Morning Alert - Friday, September 4, 2020
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Morning news

All networks led with reports saying powerful Typhoon Haishen might make landfall on Kyushu on Saturday. The Japan Meteorological Agency reportedly called on people to exercise maximum caution and make preparations for the typhoon by today.

Top items in national papers included LDP prefectural chapters’ plans to conduct presidential primary elections (Yomiuri/Mainichi), the Taiwanese Defense Ministry’s report on the PLA Navy’s training off the coast of Hawaii early this year (Sankei), and a strategic business partnership to be forged in North America between Honda and GM (Nikkei).


All LDP prefectural chapters to hold presidential primaries

According to Yomiuri, all 47 prefectural chapters of the ruling LDP plan to hold preliminary votes to decide which of the three candidates – Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, former Foreign Minister Kishida, and former Secretary General Ishiba – their three delegates will support in the party presidential election to be held on Sept. 14.

Nikkei and Mainichi ran similar stories. Mainichi speculated that as the party leadership led by Secretary General Nikai decided to hold an abbreviated race to avoid creating a “political vacuum,” senior officials of local LDP chapters are afraid that rank-and-file members may choose not to campaign proactively for LDP candidates in the general election to be held in October 2021 at the latest unless they are given an opportunity to express their views on who should succeed Prime Minister Abe.

Poll finds Suga most popular among three contenders for LDP president

Asahi front-paged the results of its public opinion survey that showed about 38% thought Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga should be the next Japanese prime minister, followed by former Secretary General Ishiba (25%) and former Foreign Minister Kishida (5%). Some 28% said none of them are qualified to lead the nation. In a poll conducted in June, 31% reportedly chose Ishiba, while only 3% preferred Suga. Approximately 45% of respondents in the latest survey said the next Japanese premier should continue the Abe administration’s policies, while 42% felt otherwise. Almost 60% of those who felt Abe’s policies should be continued supported Suga, compared with 13% for Ishiba, while 37% of those who did not think Abe’s policies should be continued supported Ishiba, as opposed 17% for Suga.

According to the pollster, seven out of ten respondents favorably view the Abe administration’s record. They reportedly gave high marks to his diplomacy. However, only 41% said Abe “exercised leadership” in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, with almost half of respondents saying he failed to do so.

Some 150 Diet members to join new opposition party

Asahi and Mainichi reported that nearly 150 parliamentarians, including over 100 Lower House members, are likely to join a new opposition party that will be launched officially on Sept. 15 as a result of the merger between the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) and the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP). Elections to choose the leader and name of the new party will be held on Sept. 10, with CDPJ leader Edano and DPFP’s policy chief Izumi expected to compete for the top spot.

Some 20 lawmakers from the DPFP, including party leader Tamaki, are unlikely to join the new largest opposition party, and at least half of them are set to launch a separate party, which will probably be named the DPFP. These politicians are fairly conservative and are reportedly displeased that the policy orientation of the emerging opposition party appears to be liberal. As the new DPFP will reportedly take a “centrist” approach and may seek partnership with the conservative-leaning Japan Innovation Party, lawmakers who plan to join the new large opposition party are concerned that some of them may have to compete with candidates fielded jointly by the rival parties in future elections.


Cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in Japan tops 70,000

All national papers reported that almost 660 people tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, bringing the cumulative number of cases nationwide to over 70,000. As it took 14 days for the cases to increase from 60,000 to 70,000 as opposed to 9 days from 50,000 to 60,000, Asahi said the spread of the virus appears to be slowing.

Over 900 students tested positive for COVID-19 in August

Yomiuri front-paged the disclosure by the Education Ministry on Thursday that a total of 1,166 elementary, middle, and high school students tested positive for the novel coronavirus nationwide from June 1 through Aug. 31 and that 924 of them were infected last month. More than half of the total reportedly caught the virus from family members, while 15% of them contracted COVID-19 as a result of cluster infections at school.

As the virus does not appear to be spreading widely among children in their teens or younger and no students have reportedly been in serious condition, the ministry updated its infection prevention manual for schools yesterday. Under the updated guidelines, students are required to maintain a distance of 1 meter from each other instead of 2 meters as previously required. In order to head off infections in dormitories, infected students are asked not to participate in extracurricular activities until two days after their symptoms disappear completely.

Coronavirus vaccine likely to be administered free of charge

Yomiuri wrote that the GOJ is considering administering free of charge a COVID-19 vaccine to everyone who wishes to be vaccinated in a bid to reduce the mortality rate and prevent people from getting seriously ill even if they contract the disease.

Meanwhile, Asahi said the Tokyo metropolitan government has decided to conduct COVID-19 PCR testing on some 150,000 residents and workers of nursing homes and facilities for people with disabilities in order to prevent cluster infections there. Free PCR tests for these people will begin in early October.


Abe’s successor to face paramount challenges on diplomatic front

Mainichi ran a prominent article on Prime Minister Abe’s diplomatic accomplishments. The paper noted that most security and international affairs experts in the U.S. are appreciative that he has taken the lead in trying to maintain the postwar international order centering on democracy, free trade, and the rule of law while managing to establish a rapport with President Trump, whom the daily said has defied international coordination by pursuing an “America First” approach. While expressing the view that the Japanese leader managed to dissuade President Trump from taking a hard line toward Tokyo by capitalizing on their close personal bonds, the daily projected that Abe’s successor may be forced to walk a tightrope as Washington is likely to step up the pressure on Japan on such issues as host nation support.

G20 foreign ministers affirm commitment to combating COVID-19

Yomiuri wrote that the foreign ministers of the G20 held a teleconference on the coronavirus pandemic yesterday and agreed that they will take the lead in flattening the epidemic curve. When explaining Japan’s measures to rein in the virus, Foreign Minister Motegi reportedly told the participants: “It is imperative to resume international travel while enforcing infection prevention measures in order to rebuild the global economy.”


GOJ likely to use warship as substitute for Aegis Ashore batteries

Nikkei claimed that the GOJ is inclined to select an Aegis destroyer as an alternative to the canceled Aegis Ashore, noting that the Defense Ministry will launch a technical study on how to equip an MSDF warship with Aegis Ashore functions. According to an unnamed senior GOJ official, the SDF will be able to reduce costs and personnel in operating a missile defense platform by removing the functions other than intercepting ballistic missiles from such a destroyer.

In a related story, Asahi wrote that the Defense Ministry provided the ruling coalition of the LDP and the Komeito party with a briefing yesterday on the results of its review of the process leading up to the cancellation of the Aegis Ashore procurement. Defense Minister Kono plans to give a similar briefing to the press today.


Former high-ranking USTR official comments on tariffs on Japanese auto imports

Asahi published an interview with Jamieson Greer, who previously served as the chief of staff to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), in which he spoke on the second round of free trade talks between the U.S. and Japan. Regarding Tokyo’s call for removing U.S. import duties on Japanese autos, Greer reportedly said: “It is definitely a priority for Japan, but it is a very difficult subject to take on.... Both President Trump and USTR Lighthizer are very focused on the auto industry. As the U.S. has a trade deficit with Japan for auto and autoparts, they have strong concerns about the imbalance.”

GOJ to offer subsidies for companies relocating factories out of China

Nikkei highlighted a subsidy offered by METI to encourage Japanese companies to move their assembly lines out of China, saying that companies will be eligible if their plants are relocated not only to ASEAN countries but also to India and Bangladesh. By diversifying parts supply chains and reducing dependence on certain suppliers, the GOJ is reportedly hoping to ensure a steady supply of medical equipment and electronic components during global emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team