Morning Alert - Thursday, September 17, 2020
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Morning news

All networks and national dailies gave top coverage to reports on the official launch of the Suga cabinet yesterday, saying that Prime Minister Suga pledged at a press conference last night that his cabinet will “work for the people.”


Prime Minister Suga launches his cabinet

All national dailies reported extensively on the launch on Wednesday of the new cabinet led by Yoshihide Suga, who was elected the 99th prime minister of Japan in both chambers of the Diet on the same day. Among the 20 cabinet ministers appointed on Wednesday, eight of them retained the posts they had held in the Abe cabinet, including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aso, Foreign Minister Motegi, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Kajiyama, Education Minister Hagiuda, Environment Minister Koizumi, and Economic Revitalization Minister Nishimura. Seven were either shifted to other portfolios or returned to ministerial positions they had held in the past, including new Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato, who served as health minister under Abe. Five were given their first cabinet posts, including Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, the younger brother of Abe. The papers wrote that the new cabinet lineup is aimed at staying the course set by former Prime Minister Abe, including Abenomics.

Suga said at his first press conference as prime minister that he will place top priority on bringing the coronavirus under control and getting the Japanese economy back on its feet, while focusing on regulatory reform. “Regulatory reform is at the center of my administration,” he said. “My cabinet is here to work for the people. We will overcome vested interests and revamp government regulation.” Suga appointed former Defense Minister Kono as minister in charge of administrative reform, making Kono his point man for government and regulatory overhaul. The prime minister also said he will create a new government agency for coordinating digital policy to upgrade the nation’s high-tech capabilities. Takuya Hirai, a former minister for information technology policy under Abe, was appointed as the minister in charge of digital policy.

As for foreign affairs, Suga stated that Japan’s security alliance with the United States will continue to be the foundation of its foreign policy. He added that he will seek to maintain stable relations with neighboring countries, including China and Russia, both of which are engaged in territorial disputes with Tokyo. The new prime minister also renewed his determination to continue working toward securing the return of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea by saying he will take the lead in resolving the abduction issue in close cooperation with the United States.

Asked by a reporter whether he plans to call an election to seek a public mandate, Suga said that now is the time for the new administration to focus on the pressing issues of the coronavirus outbreak and the recovery of the economy.

Suga to make U.S.-Japan alliance the foundation of his diplomacy

Nikkei speculated that Motegi’s reappointment as foreign minister demonstrates Prime Minister Suga’s intention to continue the diplomatic approach of former Prime Minister Abe, who deepened Japan’s ties with the United States. Suga told reporters on Wednesday that he will defend Japan’s national interests by implementing policies based on the U.S.-Japan alliance and he wants Foreign Minister Motegi to further strengthen the bilateral alliance and promote the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” The paper speculated that maintaining Japan’s strong relations with the United States is a top priority for the Suga administration. The paper also wrote that the new cabinet will have to engage in difficult negotiations with Washington on Japan’s share of the cost of stationing U.S. troops and the second stage of bilateral trade talks.

On the security front, the paper wrote that it will be necessary for Defense Minister Kishi to swiftly develop the nation’s new missile defense policy, including the possibility of Japan acquiring the capability to attack enemy bases and an alternative to the canceled Aegis Ashore deployment. The paper noted that former Prime Minister Abe issued a statement before he stepped down saying that the next cabinet will come up with a new policy by the end of this year.


White House issues statement on inauguration of Suga cabinet

All national dailies wrote that the White House released a press secretary’s statement on Wednesday saying: “President Donald J. Trump is ready to continue pursuing the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific that he and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe forged, including by further strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance and advancing our shared goals. The relationship between the United States and Japan has never been stronger, and President Trump looks forward to working with Prime Minister Suga to make it even stronger.”

Mainichi speculated that the U.S. government anticipates that the GOJ will maintain its basic policy of making the U.S.-Japan alliance the foundation of its diplomacy under the Suga cabinet. The paper also wrote that although Suga is only known by a limited number of “Japan hands” in Washington, the U.S. government apparently welcomes him as a successor to former Prime Minister Abe.

Sankei also conjectured that the Trump administration is strongly hoping that the current good relationship between Washington and Tokyo will be maintained under the leadership of Prime Minister Suga because he will likely continue Abe’s approach of basing Japan’s foreign policy on the U.S.-Japan alliance. The paper noted that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Stilwell commented on Tuesday on the election of Suga as the new LDP president by reportedly saying that it is “a very good choice for Japan” and that he looks forward to working with him. The paper also conjectured that Washington will keep a close eye on the extent to which Suga is ready to act in concert with Washington’s firm handling of China as it threatens the existing international order.

China, South Korea, other nations congratulate Suga on inauguration of cabinet

All national dallies reported on foreign nations’ reactions to the launch of the Suga cabinet. Chinese leader Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to Suga on Wednesday saying that stable relations between Japan and China benefit the people of both countries and that Beijing hopes to promote the construction of a relationship that is suitable for the new era. However, Sankei wrote that when asked at a press briefing on Wednesday about Beijing’s response to the appointment as defense minister of Nobuo Kishi, who has close relations with Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China hopes Japan will respect the mainland’s “one China” policy and avoid any formal exchanges with Taiwan. Nikkei speculated that Beijing is closely watching to see how the Suga administration will handle the plan for Xi to visit Japan as a state guest because such a visit would hold the key to improving China’s relations with Japan amid its deteriorating relations with the United States.

South Korean President Moon also sent a congratulatory message to Suga, saying he hopes to improve ties with Japan under the leadership of Suga. Russian President Putin reportedly said in a message to Suga that he is ready to cooperate constructively with Japan on urgent bilateral and international issues. Such other foreign leaders as German Chancellor Merkel, British Prime Minister Johnson, Indian Prime Minister Modi, and Turkish President Erdogan also issued congratulatory messages via government statements or Twitter.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team