Morning Alert - Wednesday, August 19, 2020
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Morning news

NHK gave top coverage to a report that the temperature is expected to exceed 35 degrees Celsius in many parts of Japan again today. The network also said 79 people have died of heatstroke in Tokyo this month, noting that more than 80% of them were not using air conditioners. NTV led with a report that 207 new COVID-19 cases were reported and 193 people were admitted to the hospital due to heatstroke in Tokyo on Tuesday. Fuji TV reported that the number of seriously ill patients in Osaka surged from 4 on July 18 to 65 yesterday, more than double the number in Tokyo. TBS led with a report on the danger of playing and swimming in rivers. TV Asahi reported on an increase in young people playing with fireworks in dangerous ways amid the cancellation of major firework events due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Major front-page items in national papers included a U.S.-Japan plan to roll out a network of small satellites to detect and trace new types of missiles under development by China, Russia, and North Korea (Nikkei), the start of the U.S. Democratic National Convention (Sankei/Mainichi/Yomiuri), and a G7 health ministers’ plan for reforming the WHO (Yomiuri).


U.S., Japan to develop network of satellites to detect enemy missiles

Nikkei wrote that the U.S. and Japan plan to jointly roll out a network of small satellites with the goal of detecting and tracking new missiles being developed by China, Russia, and North Korea. The U.S. is reportedly set to deploy some 200 small satellites equipped with infrared sensors to detect enemy missiles at altitudes of 300 to 1,000 km, instead of around 36,000 km where conventional missile tracking satellites operate, in order to counter hypersonic missiles or missiles that maneuver during flight to evade interceptors. Japan is expected to assist with the development of sensors and miniaturization of satellites. Tokyo may also take on some of the cost of setting up the missile defense network using small satellites. The U.S. is reportedly planning to launch an initial network of some 20 satellites beginning in 2022.

U.S.-led multinational naval exercise starts off Hawaii

Nikkei reported that RIMPAC 2020, a major training exercise involving 22 warships from the U.S., Japan, Australia, France, and six other countries, began off the coast of Hawaii on Tuesday, saying some 5,300 troops are expected to conduct various drills, including anti-submarine warfare training, through Aug. 31. U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Aquilino said in a released statement: “RIMPAC is a unique opportunity for like-minded nations to expand mutual support, increase interoperability, and demonstrate our collective resolve to ensure the Indo-Pacific remains free and open.” Noting that it was initially thought to be difficult to hold the biennial exercise this year due to the coronavirus pandemic which affected several U.S. aircraft carriers, the daily claimed that Tokyo pressed Washington to hold it as originally scheduled in order to demonstrate that the U.S. and its partners are united in deterring China’s intrusive naval operations in the South and East China Seas. The daily added, however, that the drills have been scaled back and the U.S. decided against inviting the Taiwanese Navy in order to avoid provoking Beijing.

In a related development, all national papers noted that the U.S. military also began joint training with the ROK military yesterday to prepare for the possibility of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula. This annual command post exercise was also reportedly scaled back considerably on account of the COVID-19 outbreak. The papers said North Korea is likely to react strongly.

Urasoe mayor approves transfer of Naha Military Port functions to local harbor

Asahi wrote that Urasoe Mayor Matsumoto agreed yesterday to accept the idea of relocating the functions of the Naha Military Port to the northern section of a local harbor, which had been pursued by the Okinawa prefectural and Naha municipal governments. Mayor Matsumoto had been opposed to the plan to relocate the port to the northern section and pressed for moving it to the south on the grounds that building U.S. military facilities in the northern section of the port would hinder his plan to lure resort facilities to the area. Pointing out that the U.S. military and the GOJ reached a consensus in early August on rejecting the southern plan for technical reasons, the paper conjectured that the Urasoe leader made an “agonizing decision” to back down on his preference yesterday following his meeting with Governor Tamaki and Naha Mayor Shiroma.

Defense chief meets with Chinese envoy

Asahi, Sankei, and Mainichi wrote that Defense Minister Kono held talks with Chinese Ambassador Kong at the ministry on Tuesday and conveyed “strong concern” about the Chinese Coast Guard’s aggressive patrol operations in the vicinity of the Senkakus. While also voicing “grave concern” about the situation in Hong Kong, the Japanese official reportedly underscored the importance of close bilateral communications and promoting defense exchange programs. The Defense Ministry chose not to disclose the Chinese diplomat’s responses to Kono’s statements during the 40-minute session, which was proposed by the Chinese.

Japan to increase number of MSDF members by 2,000

Mainichi reported in a front-page article that the GOJ has decided to recruit more MSDF personnel to crew Aegis warships tasked with monitoring ballistic missile launches by North Korea. The Defense Ministry reportedly plans to earmark funds in FY2021 budget with the goal of increasing the number of MSDF members from the present 43,000 to 45,000 in several years. Noting that an idea has emerged for MSDF Aegis warships to be responsible for the ballistic missile tracking and intercepting missions that were expected to be borne by Aegis Ashore batteries, the paper noted that the MSDF is in desperate need of more personnel at a time when its capacity has been overwhelmed due to North Korea’s missile provocations and China’s relentless operations in the East China Sea.

GOJ creates manual for SDF waste disposal operations during disaster relief

Sankei wrote that the Defense Ministry and the Environment Ministry have drawn up a manual on a division of labor between the SDF and other government agencies and the private sector regarding waste disposal during government-wide natural disaster response operations. The purpose of creating the guidelines is to end the “free use of SDF labor” in clearing earth, sand, and other debris following natural disasters, which could hinder the SDF’s capability to defend the nation from adversaries.


Abe to resume official duties today following health checkup

All national papers wrote that Prime Minister Abe spent a full day at home yesterday to rest, noting that he is expected to resume his official duties today following a three-day summer vacation that included a visit to Keio University Hospital on Monday for a medical checkup. With regard to his almost eight-hour stay at the hospital, a source close to the premier reportedly said be underwent a medical examination to make sure he is fully prepared to return to work. According to Yomiuri, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga said on a TV program last night: “I’ve been telling the prime minister to rest more.... Speculation is rife about his health condition because he went to a hospital, but the appointment was made a long time ago. The prime minister is eager to take the initiative” when he returns to work. Mainichi wrote that in addition to Suga, Finance Minister Aso and LDP Tax Commission chief Amari have also disclosed that they had strongly recommended that Abe take some time off, emphasizing that as the trio is very close to the premier, their unanimous advice reflects that Abe is probably “exhausted.”


Record-high number of people died of COVID-19 yesterday

All national papers reported that a total of 920 people tested positive for COVID-19 across the country on Tuesday. Sixteen people died of the disease nationwide yesterday, which was a record high since the state of emergency was lifted in late May. The number of patients in serious condition in the nation’s capital was 31, which was also the highest number in two and half months. A massive cluster infection involving 53 students was reportedly confirmed at a university sports club in Nara Prefecture.

SDF dispatches nurses to Okinawa to deal with COVID-19 outbreak

Mainichi and Sankei wrote that the Defense Ministry deployed some 20 SDF nurses to Okinawa on Tuesday, explaining that they will stay in the island prefecture through the end of this month to help local hospitals deal with a surge in the number of COVID-19 patients there. Their mission will only last until the GOJ and the prefectural government are able to build up the local hospital capacity to a level that can cope with the resurgence. Nikkei wrote that the National Governors’ Association has also decided to send to Okinawa a total of 10 nurses from five prefectures, including Tottori.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team