Morning Alert   -   Friday, August 13, 2021
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All broadcasters led with reports on the extremely heavy rain in the Kyushu region, saying that the front is likely to linger over Honshu for the next week or so and bring heavy rain to many other parts of Japan. The Japan Meteorological Agency is calling for caution against mudslides and floods.

Top stories in national dailies included the GOJ coronavirus subcommittee’s call for foot traffic to be halved in Tokyo to curb COVID-19 (Mainichi, Yomiuri, Sankei), disease experts’ warning that the coronavirus situation in Tokyo is "uncontrollable" (Asahi), and Japanese firms’ efforts to address human rights abuses in supply chains (Nikkei).


Experts call for reducing flow of people in Tokyo by half

All national dailies wrote that the GOJ's subcommittee on the new coronavirus proposed on Thursday a set of measures that people should take over the next two weeks to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Japan by avoiding situations where infection risk is high in light of the recent spike in new cases and the growing number of seriously ill patients. The panel stressed that it is necessary to reduce the number of people out and about in Tokyo by 50% from the levels marked in early July just before the current coronavirus state of emergency began on July 12. As specific measures, the panel called for reducing the number of people visiting shopping malls and shops in department basements, increasing teleworking, and avoiding travel beyond prefectural borders. The proposals also include a call for the support of medical institutions and practitioners that have not been involved in the response to the new coronavirus to date. Subcommittee chair Omi said at a news conference on Thursday: "We will no longer be able to save lives that could have been saved. That is already starting to happen."

The number of new COVID-19 cases nationwide totaled over 18,800 on Thursday, topping the previous record of 15,812 reported a day earlier to hit a new high for the second consecutive day. Tokyo reported 4,989 new cases on Thursday, the second-highest figure after the 5,042 cases logged a week ago. The number of seriously ill patients also hit a record high of 218, up 21 from Wednesday and topping 200 for the first time.

Experts monitoring the COVID-19 situation said at a Tokyo Metropolitan Government meeting on Thursday that the current situation in the capital is "a disaster-level emergency that is out of control."


U.S., Japan, other Quad members discuss Taiwan’s “peace and security”

Kyodo News reported this morning that the U.S. State Department said the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India discussed the importance of “peace and security” in the Taiwan Strait during a virtual meeting of their senior officials on Thursday. The wire service described their stance as “an apparent veiled swipe against China’s stepped-up pressure on Taiwan.” Kyodo added that the “Quad”countries also agreed to work toward holding their first-ever in-person summit by the end of this year, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s press release. The four countries reportedly agreed on further advancing practical cooperation on maritime security, cybersecurity, disaster relief, and other issues toward the achievement of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, while affirming the need for international cooperation to end the coronavirus pandemic. They also exchanged views on regional issues such as North Korea, Myanmar, and the East and South China seas, where China has been stepping up its territorial claims.

Australia to monitor North Korea’s illegal transfer of goods at sea

Nikkei wrote that the Ministry of Defense announced on Thursday that Australia will dispatch patrol aircraft from mid-August through mid-September to conduct warning and surveillance activities with the aim of preventing North Korea’s illegal transfer of goods at sea. The aircraft will reportedly be based at the U.S. military’s Kadena Air Base.

Japan expresses concern about Canadian national’s prison term in China

Yomiuri, Asahi, and Sankei wrote that Foreign Minister Motegi spoke by phone with his Canadian counterpart Garneau on Thursday and expressed concern about a Chinese court’s sentencing of a Canadian businessman to 11 years in prison for espionage. Motegi reportedly told Garneau that Japan will monitor the case with great concern. The two officials agreed that it is important that basic human rights are ensured in China.

Motegi discusses situation in Myanmar with ASEAN envoy

Asahi and Sankei wrote that Foreign Minister Motegi spoke by phone with ASEAN's special envoy to Myanmar Erywan Yusof for about 30 minutes on Thursday to discuss the situation in Myanmar. Motegi reportedly told the ASEAN envoy that it is necessary to visit the nation at an early date and hold dialogue not only with the Myanmar military but also with the pro-democracy camp. Motegi also pledged Japan’s maximum support for resolving the crisis in Myanmar, including continued humanitarian assistance to the nation.

LDP Secretary General Nikai meets with Taiwanese representative to Japan

Nikkei wrote that LDP Secretary General Nikai held talks with Frank Hsieh, who heads the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan, at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo on Thursday. The paper wrote that this is unusual for Nikai, who is known for his close ties with China, to have talks with a senior Taiwanese official.

Japanese woman freed from Chinese prison after serving six-year sentence

Nikkei, Yomiuri, and Sankei wrote that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclosed on Thursday that a Japanese woman convicted of espionage in China was released on Thursday after serving a six-year prison sentence in Shanghai. The woman, who is of Chinese origin and worked at a Tokyo-based Japanese language school, was detained in Shanghai in June 2015, but the specific acts she was accused of committing remain unknown. Since 2015, more than 10 Japanese citizens have been detained in China on various charges, including espionage, and the woman is the third of them to be released after being convicted in China.

Myanmar soccer player to be granted refugee status

Nikkei, Mainichi, and Sankei wrote that they learned from informed sources on Thursday that the Japanese government has decided to grant refugee status to a Myanmar soccer player who sought asylum after taking part in a World Cup qualifier against Japan in May as a member of Myanmar's national soccer team. Before the match, he flashed a three-finger salute in protest of Myanmar's military. He refused to return home with his teammates in June and applied for asylum in Japan. Japan's Immigration Services Agency determined that he should be given refugee status because he could face persecution in Myanmar. The agency says it is planning to issue a document certifying his refugee status on Aug. 20.


Suga tells Newsweek “Japan’s defense spending isn’t bound by 1% GDP cap”

Nikkei, Yomiuri, and Sankei wrote that Prime Minister Suga told Newsweek that Japan is not constrained to keep its defense spending within 1% of GDP. "Even in a tough fiscal position, necessary defense spending will be budgeted," Suga said, identifying the space and cyber domains as among the areas of focus for increased defense spending. When asked about Japan’s response to a possible contingency in the Taiwan Strait, Suga said that the important goal is to ensure the protection of Okinawa based on the U.S.-Japan alliance. As for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Suga said that although the decision by the United States not to participate in the pact is understandable in view of the difficulties involved, the absence of the United States is very regrettable and he hopes Washington will return to the regional trade agreement. The interview was conducted on July 29 and published online this week.

Defense Ministry to double budget request for F-35 procurement

Mainichi wrote that it learned from a GOJ source on Thursday that the Ministry of Defense has decided to make a budget request of more than 100 billion yen ($900 million) for fiscal 2022 to procure a total of 10 F-35As and F-35Bs. This is almost double its 2021 budget request for the procurement of six F-35s. The paper speculated that the increased budget request is aimed at accelerating preparations to respond to China’s maritime advancement.


Most Tokyo Paralympic events likely to be held without spectators

All national dailies wrote that the organizers of the Tokyo Paralympics are making final arrangements to hold the Games without spectators at venues in Tokyo, Saitama, and Chiba Prefectures, which are currently under a coronavirus state of emergency. The Tokyo organizers are planning to discuss the matter with the International Paralympic Committee, the GOJ, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government on Aug. 16. Regarding Paralympic events to be held in Shizuoka Prefecture, where a quasi-state of emergency is in place, the Tokyo organizers are looking into the idea of allowing up to 5,000 spectators. The organizers are also discussing whether to allow students to watch events live at venues as part of school programs.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team