Morning Alert - Thursday, February 18, 2021
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Morning news

All broadcasters and Sankei led with reports that a panel of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee has decided to ask Olympic Minister Hashimoto to succeed Mori following his resignation last week. TBS said Hashimoto is expected to accept the request and officially take the helm of the organizing committee as early as this afternoon.

Other top stories in national dailies include the start of COVID-19 vaccination in Japan (Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri) and the economic situation in 2020 under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (Nikkei).


U.S., Japan agree on cost-sharing deal for hosting U.S. forces in FY2021

All national dailies reported on the announcement on Wednesday by the governments of the United States and Japan that they have agreed to keep Japan’s share of the cost of hosting U.S. forces at the current level for fiscal 2021 following the expiration of a five-year deal at the end of March. Under the agreement, which extends the current deal by one year, Japan will shoulder 201.7 billion yen ($1.90 billion) in the year starting April for the support of U.S. troops in the country. The two governments also agreed to continue negotiations for a multiyear deal covering the cost for fiscal 2022 and beyond. The papers wrote that the two governments are planning to sign an official agreement as early as next week and that the GOJ is hoping to gain Diet approval by the end of March.

Foreign Minister Motegi and Defense Minister Kishi welcomed the agreement. "We were able to reach an agreement at an early date following the inauguration of President Joe Biden. This shows the two countries' strong commitment to the bond of the U.S.-Japan alliance and enhances the credibility of the alliance," Motegi told reporters. Kishi told the press that the two nations were able to seal a necessary deal by holding negotiations within time constraints and that the U.S.-Japan alliance is indispensable for the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific.

Nikkei speculated that the two governments decided to seal a deal on a one-year extension of the existing agreement because there was not enough time to negotiate the cost for the next five years by the end of March following the Biden administration’s launch in January. The paper also conjectured that in future negotiations the Biden administration may ask Japan to play a greater role in such areas as island defense, cyber defense, and missile defense in outer space with China in mind.

Yomiuri speculated that the Biden administration’s agreement on the latest deal less than a month after its inauguration demonstrates its policy of attaching importance to the alliance with Japan to counter China. The paper also conjectured that Japan may be asked to increase its defense budget in future host nation support negotiations.

Asahi wrote that according to a senior GOJ official, the Biden administration has already asked Japan to increase its share of the cost. Mainichi speculated that the U.S. side accepted Japan’s proposal on the one-year extension to prevent the issue from becoming a source of dispute between Washington and Tokyo. Sankei speculated that the Biden administration agreed on the latest deal to demonstrate how it differs from the Trump administration, which created turmoil in U.S.-Japan relations by requesting a large increase in Japan’s share of the cost, and to underscore its policy of attaching importance to alliance relations.


Quad foreign ministers to hold online meeting today

Nikkei and Mainichi wrote that the United States, Japan, Australia, and India will hold an online meeting of their foreign ministers today, speculating that the participants will discuss the security of the Indo-Pacific in view of China’s increasing maritime activities in the region. The papers wrote that this will be the first time for the foreign ministers of the four nations to hold Quad talks since last October in Tokyo and the first since the launch of the Biden administration. Nikkei added that Washington has sounded out the other members on the possibility of holding a Quad leaders’ meeting online.

Prime Minister Suga comments on China’s new coast guard law

Nikkei wrote that Prime Minister Suga commented on China’s new coast guard law during a Lower House Budget Committee session on Wednesday by saying that the law includes provisions that are questionable from the viewpoint of consistency with international law. Suga added that the law should not infringe on the interests of Japan or those of other nations and that Japan will continue to express its strong concern to China. The premier made the remarks in response to a question from an opposition lawmaker, who insisted that Tokyo should tell Beijing that the legislation runs counter to international law.


Japan starts administering COVID-19 vaccines

All national dailies reported on the start on Wednesday of vaccination against COVID-19 for medical workers at hospitals in the Tokyo metropolitan area. A total of 125 staff members were inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine at eight hospitals. The GOJ is planning to expand the vaccination program to cover 100 medical facilities across the country by next week. Of the initial group of 40,000 healthcare workers, 20,000 will participate in a study to track potential side effects of the vaccine. A further 3.7 million front-line healthcare workers will begin being inoculated in March, followed by 36 million people aged 65 or older from April.

PM Suga says domestic production of vaccines is key to crisis management

Nikkei wrote that Prime Minister Suga stated at a Lower House Budget Committee meeting on Wednesday that the establishment of a system to domestically develop and produce vaccines and medicines for unanticipated infectious diseases is a critically important crisis management measure for Japan. The paper interpreted the remark to mean that Suga is committed to increasing support for the healthcare industry in developing and producing vaccines and medicines for infectious diseases. Sankei ran a similar report.


Panel to nominate Olympic minister Hashimoto for Tokyo Games chief

All national dailies wrote that a panel tasked with selecting the next president of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games held its second meeting on Wednesday and apparently decided to ask Olympic Minister Hashimoto to assume the post following the resignation last week of former President Mori. However, Hashimoto told reporters on Wednesday that the organizing committee has set up a selection panel and was still in the process of deciding on a candidate. If Hashimoto, a seven-time Olympian, accepts the offer, the selection panel will select her as an official candidate at its third meeting and the organizing committee will endorse her as its new chief at an executive meeting today.

Shimane Prefecture may cancel participation in Olympic torch relay

All national dailies wrote that Shimane Governor Maruyama said at a prefectural meeting on Wednesday that it will be difficult for the prefecture to gain residents’ understanding for participating in the nationwide Olympic torch relay if the coronavirus situation in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan does not improve. The governor later told reporters that it is difficult for the prefecture to give its full support to the torch relay because neither the Tokyo Metropolitan Government nor the GOJ are taking appropriate measures against COVID-19 infection in the nation although he feels very sorry for those who are looking forward to participating in the event in May. The governor is planning to make an official decision to cancel the prefecture’s participation if sufficient steps are not taken within a month.

Nikkei and Sankei wrote that Tokushima Governor Iizumi, who chairs the National Governors' Association, issued a comment on Wednesday calling on the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee to swiftly provide the details of the torch relay event.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team