Morning Alert - Tuesday, September 1, 2020
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Morning news

All networks gave top coverage to reports on powerful Typhoon Maysak, which is currently moving through the islands of Okinawa. All national papers led with reports on the growing view within the ruling LDP that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga will be elected as the next party president on Sept. 14.


Suga apparently in lead for LDP presidential race

All national dailies reported extensively on internal maneuvering within the ruling LDP over the selection of the next party president to succeed departing Prime Minister Abe, noting that the LDP is set to officially decide today to hold an abbreviated leadership election on Sept. 14. A three-day special Diet session to elect a new premier will likely be convened on Sept. 16, a day earlier than originally planned.

According to the papers, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga met with several LDP heavyweights and groups of junior and mid-career lawmakers on Monday to seek their support for his candidacy. While the politician has remained noncommittal on his candidacy in public by saying he needs to fulfill his duties as the top government spokesman, Suga has reportedly told his associates behind the scenes: “I am ready to run” and “We need to strike a balance between measures to combat COVID-19 and economic reconstruction. Every country has been doing so.”

According to the dailies, the LDP’s two largest factions – the Hosoda faction with 98 lawmakers, including PM Abe, and the Aso faction with 55 members – decided yesterday that they will back Suga’s candidacy. The two groups have reportedly chosen to support Suga since Abe and his close confidant Deputy Prime Minister Aso want the next LDP president to continue the Abe administration’s policies. Aso reportedly met yesterday with Defense Minister Kono, who is a member of his faction, and pressed him not to run in the race. The Nikai faction, Ishihara faction, and Takeshita faction are also likely to endorse Suga. Yomiuri speculated that almost 60% of LDP Diet members are in favor of electing Suga.

The papers said that although Policy Research Council Chairman Kishida and former Secretary General Ishiba are also set to run in the election, they have already been pushed into a tight corner even before the start of the official campaign on Sept. 8. While the prime minister and Aso had previously viewed Kishida as Abe’s successor, they reportedly lost confidence in his policy coordination capabilities over the controversial COVID-19 cash handout program in May. When meeting with Kishida yesterday at the Kantei, Abe reportedly turned down the former foreign minister’s request for his support.

As for Ishiba, the papers said even some of his followers are insisting that he should not run for party president based on the assessment that he might suffer a crushing defeat in an abbreviated election involving only the 394 LDP parliamentarians and 3 delegates from each of the party’s 47 prefectural chapters since he is “disliked” by many LDP parliamentarians.


Abe bids farewell to U.S., Russian leaders

All national dailies said Prime Minister Abe held teleconferences on Monday with President Trump and Russian President Putin and briefed them on the reason for his unexpected resignation. Abe was quoted as saying to the U.S. leader during their 30-minute conversation: “Japan-U.S. relations have become stronger than ever, as we have deepened mutual cooperation by visiting each other and speaking by phone so many times.... I assure you that my successor will be as committed as me to enhancing the bilateral alliance.” In reply, President Trump reportedly said he was sad to see his closest friend step down and urged him to rest and recover. Sankei alleged that the President told Abe three times: “You are special.”

The papers said the President posted the following tweet after the meeting: “Just had a wonderful conversation with my friend, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo of Japan, who will be leaving office soon. Shinzo will soon be recognized as the greatest Prime Minister in the history of Japan, whose relationship with the USA is the best it has ever been. Special man!”

During a 20-minute teleconference with Russian President Putin, Abe explained his impending resignation and called for the continuation of bilateral peace treaty talks by resolving the Northern Territories dispute. “I expect that robust negotiations on a peace treaty will continue,” Abe was quoted as saying. The Russian leader reportedly agreed with Abe, noting that he “highly appreciated” the contributions made to bilateral relations by Abe, whom he called a “reliable partner.”

Top U.S., Japanese diplomats affirm strong alliance under new Japanese leader

Nikkei and Yomiuri wrote that Secretary of State Pompeo and Foreign Minister Motegi spoke by phone on Monday night and agreed to maintain the ironclad bilateral alliance even after Japan elects a new leader to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Abe. During the 30-minute session, the Secretary reportedly hailed Abe’s promotion of the free and open Indo-Pacific initiative. In reply, the Japanese official said: “U.S.-Japan relations have been strengthened considerably under the leadership of President Trump and Prime Minister Abe. We will continue to make utmost efforts to reinforce the alliance.”

Mauritius to ask Japan for $30 million in compensation for oil spill

Asahi noted that according to the local media, the government of Mauritius has decided to ask Japan to pay some $30 million in compensation for the environmental and other damage caused by the oil spillage from a Japanese freighter. A portion of the money will be used to purchase 100 trawlers for fishermen hit hard by the accident.


New coronavirus infections on downward trend

Yomiuri front-paged remarks made to the press yesterday by Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura, who said Japan has “witnessed a downward trend” in the number of new COVID-19 patients in recent weeks. The seven-day rolling average of the number of cases per day nationwide for the week ending Aug. 29 was 777, about 20% lower than the previous week. Because the Health Ministry’s coronavirus advisory board concluded on Aug. 24 that the current resurgence had peaked in late July, the daily conjectured that the nation may have weathered the second wave.

Even though the effective reproduction rates in Tokyo, Osaka, Aichi, and Okinawa dropped below 1.0 in early August, they are currently hovering close to around 1.0. As such, epidemiologists project that the number of new cases will not drop drastically at least for a while. A total of 331 patients were in serious condition across the country as of Aug. 26, with many of them being aged 60 or older. While the nationwide hospital bed occupancy rate was 24% as of the same day, the figures for Okinawa and Fukuoka remained high at 63% and 56%, respectively.

Meanwhile, Nikkei reported that nearly 32,000 people, including over 8,100 in Tokyo, tested positive for COVID-19 across the country in August, almost 80% higher than a month ago. Close to half of the nation’s cumulative cases were reported in August alone. As the epidemic curve has been falling since early August, the daily speculated that travel during the Obon holidays in mid-August had a limited impact on the spread of the virus.

Health Ministry did not detect “excess deaths” in first five months of this year

Nikkei wrote that according to the Health Ministry, the number of people who died nationwide from Jan. 1 through May 31 this year was largely in line with average years. While some 590,000 people died overall, about 3,700 “excess deaths” were reported in 13 prefectures, including Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, and Fukuoka. However, the number of deaths in many other prefectures was below average. Some epidemiologists interpreted the data as suggesting that the novel coronavirus in Japan was not as deadly as in the U.S. or Europe in the spring.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team