Morning Alert   -   Friday, August 27, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the explosions near the Kabul airport apparently caused by ISIS suicide bombings that claimed the lives of Afghans and U.S. service members (NHK, TBS), the impact of the discovery of contaminants in Moderna vaccines in Japan (NTV), TV personality Nonomura Makoto’s recent discharge from the hospital after being treated for COVID-19 (Fuji TV), and an increase in the number of accidents involving electric scooters in Japan (TV Asahi).

All national papers gave prominent front-page play to the explosions outside the Kabul airport and former Foreign Minister Kishida’s announcement on Thursday that he plans to seek the LDP presidency.


Explosions at Kabul airport may impede Japan’s evacuation operation

Asahi reported that the explosions that took place outside Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul on Thursday are likely to have a serious impact on Japan’s ongoing plan to evacuate its embassy’s local staff members and their family members, quoting an unnamed GOJ source as saying: “In the worst-case scenario, the SDF may have to be recalled. This is an extremely troubling situation.” According to Asahi and Sankei, the GOJ had assumed that the airlift would have to be carried out on Thursday and Friday given the Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. military drawdown. The SDF’s ASDF C-2 and C-130 aircraft flew into Kabul on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, but had to return to Islamabad “empty-handed” since the evacuees were not at the airport. While the GOJ has reportedly asked the Taliban to allow these local Afghan staff members to pass through the checkpoints leading to the airport, it remains uncertain whether it will do so. The GOJ has reportedly arranged buses to shuttle the evacuees from central Kabul and secured landing slots at the airport for several flights. Some 10 MOFA and MOD officials are currently at the airport to assist the operation in coordination with the U.S. military.

ROK expresses “deep regret” at planned discharge of Fukushima radioactive water

Sankei and Mainichi wrote from Seoul that the South Korean Foreign Ministry conveyed to the Japanese Embassy yesterday “profound regret” over TEPCO’s updated program on the release of treated radioactive water from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean. The ROK government reportedly asked Japan to provide relevant information “in good faith” by swiftly launching a bilateral framework for discussion of the matter.


Former Foreign Minister Kishida to challenge Suga’s reelection bid

All national papers reported extensively on former Foreign Minister Kishida’s official announcement on Thursday that he will run in the Sept. 29 LDP presidential election, quoting the veteran politician as saying: “Public trust in politics has begun to erode as many people feel that the LDP does not pay attention to their opinions. I will seek the party presidency to defend the nation’s democracy and to demonstrate that the LDP is capable of heeding people’s voices and presenting a broad range of options.” As Prime Minister Suga has already indicated his intention to seek reelection, the papers projected that the race will be fought primarily between the two seasoned officials. In an apparent bid to prompt former Prime Minister Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Aso to support his campaign, Kishida suggested that he would not reappoint Secretary General Nikai if he is elected LDP president. Although Abe and Aso are allegedly committed to reelecting Suga, they are not happy that Nikai wields so much clout within the ruling party.

In addition to the 47-member LDP faction led by Nikai, a 10-member group headed by former Secretary General Ishihara has already decided to support Suga’s reelection. Other factions, including those effectively led by Abe and Aso, are also likely to embrace the prime minister’s bid to win a second term. However, as this time around rank-and-file LDP members in the 47 prefectures will be given an equal number of votes as the 383 Diet members, the papers speculated that support from a large majority of parliamentarians alone may be insufficient for the unpopular incumbent leader to get reelected. Furthermore, many junior Diet members with weak support bases in their home constituencies have openly suggested that they will not be bound by their faction leaders’ decisions to support the prime minister.

However, Suga is reportedly confident that he will be able to secure a mandate from party members in the field because he assumes that the coronavirus pandemic will soon be brought under control soon thanks to his aggressive vaccine rollout campaign. He now regards the presidential race as a great opportunity to tout his policy accomplishments, such as the steady vaccine rollout program, the launch of the Digital Agency, and drastic cuts in smartphone charges.

Opposition attempts to play up its presence in runup to LDP presidential election

Mainichi and Yomiuri wrote that opposition parties are busy trying to play up their presence as the LDP leadership race is bound to command strong media and public attention over the next four weeks. While the opposition camp has been buoyed by the victory of its candidate over Suga’s close confidant and the six other contestants in the recent Yokohama mayoral election, they are afraid that their criticism of the LDP administration’s handling of the pandemic may receive less attention from the media when the focus shifts to the LDP’s “infighting.” In a bid to prevent the LDP election from stealing most of the media coverage, the opposition camp is set to renew its call for the ruling coalition to convene an extraordinary Diet session so that opposition legislators can grill Prime Minister Suga and other cabinet members over the COVID-19 response in front of the TV cameras. They plan to attract public attention by calling on the LDP not to allow a political vacuum to emerge amid the pandemic.


U.S. military releases water contaminated with PFOS in Okinawa

Asahi reported on the USMC announcement on Thursday on the start of an operation to release PFOS-contaminated water from the Futenma Air Station into the local public sewage system after treating it, saying that MOFA, MOD, and the prefectural government lodged strong protests and called for the suspension of what they called a “unilateral” operation. MOFA and the prefectural government were reportedly only given a heads-up on the release in an email about 30 minutes before it began. The Japanese and U.S. governments were reportedly still discussing the plan when the USMC discharged the water. Some 64,000 liters of such water was allegedly released.

Mainichi ran a similar story, quoting the U.S. military release as saying: “The treated water is nearly 20 times cleaner than the target level” of no more than 50 nanograms per liter of PFOS and PFOA combined in drinking or surface water as stipulated under the existing GOJ guidelines.

PLA operates drone near Okinawa again

Yomiuri wrote that the ASDF scrambled fighter jets on Thursday in response to a PLA flight involving a drone and two manned reconnaissance airplanes over the Miyako Strait in Okinawa, saying that the Chinese military flew drones in the vicinity for three consecutive days.


COVID-19 vaccination partially suspended due to contaminants

All national papers wrote that following the discovery of foreign materials in some unused vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccination programs at a number of locations were suspended on Thursday. The substances appear to be metallic particles, and the Health Ministry assumes that their effect on human health would be negligible. No health damage has been reported by people who are believed to have received doses from the vials in question. The vials, which contain some 1.6 million doses, were distributed to 863 vaccination sites nationwide.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team