Morning Alert - Monday, August 31, 2020
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Morning news

Most TV networks gave top play to reports on Prime Minister Abe’s abrupt announcement on Friday that he will resign due to his chronic illness and the impending election to choose his successor. NHK said LDP policy chief Kishida and former LDP Secretary General Ishiba have expressed interest in seeking the party presidency, while TV Asahi reported that Suga told Secretary General Nikai yesterday that he has decided to run. Fuji TV led with footage of a windstorm on a school field in Hachinohe, Aomori, on Saturday.

All national dailies led with Suga’s decision to seek the LDP presidency.


LDP to elect new leader by mid-September

The weekend and Monday editions of all national papers gave prominent coverage to the repercussions of Prime Minister Abe’s unexpected announcement on Friday that he will step down for health reasons. As the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People—the largest and second largest opposition parties—plan to merge on Sept. 16, the ruling LDP is reportedly aiming to hold the presidential race ahead of that on Sept. 14 and convene a special Diet session to elect the new prime minister on Sept. 17. The LDP leadership led by Secretary General Nikai will make a final decision tomorrow on whether to hold a full-scale election including rank-and-file members or an abbreviated version involving only the 394 LDP parliamentarians and three delegates from each of the party’s 47 prefectural chapters. The ruling party, citing the coronavirus outbreak, is reportedly inclined to avoid a full-scale election.

Former Secretary General Ishiba, Policy Research Council Chairman Kishida, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga are reportedly regarded as strong candidates to succeed Abe. While Ishiba reportedly commands solid support from the general public and rank-and-file party members, he is said to be unpopular among lawmakers. Kishida is reportedly Abe’s favorite because he served as foreign minister for almost four and a half years in the Abe administration. However, Kishida is widely viewed as lacking charisma. Calls are mounting for Suga to seek the party presidency because he would provide continuity with the current administration since he has been Abe’s top deputy for almost eight years. People who would prefer not to see a radical change in government during the COVID-19 pandemic are hoping that Suga will take the lead in surmounting the unprecedented national crisis.

The papers speculated that the results of an election that only involves Diet members and selected local representatives would be largely influenced by party factions led by senior politicians, many of whom reportedly dislike Ishiba because he has been defiant toward the Abe administration. Yomiuri wrote on Sunday that Suga is the candidate everyone has their eye on because party heavyweights, including Aso and Nikai, have strong trust in his crisis control capabilities and he is well known publicly for announcing the name of the new era, Reiwa, in April 2019. Given that the next LDP leader’s term will only last about a year, Suga is considered to be the appropriate person to fill the departing premier’s shoes since he serves as his top deputy.

All papers reported on Monday that Suga decided yesterday to throw his hat into the ring and has already obtained support from Nikai and his faction members. The Takeshita faction and several others are apparently looking to “jump on the bandwagon” in supporting Suga in the hope that he would tap their members when forming a new cabinet. Kishida and Ishiba will hence be forced to wage an uphill battle. The papers added that the Hosoda faction, which is the largest one with 98 lawmakers, and the second largest Aso faction, with 54 members, will probably hold the key to outcome of the election.

According to public opinion polls conducted by Kyodo and Nikkei over the weekend, Ishiba commanded the strongest public support (34% and 28%), while Kishida scored 7.5% and 6% and Suga garnered 14% and 11%. Defense Minister Kono and Environment Minister Koizumi were also popular among the public as potential candidates.

Next Japanese leader to inherit paramount challenges

All papers reported on Saturday that Prime Minister Abe’s successor will be confronted with the daunting tasks of combating the coronavirus outbreak, convening the Tokyo Olympics next year, conducting diplomacy amid escalating friction between the U.S. and China, and swiftly rebuilding an economy that has been hit hard by the pandemic.


President Trump comments on Abe’s resignation

All national dailies reported over the weekend on remarks made to the press on Friday by President Trump on Prime Minister Abe’s decision to step down. “We've had a great relationship and I just feel very badly about it because it must be very severe for him to leave,” the President told reporters aboard Air Force One. “He loves his country so much and for him to leave, you know, I just can’t imagine what it is.” The President also reportedly expressed his “highest respect” to Abe, whom he referred to as his “great friend.”

According to the dailies, the two leaders are expected to hold a teleconference on Monday, during which Abe will explain the reasons for his resignation and express appreciation to the President for their close bonds. Yomiuri claimed that the U.S. had requested a teleconference between the two leaders even before Abe decided to step down, adding that other foreign leaders have also been asking the GOJ to arrange teleconferences with the departing premier following his announcement on Friday.

In a related development, Monday’s Sankei and Yomiuri took up Secretary of State Pompeo’s message on Abe’s resignation. He was quoted as saying: “The United States deeply values the contributions of Prime Minister Abe to the U.S.-Japan Alliance and his work on advancing the Indo-Pacific Strategy.”

