Morning Alert - Wednesday, September 23, 2020
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Morning news

NHK, NTV, and TBS gave top play to reports on Typhoon Dolphin, which is likely to approach eastern Japan this Thursday and Friday. Fuji TV and TV Asahi led with reports that former pop star Tatsuya Yamaguchi was arrested on Tuesday for driving a motorbike under the influence of alcohol in Tokyo.

Top items in national dailies included the GOJ’s plan to partially reopen borders to selected foreigners in October (Asahi), the proposed launch within the SDF of a special unit to train cyberwarfare specialists (Sankei), an interview with the publisher of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Apple Daily (Mainichi), and President Trump’s video message for the UN General Assembly in which he blamed China for spreading the coronavirus around the world (Yomiuri).


President Trump, PM Suga agree to further develop U.S.-Japan alliance

The Monday editions of all national papers reported on the first teleconference between President Trump and Prime Minister Suga held on Sunday evening for about 25 minutes. The two leaders agreed to work together to further develop the bilateral alliance and to cooperate closely in the fight against the new coronavirus and in dealing with North Korea, including the abduction issue. According to Yomiuri, when the President called for further strengthening the alliance, Suga responded by saying that the alliance is “the cornerstone for regional peace and stability.” President Trump reportedly told Suga he is welcome to call him anytime “24 hours a day.”

Yomiuri wrote that although Suga has now taken his first step in building a relationship with President Trump, he is facing mounting issues. The paper said that negotiations on the cost of stationing U.S. forces in Japan and the bilateral trade talks are likely to begin before the end of the year, adding that the U.S. may increase its demands depending on the relationship between the two leaders. The daily also wrote that Suga will be required to navigate a difficult path as the U.S. and China are increasingly competing for technological superiority and at odds over China's activities in the South China Sea. The paper added that Suga is expected to draw up by the end of this year a new policy for Japan’s missile defense, an important issue that affects the deterrence of the bilateral alliance. In addition, the daily wrote that Suga also needs to take into account the upcoming U.S. presidential election, including the possibility of having to build a relationship with a new U.S. president.

Yomiuri wrote that prior to his call with President Trump, Suga also spoke with his Australian counterpart Morrison over the phone and they agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation.

U.S., Japan, Australia, India mulling foreign ministerial in Tokyo

The Saturday edition of Yomiuri reported that the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India are considering holding a foreign ministerial in Tokyo in early October to discuss ways to realize the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific" initiative led by the U.S. and Japan and keep China’s maritime activities in check. The daily wrote that if the plan is realized, it would be the first time for foreign ministers to visit Japan since the coronavirus pandemic began. According to the daily, Secretary of State Pompeo, Foreign Minister Motegi, Australian Foreign Minister Payne, and Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar are expected to participate in the meeting. The Sunday editions of Nikkei and Mainichi carried similar reports.

In a related story, today’s Mainichi took up an article published by the Australian on Tuesday saying that Prime Minister Morrison may visit Japan in mid-November for talks with Prime Minister Suga. According to the report, the Australian leader is hoping to convey to China that the strategic partnership between Canberra and Tokyo will continue even after the resignation of former Prime Minister Abe. Morrison’s purported Japan trip may be delayed until January or later depending on the COVID-19 situation and whether Prime Minister Suga decides to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election this year.

Suga to speak by phone with Chinese leader on Friday

All national papers except Asahi wrote today that arrangements are underway for Prime Minister Suga and Chinese Communist Party President Xi to hold a teleconference on Sept. 25, projecting that the two leaders are likely to affirm their mutual commitment to increasing bilateral communications. They may also discuss the possibility of Xi visiting Japan. Sankei noted that attention is focused on whether Suga will take up such issues as China’s maritime push in the vicinity of the Senkakus and the situation in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s Asahi reported that Foreign Minister Motegi told the press on Friday that “now is not the time” to think about arranging Chinese leader Xi’s postponed visit to Japan. The daily said although LDP Secretary General Nikai expressed hope that Xi will visit Japan at an early date on Thursday, Motegi reiterated MOFA’s position that it would be difficult to arrange the visit before the end of the year.

Suga, Merkel confirm bilateral coordination on COVID-19

The Wednesday editions of all national dailies took up a teleconference held yesterday between Prime Minister Suga and his German counterpart Merkel at which they agreed to cooperate closely to realize a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region and combat the novel coronavirus. The Japanese leader separately spoke by phone with EU President Michel on the same day and confirmed mutual collaboration in dealing with regional issues, such as the rise of China.

