Morning Alert - Friday, December 4, 2020
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Morning news

Broadcasters led with reports on Osaka’s declaration of a state of emergency for the prefecture’s healthcare system on Thursday (NHK, NTV, TV Asahi) and the 533 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Tokyo yesterday. The routes of infection were untraceable for 284 of the cases and a record high of 89 patients were aged 65 or older (TBS, Fuji TV).

Top stories in national dailies included plans by Tokyo prosecutors to file charges against three aides to former Prime Minister Abe in connection with the payment of costs for dinner parties for supporters and to question Abe on the matter on a voluntary basis (Asahi, Sankei), a GOJ plan to introduce a vehicle emissions trading system in the late 2020s (Nikkei), the GOJ’s intention to extend the “Go To Travel” campaign until June (Mainichi), and a GOJ plan to provide tax exemptions for parenting subsidies to support households (Yomiuri).


Japan, China, South Korea to skip trilateral summit this year

Nikkei wrote that Japan, China, and South Korea will likely postpone their planned trilateral summit until next year due to the continued tensions between Tokyo and Seoul over compensation for former Korean requisitioned workers and the difficulty in arranging an in-person meeting amid the coronavirus pandemic. The paper speculated that South Korea, which was scheduled to host the trilateral summit this year, is now planning to arrange a meeting early next year. The paper wrote that Japan maintains the position that it will be difficult for Prime Minister Suga to visit South Korea unless Seoul offers assurances that the assets of Japanese companies will not be liquidated in connection with their use of Korean workers during World War II. A senior GOJ official told the paper that it will no longer be possible to hold the summit this year. The paper conjectured that South Korean President Moon is hoping to demonstrate his diplomatic achievements by hosting the trilateral summit at a time when the situation in the Korean Peninsula is uncertain due to the power transition in the United States.

U.S., Japan to help Vietnam reduce carbon emissions

Nikkei wrote that the governments of the United States and Japan will support Vietnam’s efforts to shift to liquefied natural gas from less clean types of fossil fuels by providing financial and human resource development assistance. The paper speculated that the move is intended to counter China’s growing influence in the energy sector by helping nations in Asia to reduce carbon emissions. According to the paper, the three nations issued a joint statement on their collaboration at a trilateral forum on LNG held Thursday, and the United States and Japan pledged to provide financial assistance to Vietnam for the construction of LNG-fired power plants and receiving terminals. The countries will also work on the construction of facilities and training of necessary personnel.

Japan expresses grave concern over prison sentences of Hong Kong activists

Mainichi wrote that Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato commented on a Hong Kong court’s decision on Wednesday to sentence three leading pro-democracy activists, including Agnes Chow, to imprisonment. Kato reportedly said Japan is seriously concerned that the verdict will have an impact on the freedom of speech in Hong Kong that is the basis of its democracy and stable development. The cabinet spokesman added that Hong Kong is a critical partner for Japan in terms of economic relations and people-to-people exchanges and that it is important for Hong Kong to develop democratically and stably based on the “one country, two systems” principle.

Japan pledges support for WHO reform

Nikkei and Sankei wrote that Prime Minister Suga will send a video message to a UN special session on the coronavirus to be held on Thursday in New York, in which he will pledge Japan’s support for reform of the WHO. Yomiuri wrote that in the session, to which Secretary of Health and Human Services Azar and other senior foreign officials are also expected to send video messages, Suga will pledge Japan’s support for ensuring a fair supply of COVID-19 vaccines for developing nations and express Tokyo’s resolve to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games next summer.


GOJ discusses alternatives to Aegis Ashore at NSC meeting

Yomiuri, Mainichi, and Sankei wrote that the GOJ discussed alternatives for the canceled Aegis Ashore deployment at an NSC meeting on Thursday. Yomiuri wrote that Defense Minister Kishi explained his ministry’s plan to construct new Aegis ships and that the Suga administration is planning to make a cabinet decision on the matter by mid-December. Sankei wrote that the GOJ confirmed at the meeting a plan to construct two Aegis ships equipped with SPY-7 radar as an alternative to the canceled Aegis Ashore deployment with the goal of approving it at a cabinet meeting by the end of this month.

U.S. Navy secretary announces plan to assign 1st Fleet to Indo-Pacific

Yomiuri wrote that Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite told a Senate hearing on Wednesday that the U.S. Navy is planning to reconstitute the 1st Fleet to assign it to the Indo-Pacific in order to counter the Chinese navy’s expanding activities in the region and reduce the responsibilities currently held by the 7th Fleet. According to Braithwaite, the 1st Fleet will be primarily responsible for waters off Southeast Asia and west to the Indian Ocean as an expeditionary fleet. The paper quoted the secretary as saying: “This will reassure our partners and allies of our presence and commitment to this region while ensuring any potential adversary knows we are committed to global presence, to ensure rule of law and freedom of the seas.”


Japan to take steps to attract foreign financial talent to set up international hub

Nikkei wrote that the GOJ is planning to set up in Tokyo in the spring of 2021 a dedicated office that will accept English-language applications from foreign companies setting up operations in Japan and give tax breaks and other preferential treatment to foreigners with financial expertise in a bid to create a global financial hub. Prime Minister Suga said in a speech in November that Japan will aim to bring in financial talent from overseas so it can become an international financial center for Asia and the world. Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka have expressed interest in the plan. Speculating that the move is intended to attract financial institutions and skilled workers from Hong Kong, where China has imposed new security legislation, the paper wrote that competition to attract them is becoming increasingly fierce in Asia. The paper added that Japan's slow adoption of English in business and other fields has prevented the nation from becoming an international financial center like Hong Kong or Singapore. Suga expressed plans to make moves to resolve the matter by fiscal 2021 after he took office in September.


Osaka raises alert level to “red” in face of virus resurgence

All national dailies wrote that Osaka Prefecture raised its coronavirus alert level from "yellow" to "red," indicating an "emergency," on Thursday for the first time since the system was implemented in May. The prefecture is asking Osaka residents to refrain from nonessential outings from Dec. 4 through 15. The move was made in response to the COVID-19 infection situation there that is pushing the medical system to the brink of collapse. Osaka Governor Yoshimura said the medical system in the prefecture is in a state of emergency because the occupancy rate of the prefecture's hospital beds set aside for serious cases is expected to soon reach 70%.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Suga stated at a meeting of the tourism promotion taskforce on Thursday that the GOJ plans to extend the “Go To Travel” campaign while taking the infection situation and travel demand into consideration.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team