Morning Alert - Wednesday, March 17, 2021
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Morning news

Broadcasters led with reports on the finding that Chinese engineers have been able to access the personal information of Japanese users of the communication app LINE (NHK), the death of two patients who were infected with new variants of COVID-19 in Japan (NTV, Fuji TV, TV Asahi), and the likelihood that the GOJ will decide to lift the state of emergency for the Tokyo region on March 21 (TBS).

Top stories in national dailies included the U.S.-Japan 2+2 meeting (Yomiuri, Nikkei, Sankei), LINE’s inadequate customer information protection measures (Asahi), and a story about Katalin Kariko, a Hungarian-born scientist who is behind the development of the mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine (Mainichi).


Suga hopes to confirm bonds of U.S.-Japan alliance with President Biden

Nikkei and NHK reported that Prime Minister Suga met with Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin at the Kantei on Tuesday. Suga told the U.S. officials that he is hoping to hold meaningful discussions and confirm the bonds of the U.S.-Japan alliance with President Biden in Washington next month. Prime Minister Suga, Secretary Blinken, and Secretary Austin “highlighted that the U.S.-Japan Alliance remains the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” according to a statement released by the State Department. The U.S. officials also “reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan under Article V of our security treaty, which includes the Senkaku Islands, and that the United States remains opposed to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea.”

U.S., Japan share “serious concern” over China’s coast guard law at 2+2 meeting

All national dailies reported extensively on the 2+2 meeting held between the U.S. and Japanese foreign and defense ministers in Tokyo on Tuesday. They issued a joint statement criticizing China’s activities in the vicinity of the Senkaku Islands and expressed “serious concern” over China’s new coast guard law. They confirmed the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The joint statement said that the Senkaku Islands fall within the scope of Article V of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and that the two nations continue to oppose any actions that attempt to undermine Japan’s administration of the islands.

They also agreed on security cooperation in new domains, such as outer space and cyberspace, and on promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific. The U.S. and Japanese officials agreed to hold another 2+2 meeting later this year. The four ministers also agreed on the need for the U.S. military and the SDF to increase their joint exercises to maintain the deterrence of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Furthermore, the two governments confirmed their commitment to seek the complete denuclearization of the DPRK. They also agreed on the importance of trilateral cooperation with South Korea and the need for immediate resolution of the abduction issue.

U.S. attaches importance to Japan in response to China

Nikkei wrote that Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin repeatedly stressed the U.S. policy of attaching importance to the alliance with Japan at their 2+2 meeting. The daily said Japan has grown in strategic importance as China has risen, conjecturing that China’s rise is the reason the two secretaries chose Japan as the first leg of their first overseas trip. The United States and Japan did not mention China by name in their last four 2+2 meetings and they called on China in 2013 to play a responsible and constructive role for the stability and prosperity in the region. However, the two nations criticized China by name yesterday. The daily said this demonstrates the change in the U.S. view of China in the past eight years. According to the paper, Washington’s expectations for Tokyo to play a greater role in dealing with such issues as the deployment of medium-range missiles in the Asia- Pacific and the establishment of supply chains for semiconductors to reduce dependence on China are behind the United States’ attachment of importance to Japan.

Asahi wrote that Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin have used the words “force multiplier” repeatedly to explain the administration’s policy of quickly reestablishing its relationships with other allies and partners who share such universal principles as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. The daily said Secretary Blinken’s strong criticism of China over Hong Kong, Taiwan, the situation in Xinjiang, as well as the recent coup in Burma, illustrated the Biden administration’s renewed focus on democratic values. The paper added that the U.S. administration is hoping that the two secretaries’ Asia trip will help strengthen coordination between Japan and South Korea, which is the weakest link in the three-way partnership.

U.S. attaches importance to Japan’s increased deterrence capabilities

Yomiuri wrote that the 2+2 meeting between the United States and Japan was held only two months after the launch of the Biden administration. The paper said this demonstrates that the United States attaches importance to its alliance with Japan in responding to China and projected that Japan will be urged to take specific steps to enhance its deterrence capacity in response to China’s accelerating military buildup. Japan’s geopolitical importance has been increasing because U.S. Forces Japan would be required to make an initial response in the event of a contingency in the Taiwan Strait. The daily surmised that the U.S. military has high expectations for assistance from the SDF.