In a related story, today’s Sankei wrote that Foreign Minister Motegi is likely to visit Germany, France, and an unspecified European country in late September to discuss a range of issues, including China’s maritime advancement and the coronavirus pandemic. The Japanese official is reportedly hoping to affirm mutual cooperation to make the Indo-Pacific region “free and open” by upholding such principles as the rule of law and freedom of navigation. The daily added that the trip could be postponed at the last minute in view of the resurgence of COVID-19 in Europe.

Number may be used to describe body of water between Japan, ROK

Today’s Asahi wrote that the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) may decide to use a number to describe the body of water between Japan and South Korea in view of the ROK’s assertion that it should be called the East Sea in addition to the Sea of Japan, which has been used to describe it for many decades. The IHO has reportedly been considering using numbers instead of names to describe every body of water around the globe in the digital age.

Former world leaders call for ratification of nuclear ban treaty

The Tuesday edition of Asahi reported that 56 former top officials of 20 NATO member states, plus Japan and South Korea, urged their nations to ratify the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in an open letter that was disclosed to the public on Monday. The 56 officials included former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, former Prime Minister Hatoyama, former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, and former Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka. The letter reportedly pointed out that the 22 nations that have not ratified the treaty are protected by the U.S.’s nuclear umbrella, warning that “the risk of a nuclear weapon detonation appears to be increasing” with the danger of cyberattacks.


GOJ narrows down plans for intercepting enemy missiles

Sunday’s Sankei gave top play to a report that it learned from several sources in the GOJ and the ruling camp on Saturday that the GOJ has narrowed down the alternatives to Aegis Ashore to those that can be conducted only at sea, as it has judged that it would be technically difficult to deploy a radar on land and intercept a missile from a destroyer at sea. The paper wrote that the GOJ is planning to explain its decision to the ruling camp on Thursday. According to the daily, the GOJ is studying such options as building a new Aegis-equipped vessel or deploying a destroyer dedicated to missile defense mounted with a land-based Aegis radar. The paper said the GOJ is planning to make a final decision by the end of this year and include it in the budget for FY2021.

Today’s Asahi ran a similar story, conjecturing that the Defense Ministry is considering proposing to the ruling coalition the idea of installing an Aegis Ashore battery, including radar and interceptors, either on a destroyer, large commercial vessel, or oil rig-type structure. The ministry has reportedly concluded that a mobile seaborne platform would be the best alternative to the canceled deployment of a ground-based missile defense system. Meanwhile, NHK reported online this morning that it learned from GOJ officials that U.S. manufacturers have pointed out that although deploying Aegis radar and interceptors at sea is technically possible, it would not be rational as it would require a major overhaul and be too costly. The network added, however, that the ministry believes it would be extremely difficult to obtain local understanding for the deployment of radar and interceptors on land, speculating that the huge cost will become a major issue when considering the alternative sea-based plan.

MOD to establish new electronic warfare unit in Okinawa

Monday’s Asahi front-paged a report that it learned from several GOJ sources that the Ministry of Defense has begun considering establishing a new electronic warfare unit in Okinawa that would be responsible for using electromagnetic waves to prevent enemy attacks. The paper said the new unit is deemed necessary as the PLA has been actively collecting information on the SDF’s electromagnetic waves used for communication and radars and infrared waves necessary for guiding missiles. According to the daily, a new unit is expected to be established at the SDF’s camp in Kumamoto next spring and another one on the main island of Okinawa as part of the SDF’s shifting of personnel to the Nansei islands. Meanwhile, Sankei reported on Monday that the MOD has decided to set up a new unit at the GSDF’s Camp Asaka in Tokyo by the end of the next fiscal year in addition to the ones in Hokkaido and Kumamoto.

Meanwhile, today’s Sankei reported that the Defense Ministry plans to launch by the end of FY2021 a unit within the SDF tasked with providing selected personnel with intensive training in cyberwarfare, explaining that the ministry is keen to nurture “top guns” in the field who are knowledgeable about intelligence collection and analysis to detect and deter cyberattacks and safeguard SDF telecommunications networks from online terrorism. The ministry may tap private sector experts to train such personnel.

Defense Ministry to request record 5.4 trillion yen for FY2021

Tuesday’s Yomiuri reported that according to multiple GOJ sources, the Ministry of Defense has decided to request a record budget of 5.4 trillion yen for FY2021 , saying that the defense budget has increased for eight consecutive years. The paper said that in view of the increasingly severe security environment in the region due to the rapid military buildup of neighboring nations such as China and North Korea, the ministry deemed it necessary to further increase the defense budget to enable the SDF to respond.

