Morning Alert - Friday, March 26, 2021
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Morning news

Broadcasters led with reports on President Biden’s remarks at a press conference on Thursday saying that North Korea’s ballistic missile tests were in violation of a UNSC resolution and that there will be “responses” if North Korea “escalates” (NHK), the derailment of a JR Joban Line train after colliding with a vehicle in Ibaraki (NTV), the start of the Olympic torch relay yesterday (TBS, Fuji TV), and the 394 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Tokyo on Thursday (TV Asahi).

Top items in national papers included an informal decision by the governments of Japan and the U.S. to issue a joint statement when President Biden and Prime Minister Suga hold talks in Washington next month, the start of the Olympic torch relay, North Korea’s ballistic missile tests, and robust carbon emissions trading in Europe.


U.S.-Japan joint statement likely to reconfirm U.S. defense commitment to Senkakus

Yomiuri claimed that President Biden and Prime Minister Suga are expected to issue a joint statement at their summit meeting in Washington in early April to keep China’s hegemonic military and diplomatic conduct in check. The envisaged document is likely to say that the Senkakus fall under the scope of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and mention the importance of “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait. According to the paper, the statement will also emphasize stronger bilateral coordination to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific, achieve North Korea’s denuclearization, and resolve the abduction issue. The daily said the statement will highlight the U.S. commitment to “extended deterrence” and mutual efforts to create “resilient and multilateral supply chains” for pharmaceuticals, rare earths, and high-tech products. A working group co-led by National Security Advisor Sullivan and National Security Secretariat Secretary General Kitamura will reportedly be launched to discuss how to build such supply chains. North Korea’s latest missile launches are also expected to be taken up during the in-person summit. Suga told journalists yesterday: “I would like to hold robust discussions [with President Biden] on how to deal with North Korea, including the latest missile firings. I would like to ensure coordination” with the U.S.

DPRK keen to gauge U.S. response by staging one provocation after another

All national dailies focused on North Korea’s launches of short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday for the first time in almost a year. The papers surmised that Pyongyang is anxious to gauge how Washington will react to its military activities as the Biden administration finalizes its review of North Korea policy. Asahi said the reclusive regime may have been trying to test the “strategic patience” of the Biden administration, while Sankei noted that Kim Jong Un “threw down the gauntlet” to demand that Washington stop taking a hostile approach.

The papers projected that the latest provocation was probably directed at a trilateral security meeting scheduled for next week in Washington at which National Security Advisor Sullivan and his Japanese and South Korean counterparts are expected to confirm mutual coordination to realize North Korea’s denuclearization. The dailies observed that the three partners apparently tried not to overreact to yesterday’s launches. However, Mainichi and Sankei expressed concern that the Biden administration may choose to uphold the Trump administration’s approach of not taking issue with North Korea’s missile launches as long as they only involve short-range projectiles. A GOJ source reportedly said: “We want the Biden administration to take a tough stance, including saying that the launches violated a UN Security Council resolution.”

Japan asks U.S. military to correct statement referring to “East Sea”

All national papers except Asahi took up the disclosure by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sakai on Thursday that the GOJ requested the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to correct its statement on North Korea’s test-launch of two ballistic missiles because it referred to the body of water between Japan and South Korea as the “East Sea.”

The document, released under the name of a public affairs officer, said: “We are aware of North Korean missile launches this morning into the East Sea.” The Japanese government spokesman called the term “inappropriate.” Pointing out that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has noted that the term “Sea of Japan” is the only official term that should be used in reference to the body of water in question, Yomiuri speculated that a mistake was made by the INDOPACOM officials who drafted the statement.

China displeased with Japan’s criticism of human rights violations in Xinjiang

Asahi, Yomiuri, and Nikkei reported that a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman reacted strongly yesterday to Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato’s statement on Wednesday voicing Japan’s concern about China’s persecution of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. While referring to the enshrinement of Class A war criminals at Yasukuni Shrine and the comfort women dispute with South Korea, the Chinese official raised doubts about Tokyo taking issue with the human rights situation in China and elsewhere. “Japan should come to terms with and repent for its history,” she was quoted as saying.

In a related development, Sankei and Nikkei wrote that an LDP taskforce on human rights issues invited an official of a Japanese organization that supports the Uyghurs to speak at a meeting yesterday to discuss the human rights situation in Xinjiang. The taskforce is expected to draw up a package of recommendations on steps that Tokyo should take to respond to the alleged human rights violations there. Since the Chinese government has dismissed the allegations, the LDP team plans to conduct a hearing with Chinese Embassy officials.


Japan, UK defense chiefs hold teleconference

Sankei wrote that Defense Minister Kishi and his British counterpart Wallace spoke by phone on Thursday to exchange views on North Korea’s missile launches and China’s coast guard law. They also apparently discussed London’s plan to deploy to Asia a carrier strike group led by the HMS Queen Elizabeth.


Signs point to potential COVID-19 resurgence

All national papers reported that approximately 1,900 people across Japan tested positive for the novel coronavirus yesterday , including 394 in Tokyo and 266 in Osaka, noting that the nationwide figure is close to the levels recorded in early February. Cases were on the rise not only in urban prefectures but also in the countryside, with Ehime (59) and Yamagata (49) each reporting record numbers of cases on Thursday. Cases in Miyagi were also high, with 161 people testing positive. Commenting on the gradual rise in new cases in the nation’s capital, public health experts expressed alarm over the possibility of the arrival of a wave of infection that is “bigger than the third wave.”


Suga determined to hold Tokyo Olympics

Sankei reported on the start of the Olympic torch relay in Fukushima yesterday, noting that Prime Minister Suga was adamant about going ahead with the event as scheduled irrespective of lingering public anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic. Suga is reportedly determined to demonstrate at home and abroad his strong resolve to hold the Summer Games at all costs “as a proof of humanity’s victory over the novel coronavirus.” The daily explained that the premier gave the green light to commence the torch relay to prevent calls for cancellation from growing, quoting him as saying on Thursday: “The relay will be a great opportunity to give the people a real sense that the Olympics are nearing.”

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team