Morning Alert   -   Wednesday, September 29, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the LDP presidential election to be held this afternoon (NHK), the GOJ’s formal decision to completely lift the COVID-19 state of emergency and quasi-state of emergency measures on Thursday as scheduled (TBS), and marriage announcements by two members of the pop group Arashi (NTV, Fuji TV, TV Asahi). All national papers gave top coverage to Prime Minister Suga’s announcement of the decision to lift the COVID-19 state of emergency and quasi-state of emergency.


LDP to choose new leader this afternoon

All national papers wrote that the ruling LDP will elect the successor to President Suga in the leadership race this afternoon, projecting that Administrative Reform Minister Kono and former Foreign Minister Kishida are likely to clash head-on in a runoff since Kono probably will not be able to win a majority in the first round of voting. Mainichi speculated that Kishida may have a slight advantage in a runoff because Diet members’ votes are given more weight than in the initial round and many lawmakers supporting former Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Takaichi, who is expected to finish third in the first round, are inclined to back Kishida in the final vote.

Mainichi said, however, that the faction led by Secretary General Nikai may hold the key to the final outcome as most of the group’s 47 parliamentarians are likely to vote in unison in the runoff and the powerful politician is reportedly determined not to allow Kishida to win since Kishida is opposed to anyone other than the party president holding a key party portfolio for more than three years. Nikai, who has held his current position more than five years, told the press yesterday that he has yet to decide whom he will vote for.


Civic activists in U.S. voice opposition to nomination of Rahm Emanuel as envoy to Japan

According to a Kyodo piece from Washington printed in Tuesday evening's Mainichi, representatives of civil rights group held a press conference on Capitol Hill on Monday calling for the Senate not to confirm Rahm Emanuel as ambassador to Japan. They reportedly cited the former Chicago mayor's alleged “cover-up” of the police shooting of a black teenager as the reason for their objection. One of them was quoted as saying: "Mr. Emanuel is not appropriate to represent the United States in any capacity at home or abroad.” They reportedly disclosed that they have been urging senators via email, phone, and social media not to endorse the nominee.

Asahi carried a similar story, saying that while Democratic progressives are vehemently opposed to the nomination, some Republicans, including Senators Bill Hagerty and Susan Collins, are supportive. The daily ran an interview with Michael Faulman, Emanuel’s personal assistant when he was Chicago mayor. Describing the nominee as a “very patient, robust leader,” Faulman emphasized that Japan would benefit greatly from an Emanuel ambassadorship since it would give Japan a “direct line” to President Biden.

DPRK apparently fired short-range ballistic missile on Tuesday

All national papers took up the Defense Ministry announcement yesterday that what appeared to be a short-range ballistic missile was fired from northeast North Korea in the direction of the Sea of Japan in the morning. The militaries of the United States, South Korea, and Japan are reportedly probing the latest launch that followed another one on Sept. 15. According to Yomiuri, the projectile apparently failed to reach the ocean and fell on land mid-flight, while Sankei conjectured that North Korea may have been testing a new type of short-range ballistic missile in commemoration of the opening of its de facto parliament on the same day. According to NHK, the DPRK’s Korean Central News Agency reported this morning that North Korea test-fired a hypersonic missile for the first time on Tuesday.

MOFA Asian and Oceanian Affairs Director General Funakoshi and U.S. Representative for North Korea Kim spoke by phone later in the day to confirm close coordination in dealing with the latest provocation. A State Department spokesperson reportedly condemned the missile launch, underscoring that it violated several UN Security Council resolutions and posed a threat to the region and the international community. The official added at the same time that the Biden administration will continue seeking dialogue with the Kim regime.

Yomiuri speculated that Pyongyang is escalating provocations by capitalizing on ROK President Moon’s recent proposal to issue a joint declaration on ending the Korean War, projecting that the Kim regime may continue testing missiles until the Biden administration agrees to ease sanctions. Sankei conjectured that the DPRK is perhaps trying to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea based on the assessment that the ROK leader is anxious to reopen inter-Korea dialogue before he steps down next May. Pointing out that the Trump administration’s response to the North’s firing of short-range missiles was muted, the daily noted that Pyongyang may be keen to gauge whether the Moon administration will take a concerted line with the Biden administration’s tougher approach toward DPRK provocations.


U.S. firm selected as operator of possible casino in Osaka

Asahi focused on a joint announcement made by the Osaka prefectural and municipal governments on Tuesday that a joint venture to be launched by MGM Resorts International and Orix Corp. will be the operator of an integrated resort featuring a casino that the local governments are seeking to attract. Governor Yoshimura told the press that Osaka will host the “world’s best integrated resort.”

Wakayama and Nagasaki, which are also interested in accommodating gambling facilities, have already selected Canadian and Austrian casino companies as operators, respectively. The three prefectures are planning to file with the central government official applications for their bids by the end of next April. The daily predicted that while Osaka will probably be given the green light, it remains uncertain whether the two other bids will be approved. It added that the momentum for opening casinos within the GOJ has been lost since Prime Minister Suga, who has been a leading proponent of the casino initiative, chose to resign following the August mayoral election in Yokohama, another potential location for hosting a gambling facility. The opposition mayoral candidate, who opposes casinos, defeated the candidate backed by the premier.

TPP members hold first meeting on UK membership

Sankei wrote that the 11 members of the TPP met remotely on Tuesday to discuss the UK’s application for membership for the first time. As the chair of the working group on the matter, Japan is reportedly keen to embrace the UK’s bid based on the belief that its participation will be helpful in building “multi-layered coalitions” against China since the UK is also a party to the recently launched AUKUS framework.


Coronavirus state of emergency to end nationwide tomorrow

All national dailies highlighted the formal GOJ decision yesterday to lift the ongoing COVID-19 state of emergency for Tokyo and 18 prefectures and the quasi-state of emergency for Miyagi and 7 other prefectures on Thursday. It will be the first time in almost six months for the nation to be entirely free of state of emergency or quasi-state of emergency measures. In its policy on dealing with the novel coronavirus that was updated yesterday, the GOJ pledged to “strike a balance between infection prevention measures and normal life,” thereby clarifying its commitment to reopening the ailing economy.

During a transition period of one month, bars and restaurants in these prefectures will continue to be asked to limit their operating hours until 9 p.m., although they will be allowed to serve alcohol until 8 p.m. to groups of up to four people. A cap of 10,000 on spectators will be imposed for concerts, baseball and soccer games, and other large-scale events in the transition period. According to Nikkei, the GOJ has decided that even if another state of emergency is issued in the future, eateries and bars will be allowed to serve alcohol until 9 p.m. to customers who present proof of vaccination or negative test results.

“The war against the virus will enter a new stage,” said Prime Minister Suga last night in his final press conference before stepping down on Oct. 4. He hailed the administration’s rapid progress in rolling out vaccines, saying that Japan will soon become one of the first nations to vaccinate its population. “There is no question that the light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter each day” thanks to the effects of vaccines, he added.

In a related story, Asahi noted that most GOJ officials and public health experts are perplexed by the accelerating downward trend in infections, quoting Health Minister Tamura as saying: “The number of new cases is dropping for unknown reasons.” However, Suga is reportedly confident that the vaccine rollout is responsible for flattening the epidemic curve, with one of his top deputies saying the Suga administration could have survived if Japan had been in the current situation a month earlier.


Japan’s defense chief takes time off due to illness

All national papers reported that Defense Minister Kishi canceled all his official duties on Tuesday because he was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. He will reportedly return to work as soon as he recovers.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team