U.S.-Japan alliance strengthened by security legislation effectuation five years ago

The Saturday editions of Yomiuri, Nikkei, and Mainichi reported on the fifth anniversary of the effectuation of Japan’s security legislation on Sept. 19. Nikkei wrote that the U.S.-Japan alliance has been strengthened and become the foundation for promoting the “Free and Open Indo Pacific” initiative, adding that at a press conference on Aug. 28, former Prime Minister Abe cited the security legislation as part of his legacy and stressed its significance by saying it enabled the U.S. and Japan to help each other and strengthened the alliance. The paper added that the deepened U.S.-Japan relations have allowed Japan to forge stronger cooperation with Japan’s “quasi-allies” such as the UK, Australia, and India.

FM Motegi expresses caution about joining Five Eyes

Saturday’s Mainichi reported that Foreign Minister Motegi expressed caution about the possibility of Japan joining the Five Eyes. Motegi said at a press conference on Friday: “It is 'five eyes' by definition. Japan cannot be part of the Five Eyes.” The foreign minister also reportedly said Japan gives high marks to the efforts made by the five-nation alliance and will continue to cooperate with the five nations in various ways.

As Okinawa affairs minister, Kono promises economic assistance

The Sunday editions of all national papers reported that Minister in charge of Okinawa affairs Kono visited Okinawa to meet with Governor Tamaki on Saturday. Yomiuri wrote that Kono promised to offer economic assistance to Okinawa since it has been hit hard by the new coronavirus outbreak. The daily said Kono kept Tamaki’s opposition to the Futenma relocation plan in check by telling reporters after the meeting: “We cannot avoid the base issue when considering economic stimulus for Okinawa.”


Suga cabinet’s initial public support rating stands at 74%

The Monday edition of Yomiuri gave top coverage to a report on the results of its opinion poll conducted over the weekend, which found that the initial public support rating for the Suga cabinet stood at 74%, the third highest among similar polls taken on the heels of cabinet inaugurations since 1978. According to the daily, the highest approval rating was 87% for the cabinet led by Koizumi in 2001, followed by the one led by Hatoyama in 2009 at 75%. The disapproval rating for Suga’s cabinet was 14%. Suga’s stance of continuing the measures and policies pursued by his predecessor Shinzo Abe was met with approval by 63% of respondents, and with disapproval by 25%.

The daily wrote that although senior GOJ officials are pleased with the high approval rating, they are also concerned about a possible loss of momentum, adding that calls for a swift dissolution of the Lower House for a snap election are likely to grow within the LDP, forcing Suga to make a difficult decision.

Office tasked with setting up digital agency to be established this month

All Sunday papers reported that Digital Reform Minister Hirai announced on Saturday that he will set up an office within the Cabinet Secretariat by the end of this month at the earliest in preparation for establishing a digital agency next year aimed at centralizing the digitization of administrative services. According to the reports, the new office will have 40 to 50 staff members from relevant ministries.

In a related story, Monday’s Yomiuri reported that it learned from a senior GOJ official on Sunday that the GOJ has begun making arrangements to establish a digital agency as a non-permanent organization sometime next year. The paper said by making it a non-permanent organization, the GOJ is hoping to move the measure forward in a short period of time.

Kono’s red-tape complaint hotline receives over 4,000 messages

The Saturday editions of Asahi and Yomiuri reported that Administrative Reform Minister Kono announced on Friday that he had temporarily suspended a newly established online system for taking suggestions from the public for cutting red tape because it had already received more than 4,000 messages. Kono reportedly said: “This is likely to exceed my processing capacity. Since I said I would read all of the messages, I need to temporarily suspend it.” Kono reportedly added that the public can also use the Cabinet Office’s regulatory reform hotline to offer suggestions for administrative reform. The new hotline was set up on Kono’s personal website on Thursday.

Former PM Abe visits Yasukuni Shrine for first time in seven years

The Sunday editions of all national dailies reported that former Prime Minister Abe disclosed on his Twitter and Facebook accounts that he paid a visit to Yasukuni Shrine on Saturday. He reportedly said: “I reported to the souls of the war dead that I resigned as the prime minister on September 16.” Asahi wrote that this was Abe’s first visit to the shrine in about seven years. The paper added that on Saturday the South Korean Foreign Ministry released a comment expressing deep concern over Abe’s visit to the shrine and described the shrine as “a symbolic site that glorifies Japan’s colonial rule and its war of aggression.” The daily said while many Chinese media outlets reported on Abe’s visit to the shrine, the Chinese government has not released any official comment.


