Morning Alert - Friday, March 19, 2021
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Morning news

All broadcasters and Yomiuri, Nikkei, and Sankei led with reports on the GOJ decision to lift the COVID-19 state of emergency for the Tokyo metropolitan region on March 21. Asahi and Mainichi gave top play to a court order to halt operations at the idled Tokai No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant because of an inadequate evacuation plan.


Abductees’ families likely to meet Suga ahead of his trip to U.S.

TBS reported early this morning that the families of the Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea will seek a meeting with Prime Minister Suga before he visits the U.S. next month to ask him to confirm stronger partnership with the Biden administration to bring back their loved ones. A video showed Sakie Yokota explaining her cause to a group of supporters yesterday: “I was told that Secretary Blinken was moved by the letter [calling for continued U.S. assistance that the families delivered to Chargé d’Affaires Young prior to the Secretary’s recent visit to Tokyo]. I’m glad our wishes were accepted.”

Chinese official expresses strong displeasure with U.S.-Japan 2+2 meeting

All national dailies wrote that the top Communist Party official in Tianjin expressed strong displeasure during a meeting with Japanese Ambassador to China Tarumi on Thursday over the recent U.S.-Japan 2+2 meeting, at which the two nations mentioned China’s influence on Hong Kong and Taiwan in their joint statement. The Chinese official, one of the top 25 party officials, reportedly said the statement was very regrettable because interference in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Taiwan, where he claimed the situations are improving, will seriously undermine relations between Japan and China.

EU agrees to sanction China over human rights violations

Nikkei wrote that the European Union agreed at a meeting of ambassadors on Wednesday to impose sanctions on Chinese officials for human rights violations. These will be the first sanctions to be imposed on Beijing since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. An EU official told the paper on Wednesday that it is important to express the EU’s position of addressing violations of human rights. The paper speculated that the move is intended to press China to respect the human rights of the Uyghur minority and act in concert with the Biden administration.

Bids for Pacific cable project invalidated due to security concerns

Nikkei wrote that bids to install an undersea cable to connect Pacific islands submitted by Japanese, French, and Chinese companies have been invalidated because the United States, Japan, and Australia raised security concerns over the bids. The Chinese company had tendered the lowest bid and was considered to be in a strong position to win. The bidding took place last year for a project to connect Micronesia, Kiribati, and Nauru using optical cable owned by a consortium of carriers from the three countries with funding from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Japan's NEC, France's Alcatel Submarine Networks, and China's Huawei Marine submitted bids. The paper wrote that tension between the United States and China is casting a shadow over communications infrastructure development in the world.


U.S. government agency says U.S. military presence in Okinawa “unsustainable”

Ryukyu Shimpo took up a report released recently by the U.S. Government Accountability Office concerning the host nation support provided by Japan and South Korea. The document was compiled based on input from the Defense and State Departments, private-sector experts, and published data. The Pentagon reportedly obligated $20.9 billion for its 55,000-member presence in Japan from 2016 through 2019. The daily focused on the following sentence: “Given the extent of opposition in localities such as Okinawa, the U.S. military presence in those places might not be politically sustainable.” While most specialists agreed that U.S. military presence is conducive to the peace and stability in the region, some of them pointed out the need to address strong opposition to the U.S. military among local residents. Others raised concern that forward-deployed troops are at increased vulnerability to a potential first strike from an adversary, such as China or North Korea. The report also mentioned significant delays in the FRF construction off Camp Schwab on account of local opposition and “environmental analyses,” which the daily interpreted as a euphemism for the detection of soft seabed in the vicinity.

Japan, Germany to sign agreement on defense information protection

Nikkei wrote that the governments of Japan and Germany are planning to sign by the end of this month an information protection agreement that will facilitate their sharing such military information as unit operation plans and antiterrorism measures. The paper wrote that under the new agreement, the two nations will require strict information control for the sharing of defense secrets.


GOJ decides to lift COVID-19 emergency for Tokyo region on March 21

All national dailies reported extensively on the GOJ’s formal decision on Thursday to end the COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa on Sunday as scheduled based on the judgment that another extension is unnecessary given that the number of new cases per day has declined from its peak and the strain on hospitals has eased. Prime Minister Suga formally announced the lifting of the state of emergency at a GOJ coronavirus task force meeting after an expert panel approved the decision.

Suga told reporters: “We've carefully examined the situation, including the degree of strain on the healthcare system, and concluded that it meets the criteria for ending the state of emergency." The premier said the government will continue to reinforce the medical system while administering vaccines. Following the decision to lift the emergency, the government will take such measures as asking restaurants to close by 9:00 p.m., expanding sample screening for mutations from the current 5 - 10% of new cases to around 40%, stepping up testing at elderly care facilities, and monitoring for coronavirus variants in entertainment districts.

Some experts expressed concern that easing restrictions could trigger a resurgence of infection as the decline in the number of new cases per day appears to have bottomed out and is increasing slowly in Tokyo and some other areas. A resurgence is of particular concern at a time when the season for cherry blossom-viewing parties as well as graduation and school entrance celebrations is about to begin. The papers expressed the pessimistic view that the new measures will not be effective or stringent enough to curb infection.


Prime Minister Suga says he has no intention to dissolve Lower House in April

All national dailies wrote that Prime Minister Suga told reporters on Thursday that he has no intention to dissolve the Lower House for a snap general election following his planned visit to the United States in early April. Suga stressed that he is giving priority to bringing the COVID-19 infection under control. The premier also noted that his term as LDP president will not end until September. Yomiuri wrote that although rumors are rife within the ruling LDP that Suga may dissolve the Lower House for a general election if cabinet support rebounds after his meeting with President Biden, Suga will probably need to continue to concentrate on dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. Concerning his planned summit meeting with President Biden, Suga said he is planning to discuss such issues as the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, China, and the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team