Morning Alert   -   Monday, August 30, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the U.S. drone attack on a vehicle that was apparently carrying explosives near the Kabul airport (NHK, TV Asahi), a drop in the number of people out and about in major areas of Tokyo on Saturday from a week ago (NTV), the more than 110,000 people having to recuperate at home after contracting COVID-19 in Japan (TBS), and the confusion on the first day of a large-scale vaccination program for people aged 16 to 39 in Shibuya (Fuji TV).

Top items in national papers included updates on the situation in Afghanistan, the Justice Ministry’s plan to propose prison sentences for defamation on the Internet, and the launch of numerous state-sponsored funds for paying benefits and subsidies to victims of natural disasters and economic crises.


Japan evacuates one Japanese national from Afghanistan

All national papers reported on Saturday that MOFA and the Defense Ministry announced on Friday that one Japanese national was airlifted from Afghanistan to Islamabad on an ASDF C-130 transport plane on Aug. 27. Yomiuri wrote that the MOFA officials and SDF members who were deployed to the airport in Kabul were also apparently evacuated together with the Japanese national. Asahi wrote that the SDF’s official rescue mission effectively ended on the same day, as Aug. 27 was the last day for SDF transport planes to operate at the airport based on the landing slots provided by the U.S. military.

According to Sunday’s Asahi, MOFA explained that only a few Japanese nationals remain in Afghanistan and they do not wish to be evacuated. The paper added, however, that there are about 500 local staff members of the Japanese Embassy and JICA and their family members who wish to be evacuated, according to a government source. Yomiuri wrote on Sunday that hundreds of local staff members of the Japanese Embassy and JICA as well as their family members boarded several dozen buses prepared by the Japanese government on Thursday but were unable to reach the airport due to the suicide bombing that occurred on the same day.

Nikkei wrote that Japan got off to a late start in its rescue mission as it decided to send the SDF aircraft on Aug. 23, almost a week after the U.S. and European nations sent military planes to Kabul immediately after the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15. Although Japan was able to evacuate most Japanese nationals to a third country by Aug. 17 with the cooperation of the U.S. and British militaries, Afghan staff members who have cooperated with Japan for the past 20 years remain stranded in the country. The daily wrote on Sunday that although the GOJ is planning to continue to help evacuating such people by keeping the SDF planes on standby in Pakistan, the rescue mission is becoming difficult as the deadline for the U.S. troop withdrawal is rapidly approaching.

SDF evacuates 14 Afghans to Pakistan

All Sunday papers reported on the finding from multiple GOJ sources that an ASDF transport plane evacuated 14 Afghans from the Kabul airport to Pakistan on Thursday at the request of the USG. Asahi wrote that this was the first time for the SDF to transport foreign nationals based on Article 84-4 of the Self-Defense Forces Law. The daily said the 14 Afghans were officials of the former Afghan government and were in danger of being persecuted if they remained in the nation.

U.S. climate envoy Kerry to visit Japan in late August

Kyodo News reported from Washington that U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is making arrangements to visit Japan for the first time in his current position to hold talks with Environment Minister Koizumi, a diplomatic source said Thursday. According to Kyodo, CNN reported that Kerry will be in Japan on Tuesday and visit China from Wednesday to Sept. 3 to meet with top climate officials in the lead-up to a UN climate conference slated for late October.

Ruling party officials of Japan, Taiwan to cooperate on China policy

Saturday’s Asahi, Yomiuri, and Nikkei reported that foreign affairs and defense officials of the ruling parties of Japan and Taiwan held their first meeting online on Friday and discussed such issues as how to deal with China’s maritime advancement in the East and South China Seas. Yomiuri wrote that through what the Japanese side referred to as a “two-plus-two" meeting between the ruling parties, the two sides were hoping to play up cooperation between Japan and Taiwan as the two governments have not been able to hold formal diplomatic talks. Yomiuri wrote that the meeting was held at the request of the LDP and attended by Sato Masahisa, who heads the Foreign Affairs Division, and Otsuka Taku, who heads the National Defense Division, from the Japanese side. Sato reportedly told the press after the meeting that it was “extremely significant” that policy talks were held between the ruling parties at a time when it is difficult to hold government-to-government talks.

China conducts military drills in East China Sea

Yomiuri reported on Sunday that China’s Eastern Theater Command announced that its forces conducted military drills on Friday in the East China Sea to enhance their overall operational capabilities. The paper speculated that the PLA conducted the drills with an eye on the joint operations of the U.S. military and the SDF.

GOJ protests China’s intrusion into Japanese waters near Senkakus

Sunday’s Yomiuri reported that according to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, two Chinese patrol boats entered Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands on Saturday and were still there on Saturday afternoon. The paper said the Japanese government lodged a protest with China through diplomatic channels on the same day.

