Morning Alert   -   Thursday, August 26, 2021
The following information reflects the reporting of the cited news media and does not reflect the opinions of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Japan Media Highlights is intended for USG use only and should not be forwarded. Visit the website here. For more information, contact TokyoMATT@state.gov.


Broadcasters led with reports on the Health Ministry’s announcement that it has decided to suspend the use of 1.6 million doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine after foreign substances were found in some doses (NHK, Fuji TV, TV Asahi), top health expert Omi’s criticism of IOC Chairman Bach for visiting Japan again (NTV), and Japan’s approval of an antibody cocktail treatment for outpatients (TBS).

Major front-page items in national dailies included the GOJ’s decision to place additional prefectures under a COVID-19 state of emergency, former Foreign Minister Kishida’s plan to run for LDP president, and the finding that Utsunomiya University is the only national university that conducts annual entrance exams tailored exclusively for the children of foreign residents.


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

All national papers reported on the official GOJ decision yesterday to place Hokkaido, Miyagi, Gifu, Aichi, and four other prefectures under a state of emergency from Aug. 27 through Sept. 12 on account of the coronavirus resurgence there. Kochi, Saga, Nagasaki, and Miyazaki will be placed under a quasi-state of emergency for the same period. As a result, almost 70% of the nation’s 47 prefectures will be covered by either a state of emergency or a quasi-state of emergency. During a press conference last night, Prime Minister Suga sounded the alarm about the spread of the Delta variant. At the same time, however, he stressed that about 60% of the public will have been fully vaccinated by the end of September, equivalent to the levels in the U.S. and UK, adding that the light at the end of the tunnel is now “clearly in sight.” The premier said the number of seriously ill patients, hospitalization rate, and percentage of vaccinated people in each prefecture will be taken into account when considering when to lift the emergency declaration.

Foreign substances found in some doses of Moderna vaccine

All networks reported this morning that the Health Ministry announced that foreign substances were found in some doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and that it has decided to suspend the use of about 1.6 million doses of the vaccine. According to the networks, foreign substances were discovered in 39 unused vials at eight vaccination centers in Tokyo, Saitama, Ibaraki, Aichi, and Gifu from Aug. 16. There have been no reports of health damage. NHK said that Takeda Pharmaceutical, which handles the vaccine’s distribution in Japan, said it has yet to identify the substances.

Suga refers to use of vaccine passports for economic recovery

Nikkei took up remarks made to the press last night by Prime Minister Suga, who promised to accelerate the resumption of normal economic and social activities by taking measures such as the proactive use of vaccine passports. The GOJ has been hesitant about using vaccination certificates for economic recovery on the grounds that it could expose unvaccinated people to discrimination. One of the ideas being considered is to allow vaccine passport holders to receive discounts at eateries or admission to various events.

GOJ mulls revising law to enable hotels to refuse customers for COVID-19 reasons

Nikkei wrote that in a bid to rein in the coronavirus pandemic, the Health Ministry is considering amending a law governing hotels and inns so that they can reject customers who may be infected with COVID-19 based on the assessment that the virus has spread rapidly in the countryside as a result of an influx of tourists from urban areas. Under the present regulation, it is extremely difficult for operators to refuse customers for public health reasons.


SDF planes head for Kabul to evacuate Japanese aid workers, Afghan allies

Asahi wrote that SDF cargo aircraft departed Islamabad for Kabul last night to ferry Japanese aid workers and staff members of the Japanese Embassy and the JICA and their family members. While the Japanese planes are expected to shuttle between the two cities to transport evacuees, the flights’ frequency is unknown due to multiple factors, including the number of Afghan dependents wishing to leave and how long the planes can park at the Kabul airport. Afghan citizens who have been involved in aid operations conducted by Japanese NGOs and Japanese ODA projects may also be evacuated. The evacuees will reportedly be airlifted from Islamabad to Japan and sheltered at several locations, including a JICA facility in Tokyo. The SDF reportedly assumes that the evacuation operation will need to be wrapped up by tomorrow as the U.S. apparently intends to adhere to its Aug. 31 deadline for the military drawdown.

Meanwhile, Nikkei claimed that the GOJ is set to grant Afghan evacuees residency status, saying that as many as several hundred Afghan citizens will be allowed to stay here on humanitarian grounds. They will probably be given short-term visas for up to 90 days at first, followed by “special activities” status for up to five years that will allow them to seek employment. They may eventually be given permanent residency if a request for refugee status is approved.

