Morning Alert - Thursday, March 18, 2021
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Morning news

Broadcasters led with reports on the GOJ’s plan to formally decide today to lift the COVID-19 state of emergency for the Tokyo region on March 21 even though Tokyo appears to be experiencing a resurgence (NHK, NTV, TV Asahi) and the resignation of Hiroshi Sasaki as the head creative director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics over a derogatory comment he made about a popular female entertainer (TBS, Fuji TV).

Main front-page stories in national papers included the GOJ’s moves to lift the state of emergency, the Sapporo District Court’s ruling yesterday declaring the government’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, and the Defense Ministry’s plan to establish GSDF electronic warfare units on two remote islands.


Secretary Blinken speaks to Japanese media on China, democracy, diversity

All national papers except Mainichi wrote that Secretary of State Blinken met remotely with Japanese journalists yesterday and commented on a broad range of topics including U.S.-Japan relations, China, North Korea, nuclear arms control, democracy, and diversity in government. The Secretary said that when meeting with his Chinese counterparts in Alaska, he will convey America’s concerns about the situation around the Senkakus and Taiwan “with clear language.” He reportedly expressed “strong solidarity” with the Japanese people in resolving the abduction issue. The official explained the Biden administration’s commitment to creating a government that reflects the ethnic and gender diversity of American society. The Secretary also stressed the importance of the U.S. and Japan taking the lead in promoting democracy to counter the rise of autocratic states.

China displeased with U.S.-Japan 2+2 meeting

All national dailies reported from Beijing on remarks made to the press on Wednesday by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, who expressed his nation’s “extreme dissatisfaction and absolute opposition” to the recent U.S.-Japan joint statement criticizing China’s disruptive diplomatic and military conduct. The official denounced Japan for breaching mutual trust with Beijing by becoming “America’s strategic protectorate willingly.” The spokesperson also took issue with the 2+2 document’s reference to the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, warning the two nations not to intervene in China’s internal affairs.

U.S. waging psychological warfare against China

Nikkei took up the upcoming talks in Anchorage between top U.S. and Chinese officials, saying that the U.S. side appears to be waging psychological warfare in a bid to apply pressure on Beijing. The paper wrote that Secretary of State Blinken’s decision not to travel to Beijing during his ongoing East Asian tour, the administration’s dismissal of China’s description of the Alaska meeting as a strategic dialogue, President Biden’s hosting of the Quad leaders’ summit immediately after the conclusion of China’s National People’s Congress, the latest U.S.-Japan security consultative committee session in Tokyo, the criticism of China by name in four separate places in the 2+2 joint statement, and the President’s invitation for Prime Minister Suga to visit the U.S. after the U.S.-China meeting in Alaska all constitute indirect pressure on China. The daily said taking a hard line toward Beijing will also help the U.S. and Japanese leaders shore up their political bases at home, explaining that it has been difficult for President Biden to reject former President Trump’s anti-China stance outright and that Suga has been criticized by certain LDP elements for not being as tough on China as former Prime Minister Abe was. The paper added that although China was displeased that Secretary Blinken opted not to travel to Beijing this time, the fact that the U.S. agreed to hold a meeting in Alaska showed that Washington now recognizes the “arrival of the G2 era.”

Japan, Ukraine discuss China’s maritime push

All national dailies reported that Defense Minister Kishi and his Ukrainian counterpart Taran held a virtual conference yesterday in Tokyo and shared serious concern about China’s coast guard law. With Russia’s occupation of part of his country’s territory in mind, the Ukrainian official mentioned the importance of restoring territorial integrity. Although the Ukrainian official is currently visiting Japan, the meeting took place online because a member of his entourage tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Japan on Tuesday.


Japan to continue allowing U.S. military to use bombing ranges on Senkakus

Yomiuri took up remarks made by a senior MOFA official at the Diet yesterday underscoring the importance of allowing the U.S. military to continue using two of the Senkaku Islands for training. MOFA North American Affairs Bureau Deputy Assistant Minister Arima said the provision of the bombing ranges for use by the U.S. military was necessary for its achieving its goals under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The daily added that the U.S. military apparently has not conducted drills on the two outcrops since June 1978.

In a related story, Mainichi wrote that arrangements are being made for the U.S. military and the SDF to conduct later this year a large-scale joint exercise around the Senkakus based on the scenario of the occupation of the outcrops by foreign troops. All branches of the two armed forces except the U.S. Army are likely to take part in the drill aimed at simulating coordinated operations to recapture the islands, with the ultimate goal of dissuading China from escalating provocations in the vicinity. The daily added that Defense Minister Kishi may visit Washington as soon as early May for talks with Secretary Austin to work out the training details and confirm stronger defense cooperation.

Electronic warfare units to be set up in Okinawa, Nagasaki

Sankei wrote in its lead item that the Defense Ministry has decided to deploy GSDF units specialized in electronic warfare on Tsushima Island in Nagasaki and Yonaguni Island in Okinawa by the end of FY2023 in order to counter China and Russia, which are rapidly stepping up such capabilities. A similar unit staffed with some 80 personnel will be officially launched today at a GSDF Camp in Kumamoto. The daily added that five more such units are expected to be established by the end of this fiscal year, including in Hokkaido.


COVID-19 state of emergency for Tokyo area to be lifted on Sunday

All national papers reported that the GOJ has informally decided to end the coronavirus state of emergency for Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures on March 21 even though cases have been on the rise in the nation’s capital for the past 10 days. Prime Minister Suga told the press last night that he will ask the coronavirus taskforce subcommittee on Friday to endorse the decision since the number of new patients and hospital bed occupancy rates have declined to a level that warrants lifting. Asked about the recent uptick in new cases in Tokyo, the prime minister simply stated that measures will be taken to prevent a resurgence. A total of 409 people tested positive in Tokyo yesterday, marking the first time in almost a month for the number of new cases per day to exceed 400. The four prefectural governments are set to ask local eateries to close by 9 p.m. even after the state of emergency is lifted to prevent a resurgence.

Some public health professionals reportedly called the move premature, citing emerging signs of a resurgence, the rapid spread of the UK variant, and only a moderate increase in the number of hospital beds secured for coronavirus patients as sources of concern. They emphasized the importance of conducting testing more broadly to detect early signs of the spread of emerging strains.


Import restrictions on U.S. beef imports to be invoked today

All national papers took up a GOJ announcement yesterday that it will hike import duties on U.S. beef from the present 25.8% to 38.5% for 30 days beginning on Thursday in response to a surge in shipments over the past 11 months. Sankei said the two governments are expected to hold talks in the near future on the conditions that trigger safeguard restrictions, noting that the U.S. cattle industry has been calling for the mutually agreed-upon criteria to be lowered on the grounds that the safeguard will be invoked every year unless changes are made. The daily added that expanding U.S. access to Japan’s beef market is not high on the agenda of the Biden administration since its trade focus is on resolving disputes with China.


Japan plans to deepen dialogue with U.S. on addressing climate change

Sankei carried an interview with Environment Minister Koizumi, during which he explained the Suga administration’s commitment to addressing global warming and realizing a decarbonized society in Japan and elsewhere in coordination with the Biden administration. Koizumi disclosed that he has already spoken by phone with Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Kerry three times, most recently on Wednesday. The cabinet official stressed that increased cooperation with Washington on climate change will further reinforce the bilateral alliance.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team