Morning Alert   -   Wednesday, August 18, 2021
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Broadcasters’ lead items included heavy rain in western Japan (NHK, NTV), two schools’ decisions to withdraw from the ongoing annual summer high school baseball tournament at Koshien Stadium in Hyogo due to COVID-19 cases among their players (TBS), and a report on a college student who tested positive for the coronavirus after traveling to Okinawa (Fuji TV).

All national dailies other than Sankei gave top play to reports on the GOJ's decision to place a total of 13 prefectures under a COVID-19 state of emergency through Sept. 12 by extending the current emergency for Tokyo and five other prefectures and adding seven more prefectures. Sankei led with a report on President Biden's address on Afghanistan.


Japan temporarily closes embassy in Kabul

All national dailies wrote that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Tuesday that it temporarily closed the Japanese Embassy in Kabul on Sunday. The ministry also said that 12 Japanese diplomats working at the embassy have departed the international airport in Kabul aboard a military plane of a friendly nation and arrived in Dubai. The ministry explained that for security reasons it will not disclose the name of the country that helped evacuate the Japanese diplomats. Japan will set up a temporary office in Istanbul to resume the embassy's operations. According to a senior ministry official, several Japanese nationals working for international organizations are still in Afghanistan and arrangements for those who wish to return to Japan have been made.

Prime Minister Suga told reporters on Tuesday that Japan will respond to the situation in Afghanistan appropriately in cooperation with the United States and other nations by ensuring Japan’s national interests and the safety of Japanese nationals there.

Yomiuri speculated that the GOJ will forgo for the time being endorsing the new Afghan government to be established under the control of the Taliban based on the judgment that it will be necessary for Japan to monitor the new government’s policies and how the United States and European nations respond.

Motegi discusses Middle East peace with Palestinian leaders

Nikkei wrote that Foreign Minister Motegi visited the Palestinian Autonomous Territories on Tuesday and held separate meetings with President Abbas and Foreign Minister al-Maliki in Ramallah in the West Bank. The paper speculated that Motegi stressed the need for dialogue between the Palestinians and Israelis and discussed the ceasefire with Israel as well as ways to develop confidence between the two parties. Motegi told reporters afterward that Japan is urging both the Palestinians and Israelis to refrain from taking unilateral actions that raise tensions and take measures to foster confidence between them. He added that Japan is hoping to cooperate with the Palestinians to achieve peace in the Middle East. Yomiuri and Mainichi also reported on Motegi’s visit to the region, with Yomiuri adding that Motegi pledged $3.7 million in additional humanitarian assistance to Gaza, which has sustained damage from Israeli airstrikes, through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Chinese military conducts drills near Taiwan

Yomiuri wrote from Beijing that a spokesperson of the Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command, whose jurisdiction covers Taiwan, announced on Tuesday that it has conducted large-scale drills involving warships, anti-submarine aircraft, and fighter jets in the sea and airspace southwest and southeast of Taiwan. The spokesperson did not disclose when the drills took place but said they were necessary to defend China’s national interests in view of the current security situation in the Taiwan Strait. The paper speculated that the move was intended to send a warning to the United States and Taiwan, which are strengthening their security cooperation, in view of Washington’s moves to sell arms to Taiwan.

China, Russia agree to work together in dealing with history issues related to Japan

Sankei wrote from Beijing that China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Tuesday that during a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized Prime Minister Suga’s offering and three cabinet members’ visits to Yasukuni Shrine as a “provocation to international justice.” The two foreign ministers reportedly agreed to work together in dealing with history issues related to Japan. Wang reportedly said it is necessary for the two nations that won WWII to join hands to “defend the truth of history,” “oppose any attempt to whitewash or glorify militarism," and "stem any attempts to falsify history." According to the Chinese announcement, Lavrov responded by saying that Russia and China should "oppose any attempt to dishonor history.”


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

All national dailies wrote that the GOJ formally decided at its coronavirus taskforce headquarters meeting on Tuesday to place Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Hyogo, and Fukuoka under a state of emergency from Aug. 20 through Sept. 12 and extend the ongoing state of emergency for Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Osaka, and Okinawa beyond the previous end date of Aug. 31 to Sept. 12. The GOJ separately declared a quasi-state of emergency for Miyagi, Yamanashi, Toyama, Gifu, Mie, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kagawa, Ehime, and Kagoshima for the same period.

Prime Minister Suga said at the meeting that Japan is seeing an "unprecedented" rise in coronavirus cases nationwide due to the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 and that providing life-saving medical care is the government's top priority as hospitals are under increasing strain due to a surge in patients with severe symptoms. The premier later told reporters that the government will decide when to lift the emergency declaration by taking into account such indicators as the ratio of vaccinated people, the number of seriously ill patients, and hospital bed occupancy instead of the number of new cases.

Suga called on the public to reduce outings to crowded places by 50% in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 and asked companies to help reduce the number of commuters by 70% through teleworking and other measures. While agreeing on the need in the future to consider legal options to bolster the government's measures to prevent infections by limiting people’s activities, the premier expressed a cautious view about the idea of Japan implementing the kind of lockdowns that have been imposed in other countries. Omi Shigeru, an infectious disease expert who is the nation's top COVID-19 adviser, also told reporters that it may become necessary for the GOJ to establish a new legislative framework that will enable the government to impose tougher restrictions on people's movements. The governors of Osaka and Kanagawa expressed disappointment by saying they had hoped the central government would declare more drastic measures similar to lockdowns to limit the flow of people.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team