IAEA welcomes Japan’s plan to release treated radioactive water from Fukushima plant

Saturday’s Asahi, Nikkei, and Yomiuri reported that a team of IAEA experts submitted a report on Friday on TEPCO’s decision to release treated radioactive water from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean by around 2023. The papers said the IAEA team praised the decision by saying it will “facilitate the overall decommissioning plan.” Yomiuri wrote that IAEA will also conduct a more detailed review of the safety of the treated water in September.

Japan reportedly rejects Russian’s petition for asylum

Kyodo reported on Sunday from Vladivostok on a Russian media story claiming that in early September Russia will be given custody of the Russian man who swam from Kunashiri Island to Hokkaido on Aug. 19 since immigration authorities in Sapporo rejected his petition for political asylum on Aug. 27. The man will reportedly be repatriated on the grounds of “illegal entry.” The man will soon be handed over to the Russian Consulate General in Sapporo.


Public support for Suga Cabinet at record low

Sunday’s Mainichi reported on the results of its opinion poll jointly conducted with the Social Survey Research Center on Aug. 28, which found that public support for the Suga Cabinet dropped 4 points from last month to 26%, marking a record low since the launch of the Cabinet in September 2020. Nonsupport rose 4 points to a record 66%. Only 14% approved of the Suga administration’s handling of COVID-19, far below the 70% who expressed disapproval. In addition, 70% said they fear that the Japanese medical system may collapse. The paper wrote that public frustration over the government’s handling of the coronavirus and the strained medical system led to the drop in the approval rating. Support for the LDP was 26%, followed by the CDPJ at 10%, and the Japan Innovation Party at 8%. Those who said they do not support any political party totaled 42%. Former Defense Minister Ishiba (13%) was the most popular pick for the next LDP leader, followed by Administrative Reform Minister Kono (11%), Prime Minister Suga (10%), and former Foreign Minister Kishida (10%).

Monday’s Nikkei front-paged the results of its latest opinion poll that put support for the Suga administration at 34%, unchanged from last month, and nonsupport at 56%, down 1 point. Disapproval exceeded approval for the fourth month in a row. Three out of five cited Suga’s lack of leadership as the reason for their disapproval. Some 64% (up 6 points) took issue with the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with 70% saying the vaccine rollout has not gone smoothly, up 5 points. Kono and Ishiba (16%) garnered the most support as candidates for the next LDP president, followed by Kishida (13%) and Suga (11%). The corresponding figures among LDP supporters were 20% for Suga, 18% for Kono, 14% for Kishida, and 12% for Ishiba.


DM Kishi expresses regret over release of PFOS-contaminated water from Futenma

Saturday’s Asahi reported that Defense Minister Kishi commented at a press conference on Friday on the release by the U.S. Marine Corps of PFOS-contaminated water from the Futenma Air Station into the local public sewage system after treating it. “It is extremely regrettable as Japan and the United States have been holding discussions on the matter, including on how to dispose of the water,” he said. “We asked the U.S. side to halt the discharge.” Environment Minister Koizumi also reportedly told the press on Friday that the release of the water was “extremely regrettable” and that he lodged a strong protest with the U.S. side. The paper wrote that according to Okinawa Deputy Governor Jahana, who met with U.S. officials on the matter, the U.S. military stressed that the water was treated to meet Japan’s safety standards and that the decision to release the water was made because there were concerns about storing the treated water on the base for a long period of time. The U.S. side reportedly did not offer an apology.

Doubt emerges over Japan’s plan to deploy “outdated” UAVs

Sunday’s Asahi reported on the SDF’s plan to procure and deploy three Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft beginning as early as this fiscal year, noting that some Defense Ministry officials have voiced skepticism about the plan since the USAF has decided to mothball the same model on account of its “lack of capabilities for dealing with Chinese threats.” The U.S. military is still set to continue using the upgraded Block 40 model. The SDF plans to operate the three drones for reconnaissance over the next 20 years, earmarking some 12 billion yen ($110 million) each year for operational costs. Skeptics are reportedly worried that the operational and maintenance costs will rise further since the U.S. side may not be able to provide equipment for maintenance at reasonable prices after its Block 30 model is completely retired.


Health minister pessimistic about ending state of emergency on Sept. 12

The Monday editions of all national dailies other than Mainichi took up remarks made on a Sunday talk show by Health Minister Tamura, who expressed a cautious view on lifting the ongoing COVID-19 state of emergency for Tokyo and elsewhere on Sept. 12 as planned. “The declaration cannot be ended until the number of new cases per day drops to less than 500 in Tokyo,” he was quoted as saying. “It would be extremely difficult to end it under the current circumstances.” He also cited a likely increase in people’s mobility when the new school semester starts in September as a reason for keeping the emergency declaration in place.

