Morning Alert - Friday, September 25, 2020
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Morning news

NHK gave top play to a report that meetings of the GOJ subcommittee and taskforce on the new coronavirus will be held for the first time today under Prime Minister Suga. All commercial networks led with reports that former pop star Tatsuya Yamaguchi, who was arrested on Tuesday for drunk driving, was released on Thursday.

Top stories in national dailies included the Defense Ministry’s presentation to the LDP of three offshore alternatives to the Aegis Ashore plan (Mainichi), a GOJ plan to promote the digitalization of the central and local governments (Sankei), an increase in the use of renewable energy in Japan (Asahi), a planned merger between Mitsubishi UFJ Lease and Hitachi Capital in 2021 (Nikkei), and survey results showing that half of schoolteachers disciplined for obscene acts over the five years through FY2019 targeted their own students (Yomiuri).


SoftBank opens coronavirus testing facility

Nikkei reported on the opening on Thursday of a coronavirus testing facility by the SoftBank Group at Kohnodai Hospital, National Center for Global Health and Medicine, in Chiba Prefecture. The facility has a capacity of 4,000 tests per day and aims to ramp up capacity to 10,000 tests per day by the end of this year. The facility conducts saliva-based PCR tests upon request by local governments and private companies, and each test, excluding shipping and packaging, costs 2,000 yen ($19), one tenth of the average cost of tests conducted by the private sector.

Although Softbank conducts testing under the guidance of the National Center for Global Health and Medicine, it cannot issue certificates for negative results because medical doctors will not be involved in the testing there. Japan’s overall PCR testing capacity is still under 70,000 per day, much lower than in the United States (500,000) and the UK (300,000), because taking a blood or mucus sample from a patient is designated as a “medical practice” that is only permitted to be done by doctors, nurses, and clinical laboratory technicians in Japan. The paper noted that it will be necessary for the GOJ to take such measures as deregulating medical practices, utilizing antigen tests, and increasing private sector testing to prepare for a potential rise in COVID-19 cases in the fall and winter.

IOC president expresses optimism about holding Tokyo Olympics next summer

Nikkei and Yomiuri wrote that during a videoconference between the International Olympic Committee's Coordination Commission and the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games on Thursday, IOC President Bach reportedly said that the fact that sports events have been safely held recently in various places in the world without a coronavirus vaccine is positive news and that the possible development of vaccines in the coming months could be a big help for Tokyo in hosting the games next summer. Nikkei quoted Bach as telling the Tokyo organizers that he believes the city will be able to host the games.


Japanese, ROK leaders discuss bilateral relations

All national dailies reported on a teleconference held on Thursday between Prime Minister Suga and South Korean President Moon. Suga reportedly told Moon that Japan and South Korea are critically important neighbors of each other and their bilateral cooperation and their trilateral cooperation with the United States are important for dealing with the DPRK. Referring to the issue of former wartime requisitioned workers, Suga reportedly told the ROK president that the two nations should not allow their current strained relations to remain as they are.

Noting that Suga issued a warning to Moon by bringing up the issue of requisitioned workers during their first conversation, Yomiuri wrote that it appears difficult for Tokyo and Seoul to mend their strained ties because Suga is expected to maintain former Prime Minister Abe’s “hardline” stance toward South Korea. Asahi expressed a similar view.

However, Nikkei and Mainichi wrote that Moon indicated hope to improve ties with Japan under the leadership of Prime Minister Suga, quoting him as reportedly saying he hopes Japan and South Korea will use the inauguration of the Suga administration as an opportunity to accelerate efforts to increase their communications with a fresh perspective. Nikkei pointed out that although Moon had insisted that he respected the decision by the court on the issue of former wartime requisitioned workers, he gave consideration to the GOJ’s position on the matter by reportedly telling Suga he would like to seek an “optimum” solution that is acceptable to all parties involved.

FM Motegi cancels planned trip to Germany

Sankei wrote that according to a GOJ source, Foreign Minister Motegi has canceled his planned trip to Germany later this month due to the deteriorating coronavirus infection situation in the country. However, he is still planning to visit France as scheduled.


GOJ briefs LDP on alternatives to Aegis Ashore plan

All national dailies wrote that on Thursday the Defense Ministry presented to the LDP three sea-based alternatives to the scrapped Aegis Ashore plan: (1) introducing destroyers equipped with an interception system, (2) utilizing tankers and other large commercial vessels, and (3) introducing an offshore structure similar to a platform used to drill for oil. The ministry aims to narrow down the options by the end of the year.


Japan to allocate 80 billion yen for Artemis project next year

Yomiuri wrote that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has decided to include about 80 billion yen ($758 million) in its budget request for next fiscal year as funding for its development of an unmanned supply spaceship and lunar spacecraft to participate in the U.S.-led Artemis lunar exploration project. The paper wrote that this is 11 times higher than the budget request for the project last year.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team