|Morning Alert - Tuesday, August 31, 2021|
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Broadcasters led with reports on the U.S. announcement that it has completed its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending what is being referred to as the longest war in U.S. history (NHK), the discovery of the body of a missing 18-year-old girl from Tokyo in Yamanashi and the arrest of a couple who allegedly abandoned her body (NTV, TBS, Fuji TV), and the Aichi governor’s anger over an outdoor music festival that was held in the prefecture last weekend, where about 8,000 people gathered despite the 5,000 cap on participants in major events under the state of emergency (TV Asahi).
Main front-page stories in national dailies included Prime Minister Suga’s plan to replace LDP Secretary General Nikai, the U.S. attack on ISIS elements in Afghanistan on the eve of the troop withdrawal today, and the around-the-clock presence of a Chinese warship in waters between Taiwan and Japan’s westernmost island.
Suga to replace LDP secretary general ahead of party race, general election
All national papers speculated that Prime Minister Suga has decided to change the LDP leadership lineup prior to the party leadership race and the general election. When meeting with the premier yesterday, Secretary General Nikai reportedly offered to step down by saying: “A change in leadership will be the only way to achieve a breakthrough in the present situation.” Suga reportedly accepted the proposal, thanking the veteran politician for his service. Junior Diet members whose political footing remains vulnerable in their home constituencies and other critics of the embattled prime minister have complained about Nikai wielding considerable influence within the ruling coalition over the past five years as the longest serving secretary general. Nikai was the first LDP heavyweight to publicly give his blessing for the prime minister’s reelection bid and this was interpreted as a ploy to secure the post of secretary general under a second Suga administration.
Former Foreign Minister Kishida, who plans to run in the party presidential election on Sept. 29, has underscored the importance of revamping the LDP leadership apparently in a bid to woo Suga’s detractors. Former Prime Minister Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Aso, who are staunch supporters of Suga, have also allegedly stressed behind the scenes the need to remove Nikai. Suga is now aiming to appoint a new secretary general and other key party officials ahead of the official kickoff of the presidential election campaign on Sept. 17 to call attention to the “fresh faces” among the LDP leadership and prevent Kishida from making Nikai’s presence a key campaign issue.
Mainichi and Asahi cited several administration sources as saying that the prime minister is considering holding the general election on Oct. 17, with the official campaign period starting on Oct. 5. He is reportedly inclined not to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election and instead set the timeline for the race with a cabinet decision. The tenure of the current members of the House of Representatives will expire on Oct. 21.
LDP policy chief decides against seeking party presidency
All national papers reported that LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Shimomura announced yesterday that he will not run in the LDP party presidential race. He reportedly decided that seeking the presidency would be “incompatible” with the duties that he must perform as the ruling party’s top policy official in view of Prime Minister Suga’s instructions to the LDP leadership yesterday to devise a fresh pump-priming package.
Meanwhile, former LDP Secretary General Ishiba told the press on Monday that “his mind remains open” on whether to run for LDP president. He stressed that it is critical for the Suga administration to convene an extraordinary Diet session without delay to discuss how to rein in the novel coronavirus.
Suga instructs LDP to come up with new economic stimulus measures
According to all national papers, Prime Minister Suga instructed LDP Secretary General Nikai on Monday to put together a pump-priming package to help stem the coronavirus pandemic and revive the Japanese economy expeditiously. The premier is reportedly hoping to play up his commitment to economic recovery ahead of the upcoming general election. Nikai told the press that the stimulus package will be a “bold” one.
In a related development, the Suga administration and the ruling coalition have decided not to heed the opposition camp’s call to hold an extraordinary Diet session in early September to discuss fresh measures to rein in the fifth wave of COVID-19 on the grounds that sufficient funds have already been earmarked for combating the virus.
