Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, August 17, 2021
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All broadcasters except TBS gave top coverage to the continued heavy rain in Kyushu. TBS led with a report on the GOJ’s decision to place seven prefectures under a COVID-19 state of emergency.

The Taliban’s seizure of Afghanistan and the GOJ’s informal decision to place more prefectures under a COVID-19 state of emergency dominated the front pages of all national papers.


Top Japanese officials comment on collapse of Afghan government

All national papers took up remarks made to the press last night by Prime Minister Suga concerning the Taliban’s effective control of Afghanistan. “The Taliban is expected to take the helm,” he was quoted as saying. “The Japanese government is collecting up-to-date information on the local situation in close coordination with the United States and others.” Foreign Minister Motegi, who is currently touring the Middle East, told the press in Cairo on Tuesday: “We would like to call on all concerned parties in Afghanistan to restore law and order and ensure that lives and property are protected.”

The dailies said the approximately 12 Japanese diplomats in Afghanistan will be evacuated by plane soon and the Japanese Embassy in Kabul will be closed temporarily. The GOJ has also reportedly arranged to help Japanese NGO staff leave the country. According to the articles, the GOJ has yet to decide whether to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan, with an unnamed senior diplomat predicting that a final decision will not be made until a consensus emerges within the international community. The GOJ has committed some $6.8 billion in aid to the war-torn country in the past two decades. Asahi noted that GOJ officials were shocked by the abrupt collapse of the U.S.-backed government, with an unnamed MOFA official calling the situation an “unprecedented abyss,” since Tokyo has extended substantial financial and other support for Washington’s efforts to rebuild the nation.

Sankei wrote that while the planned launch of the Taliban government will not have a direct impact on Japanese businesses since there are almost no Japanese companies operating in Afghanistan, analysts are concerned that the country may become a hotbed of international terrorism again. Such a prospect may rattle the global oil and financial markets, potentially having repercussions for the Japanese economy. As Afghanistan is close to the Xinjiang region of China, instability in the area may undermine the Chinese economy, which would deal a blow to many Japanese firms.

ROK leader calls for dialogue with Japan

All national dailies highlighted South Korean President Moon’s speech on Monday marking the 76th anniversary of the Korean liberation from Japan’s colonial rule. He stressed that Seoul is “always open to dialogue with Japan” on bilateral and global issues. However, the ROK leader stopped short of commenting specifically on the outstanding history disputes by saying simply: “Our two nations will be able to overcome the difficulties by exploring ideas.” The papers added that it will probably be impossible to find a solution to the disputes on the former comfort women and requisitioned workers under the Moon presidency, which is set to expire next May.


LDP presidential election may be held on Sept. 29

Yomiuri, Asahi, and Sankei speculated that the LDP presidential election will probably be held on Sept. 29, noting that Prime Minister Suga’s original plan of securing a second term as LDP leader uncontested by winning the general election in early October first is no longer viable since dissolving the Lower House in early September for a snap election has become almost impossible due to the planned extension of the COVID-19 state of emergency through mid-September. The premier will now have to prevail in the LDP race before the national election.

Yomiuri said anxiety is growing among some LDP politicians about Suga being the chief campaigner in the upcoming national election in view of the continued slide in his popularity amid the coronavirus resurgence, noting that some lawmakers may be prompted to challenge his reelection bid especially if he fails to deliver a victory for his longtime political confidant Okonogi Hachiro in the Aug. 22 mayoral election in Yokohama, which is Suga’s home turf.

Cabinet approval continues to slide

Kyodo reported on the results of its latest public opinion survey that put support for the Suga administration at a record low of 31.8%, down 4.1 points from a month ago. Nonsupport rose by 0.8 points to 50.6%. Some 65% said they did not want Prime Minister Suga to be reelected as LDP president.

Tottori leader to head governors’ association

All national papers wrote that Tottori Governor Hirai was elected uncontested on Monday as the next president of the National Governors’ Association, saying he will replace incumbent Tokushima Governor Iizumi on Sept. 3.


Seven more prefectures to be placed under COVID-19 state of emergency

All national papers wrote that the GOJ has informally decided to place Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Hyogo, and Fukuoka under a state of emergency from Aug. 20 through Sept. 12 on account of the explosive rise in coronavirus infections. The ongoing state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa, and three other prefectures will also be extended by almost two weeks through Sept. 12. The GOJ will separately declare a quasi-state of emergency for Miyagi, Yamanashi, Toyama, and seven other prefectures for the same period.

As some 60% of the 47 prefectures will soon be under a state or quasi-state of emergency, Prime Minister Suga told the press last night: “At a time when the unprecedented spike in infections continues, it is extremely important to build a robust healthcare system. I had discussions [with relevant cabinet ministers] on how to dramatically expand antibody cocktail treatment.” He also disclosed that payments to doctors who are willing to take care online for COVID-19 patients recuperating at home will be doubled in order to deal with the relentless rise in the number of such patients. The premier dismissed mounting criticism that he has failed to stem the resurgence by saying: “The Delta variant is raging. As I have said, my foremost responsibility is to proceed with vaccination at top speed.”

Booster shots to be administered next year

According to all national papers, the GOJ has forged with Pfizer a rough agreement to import some 120 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine next year in order to administer them as booster shots. The GOJ has already sealed a similar contract with Moderna on procuring some 50 million doses in 2022. Administrative Reform Minister Kono said on a TV show yesterday that the GOJ has already secured enough doses to give everyone in Japan a third dose of vaccine, projecting that booster shots will be administered to healthcare workers first, followed by the elderly. He added that the GOJ is trying to secure about 150 million doses of the Novavax product as a “backup.”


Paralympics to be held without spectators

All national papers wrote that the International Paralympic Committee, the Tokyo organizing committee, the GOJ, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government agreed on Monday not to allow spectators at Paralympic event venues because of the ongoing fifth wave of the coronavirus outbreak. They gave up on the initial idea of allowing people to attend events in Shizuoka since the prefecture will be placed under a state of emergency soon. However, elementary, middle, and high school students will be allowed to attend pending consent from their parents based on the belief that watching Paralympic events will give them an opportunity to deepen their understanding of diversity and inclusion. Mainichi wrote that the governors of Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, and Shizuoka support the Paralympic school program despite the severe infection situation in their jurisdictions.

In a related development, all dailies reported that according to CEO Muto of the Tokyo organizing committee, Afghan athletes will not take part in the Games on account of the political upheaval at home.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team