission may be increasing rapidly, expressing concern that the steady rise in the number of cases indicates that the virus is spreading widely among Tokyoites.

According to the papers, the GOJ has no intention to reissue a state of emergency despite the surge in the number of cases on the grounds that nearly 80% of the patients are under 40 years old, few have serious symptoms, and hospital capacity is not overloaded. The GOJ plans to ease restrictions today on public events, including professional baseball and soccer games, to allow up to 5,000 people to attend. Prime Minister Abe told the press last night: “We are monitoring the situation closely. We will be further enhancing infection prevention measures in coordination with local governments by expanding testing capacity and strengthening public health center systems.”

However, many prefectural governors are reportedly alarmed by the apparent resurgence, with some of them calling for people in the Tokyo metropolitan area not to visit their regions. Some medical professionals are also wary of the GOJ’s apparent inclination to ease restrictions on gatherings at sports arenas and other large venues.

Japan to start discussions with 10 foreign governments on resumption of business travel

Nikkei front-paged a speculative piece projecting that the GOJ is aiming to launch talks in mid-July with China, South Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia, Singapore, and five other East Asian countries with the goal of resuming business travel to and from these nations based on the assessment that the COVID-19 outbreaks in those regions have largely been contained.


Deputy Secretary Biegun holds talks with top Japanese diplomat

All national papers reported that Deputy Secretary of State Biegun met with Vice Foreign Minister Akiba on Thursday night at the Iikura House. The two officials reportedly discussed a range of issues, including the rising tension on the Korean Peninsula and China’s enactment of the national security law for Hong Kong. They reportedly confirmed mutual coordination to resolve North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and the abduction issue and to develop treatments and vaccines for the novel coronavirus. This was the first visit to Japan by a senior foreign government official in more than three months, according to the papers. The Deputy Secretary plans to meet with Foreign Minister Motegi, Defense Minister Kono, and National Security Secretariat Secretary General Kitamura today.

NHK carried a similar story this morning, saying that the two high-ranking diplomats shared concern about the situation in Hong Kong and agreed to pay close attention to whether the civil liberties of its people and foreign business interests there will be protected. They also reportedly forged a consensus on taking a concerted approach to deterring China’s maritime advancement.

In related articles, Yomiuri and Asahi wrote that the GOJ took extra care in hosting Deputy Secretary Biegun amid the coronavirus outbreak, saying that strict protocols were implemented to prevent virus infection. The two diplomats reportedly avoided shaking hands and instead elbow bumped during a photo op and used microphones to reduce infection risks. Instead of serving a full course dinner, the Japanese side served pre-arranged bento boxes. The Deputy Secretary and his entourage were also required to take PCR tests prior to departure from the U.S. and upon arrival in Japan and use a vehicle arranged by the U.S. Embassy for transportation. According to Asahi, the Deputy Secretary tested negative in a test administered upon arrival at Yokota AB on late Thursday afternoon. All the U.S. diplomat’s meetings with Japanese officials in Tokyo will be held at the Iikura House. The dailies added that the Japanese government will adopt similar infection-control protocols in accommodating other foreign dignitaries in the future.

Bolton predicts summit between President Trump, Kim Jong Un as “October surprise”

NHK reported on Thursday on its interview with former National Security Advisor Bolton, in which he commented on the possibility of President Trump holding another meeting with DPRK leader Kim Jong Un ahead of the presidential election in November. The network quoted Bolton as saying that American political jargon includes the term “October surprise,” and that this year’s “surprise” could be another meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un. Bolton warned that another meeting with the DPRK leader could lead to a negative outcome for the United States because Washington may have no choice but to compromise. The former security advisor added that President Trump brought up the abduction issue at his meetings with Kim Jong Un and that the DPRK leader seemed to understand that the issue is important for Japan and Prime Minister Abe.

Abe speaks with Australian leader over phone

All national dailies wrote that Prime Minister Abe held a videoconference with his Australian counterpart Morrison yesterday and shared “grave concern” about the situation in Hong Kong following China’s passage of the national security law for the territory since it significantly undermines the “one-nation, two systems” principle and Hong Kong’s autonomy. They also voiced “strong opposition” to China’s unilateral attempts to alter the status quo in the South and East China Seas. During the 100-minute-long conversation, the two leaders reaffirmed bilateral cooperation for the development of treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. The two premiers also agreed to examine the WHO’s initial response to the pandemic and to continue discussions on the signing of a “reciprocal access agreement” for their two militaries to deepen defense cooperation.

Eight candidates to compete for top WTO post

All national dailies reported that a total of eight candidates, including a senior South Korean trade official, will be vying for the post of WTO director general, as nominations closed on Wednesday. The dailies said the race is of crucial significance given that the global trade watchdog has been in disarray following the rise in protectionism triggered by U.S.-China trade friction and the coronavirus pandemic.

As for which candidate Japan intends to support, Foreign Minister Motegi has said he or she must “make proactive contributions to maintaining and enhancing the multilateral trade system and be accountable for ensuring institutional transparency.” Sankei speculated that as Western countries are wary about growing Chinese presence at multiple international organizations, Japan is likely to take a coordinated approach with their governments for the election of a new WTO leader while taking into account the candidates’ connections with Beijing.

Mainichi claimed that the GOJ is reluctant to support South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee in view of the ongoing bilateral disputes over export controls and compensation for former requisitioned workers. Tokyo reportedly does not want the ROK to increase its diplomatic presence in the international arena. Nikkei noted that as the South Korean candidate took the lead in the Moon administration in referring to the WTO the Japan-ROK dispute over export controls, Tokyo is afraid that if she is elected, the trade body may rule against Tokyo over the matter.

Mainichi and Sankei also highlighted the South Korean media coverage of Japan’s position on the WTO race, noting they have reported that Tokyo appears to be determined to block Yoo’s candidacy out of fear that the country may lose its leading presence in East Asia. The ROK outlets reportedly took issue with Trade Minister Kajiyama’s comment on Thursday that Japan will be “heavily involved in the selection process,” interpreting it as meaning that Tokyo will be trying to elect somebody who is sympathetic to Japan’s argument in the Japan-ROK trade conflict.

Japan pledges financial support for Southeast Asian countries

Yomiuri reported on Thursday’s videoconference held between Foreign Minister Motegi and his counterparts from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, during which the Japanese official pledged some 1 billion yen ($9.3 million) in grant in aid for sustainable development of the Mekong region. He also promised to provide medical equipment and technical support to help these countries combat the novel coronavirus and other infectious diseases. The ministers of Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar heeded Motegi’s request for starting discussions on the eventual resumption of bilateral travel, which has been suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


Diet panel holds debate on Aegis Ashore cancellation

All national papers reported that the Upper House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense convened a meeting on Thursday to discuss the Abe administration’s decision to cancel the Aegis Ashore deployment plan. Defense Minister Kono indicated that the ministry will move rapidly to pursue alternative measures, including allowing the SDF to possess “capabilities to strike enemy bases.” He mentioned that such capabilities could include hardware for detecting enemies’ mobile missile platforms and underground missile launch pads, anti-air radar, equipment to neutralize enemy missiles, and missiles to destroy enemy bases.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team