Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, September 14, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on New York City mandating vaccine passports for admission to restaurants, theaters, and other venues (NHK), 19-year-old Fujii Sota becoming the youngest shogi player to hold three of the eight major titles (NTV), the 611 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Tokyo yesterday (TBS), and damage caused by Typhoon Chanthu in China and Taiwan (Fuji TV, TV Asahi).

Main front-page items in national papers included North Korea’s test-firing of long-range cruise missiles over the weekend, GOJ data showing that half of Japanese are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and updates on the LDP presidential election.


Ishiba unlikely to seek LDP presidency

Yomiuri claimed in a front-page story that former Defense Minister Ishiba has decided not to run in the Sept. 29 LDP presidential election and instead support Administrative Reform Minister Kono as the successor to departing Prime Minister Suga. Kono met with Ishiba on Monday and reportedly asked him to endorse his campaign by promising that if elected, he would launch a party leadership lineup involving politicians from all major factions. Ishiba allegedly appreciated Kono’s commitment to party unity. Other papers said Ishiba is expected to announce whether he will throw his hat in the ring after meeting with his faction members tomorrow.

Sankei noted that Kono is apparently anxious to court Ishiba, who is enormously popular among rank-and-file party members in the countryside, so as to win the race in the first round of voting based on the assessment that many party Diet members would support former Foreign Minister Kishida in a runoff. Kono reportedly assumes that not many of Ishiba’s supporters will endorse Kishida or former Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Takaichi because they are both close to former Prime Minister Abe, who allegedly “detests” Ishiba.

In a related story, Yomiuri wrote that Environment Minister Koizumi is set to announce his support for Kono’s campaign today, noting that the popular politician’s blessing is likely to further boost Kono’s standing in the race. PM Suga is also reportedly inclined to back Kono’s candidacy. Koizumi, Kono, and Suga all represent Kanagawa.

Meanwhile, the LDP’s two largest factions that are effectively led by former Prime Minister Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Aso decided yesterday that they will not formally endorse anyone in the election, thereby allowing each faction member to support his or her preferred candidate at least in the first round.


DPRK test-fires long-range cruise missiles

All national papers reported extensively on North Korea’s test-firing of a new type of long-range cruise missile over the weekend, speculating that the DPRK may have been trying to up the ante ahead of a trilateral meeting to be held in Tokyo today between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea as well as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang’s trip to Seoul. The latest launches did not constitute a violation of UN sanctions resolutions since they did not involve a ballistic missile. Pointing out that the projectiles allegedly flew for more than two hours and hit a target about 1,500 km away from the launch site, the papers projected that North Korea’s new weapons system may pose a considerable security challenge to its neighbors, including U.S. bases in Japan, since detecting cruise missiles flying at low altitudes is very difficult. Neither the United States, Japan, nor South Korea was allegedly able to detect the tests since the projectiles flew exclusively within North Korea. In a statement released on Monday, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said: “This activity highlights the DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community.”

The dailies speculated that the Kim regime may have been trying to ascertain where the Biden administration draws a “red line” by using a cruise missile that would not constitute a violation of UN resolutions. While asserting that the latest DPRK provocation was relatively “muted,” Sankei projected that if the U.S. administration chooses to downplay the significance of the missile launches, the Kim regime may be tempted to escalate the tension by testing a ballistic missile next. The conservative paper also conjectured that Washington’s policy of pursuing dialogue with Pyongyang will be tested, especially in the face of growing criticism that the Biden administration’s precipitous military withdrawal from Afghanistan has raised doubts about the U.S. security commitment to its allies and friends.

According to the papers, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Kim will hold talks with MOFA Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau Director General Funakoshi and ROK Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Noh on the latest development and North Korea’s denuclearization at MOFA today.

Ten Afghan evacuees connected with JICA arrive in Japan safely

All national papers wrote that two Afghan employees at JICA in Kabul and their eight dependents arrived in Tokyo over the weekend, noting that they were granted short-term visas for up to 90 days. The GOJ will consider granting them “refugee” status or arranging for them to depart for a third country based on their wishes.

Asahi added that representatives of international and Japanese NGOs involved in aid operations in Afghanistan met with a senior MOFA official on Monday and pressed for additional GOJ efforts to bring more of Japan's approximately 500 Afghan allies to Japan.


Half of Japanese have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine

All national papers highlighted a GOJ announcement yesterday that some 51% of Japanese are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, seven months after the hastily-arranged vaccination program for healthcare workers began in February. Almost nine out of ten people aged 65 or older have received two doses. On the other hand, the corresponding figure for younger people was about only 30%. About 63% of people have received at least one dose of the Moderna, Pfizer, or AstraZeneca vaccine. The GOJ is reportedly hoping to complete the vaccination of all those who wish to be vaccinated by November at the latest.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato praised the “speedy” vaccination program, thanking local government officials and healthcare workers for their strenuous efforts to combat the virus. The GOJ is aiming to relax various COVID-related regulations on individuals and businesses beginning in November. However, Asahi highlighted a growing consensus among the nation’s leading epidemiologists and virologists that achieving herd immunity through vaccination may be difficult due in part to the rapid spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.


Defense chief stresses importance of security cooperation with Vietnam

Mainichi reported from Hanoi on a speech by Defense Minister Kishi at the Vietnamese Defense Ministry on Monday in which he underscored the importance of bilateral security cooperation with China’s aggressive naval operations in the South and East China Seas in mind. “We would like to bring peace of mind to this region and the international community by tackling security challenges together.” The Japanese official was quoted as saying. “Vietnam is an important country for Japan because we are bound together by a common fate.”

SDF spots Chinese submarine off Kagoshima

Nikkei reported on a comment by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato yesterday on the SDF’s detection of an unidentified submarine submerged off the coast Amami Oshima Island, Kagoshima, on Friday, quoting him as saying: “We suspect that the vessel belongs to China.” The government spokesperson added that MOFA has conveyed its “interest” in the submarine to the Chinese side.

Russian aircraft violates Japan’s territorial airspace

Nikkei highlighted the disclosure by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato on Monday that a Russian military airplane intruded into Japan’s territorial airspace twice on Sunday and that MOFA filed a stern protest with the Russian government. The ASDF reportedly scrambled fighters in response to the intrusion.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team