Morning Alert - Wednesday, June 30, 2021
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Morning news

Broadcasters led with reports on efforts in California to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, such as offering free burgers and fries to those who are fully vaccinated (NHK), an incident in which a truck plowed into a group of five elementary school students in Yachimata, Chiba, on Monday, (NTV, Fuji TV), and the 476 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Tokyo yesterday (TBS, TV Asahi).

Main front-page items in national papers included Mitsubishi Electric’s admission of lapses in its inspection of train air conditioners over three decades, a GOJ policy to tighten COVID-19 infection protocols for foreign athletes, the planned joint use of a quantum computer by Toyota and 11 other major Japanese firms, and joint military training between the armies of the U.S. and Japan in Hokkaido on Tuesday.


Quasi-state of emergency likely to be extended for Tokyo and neighboring prefectures

Mainichi claimed in a front-page article that the GOJ is inclined to extend the current COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency for Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures beyond July 11 by two to four weeks in view of the steady rise in new cases over the past dozen days. Prime Minister Suga was quoted as telling senior LDP officials yesterday: “As we are witnessing a gradual increase in new cases in the Tokyo metropolitan area, we will be flexible in taking the necessary measures.” Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Nishimura even hinted at imposing another state of emergency if necessary. As Tokyo might be under a quasi- or full state of emergency when the Tokyo Olympics begin on July 23, the paper noted that some GOJ officials are suggesting the possibility of not allowing domestic spectators to attend the Games. However, the premier is allegedly insisting on allowing at least 5,000 spectators per venue.

In a related development, all national dailies wrote that the Tokyo metropolitan government confirmed a total of 476 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, with the rolling seven-day average of the number of new cases per 100,000 people reaching 24.9, only 0.1 short of Stage 4 on the four-tier coronavirus alert scale that can trigger a state of emergency. Nikkei pointed out that Tokyo Governor Koike suggested before being hospitalized for fatigue about a week ago that she would immediately reimpose the ban on serving alcohol if the infection situation deteriorated to the worst stage. The daily added that other indexes for assessing the infection situation, such as the hospitalization rate and occupancy rate of hospital beds for seriously ill patients, are still well below Stage 4.

No further applications to be accepted for workplace vaccination centers

Asahi, Mainichi, and Yomiuri reported that the GOJ will officially decide today not to accept any additional applications for launching large-scale COVID-19 vaccination platforms from corporations or universities on account of an anticipated shortage of the Moderna vaccine. Applications for some 60 million doses of the product have already been accepted even though the GOJ has only secured 50 million doses through the end of September.

According to Administrative Reform Minister Kono, delivery of the Pfizer vaccine to local municipalities may also run into difficulties due to an anticipated delay in shipment of the product from overseas in the summer. As the vaccination rate has accelerated to 1 million shots or more per day nationwide, the cabinet minister mentioned the need for some local governments to slow down their vaccination rollouts. “We may have to apply the brakes,” he was quoted as saying.


Two Americans express remorse for helping Ghosn flee Japan

All national dailies highlighted a hearing held at the Tokyo District Court yesterday in the trial of Michael and Peter Taylor, the two Americans accused of abetting former Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn’s escape from Japan. They reportedly expressed “profound regret” over the role they played in the business tycoon’s flight, offering “deep apologies to the Japanese court, prosecutors, and people.” According to Michael Taylor, the escape that took place at Kansai International Airport on the night of December 29, 2019, was carried out at the last minute upon Ghosn’s request even though it was originally intended to be a “dry run.” He allegedly underscored that he was not aware at the time that assisting Ghosn’s flight would constitute a crime in Japan.

Entire foreign Olympic team to quarantine if one member tests positive for COVID-19

Yomiuri reported that the GOJ and the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee have decided to update the guidelines for municipalities that plan to host training camps for foreign athletes, saying that all team members will be requested to quarantine in their hotel rooms and stop training in the event that one member tests positive for the novel coronavirus in order to ensure the virus is not brought into Japan from overseas. The athletes will not be allowed to resume training until their negative results become available. The daily added that more municipalities have decided to forego plans to host foreign athletes for pretraining camps in view of the rapid spread of the Delta variant and the detection of two COVID-19 cases among the nine-member Ugandan team.

Portion of Olympic torch relay in Tokyo to be canceled

According to all national papers, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) has decided not to go ahead with the portion of the Olympic torch relay scheduled to start on July 9 on account of an apparent resurgence of the novel coronavirus. The segment of the event that was set to take place on public roads from July 9 to 16 will be canceled. The TMG will decide later whether or not to go ahead with the remaining portion of the relay scheduled to run through July 23.


U.S. keen to build anti-China coalition at G20

Asahi took up the opening of the G20 foreign ministerial meeting in Italy on Tuesday, noting that the U.S. is eager to coordinate closely with Japan in having the member states share the G7’s concern about China’s rapidly increasing global presence. The two partners are reportedly likely to tout the “high transparency” of their aid programs for developing nations in a bid to curb Beijing’s “debt-trap” diplomacy. The daily added that forging a G20 consensus for building an “anti-China coalition” will be difficult given that some G20 members are not as democratic as the members of the G7. Sankei ran a similar article.

In a related development, Mainichi reported that visiting Foreign Minister Motegi held talks with his Dutch counterpart on Tuesday afternoon on the margins of the G20 session. The two officials reportedly shared “serious concern” about China’s attempts to alter the status quo in the South and East China Seas and its violations of human rights and civil liberties in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The Japanese minister expressed gratitude for the Netherlands’ dispatch of a warship to join the UK carrier strike group led by the HMS Queen Elizabeth that is currently traveling to the Indo-Pacific region.

Senior opposition legislator sends congratulatory message to China

Sankei wrote that Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan heavyweight Ozawa Ichiro has sent a message to China congratulating the nation on the centennial anniversary of the foundation of its communist party on July 1. According to the Xinhua News Agency, the politician reportedly wrote that the international community has “unprecedentedly high expectations” for China. The lawmaker told the daily that the message was sent in response to a Chinese request, adding that it was a matter of “courtesy.”


U.S., Japan hold largest-ever joint military training

Sankei and Asahi reported that joint training in Hokkaido between the U.S. Army and the GSDF was opened to the press yesterday, saying that as part of the Orient Shield 21 exercise that is being conducted nationwide, the two militaries mobilized an array of multiple launch rocket systems, including one called HIMARS, for display to the Chinese and Russian militaries. This year’s Orient Shield was reportedly the largest ever, with some 3,000 personnel participating from both sides. Sankei explained that the exercise was intended to enhance the two militaries’ capabilities in “cross-domain” operations, including outer space, cyberspace, and electromagnetic wave. Asahi wrote that the Hokkaido training was timely given that the Russians began a large-scale exercise involving more than 10,000 soldiers in and around the Northern Territories just a week ago.

Drones may be used for monitoring China’s operations at sea

Yomiuri wrote that a group of security experts submitted to Prime Minister Suga yesterday a package of recommendations for the nation’s maritime policy calling for the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to step up the surveillance of China’s relentless moves to alter the status quo in the East China Sea. Suga underscored that the government will “respond resolutely” to the Chinese moves. Sankei ran a similar story.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team