Morning Alert   -   Friday, August 20, 2021
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All broadcasters gave top play to reports that Japanese action movie star Chiba Shinichi died at the age of 82 yesterday after contracting COVID-19 earlier this month.

Top stories in national dailies included Toyota Motor’s plan to cut 40% of its output in September due to the spread of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia (Yomiuri, Nikkei), a GOJ plan to review the criteria for invoking a COVID-19 state of emergency (Asahi), the GOJ’s payment of COVID-related workers’ compensation insurance in 12,000 cases (Mainichi), and the prospects for Afghanistan under Taliban rule (Sankei).


G7 affirms need for safe passage out of Afghanistan

All national dailies wrote that the G7 foreign ministers held an online meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and issued a statement calling on the Taliban to ensure that foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country can evacuate safely. Following the meeting, Foreign Minister Motegi told reporters virtually that the participants shared the view that evacuation is the most urgent issue. He added that the G7 nations will closely monitor the situation in Afghanistan.

Turmoil in Afghanistan demonstrates Japan’s inability to defend its own people

Nikkei wrote that Japan was the only country among the G7 nation that did not dispatch a plane to the international airport in Kabul on Monday to evacuate its nationals following the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Tuesday that 12 staffers at the Japanese Embassy in Afghanistan had evacuated to Dubai on a military plane of a "friendly nation." They reportedly left Kabul on a British aircraft, which was the first of the countries from which Japan had sought assistance to depart. However, the ministry did not refer to the UK by name in its announcement out of concern that disclosing the name could lead to a barrage of requests for help from the UK.

The paper wrote that Foreign Minister Motegi instructed ministry officials on Aug. 12 to start planning to evacuate embassy personnel and that Japan initially considered sending an SDF plane to Kabul based on its experience of sending an SDF transport plane to South Sudan in 2016 to evacuate embassy personnel there in accordance with the SDF Law that allows Japan to protect and transport Japanese nationals during overseas emergencies. However, with the situation in Afghanistan deteriorating rapidly, the ministry realized there was not enough time to fully review the safety of the possible evacuation operation and hold sufficient preparatory discussions with the ruling parties. A senior ministry official said the ministry chose the option that would enable it to evacuate the embassy personnel swiftly and securely because it could have taken a week to complete the process of sending an SDF plane.

The paper wrote that Japan has developed its security policies based on the presence of the United States. For example, the SDF’s defensive strategy largely focuses on holding out until U.S. troops arrive and this is why attention has been focused on whether Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, which stipulates the United States’ obligation to defend Japan, applies to the Senkaku Islands. The paper claimed that the turmoil in Afghanistan has demonstrated Japan’s inability to evacuate its own people and that although Japan's alliance with the U.S. will continue to underpin Tokyo’s security policies moving forward, it may become necessary for Japan to explore what it can do to defend its own people and territory without depending on the United States.

Japan considering evacuating Afghan embassy employees in Kabul

Nikkei wrote that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclosed on Thursday that it is considering ways to evacuate local employees of the Japanese Embassy and JICA office in Afghanistan and their dependents, including sending them to Japan or third countries. Mainichi, Sankei, and Asahi wrote that the ministry disclosed this at a meeting with the LDP’s foreign affairs division on Thursday. Mainichi added that Sato Masahisa, the head of the division, urged the ministry to expedite preparations by saying that if Japan is seen as being “cold” toward local employees by failing to extend them sufficient assistance, it could affect Japan’s future efforts to provide humanitarian and development assistance to foreign nations.


State of emergency to expand to cover 13 prefectures

All national dailies wrote that the GOJ will expand today its state of emergency to cover a total of 13 prefectures. The number of new COVID-19 cases confirmed nationwide in a single day topped 25,000 for the first time on Thursday, including 5,534 in Tokyo, the second-highest daily tally in the capital.

Japan prepares to give COVID-19 booster shots to medical workers

Yomiuri and Sankei wrote that Kono Taro, the minister in charge of the coronavirus vaccine rollout, said at an Upper House committee meeting on Thursday that the GOJ is preparing to offer third shots of COVID-19 vaccine to medical workers, referring to a decision by the United States government to offer booster shots eight months after the second shot. Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato separately told reporters on Thursday that the GOJ will make a final decision after collecting relevant information about booster shots.


Emperor to attend opening ceremony for Paralympics

All national dailies wrote that the Imperial Household Agency said on Thursday that Emperor Naruhito will attend the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics on Aug. 24 and declare the opening of the Games as an honorary patron. Empress Masako will not participate in the ceremony. No imperial family members are planning to go to Paralympic venues to watch events because they will be held without spectators.

Japan’s top COVID-19 adviser negative about allowing students to attend Paralympics

Mainichi wrote that Omi Shigeru, chairman of the GOJ subcommittee on the coronavirus response, expressed at an Upper House committee meeting on Thursday a negative view about the idea of allowing schoolchildren to participate in Tokyo Paralympics events as spectators. He reportedly said: “The infection situation is a lot worse now than it was when the Olympics were held from July 23. When considering those circumstances, one can draw a natural conclusion.”


Okinawa assembly adopts resolution against attempted sexual assault by U.S. base worker

Asahi wrote the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly unanimously adopted on Thursday a resolution and an opinion paper protesting the incident in July in Okinawa in which an employee at a U.S. base allegedly tried to sexually assault a Japanese woman. The suspect has been arrested on charges of attempted forcible intercourse. The assembly called on the governments of the United States and Japan to take measures to prevent a recurrence, saying that the act infringed on the human dignity of the victim.

Japan to seek over 5.4 trillion-yen defense budget

Yomiuri and Mainichi wrote that they learned from a GOJ source on Thursday that the Ministry of Defense has decided to seek over 5.4 trillion yen ($49 billion) in funding for fiscal 2022, speculating that this is aimed at beefing up the capabilities of the SDF to counter China's military buildup. The request would exceed the ministry's highest-ever 5.3-trillion yen initial budget for fiscal 2021 that started in April.


IAEA to review plan to discharge Fukushima water

Yomiuri wrote that Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Kajiyama held in-person talks with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi in Vienna on Thursday. The two officials agreed on an IAEA plan to begin in September reviewing the safety of TEPCO’s plan to discharge treated water into the ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The paper speculated that Japan is hoping to use the agency’s endorsement of safety to gain local fishermen’s understanding of the plan amid strong opposition from China and South Korea.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team