Morning Alert   -   Wednesday, August 4, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Japan, with more than 12,000 new cases confirmed nationwide yesterday, including 3,709 in Tokyo (NHK, Fuji TV) and gymnast Hashimoto Daiki winning the gold medal in men’s horizontal bar at the Tokyo Olympics (NTV, TBS, TV Asahi).

Top stories in national dailies included calls from the governors' association for the GOJ to specify criteria for its policy of limiting hospitalization of COVID-19 patients (Asahi, Mainichi), Japanese Olympic athletes’ performance on Tuesday (Yomiuri, Sankei) , and Japanese firms’ increasing investment in the United States, including Mitsubishi Chemical’s plan to invest $915 million in a U.S. plant (Nikkei).


FM Motegi calls for ASEAN’s cooperation in achieving free and open Indo-Pacific

All national dailies wrote that Japan and ASEAN held an online meeting of their foreign ministers on Tuesday during which Foreign Minister Motegi called for ASEAN’s cooperation in achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific. With China in mind, the foreign minister reiterated Japan’s position of opposing any attempt to change the status quo in the South and East China Seas. Motegi offered healthcare assistance to the region, including the provision of vaccines. He expressed Japan’s readiness to invite the leaders of the ASEAN countries to Japan for a summit in 2023.

Yomiuri and Asahi wrote that Motegi reiterated Japan's support for ASEAN's bid to implement its five-point plan for tackling the political crisis in Myanmar, including the immediate cessation of violence and constructive dialogue among all parties concerned. Motegi also called for ASEAN’s cooperation in resolving the abduction issue.

Lack of reciprocity in Japan’s vaccine passport program hinders access to other nations

Nikkei wrote that Japan's new vaccine passport exempting Japanese travelers from entry restrictions has been slow to gain wide acceptance as the government hesitates to reciprocate for visitors from other countries. Japan started accepting applications for the vaccine passport on July 26. Holders of the certificate are not required self-quarantine upon arrival or submit PCR test results in the 12 countries and regions that accept it. However, Japan's vaccine passport has a limited reach because some countries are dissatisfied with Japan’s reluctance to ease its own entry restrictions. The paper speculated that the lack of reciprocity in entry restrictions is making it difficult for Japan to expand the number of nations and regions that will accept its vaccine passport. The paper wrote that the GOJ remains cautious about easing its restrictions out of concern over the recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Japan, especially infections from the Delta variant. The paper also wrote that the business community in Japan is also dissatisfied with Japan’s strict regulations because even Japanese returnees holding the vaccine passport are requested to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Room at U.S. Ambassador’s residence dedicated to Sen. Inouye and Irene Hirano Inouye

Yomiuri wrote that a room at the U.S. Ambassador’s official residence in Tokyo was dedicated to the late Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye and his late wife Irene Hirano Inouye for their contributions to U.S.-Japan relations. First Lady Jill Biden, who was visiting Tokyo for the opening ceremony of the Olympics, attended a ceremony held on July 24 at the Ambassador’s residence where she dedicated the room to the Inouyes. Dr. Biden reportedly said at the ceremony that Sen. Inouye was a good mentor and a true friend of President Biden and Irene Hirano Inouye improved the status of Japanese American women.


U.S., Japan, UK, Australia to hold joint military drills

Nikkei wrote that Defense Minister Kishi told reporters on Tuesday that the SDF will hold joint drills with the U.S., UK, and Australian militaries from Aug. 2 through Aug. 27. HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is now operating in East Asian waters, will participate.

U.S., Japan, Australia, India to hold joint naval exercise

Yomiuri wrote that India’s ministry of defense announced on Monday that it will hold a joint naval exercise with the United States, Japan, and Australia in the western Pacific within the coming two months. The planned exercise is called Malabar. This will be the second consecutive year for the four nations to conduct the exercise as part of the Quad framework. The paper speculated that the exercise is aimed at keeping China in check by strengthening security cooperation among the four nations.

Defense Ministry gives up on installing U.S. missile on F-15

Yomiuri wrote that the Ministry of Defense has given up on its plan to install the U.S.-developed long range anti-ship missile (LRASM) on the ASDF’s F-15 fighter jet because the U.S. side had asked for a large increase in renovation costs. The ASDF is planning to install a domestically produced long-range missile and the U.S.-made joint air-to-surface standoff missile on its F-2 fighters as alternatives to the LRASM in response to China’s rapid modernization of its fighter jets.


Suga discusses hospitalization of COVID-19 patients with medical professionals

All national dailies wrote that Prime Minister Suga held talks with Japan Medical Association chief Nakagawa on Tuesday to explain the GOJ’s decision on Monday to ask COVID-19 patients with mild or moderate symptoms to recuperate at home instead of being admitted to hospitals to prevent hospital beds from running out as new COVID-19 cases surge. The premier reportedly asked for support from medical professionals in ensuring that seriously ill patients and those who need breathing support or have underlying conditions will be admitted to hospitals and other patients will also be hospitalized if their conditions deteriorate even under the government’s new hospitalization policy. Suga said he wants doctors at clinics to monitor the conditions of non-hospitalized patients and provide the care they require through home visits or online consultations. The premier stressed his determination to protect people's lives and well-being and renewed his call for cooperation in the effort to ensure that enough hospital beds are available for COVID-19 patients.

Nakagawa reportedly told Suga that the government should declare a nationwide state of emergency, including a ban on cross-prefectural travel, to prevent the spread of the virus.

Minister Kono says prefectures under state of emergency to receive AstraZeneca vaccine

All national dailies wrote that Kono Taro, the minister in charge of Japan’s vaccine rollout, announced during a press briefing on Tuesday that the government will prioritize the allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by British drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC to the six prefectures currently under a state of emergency. Japan has secured enough of the AstraZeneca vaccine for 2 million doses and plans to start distributing it as early as mid-August. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been used in Japan so far due to reports of rare cases of blood clots developing after it was administered overseas. However, the Health Ministry decided in late July to add the AstraZeneca product to the list of vaccines used to inoculate people aged 40 or over at public expense.


Suga to attend peace memorials in Hiroshima, Nagasaki

Nikkei and Sankei wrote that Prime Minister Suga said at an LDP executive meeting on Tuesday that he plans to attend the peace memorial ceremonies to be held in Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and in Nagasaki on Aug. 9.

LDP Secretary General Nikai says Suga likely to be reelected as LDP president

Mainichi wrote that LDP Secretary General Nikai told reporters on Tuesday that it is highly likely that the incumbent LDP president will be reelected in the next LDP presidential election because it is unknown whether there will be other candidates. Nikai reportedly said there is no reason to replace Prime Minister Suga because he is doing a good job and there appears to be support for Suga’s reelection within the LDP and the Japanese public.

The paper wrote separately that an LDP committee on presidential elections agreed on Tuesday that the committee will decide when to hold a presidential election in its next meeting on Aug. 26. The paper wrote that the election will take place between Sept. 20 and 29 before Suga’s current term expires on Sept. 30.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team