Kono says GOJ to start administering booster shots in October or November

All national papers except Mainichi highlighted TV remarks made on Sunday by Administrative Minister Kono who said booster shots are likely to be administered to healthcare workers in late October or early November at the earliest by tapping some 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine scheduled for delivery between October and December. The elderly will probably start receiving their booster shots in January or February. The cabinet minister disclosed that the Health Ministry is currently weighing the pros and cons of administering the AstraZeneca vaccine for the first dose and the Pfizer product for the second dose.

In a related development, NIkkei wrote that a large number of companies and other entities have canceled their plans to set up vaccination platforms as the GOJ has not been able to deliver the Moderna vaccine as previously promised. The number of such facilities launched nationwide as of Aug. 24 was 4,114, 20% fewer than planned in June.

At least 500,000 doses of Moderna’s contaminated vaccine already administered

Saturday’s Yomiuri reported that Administrative Reform Minister Kono disclosed on Friday that out of the approximately 1.63 million doses of Moderna vaccine that the Health Ministry decided to suspend the usage of after they were found to contain foreign materials, at least 500,000 have already been administered in Japan.

All Sunday papers reported that the Health Ministry announced on Saturday that two men in their 30s died after receiving doses of the Moderna vaccine that were among the lots that were later suspended. They both reportedly died this month within days of receiving their second Moderna doses from one of three lots suspended on Thursday. The papers said it remains unclear whether their deaths were connected to the contaminated vaccine.

COVID-19 infections rising among the elderly again

Sunday’s Yomiuri reported that while about 87% of people aged 65 or older in Japan had received their second doses of COVID-19 vaccine as of Aug. 27, the virus is spreading among the elderly again due probably to the highly contagious Delta variant. The paper stressed the need for caution as cluster infections are occurring at facilities for elderly people who have already been fully vaccinated, with 34 cases at such facilities confirmed from Aug. 16 to 23. According to the daily, although people aged 65 or older accounted for 2.7% of cases between Jul. 27 to Aug. 2 in Tokyo, the percentage rose to 4.3% in August. The paper wrote that “breakthrough infections” have also been reported across Japan, adding that among the 85,325 new cases reported between March and August, 317 involved cases confirmed at least two weeks after people had received their second dose of vaccine. According to the daily, people aged 60 or older accounted for half of the 317 cases, but none of them died or became seriously ill.

Record number of people recuperating at home after testing positive for COVID-19

All national dailies reported on Saturday that according to the Health Ministry, the number of people who were recuperating at home after contracting COVID-19 in Japan had reached 118,035 as of Aug. 25. This reportedly represents an increase of about 21,000 from the previous week and is the first time for the figure to exceed 100,000. In Tokyo alone, the number rose by about 2,800 from the previous week to 25,045.

Total of 22 coronavirus cases confirmed among people linked to Tokyo Paralympics

Sunday’s Yomiuri reported that the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee announced on Saturday that 22 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed among people linked to the Tokyo Paralympics, including three volunteers. No athletes or people staying at the Athletes’ Village were among them.

MEXT draws up new guidelines for temporary school closures

All national dailies reported on Saturday that MEXT has developed new guidelines for schools in determining temporary class or school closures in light of the spread of COVID-19 among children. According to the papers, the new guidelines call for schools to consider suspending classes for five to seven days if multiple cases are confirmed, closing all classes in the same grade if cases are confirmed in multiple classes, and temporarily closing schools if cases are confirmed in multiple grades. The papers said although schools currently decide on school closures based on the guidance of public health centers, the new guidelines encourage schools to make swift decisions before receiving such guidance as public health centers are becoming extremely busy.

GOJ extends limit of 5,000 spectators at large-scale events through October

Yomiuri reported on Saturday that the Japanese government has decided to extend the measure to limit the number of spectators at large-scale events to 5,000 until the end of October. The measure will be applied to the 33 prefectures under a state of emergency or quasi-state of emergency. According to the paper, if the emergency measures are lifted, the limit on the number of spectators will be raised to 10,000 for about a month as a transitional measure.


Two Afghan athletes arrive in Japan for Tokyo Paralympics

Sunday’s Yomiuri reported that two Afghan Paralympians arrived in Japan on Saturday despite the tense situation in their home country following the Taliban takeover. According to the daily, Zakia Khudadadi, who will compete in taekwondo, and Hossain Rasouli, who will complete in track and field, were evacuated to Paris from Afghanistan and arrived at Haneda on Saturday evening.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team