Meanwhile, former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Biden posted a message on Twitter saying that he is sad to see Abe step down, adding, “The strong alliance between our countries and peoples will continue for generations to come.”

USG hails Abe for outstanding leadership

The weekend editions of all national dailies took up a comment issued by the USG regarding Prime Minister Abe’s abrupt resignation. “We express gratitude to Prime Minister Abe for his outstanding leadership as Japan’s longest continuously serving leader,” the statement read. “Together with President Trump, the prime minister has made the U.S.-Japan alliance, and our overall relationship, the strongest it has ever been.” The statement went on to say that the two nations have been able to advance their shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific “significantly,” adding, “We look forward to working with Prime Minister Abe’s successor in further strengthening our nations’ ties and advancing our shared goals.”

Yomiuri wrote that as the U.S. leader has heeded Abe’s advice in dealing with North Korea and other regional issues, the resignation might affect the Trump administration’s Asia policy. While noting that Abe deftly used “golf diplomacy” to explain policy matters to President Trump, Mainichi forecast that since there is a possibility that the U.S. will also elect a new president in November, the U.S.-Japan alliance, which has been reinforced by the very close bonds between the two leaders, may need to be reconfigured. Nikkei conjectured that Washington has appreciated Abe’s leadership in strengthening bilateral relations particularly on the security front, speculating that it is hoping Abe’s successor will uphold his commitment to deterring China’s aggressive behavior.

Sankei quoted former National Security Advisor Bolton as saying on Twitter, “The resignation of Japanese Prime Minister is a great loss to Japan and the United States. He is a first-class world leader and one of America's staunchest allies.” The paper opined that Abe’s departure came as a shock to President Trump because he had viewed the prime minister as his top ally in the G7 and a powerful partner in outcompeting China in the global arena. Asahi surmised that President Trump is too busy focusing on his reelection campaign to pay attention to foreign affairs, including Abe’s resignation, for the time being, so the diplomatic authorities of both nations will need to take extra care in managing the bilateral alliance.

Foreign governments react to Abe’s unexpected departure

All national papers reported over the weekend on foreign governments’ reactions to Prime Minister Abe’s decision to step down in a few weeks. The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a message saying: “Sino-Japanese relations have gotten back on a normal track lately and achieved new developments. We are grateful for Prime Minister Abe’s significant efforts.” Yomiuri speculated that as Abe has not been completely in sync with President Trump in applying pressure on the Chinese government, Beijing is concerned that his departure will deal a blow to its policy of maintaining stable relations with Tokyo in the face of the heightened tension with Washington. Mainichi wrote that China is anxious to see what kind of stance the next Japanese premier takes toward it since President Xi’s state visit to Japan is still on the bilateral agenda. Sankei opined that as Beijing appreciated Abe’s efforts to contain domestic anti-Chinese hardliners to pursue a thaw in Sino-Japanese relations, his resignation may deal a blow to the ties especially at a time when the U.S. is becoming even more critical of it.

South Korea’s Blue House released a statement saying that Abe’s announcement was “regrettable” since he has “played multiple roles in improving relations between South Korea and Japan.” It went on to say: “Our government will continue to work together with the new prime minister and Cabinet to improve South Korea-Japan ties.” The papers speculated that Seoul is hoping that Tokyo will ease its hard line over such bilateral issues as compensation for former requisitioned workers and export controls on Korea-bound strategic materials under the next Japanese leader.

Russian President Putin’s spokesperson expressed “extreme regret” over Abe’s abrupt resignation, voicing hope that his successor will pursue the development of ties between Moscow and Tokyo. As Abe forged close bonds with President Putin by holding nearly 30 bilateral summits with him, Moscow is reportedly paying close attention to whether the next Japanese leader will uphold Abe’s conciliatory line toward it. Sankei projected that bilateral negotiations on a peace treaty and the Northern Territories dispute are bound to lose steam because of the imminent departure of a “pro-Putin” Japanese leader.

China accepts new Japanese envoy

Asahi and Yomiuri reported today that the Chinese government has accepted Japan’s plan to appoint Hideo Tarumi, a senior Foreign Ministry official known to be an expert on China, as the new ambassador to Beijing. The dailies added that Beijing might have initially been wary of Tarumi’s appointment because he has apparently cultivated an extensive network of contacts within Chinese society over decades working as a “China hand.”