Japan Post executive wins top seat at UN entity

All national papers except Yomiuri wrote that a former Japanese government employee was elected director general of the Universal Postal Union on Wednesday, underscoring that this was the first time for a Japanese official to take the helm of a UN-related organization since 2019. Metoki Masahiko first joined the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in 1983, primarily taking care of postal services privatization. The 62-year-old Japan Post executive has represented Japan as Chair of the Postal Operations Council since 2012. Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Takeda said in a statement that Metoki’s election serves national interests and vowed to step up efforts to have more Japanese officials elected at international organizations.

Russia to conduct military training in Northern Territories

Sankei highlighted the disclosure by a source involved in Russo-Japanese relations that the Russian government has informed the GOJ that its military plans to carry out a live-fire exercise on Etorofu Island starting today, noting that Moscow has conducted various drills on the Northern Territories lately apparently in a bid to cement its effective control of the disputed islands. Tokyo reportedly lodged a protest over the planned training.


Departing USFJ chief calls for stronger bilateral coordination to deter China

Yomiuri carried an op-ed by USFJ Commander Schneider, who will step down tomorrow. The Air Force general emphasized the importance for the U.S. military and the SDF to further step up their interoperability in order to deal with what he called an “increasingly aggressive China.” He said it is indispensable for the two militaries to conduct high quality training on a daily basis to maintain “credible deterrence” against the PLA and other adversaries.

SDF conducts joint drill with U.S., UK, Dutch militaries

Yomiuri, Sankei, and Nikkei reported that ASDF fighter jets and MSDF warships conducted joint training with the militaries of the United States, the UK, and the Netherlands off the coast of Okinawa on Tuesday, saying that the drill was held using the visiting Royal Navy HMS Queen Elizabeth as a platform. The four-party exercise was apparently designed to counter China’s maritime push.

GOJ expenditure for Okinawa’s economic development to be reduced

According to Asahi, Yomiuri, and Mainichi, the Suga administration’s budget for Okinawa’s economic development in FY2022 will be about 299.8 billion yen ($2.73 billion). This will be the first time in 10 years for the amount to be below 300 billion yen. The GOJ promised in 2013 to then-Okinawa Governor Nakaima that the central government’s annual funding for the island economy would be over 300 billion yen through 2021 following Nakaima’s approval of landfill work for the FRF construction off Camp Schwab. While the amount reached as high as 350 billion yen in FY2014, it had been reduced almost every year since anti-base Governor Onaga was elected.

ASDF scrambles fighters against two Chinese drones

Yomiuri wrote that the ASDF scrambled jet fighters against UAVs operated by the PLA on two separate occasions in the East China Sea on Wednesday. The Defense Ministry is reportedly analyzing the purpose of the Chinese operations, which included a flight over the Miyako Strait.


LDP presidential race to be held on Sept. 29

All national dailies highlighted a meeting held yesterday between Prime Minister Suga and LDP Secretary General Nikai during which the two officials confirmed that a party presidential election will be held on Sept. 29, with the official campaign period starting on Sept. 17. As a result, the general election will likely be held in October or later. Asked about when the Lower House will be dissolved for a snap election, Suga told the press yesterday: “I’ve been saying that the foremost priority is combating the coronavirus pandemic. A decision will be made while taking this position into account.” Suga reportedly agreed to hold the LDP race in September to address the growing discontent among junior party parliamentarians about his poor track record in stemming the coronavirus outbreak.

Asahi noted that Suga is apparently relying heavily on the support of Nikai, who is reportedly eager to keep his post under a second Suga administration, for his reelection bid. The duo’s close partnership set the stage for Suga to win the party presidency a year ago by prompting other party factions to endorse Suga’s attempt to clinch the top LDP post. While factions effectively led by former Prime Minister Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Aso also support Suga’s reelection bid, some members are displeased with both Suga and Nikai continuing to lead the ruling party. They are reportedly reluctant to heed their faction leaders’ endorsement of Suga’s reelection especially given that a nationwide field survey that was secretly conducted by the LDP over the weekend suggested that it may lose as many as 40 seats in the coming general election. “The results raised doubts about whether the party can wage the election campaign under the present leadership,” said a junior LDP politician.

In a related development, all national dailies claimed that former Foreign Minister Kishida has decided to run in the LDP race. The seasoned politician will officially announce his candidacy today.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team