Morning Alert - Thursday, March 4, 2021
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Morning news

All broadcasters and national papers led with Prime Minister Suga’s informal decision to extend the COVID-19 state of emergency for Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures.


State of emergency to be extended for Tokyo and neighboring prefectures

All national dailies highlighted remarks made to the press last night by Prime Minister Suga regarding the COVID-19 state of emergency for Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures. “I think it needs to be extended by about two weeks to protect peoples’ lives and livelihoods” given that healthcare capacities are still under strain in some areas, he said. He also pointed out that the number of new cases has not fallen sufficiently. Public health experts on the GOJ coronavirus taskforce are also calling for an extension in response to emerging variants. The GOJ is set to officially decide tomorrow on a two-week extension beyond March 7.

While claiming that the premier had wanted to end the emergency declaration quickly to rebuild the economy, the dailies said he shifted gears amid growing public opposition. Since the vaccine rollout is behind schedule, Suga reportedly feared that the administration might run into difficulties hosting the Tokyo Olympics if a resurgence occurred as a result of lifting the state of emergency too soon. Nikkei conjectured that Suga chose to take a concerted line with Tokyo Governor Koike on the extension in order to avoid a political showdown with the popular governor since her call for an extension appeared to be a political stunt aimed at spotlighting the Suga administration’s alleged inclination to prioritize economic recovery over infection prevention measures ahead of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly race in July and the general election in the autumn.

Pointing out that Suga repeatedly underscored during a press gaggle that he was the one who made the decision on the extension, Yomiuri wrote that the prime minister was keen to demonstrate his leadership. One GOJ source said it was important to avoid giving the impression that the premier succumbed to Koike’s pressure, while another said the premier was desperate not to be “outmaneuvered” by her.


Foreign spectators not likely to be allowed to attend Tokyo Olympics

Mainichi front-paged the disclosure by multiple GOJ sources that coordination is underway within the Suga administration not to allow foreign spectators at the Tokyo Olympics this summer in view of the COVID-19 situation, including the rapid spread of new strains in some parts of the world. “It would be impossible to accommodate spectators from abroad under the current circumstances,” a GOJ source was quoted as saying. The daily projected that the International Olympic Committee is likely to endorse the plan to hold the Tokyo Games without foreign spectators based on the judgment that a failure in Tokyo would have adverse effects on the Beijing Winter Games next year and the Paris Olympics in 2024. The paper added that the GOJ will decide how to handle domestic spectators in April.

Other papers ran similar reports, speculating that the GOJ is inclined not to allow foreign spectators to alleviate public anxiety about the Games becoming a “superspreader” event. The Suga administration was reportedly afraid that public opposition to the Olympics would grow further if it decided to allow foreign spectators amid uncertainty over when the pandemic will be brought under control at home and abroad.

In a related development, all papers took up a videoconference held yesterday between Minister for Tokyo Olympics Marukawa, Tokyo Governor Koike, Tokyo Olympics organizing committee President Hashimoto, IOC President Bach, and International Paralympics Committee President Parsons. They reportedly agreed that a decision on foreign spectators should be made by the end of this month. Marukawa reportedly disclosed afterward that no participants raised objections to her view that “a careful judgment is warranted” on the question of foreign spectators in view of the uncertainty about the coronavirus situation.


Japan, Europe taking coordinated approach to curbing China’s rise

Asahi reported that Japan and some European countries are anxious to ramp up their mutual coordination to rein in China’s growing presence, noting that Tokyo is capitalizing on Europe’s growing criticism of China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and human rights issues at home and in Hong Kong to build momentum for its free and open Indo-Pacific initiative. Foreign Minister Motegi told the press yesterday that Japan welcomes France’s ongoing deployment of a frigate in East Asia to crack down on ship-to-ship transfers of sanctioned materials to and from North Korea. Germany also plans to dispatch a warship to the region later this year on the same mission. As the Biden administration is set to deepen coordination with its allies in dealing with China, the GOJ is reportedly hoping to strengthen trilateral partnership with Europe and the U.S. in keeping the region free and open in the face of Beijing’s pursuit of maritime hegemony.

Nikkei ran a similar story, adding that the UK is expected to send the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth to the region in April or later to conduct joint training with the U.S. Navy and the SDF.


Japan aiming to hold defense ministerial with Pacific states

Nikkei and Sankei wrote that senior defense officials of Japan, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and Tonga convened a videoconference on Wednesday and agreed to arrange a defense ministerial meeting between Japan and Pacific island states in the future.


Female MOFA official tapped to handle media at Kantei

All national papers reported that the GOJ decided yesterday to appoint MOFA Deputy Press Secretary Hikariko Ono as the successor to Cabinet Public Relations Secretary Makiko Yamada, who resigned amid reports that she was treated to a dinner worth more than 70,000 yen ($655) by broadcasting firm Tohokushinsha Film Corp., the company that employs Prime Minister Suga’s eldest son. Ono is a public affairs specialist who has served as a deputy public relations secretary at the Kantei and spokesperson of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee. Suga was reportedly anxious to tap the seasoned public relations expert to highlight the administration’s commitment to women’s empowerment.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team