U.S., Japan voice opposition to China’s militarization of neighboring waters

All national papers reported on Sunday on the U.S.-Japan defense ministerial meeting held in Guam on Saturday, saying that Secretary of Defense Esper and Defense Minister Kono agreed to oppose China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo through force and coercion in the South and East China Seas. The two officials reportedly confirmed the importance of enhancing bilateral cooperation to deter what they referred to as Beijing’s “destabilizing activities” in the region. They also affirmed that the Senkakus fall under the scope of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

During their first in-person meeting in seven months, the defense chiefs agreed on mutual collaboration for achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific, increasing the two militaries’ intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, and defending outer space and cyberspace from potential enemy attacks. The Japanese official reportedly briefed the Secretary on Tokyo’s plan to look into an alternative missile defense platform to the Aegis Ashore batteries, which it

Sankei wrote that the two defense leaders traveled to the Pacific island despite the pandemic in order to play up the strength of the bilateral alliance in the face of China’s relentless moves to militarize the South and East China Seas. Nikkei conjectured that Secretary Esper and DM Kono

In a bid to invite regional partners to join a coalition to deter China’s provocations, including the recent test-launch of four mid-range ballistic missiles in the South China Sea, the defense chiefs confirmed promoting “capacity building” support for their militaries. Mainichi wrote that ahead of his Guam trip, the Secretary visited Palau and Hawaii to exchange views on China with senior local officials.

Japan to acquire capability to strike “fixed” enemy bases

Sunday’s Yomiuri front-paged the disclosure by several GOJ sources that in examining whether to allow the SDF to possess the capability to forestall enemy ballistic missiles, the GOJ has come to the conclusion that potential targets of such Japanese operations should be limited to fixed installations in enemy territory. Mobile platforms, known within the military community as “transporter erector launchers (TELs),” would be excluded from a list of potential targets since pinpointing and striking TELs in North Korea would require the SDF to possess additional and more powerful defense equipment, including intelligence collection satellites and UAVs. Attacking fixed enemy installations is viewed as a more feasible and reasonable approach. By restricting the scope of the SDF’s enemy strike capability and continuing to rely on the U.S. military’s deterrence, the GOJ is reportedly hoping to enlist support from the LDP’s junior coalition

Japan mulling taking part in U.S. satellite-based missile defense initiative

Monday’s Sankei front-paged the disclosure by several GOJ sources that the Defense Ministry is considering earmarking funds in the FY2021 budget for studying Japan's possible participation in a U.S. plan to deploy constellations of satellites that would bolster missile defense systems in low Earth orbit. As Washington is reportedly aiming to deploy over 1,000 small satellites at an estimated cost of $10 billion or more, Japan may contribute to the U.S. satellite initiative by developing high-resolution X-ray sensors.

The daily claimed in a separate piece that Defense Minister Kono conveyed his “interest” in the U.S. project when meeting with U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Raymond in Tokyo last week. However, some Japanese officials are reportedly taking a cautious stance due to concerns about the project’s

Mitsubishi Electric to export surveillance radar to Philippines

All national dailies wrote on Saturday that according to Defense Minister Kono, Mitsubishi Electric has signed with the Philippine government a contract to provide its air force with


Abe announces additional measures to combat COVID-19

The Saturday editions of all national dailies reported that Prime Minister Abe unveiled a package of measures on Friday to prepare for a coronavirus resurgence in the fall or later when seasonal flu is expected to spread. In addition to securing COVID-19 vaccines for everyone in Japan by the first half of 2021, the GOJ is committed to increasing testing capacity to 200,000 people per day, extending financial support to hospitals and clinics hit hard by the outbreak, and regularly

In a related development, Saturday’s Asahi and Mainichi wrote that the GOJ officially decided on Friday to end on Sept. 1. the ongoing reentry ban associated with COVID-19 on some 2.63 million legal foreign residents.

Health Ministry revises estimates

Saturday evening’s Asahi wrote that the Health Ministry has revised its estimates for the number of new COVID-19 patients per day, the number of those who would need to be treated at hospitals, and other relevant data for a potential coronavirus resurgence. The new estimates predict that as many as 2,786 people would test positive nationwide per day, some 1,180 more than the record high number of cases recorded on Aug. 7. However, nine prefectures, including Osaka, Okinawa and Shimane, have already reported higher numbers of new patients than the ministry’s new estimates. The ministry now estimates that as many as 27,800 people would be hospitalized across the nation and almost 2,900 of them could be in serious condition in the event of a resurgence.


Japan, Australia, India to launch new supply chains

Today’s Yomiuri front-paged a plan between Japan, Australia, and India to establish new supply chains. Japan will contribute by providing high-level manufacturing expertise, Australia will offer its abundant natural resources, and India will provide talented IT engineers. The economic ministers of the three countries will meet in the near future to release a joint statement on the initiative and are likely to ask ASEAN members to participate as well. The trilateral project is

Conclusion of Japan-UK EPA on hold

Saturday’s Sankei wrote that Foreign Minister Motegi decided on Friday not to go ahead with a teleconference with UK Secretary for International Trade Truss on concluding a rough agreement on a bilateral free trade accord. The two sides reportedly remain at odds due to Japan’s continued refusal to increase the quota for British agricultural imports, including blue cheese. The teleconference had been scheduled for the same day.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team