Japan to reopen border to long-term visitors irrespective of nationality

Wednesday’s Asahi claimed that the GOJ is mulling easing partially its entry restrictions on foreigners associated with the coronavirus pandemic, saying that beginning in early October, up to 1,000 people who plan to stay in Japan for more than three months for such purposes as conducting business and engaging in medical, educational, and cultural activities will be allowed to enter per day regardless of nationality. They will be required to undergo PCR tests at their ports of entry and self-quarantine for two weeks after arrival. Foreigners who plan to study in Japan on their personal expense will also be admitted. According to the daily, the GOJ also plans to accept 1,600 additional people from 16 countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, China, and South Korea, per day in view of the relatively stable COVID-19 situations in those nations. However, the ongoing ban on foreign tourists will remain in place for a while. The GOJ is reportedly inclined to reopen the border at this juncture based on the assessment that the earlier relaxation of the entry restrictions on business travelers from Thailand and six other Asian nations has had little impact on the spread of the virus in Japan.

Asymptomatic patients to be hospitalized only if elderly or vulnerable

Saturday’s Asahi reported that the MHLW has decided to revise the existing government ordinance so that COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms will be hospitalized only if they are 65 years or older, have preexisting conditions, or are deemed to require hospitalization by local governors. Noting that medical institutions would be inundated with people who need to undergo testing in the event of a “twindemic” of the coronavirus and seasonal influenza, the daily wrote that the Health Ministry has also decided not to require medical institutions to report PCR testing results to public health centers if they are negative in order to reduce the burden on medical facilities. Asahi added that although tracking the positivity rate will be difficult if the negative test results are not reported, the ministry is planning to use different methods. Yomiuri and Sankei carried similar reports.

GOJ aims to administer 200,000 antigen tests per day starting in November

Sankei and Mainichi reported on Monday that Health Minister Tamura said on a Fuji TV program that aired on Sunday that in preparation for the possibility of a “twindemic” in the winter, the government is planning to set up a system in which 200,000 antigen tests can be administered per day starting in November. The health minister also reportedly reiterated that he intends to consider reducing the cost of PCR tests for asymptomatic patients since they are not covered by public health insurance.

LDP lawmaker tests positive for coronavirus

The Saturday editions of Yomiuri, Mainichi, and Sankei reported that the House of Representatives announced on Friday that LDP lawmaker Shuichi Takashima, a member of the Lower House, has tested positive for COVID-19. He is reportedly the first member of the Diet to test positive for the virus.

COVID-19 contact tracking app needs improvement

Saturday’s Asahi reported that although three months have passed since the coronavirus contact tracking application COCOA was launched, the number of downloads remained low at 17.12 million, or about 14% of the total population, as of Sept. 18. The number of positive cases registered on the app was only 814. The daily wrote that thousands of users have reported a bug in the app since early August in which they received an alert notifying them that they were in close contact with a virus carrier but found no such message when they opened the app. The paper wrote that the Health Ministry is planning to improve the app.


Visas of foreign students aiming to start businesses to be extended two years

Tuesday’s Nikkei reported that the GOJ will set up a new system to allow foreigners who graduate from Japanese universities and are planning to start businesses in Japan to stay for up to two years after graduation on the condition that they receive recommendations from their universities. The paper said that under the current system, foreign students need to be employed or return to their home countries after graduation unless they immediately start their own businesses.

Foreign residents issued deportation orders to be released from detention under supervision

Tuesday’s Yomiuri gave top play to a report that as a way to resolve the problem of long-term immigration detention of foreign nationals who have been issued deportation orders but refuse to leave Japan, the Immigration Services Agency has decided to introduce a new system to allow foreigners who have applied for asylum or are in litigation proceedings and are expected to be detained for more than six months to live in Japanese society under supervision. They will not be allowed to work and will be penalized if they flee from supervision. In addition, the paper said the agency will also establish a new system to accept foreign nationals who are unable to repatriate due to conflicts in their countries as “quasi-refugees” and allow them to stay in Japan for protection.

Number of people aged 65 or older in Japan reaches record high

The Monday editions of all national dailies reported that according to the population estimates released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the number of people aged 65 or older in Japan rose by 300,000 from last year to 36.17 million, or 28.7% of the total population, as of Sept. 15. In addition, the number of people aged 65 or older who were in the workforce in 2019 reached a record 8.92 million, up 300,000 from 2018. Meanwhile, the number of people aged 70 or older reached 27.91 million, up 780,000 from a year before, and the number of those aged 75 or older was 18.71 million, up 240,000. While the number of elderly people is increasing, Japan’s total population dropped by 290,000 from last year to 125.86 million.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team