Special Envoy for Climate Kerry visits Japan
Nikkei reported on U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Kerry’s arrival in Tokyo yesterday. The daily said that in addition to holding meetings with Environment Minister Koizumi, Trade and Industry Minister Kajiyama, and Foreign Minister Motegi to discuss bilateral coordination on slowing down global warming, the U.S. official will pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Suga today. As Kerry is expected to visit China tomorrow ahead of the COP26 conference in the autumn, the business daily conjectured that Washington is eager to take a concerted line with Tokyo in encouraging Beijing to become more proactive in reducing CO2 emissions. NHK also briefly reported this morning on Special Envoy Kerry’s arrival and his planned meetings with senior GOJ officials today.
International entity takes issue with Japan’s efforts to combat money laundering
All national dailies took up a report issued by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force on its survey of programs instituted by member states aimed at preventing money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism. They highlighted the panel’s recommendation for Japan to strengthen surveillance of financial institutions and impose tougher penalties. Nikkei said the GOJ plans to launch an inter-ministry taskforce to enforce more effective measures against illicit money transfers, including adopting more stringent penalties and empowering investigative authorities.
Defense chief thanks U.S. general for Afghan evacuation operations
Nikkei wrote that when meeting with visiting U.S. Army Pacific Commander Flynn in Tokyo on Monday, Defense Minister Kishi voiced gratitude for U.S. efforts to help Japan and other countries evacuate their citizens, diplomats, and Afghan allies. “I would like to pay my respects to the Americans who have done their utmost to assist the citizens of friendly nations, including Japan, and the Afghan people,” the Japanese official was quoted as saying.
SDF troops in Pakistan to be recalled soon
Asahi and Nikkei reported that the GOJ has decided to withdraw by the end of this week the SDF personnel and three transport planes currently deployed to Pakistan for evacuating Japanese aid workers and their Afghan staff members in time for the U.S. military withdrawal on Aug. 31. An NSC meeting will be convened soon, after which Defense Minister Kishi is expected to issue a drawdown order.
PLA warship constantly deployed between Taiwan and Japan’s westernmost island
Sankei gave top coverage to the disclosure by sources inside the Japanese government and the Taiwanese army that a PLA warship has continued to operate in the waters between Japan’s westernmost island of Yonaguni and Taiwan since last December. At least one warship from China’s East Sea Fleet has remained off the northwest coast of the Japanese isle for the entire time. According to the daily, the PLA Navy similarly deploys two warships north of the Senkakus constantly. The GOJ reportedly views the moves as attempts by Beijing to raise military tensions, speculating that the Chinese military is anxious to secure maritime routes for its warships to travel to the Pacific Ocean.
COVID-19 state of emergency likely to be extended again
Sankei projected that the ongoing coronavirus state of emergency for Tokyo and elsewhere will probably be extended past Sept. 12 given that the virus is still raging in many parts of the country. While the Suga administration had aimed at conducting a review in the near future of the criteria for declaring a state of emergency to place more emphasis on healthcare capacity and the number of seriously ill patients than the number of daily cases, it has decided not to do so in order to head off criticism that the review is aimed at lifting the state of emergency sooner rather than later to enable Prime Minster Suga to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election. Public health experts on the GOJ coronavirus taskforce are also extremely cautious about altering the criteria at this juncture.
Meanwhile, Mainichi wrote that Suga has recently been making one comment after another expressing his desire to lift the state of emergency quickly, speculating that the beleaguered leader is anxious to present an “exit strategy” from the pandemic in the face of growing public disapproval of his handling of it. The administration has recently eased its previous reluctance to use vaccine passports as a tool for economic recovery in a bid to galvanize public support for his reelection bid. In response to his idea about revising the criteria for issuing a state of emergency, Health Ministry officials and public health experts have expressed skepticism about “moving the goalposts” amid the raging outbreak.
Weekly COVID-19 cases among people under 20 tops 30,000 for first time
Nikkei reported that over 30,000 Japanese younger than 20 tested positive for the novel coronavirus nationwide in the week ending on Aug. 25, accounting for roughly 20% of all patients. This was the first time for the weekly caseload for this age group to exceed 30,000. As the data indicated the Delta variant’s highly transmissible nature, the paper emphasized the importance for school administrators to take thorough measures to prevent and mitigate infections in schools when the new semester begins across the nation tomorrow.
|U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team|