Morning Alert - Tuesday, February 2, 2021
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Morning news

All networks led with reports that the GOJ is expected to extend the state of emergency for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka, and seven other prefectures until March 7 while lifting it for Tochigi. Mainichi, Nikkei, and Sankei led with reports on the coup in Myanmar (Burma), while Asahi and Yomiuri gave top play to reports on the GOJ plan to extend the state of emergency to March 7.


Japan to extend COVID-19 state of emergency to March 7

All national dailies wrote that the Japanese government is planning to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency that is set to expire on Feb. 7 for another month to March 7. Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama will remain under the state of emergency, as will Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka, but Tochigi will be removed because its coronavirus situation has significantly improved. However, the government may lift the state of emergency before March 7 for prefectures where the situation improves. Prime Minister Suga told reporters after discussing the issue with relevant cabinet ministers on Monday that although COVID-19 cases are declining, it is necessary for the nation to remain vigilant for a while longer and the government will make a final decision on the extension after hearing the opinions of experts on Tuesday. The premier is planning to hold a news conference on Tuesday evening after an official decision is made at the GOJ taskforce headquarters.

Yomiuri wrote that the extension is part of Prime Minister Suga’s “do-or-die effort” to host the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in the summer because it will be impossible for Japan to host the international sporting event if it fails to bring the infection situation under control.

MHLW planning to make decision on Pfizer vaccine on Feb. 12

NHK reported this morning on the finding that the MHLW is making final arrangements to reach a decision on whether to approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at a subcommittee meeting to be convened on Feb. 12. The network said that if the Pfizer vaccine is approved, the MHLW will only administer it to people aged 16 or older for the time being and will not administer it to people who have had serious allergic reactions to immunizations in the past. The network said Pfizer, which signed a deal with the GOJ to provide enough vaccine doses for 72 million people this year, submitted to the GOJ last week the results of its clinical trials conducted in Japan. The network said that once the vaccine is approved by the subcommittee, the MHLW is expected to formally approve it within a few days. The network added that the GOJ is planning to administer the vaccine to medical practitioners starting later this month.

MHLW considers vaccinating people under 65 at workplaces

Nikkei and Yomiuri wrote that the MHLW informed the LDP at a meeting on Monday that it will consider the idea of administering COVID-19 vaccines to people younger than 65 at their workplaces as an effective and speedy way to immunize the general public. Nikkei wrote that it is not yet known when the vaccine will become available to the general public following the immunization of 3.7 million medical workers, 36 million people aged 65 or older, and 8.2 million people with underlying diseases.


Japan expresses concern over Myanmar

All national dailies wrote that Foreign Minister Motegi issued a statement on Monday in which Japan expressed serious concerns about the coup staged by the Myanmar (Burma) military earlier in the day. Tokyo also urged the release of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders. Motegi said in the statement that the Japanese government has strongly supported Myanmar’s democratic process and opposes moves against it.

However, Nikkei claimed that the Suga administration’s response to the coup in Myanmar was slow compared to other countries as the United States and the United Nations swiftly released statements denouncing it. The paper wrote that while the White House issued a statement within hours of the incident, saying it opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar's democratic transition, and Secretary of State Blinken tweeted, “The military must reverse these actions immediately," Motegi did not issue a statement until after 4 p.m. The paper pointed out that Japan’s position on Myanmar has differed from those of the United States and European nations as Tokyo has supported the democratization of the county while maintaining relations with the military junta. The paper wrote that there is concern that isolation from the international community could push Myanmar closer to China.

Asahi speculated that Japan may find itself in a difficult position if the United States decides to impose sanctions on Myanmar, and Japan will be tested over how to coordinate with the Biden administration, which attaches importance to democracy and human rights, in dealing with Myanmar.

Sankei wrote that while the United States, Japan, and other democratic nations expressed strong concern over the coup, China is making moves to increase its influence over Myanmar by reaching out to the military. The paper speculated that the political turmoil in Myanmar may become the first diplomatic challenge for the Biden administration.

Myanmar people hold rally in Tokyo against detention of Aung San Suu Kyi

Asahi and Mainichi wrote that hundreds of people from Myanmar (Burma) who reside in Japan gathered in Tokyo on Monday to protest the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. They gathered for a rally near the United Nations University on Monday in response to a call from an activists’ group which supports the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. Organizers said about 1,000 people took part in the rally.

Sri Lanka envoy comments on port development project involving Japan, India

Monday evening’s Nikkei ran a recent interview with Sri Lanka Ambassador to Japan Sanjiv Gunasekara, during which he expressed the view that a port development project in Colombo in which Japan and India are participating may start by the end of this year. Sri Lanka signed a memorandum of agreement with Japan and India in May 2019 on the joint development of the Eastern Container Terminal in Colombo, but the administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who took office in November 2019, decided to suspend the project. However, Ambassador Gunasekara said in the interview that the president is hoping that the construction will start this year. The paper wrote that some believe that Chinese pressure was behind the president’s decision to suspend the construction because former President Mahinda Rajapakasa, Gotabaya's elder brother, accepted massive investments from China while he was in office from 2005 through 2015. The ambassador rejected the view that the current administration is pro-China, saying that the nation’s diplomatic approach is neutral.


U.S., Japanese financial chiefs confirm close cooperation

Yomiuri and Sankei wrote that Finance Minister Aso and Treasury Secretary Yellen spoke by phone on Monday and agreed to cooperate closely in addressing the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic. The papers wrote that the two officials also exchanged views about the economic situation in their countries and confirmed the G7’s position against excessive moves in the currency market.

UK formally applies for TPP membership

All national dailies reported on the British government’s formal request on Monday to join the TPP, the first application for membership submitted by a nation outside the 11 member states. Secretary of State for International Trade Truss held a videoconference with her Japanese and New Zealand counterparts on the matter. Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato told reporters on Monday that it is significant that the TPP’s rules will be expanded further around the world.


People of Nishinoomote split over pros and cons of hosting FCLP

Asahi wrote that although Mayor Yaita prevailed in Sunday’s mayoral election in Nishinoomote, Kagoshima, by opposing the planned construction of an SDF base on Mageshima and the planned transfer of U.S. military field carrier landing practice (FCLP) to the island, he will likely face difficulties in handling the issue because there was only a very slim margin between him and his opponent. Yaita won 5,103 votes while his rival, Fukui, garnered 4,959 votes. The paper pointed out that there was wide support in the community for Fukui, who put forward a plan to revive the local economy through government subsidies for hosting FCLP.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team