Morning Alert - Wednesday, September 16, 2020
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Morning news

Most broadcasters and all national papers led with reports that newly elected LDP President Suga has decided on his cabinet to be formed today, saying he will appoint Health Minister Kato chief cabinet secretary. TV Asahi led with a report that Secretary General Nikai flatly denied yesterday that Suga gave LDP members top party posts as rewards for contributing to his victory in the leadership election.


Suga decides on cabinet lineup

All national papers wrote that LDP President Suga, who will be elected prime minister at the Diet today, has decided on the key members of his cabinet. He will reportedly retain Deputy Prime Minister/Finance Minister Aso, Foreign Minister Motegi, Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura, Education Minister Hagiuda, Trade Minister Kajiyama, Environment Minister Koizumi, and Land and Transport Minister Akaba. Health Minister Kato will be tapped as chief cabinet secretary and Defense Minister Kono as minister in charge of administrative and regulatory reform. Prime Minister Abe’s younger brother Nobuo Kishi will assume the post of defense minister. Suga’s decision to maintain the key cabinet members of the Abe administration shows that he is set to uphold the policy track of the departing leader, according to the papers.

Kato is reportedly very close to Abe, having served under him as deputy chief cabinet secretary and minister in charge of promoting dynamic engagement of all citizens. Suga reportedly has strong confidence in his political skills and is likely to task him with handling the abduction issue. Economic Policy Minister Nishimura will continue to take the lead in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. Suga will also reportedly retain core civil servants at the Kantei, including Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary in charge of administrative affairs Sugita and National Security Secretariat Secretary General Kitamura, in a bid to keep the GOJ’s crisis management arrangements running smoothly. Asahi noted that Kitamura is likely to visit Washington next week for talks with National Security Advisor O’Brien on Sept. 24. They are expected to exchange views on Japan’s missile defense system while taking into account the statement on the subject issued by Prime Minister Abe over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Nikkei wrote that CCS Suga forged close bonds with former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Kennedy by meeting with her every month, noting that when he visited the U.S. in May 2019 Kennedy invited him to her residence and served a cake decorated with the era name Reiwa. During the same U.S. trip, Suga held talks with Vice President Pence, who personally saw him off after their White House meeting. According to the daily, Suga is also close to former Ambassador Hagerty and Ambassador-nominee Weinstein. The politician has also maintained close ties with Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi, who is Beijing’s top official in charge of foreign affairs.

New opposition parties launched

All national dailies reported on the official launch of the new Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) yesterday, saying President Edano will lead the 150-member largest opposition party in its bid to counter the Suga administration. On the same day, 15 other Diet members separately formed a new opposition party named the Democratic Party for the People, which is led by former DPFP chief representative Tamaki. While Edano has emphasized that the revamped CDPJ will present the voters with a “viable alternative” to the ruling coalition of the LDP and the Komeito party, Asahi said the fact that he was unable to enlist Tamaki and his 14 followers, who used to belong to the Democratic Party of Japan, demonstrates the paramount difficulties in unseating the ruling bloc in the next general election that may take place as early as next month.

Asahi noted that pressure is building within the LDP on Suga to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election quickly in view of the high public support for the ruling party and the departing Abe administration. Deputy Prime Minister Aso told the press yesterday that Suga should think about holding an election sooner rather than later given that the Tokyo Olympics will be held next year. The daily added, however, that the LDP’s junior partner Komeito is hesitant about holding a snap election this year because the members of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist movement who constitute its election machine have been inactive lately due to the coronavirus outbreak.


Health Ministry urges local governments to prepare for “twindemic”

Mainichi wrote that the Health Ministry has put together for the prefectural governments a set of guidelines for boosting hospital capacity in preparation for a possible “twindemic” of the novel coronavirus and seasonal influenza in the winter. The ministry reportedly stressed the importance of increasing PCR and other diagnostic testing for both diseases, particularly at nursing homes and hospitals.

In a related story, Nikkei wrote that only three people tested positive for seasonal flu nationwide in the week ending on Sept. 6, less than one-thousandth of the level from a year ago when an influenza outbreak was reported in Okinawa in late summer. As at least several hundred cases of seasonal flu have customarily been detected every year around this time, the daily conjectured that this year’s unusually low number indicates that the spread of seasonal flu has been hindered by the stringent measures to combat COVID-19. One physician reportedly attributed the entry restrictions on foreigners due to the coronavirus pandemic to the limited spread of seasonal flu.

Foreign athletes to undergo multiple PCR tests ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Sankei front-paged an outline of the measures that the GOJ will adopt next summer regarding entry procedures for foreign athletes participating in the Tokyo Olympics, saying that they will be required to undergo at least five PCR diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus prior to competing in Japan. According to the article, they will first need to obtain negative results from a test to be conducted less than three days before their departure. They will also be tested at their ports of entry, upon arrival at host cities or practice camps, upon arrival at the Olympic Village, and ahead of their actual competitions. They may also be asked to undergo additional tests depending on the duration of their stay in Japan.


Japanese firms halt semiconductor shipments to Huawei

Nikkei and Sankei wrote that Japanese semiconductor manufacturers suspended shipments of their products to Huawei on Tuesday following the effectuation on the same day of the Commerce Department’s new sanctions on the Chinese tech giant. Nikkei noted that the escalating friction between the U.S. and China is beginning to have an impact on the Japanese business community.

Hitachi to give up on nuclear project in UK

Asahi and Mainichi wrote that Hitachi is set to announce today that it will completely withdraw its plan to build a nuclear power plant in the UK. The papers noted that while the Abe administration had promoted export of the nation’s nuclear power generation expertise as part of its economic growth strategy, there will be no concrete projects in the works following Hitachi’s decision. The dailies added that Hitachi had already announced in January 2020 the suspension of its plan to build a nuclear power station on Anglesey, an island off the coast of north Wales, for cost reasons.


Greg Kelly pleads not guilty to underreporting Ghosn’s remuneration

All national papers reported on the start of former Nissan executive Greg Kelly’s trial at the Tokyo District Court on Tuesday, saying that the defendant pleaded not guilty to the charge of collaborating with Nissan in underreporting the annual income of Carlos Ghosn by a total of 9.1 billion yen ($89 million) from 2011 through 2018. The American businessman reportedly described Ghosn as a “superb corporate manager,” insisting that since Nissan had not been able to find anyone to succeed him, the automaker’s arrangement to defer some of his salary was a “legitimate scheme” to retain him. According to the articles, however, the defense counsel of Nissan admitted to the charge by saying the scheme was intended to ensure the personal interests of Ghosn and that corporate governance was completely lost at the time because Kelly and his associates had control of the company’s decision-making authority. At least 70 hearings on the case will reportedly be held through next summer.

In a related story, Asahi projected that a former U.S. Green Beret and his son, who have been accused of abetting the cross-border escape of Ghosn, will likely be extradited to Japan in November at the earliest.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team