Morning Alert - Thursday, February 4, 2021
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Morning news

Broadcasters led with reports on local governments’ preparations to vaccinate their residents against COVID-19 (NHK) and the enactment of the revised coronavirus special measures law and the Infectious Disease Law (NTV, TBS, Fuji TV, TV Asahi). Most national papers gave top play to the enactment of GOJ legislation on COVID-19 response.


Japan, UK to enhance security cooperation in Asia

All national papers reported that the foreign and defense ministers of Japan and the UK held a videoconference last night and agreed to strengthen security and defense cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. China loomed large in the first bilateral 2+2 conference in three years, with the participants sharing “strong” or “grave” concern about unilateral attempts to alter the status quo by force in the South and East China Seas,

the recent enactment of China’s coast guard law, the situation in Hong Kong, and human rights violations in Xinjiang Province. They affirmed mutual coordination for promoting the free and open Indo-Pacific initiative, agreeing that their navies will hold a joint drill when the HMS Queen Elizabeth visits Japan later this year on its Asian cruise. The Japanese side welcomed the deployment of the aircraft carrier as representing London’s additional commitment to the Indo-Pacific region. Yomiuri projected that the U.S. military may join the planned Japan-UK training. “Bilateral relations are now more important than ever to defend the order based on international law, maritime security, and freedom of navigation,” UK Foreign Secretary Raab was quoted as saying. The papers speculated that London is eager to deepen cooperative relations with countries outside Europe following Brexit.

Japan conveys strong concern about China’s new coast guard law

All national papers highlighted a teleconference on maritime security held between Japan and China yesterday. The Japanese side reportedly voiced strong concern about Beijing’s recent enactment of a law empowering its coast guard to use weapons while patrolling “areas under China’s control,” asking that Beijing explain how the statute will be administered, including the geographical scope of its application. The Japanese participants also requested that the coast guard refrain from conducting intrusive operations in the vicinity of the Senkakus.

Japan labels situation in Myanmar a “military coup”

All national papers reported that during a press conference on Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato said the Myanmar (Burma) military’s control of the country was “equivalent to a military coup.” The government spokesman, however, stopped short of specifying what Japan will do in terms of economic and other support for the nation. In response to a media query about the Biden administration’s intention to consider reinstating sanctions on the military regime, Kato merely said Tokyo will look into how to respond while taking a closer look at the situation.

Mainichi noted that Tokyo appears hesitant to take a hard line toward the junta in coordination with Washington out of fear that overreacting would push the country in the direction of China. The daily said the GOJ has maintained connections with the Myanmar military for decades, with Foreign Minister Motegi having held a meeting with Army Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing in addition to Aung San Suu Kyi when the cabinet minister visited there last August. “Japan is the only country in the Western camp that is still able to conduct communications with the military,” a MOFA source was quoted as saying: “Japan takes a unique approach toward Myanmar.”

In a related story, Sankei and Nikkei said the ruling LDP launched a taskforce on human rights diplomacy with the goal of putting together recommendations on how the GOJ should respond to military rule in Myanmar and China’s oppression of Uyghurs. Taskforce chair Suzuki said the party will study how Japan should deal with issues connected to human rights violations abroad as the Biden administration is set to take a tough position on the subject. The panel is reportedly aiming to submit its advice to the GOJ in preparation for Prime Minister Suga’s attendance at the G7 summit in the UK in June.

GOJ voices apprehension about prison sentence for Russian dissident

Nikkei wrote that Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato commented on the prison sentence handed down by a Moscow court to Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. “We are deeply concerned,” the government spokesperson was quoted as saying. “We condemn this politically motivated arrest and detention and call for his immediate and unconditional release.”

Japan filed protest with South Korea last year over ambassadorial appointment

According to Sankei, the GOJ lodged a protest last year over South Korea’s announcement that it had appointed a new ambassador to Japan. MOFA spokesperson Yoshida disclosed yesterday that Seoul made the announcement unilaterally even before the GOJ had issued an “agrément,” pointing out that this violated diplomatic protocol.