Asahi reported that as the former Trump administration was criticized for taking a unilateral approach and “neglecting Asia,” Tokyo has been reportedly desperate to keep Washington engaged in the region by proposing the free and open Indo-Pacific initiative and launching the Quad partnership involving Australia and India. “Today marked a historic day for the alliance,” said an unnamed senior Japanese diplomat, who was pleased that the two partners renewed their commitment to taking a concerted line toward China.

Japanese officials express hope for early visit to U.S.

Mainichi wrote that during their respective meetings with Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin in Tokyo on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Motegi and Defense Minister Kishi each voiced hope to visit Washington in the near future to cement personal bonds and to continue discussions on a stronger partnership to deal with a range of challenges together.

U.S. top diplomat, defense chief to visit Seoul to coordinate policy toward DPRK

Yomiuri wrote that Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin will visit Seoul following Tokyo to coordinate policy toward the DPRK out of concern over the Moon administration’s conciliatory approach to Pyongyang. The paper said there is a possibility that the Biden administration will make moves to mediate between Tokyo and Seoul out of concern that friction between Japan and South Korea would hamper trilateral coordination with the United States. However, Japan has no intention to meet the ROK halfway, the daily said. Prime Minister Suga explained Japan’s position on the comfort women and requisitioned workers issues during his telephone conversation with President Biden in January and called for the United States’ understanding for Japan’s position that South Korea’s response that violates international law is the reason for the aggravated relations between Tokyo and Seoul.


U.S. military, SDF conduct joint air-defense exercises over East China Sea

Nikkei and Sankei wrote that the ASDF announced on Tuesday that it conducted joint air-defense exercises with the U.S. military in the airspace northwest of Naha on Monday. Nikkei speculated that the drills were aimed at enhancing the joint operational and strategic capabilities of the United States and Japan in view of China’s increasing activities near the Senkaku Islands.

Serious security lapse identified at nuclear plant in Niigata

NHK reported this morning that Japanese nuclear regulators have categorized a security lapse at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture at the most serious level in terms of antiterrorism measures. According to the network, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) was notified by the plant’s operator TEPCO in January that a worker accidentally damaged sensor equipment for detecting intruders. On Tuesday, the results of an investigation of the plant were reported during an NRA closed-door meeting. The probe reportedly found that other sensor equipment may have been broken since March 2020, making the plant vulnerable to intruders for months. NRA Chairman Fuketa reportedly said at a news conference that the plant was “in an extremely serious situation” in terms of protecting nuclear material and said it will conduct additional onsite inspections.


Two men infected with new variant of COVID-19 die in Kanagawa

All national papers reported that two men from Kanagawa – one in his 50s and another in his 70s – have died of the novel coronavirus, saying that the cases were the first fatalities in Japan from infection with one of several emerging strains.

COVID-19 vaccine rollout hits snag in Tokyo

Nikkei reported that COVID-19 vaccination in Tokyo has already run into difficulties. Inoculation has not yet started at half of the 17 public-run hospitals in the nation’s capital designated as special facilities to treat coronavirus patients with serious symptoms, even though healthcare providers at these institutions are supposed to be among the first to be vaccinated under the GOJ’s immunization program. An administrator at one of the hospitals complained that the metropolitan government has not yet informed them of the vaccine delivery schedule.


Emergency import restrictions on U.S. beef to be invoked tomorrow

All national dailies wrote that in accordance with the U.S.-Japan trade accord that went into effect in January last year, the GOJ is expected to invoke a safeguard provision on Thursday to limit shipments of U.S. beef. Import tariffs on American products will be raised by 13 points to 38.5% in response to a surge in imports in the past 11 months. The papers wrote that as the higher duties will only be in place for 30 days, the measure’s effects on the restaurant industry and consumers will probably not be extensive.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team