Morning Alert - Friday, October 30, 2020
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Morning news

Broadcasters led with reports that tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the fire that practically destroyed Shuri Castle in Okinawa (NHK) and the arrest of actor Kentaro Ito in connection with a hit-and-run accident on Wednesday (NTV, TBS, Fuji TV, TV Asahi).

Major front-page items in national papers included reports on the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in Japan exceeding 100,000 yesterday, the conclusion of the Chinese Communist Party’s annual conclave on Thursday, a GOJ plan to continue giving companies subsidies to help them retain employees in view of the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19, and a GSDF plan to hold an exercise involving almost all of its personnel next year to prepare for the possibility of a contingency between China and Taiwan.


U.S. to hand over custody of two American citizens allegedly involved in Ghosn’s escape

Asahi front-paged a finding that the U.S. State Department has conveyed to the GOJ its decision to extradite a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran and his son who allegedly orchestrated former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn’s flight from Japan last December. Once they arrive in Japan, the two suspects will be arrested by the Tokyo District Special Prosecutors’ Office on charges of harboring a fugitive and violating the Immigration Control Law. Secretary Pompeo reportedly decided to extradite the suspects less than two months after a U.S. federal district court in Massachusetts ruled on Sept. 4 in favor of transferring their custody to Japan. Mainichi ran a similar story, noting that the two governments reached an agreement on transferring the U.S. suspects to Japan based on the bilateral extradition treaty. NHK added that although the two suspects were supposed to be transferred to Japan as early as Oct. 29, the process has been suspended due to a complaint filed by the defense team, saying that it remains to be seen when they will arrive in Japan.

Japan, ROK hold high-level talks on forced labor dispute

All national dailies reported that MOFA Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau Director General Takizaki and his South Korean counterpart Kim Jung-han met in Seoul yesterday and exchanged views on the bilateral dispute regarding compensation for former Korean requisitioned workers. On a South Korean court’s moves to liquidate the seized assets of Nippon Steel, the Japanese official stressed that liquidation must be avoided at all costs since it would trigger an “extremely serious situation” and that Seoul should present a solution that would be acceptable to Tokyo. In reply, the South Korean official emphasized that the Japanese government and the Japanese steelmaker must be “more sincere” in trying to resolve the dispute. The Korean diplomat also urged Tokyo to ease its ongoing export restrictions on Korea-bound semiconductor materials as soon as possible. He also expressed hope that President Moon will be able to host a trilateral summit with Japan and China in Seoul by the end of this year. The two senior diplomats reportedly agreed to continue communicating.

Sankei expressed the view that the Moon administration does not intend to make proactive moves to resolve the forced labor conflict because it is hoping that Japan will make concessions. The paper also claimed, however, that Seoul is afraid that Tokyo may choose to adopt strong countervailing measures in the event of the liquidation of the seized assets, as such measures could deal a serious blow to the South Korean economy.

Japan, Singapore confirm cooperation to combat COVID-19

According to Nikkei, Prime Minister Suga held a teleconference with his Singaporean counterpart Lee on Thursday and conveyed his desire to deepen mutual cooperation to rein in the coronavirus pandemic. The two leaders confirmed bilateral coordination ahead of the ASEAN-related summits to be held in November.


U.S. dissent causes delay in selection of new WTO chief

All national papers reported that the selection of a new WTO director general is likely to be put off due to the Trump administration’s opposition to the Nigerian candidate, who has commanded support from almost all members, including Japan, China, and the EU. The dailies attributed the U.S. dissent to Beijing’s strong backing of former Nigerian Finance Minister Okonjo-Iwea, speculating that Washington is concerned that the global trade watchdog would promote trade policies favorable to China and other developing nations if the Nigerian candidate assumed its top post. USTR Lighthizer reportedly released a statement on Wednesday voicing support for South Korea trade minister Yoo Myung-hee by saying: “The WTO is badly in need of major reform. It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field.” However, the U.S. official stopped short of specifying the reasons behind Washington’s refusal to endorse the Nigerian candidate.

As the U.S. supports the South Korea candidate and past WTO chiefs have customarily been chosen by unanimous consent from the member states, the papers underscored that the WTO’s plan to select a new director general by early November is unlikely to be realized and that the delay will make the restructuring of the trade watchdog even more difficult.


Japan’s cumulative COVID-19 cases exceed 100,000

All national papers wrote that a total of more than 100,000 novel coronavirus cases had been confirmed across Japan and some 1,750 people had died of the disease as of yesterday. One third of all the cases were reported in Tokyo. The mortality rate in the first wave of the virus in the spring was 5.2%, while the corresponding figure in the second wave that began in July was 1.1%. The percentage of patients with serious symptoms has also declined from 9.8% to 1.62%. The virus has been spreading largely among young people in the current wave, with 45% of COVID-19 patients being in their 20s or 30s. The number of new cases is also on the rise in rural areas, including Hokkaido, Miyagi, and Okayama. For the first time in two months, more than 800 people tested positive nationwide yesterday. The average number of cases per week was 506 in September, while that in October through Wednesday was 624. According to the Health Ministry, cluster infections had occurred in a total of 1,751 locations across the country as of Oct. 26. One-fourth of the clusters were at nightlife establishments and restaurants, followed by workplaces, nursing homes, and hospitals.

U.S. drugmaker pledges to provide COVID-19 vaccine to Japan

All national dailies reported on a Health Ministry announcement yesterday that it has sealed a contract with U.S. pharmaceutical firm Moderna to receive 50 million doses of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. Takeda Pharmaceutical will be responsible for supplying the vaccine in Japan beginning in the first half of next year under a three-way agreement with Moderna and the ministry. The U.S. company was the third international drug manufacturer following Pfizer and AstraZeneca to promise to offer COVID-19 vaccines to Japan.


Japan likely to build new Aegis warship as seaborne missile defense platform

Asahi reported on the disclosure by several GOJ sources that the GOJ is inclined to build a new multipurpose destroyer that will be equipped with radar and interceptors developed for the canceled Aegis Ashore batteries. The specifications of the new vessel will be decided when the GOJ draws up a draft budget for FY2022 next summer. “The new ship will be a cross between a bona fide Aegis destroyer and an Aegis vessel solely focused on carrying Aegis Ashore radar and interceptors,” a GOJ source said, adding that the final specifications will be decided while taking into account costs and self-defense capabilities. Some GOJ and ruling LDP officials are calling for the procurement of a bona fide Aegis destroyer.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team