Japanese, Canadian leaders hold teleconference

Nikkei and Sankei reported that Prime Minister Suga and his Canadian counterpart Trudeau spoke by phone on Wednesday to discuss mutual coordination for creating a free and open Indo-Pacific. They also reportedly exchanged views on the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, ship-to-ship transfers of illicit cargo bound for North Korea, and the prolonged detention in China of two Canadian citizens on charges of espionage.


Suga says he had no knowledge of alleged scandal involving his son

All national papers reported that Prime Minister Suga told the press last night that he was not aware of a magazine’s allegation that his eldest son entertained several senior government officials on behalf of his company multiple times. The weekly Shukan Bunshun claimed in its latest issue that Suga’s son, who works at Tohokushinsha Film Corp., entertained four high-ranking Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications officials at expensive restaurants in Tokyo several times last year. The papers noted that the central government employee ethics law prohibits civil servants from being entertained by stakeholders. The prime minister underscored that he does not intend to ask his son about the allegation, adding that the matter will be handled by the ministry.


Government spokesman asks media not to report on vaccine delivery

Nikkei and Mainichi took up Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato’s remarks to the press yesterday regarding media coverage of the arrival in Japan of the first tranche of COVID-19 vaccines from overseas. “We want the media to be sensitive and cooperative,” he was quoted as saying. “Reporting on delivery schedules, including storage locations, could lead to an unforeseen situation from the standpoint of security.” Mainichi said the GOJ does not plan to disclose information on the shipment of vaccines, including when and where they will arrive.

Coronavirus death tolls top 6,000

All national papers reported that a record high of 120 people died of COVID-19 nationwide yesterday, bringing the total death toll to 6,058.

Two additional cases of UK variant of coronavirus detected in Saitama

Yomiuri took up the Health Ministry’s announcement yesterday that two people in Saitama, including a young boy, tested positive for the UK strain of the novel coronavirus. The boy was in close contact with a virus carrier who contracted the new variant as part of a cluster infection at a company in the area.


No change in U.S. plans for Tokyo Olympics: White House spokeswoman

Kyodo News reported that White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that the United States has not made any changes to its plans regarding this summer's Tokyo Olympics. "Nothing has changed about our plans," Psaki said at a press conference when asked whether President Joe Biden thinks it is safe at this point to send U.S. athletes to Japan. She did not elaborate.

Kyodo said that since taking office on Jan. 20, President Biden has not made any public statements on the Tokyo Summer Games, which are scheduled to open on July 23 after being postponed from last summer due to the virus outbreak. The wire service added that the outlook for the Games remains clouded since the state of emergency covering Tokyo and other regions was extended by one month to March 7.

Kyodo said that although Psaki has already been asked multiple times whether President Biden feels the Olympics can safely go on, she has yet to offer a clear answer, possibly due to the sensitivity of the issue. In late January, President Biden and Prime Minister Suga held phone talks, but the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games were not among the topics that were discussed, according to Japanese government officials.

Tokyo Olympic committee head Mori makes controversial comment on women

All national papers focused on a remark made by Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee Chairman Mori during a meeting held remotely yesterday. He suggested that women talk too much in meetings by saying: “On boards with a lot of women, the meetings take so much time…. Women have a strong sense of competition. If one person raises their hand, others probably think they need to say something too. That’s why everyone speaks.” While noting that the comment drew laughter from participants in the meeting, Asahi said the remark has already triggered a furor on social media.

Olympic torch relay likely to be scaled back

Nikkei wrote that concern is growing among local government officials that the nationwide Olympic torch relay scheduled to start on March 25 in Fukushima may be shortened or scaled back drastically, as the GOJ has decided to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency through early March. As the GOJ and the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee have not yet presented concrete measures for coronavirus infection prevention for the months-long event, most local governments are bracing for the possibility of the relay being scaled back.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team