Morning Alert   -   Monday, October 4, 2021
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NHK and all national papers led with reports on the launch of the Kishida Cabinet planned for later today. Other broadcasters focused on the increase in the number of people out and about over the first weekend following the lifting of the state of emergency (NTV, TBS) and the Los Angeles Angels’ Ohtani Shohei hitting a homerun in his last game of the season, achieving a “Quintuple 100” for the first time in MLB history (Fuji TV, TV Asahi).


Kishida to be elected prime minister today; general election likely on Nov. 7

All national papers wrote on Saturday that an extraordinary Diet session will be convened on Monday to elect LDP President Kishida as the nation’s 100th prime minister. During the session that will run through Oct. 14, the new premier will deliver a key policy speech at both houses of the parliament on Oct. 8, followed by three days of interpellation at the two chambers through Oct. 13. He will then dissolve the Lower House the following day for a snap election likely to be held on Nov. 7. The election’s official campaign period is expected to begin on Oct. 26.

Kishida and the new LDP leadership decided to reject the opposition’s call for several rounds of debate in the budget committees of both chambers before calling a snap election based on the judgment that a general election should be held while coronavirus cases are on the decline so that a FY2021 supplementary budget can be enacted and the FY2022 budget can be compiled by the end of December. Kishida is set to instruct the LDP leadership to draft a massive stimulus package aimed at jump-starting the ailing economy as the main feature of the ruling party’s policy manifesto for the election. He is also aiming to attend the G20 summit in Rome scheduled for Oct. 30 and hold a summit with President Biden on the sidelines. Yomiuri wrote that it is extremely unusual for a Japanese leader to travel overseas during a national election campaign period. Asahi speculated that Kishida may choose to delay the election by a week and hold it on Nov. 14 so that he will have returned from Italy ahead of the kickoff of the official campaign, which would be on Nov. 2 under this scenario.

Kishida prepares to launch cabinet

The Monday editions of all national papers reported on the lineup of the cabinet that LDP President Kishida will launch this evening after being elected prime minister. He has decided to retain Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu and Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo in order to “maintain policy continuity” amid China’s relentless pursuit of diplomatic and security hegemony. The incoming premier has also decided to appoint Education Minister Hagiuda Koichi as trade and industry minister, former Education Minister Matsuno Hirokazu as chief cabinet secretary, former LDP Executive Acting Secretary General Noda Seiko as minister in charge of declining birth rate and childcare, and former Environment Minister Saito Tetsuo of the Komeito party as minster for land, infrastructure, and transport.

The 13 other appointees to the 20-member cabinet are being given cabinet posts for the first time. They include Yamagiwa Daishiro as minister for economic and fiscal policy, Goto Shigeyuki as health minister, and Kobayashi Takayuki as minister in charge of economic security, a new post that Kishida created partly to address China’s rapid rise. Yamagiwa’s portfolio will include response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The papers observed that in launching his cabinet, Kishida was eager to tap “junior politicians,” including Kobayashi Takayuki as the new economic security minister. The 46-year-old former METI bureaucrat has been closely involved in economic security as the director general of an LDP panel headed by Amari Akira, who was tapped as party secretary general. According to Nikkei, the minister will be responsible for drafting legislation on promoting economic security aimed at sustaining economic activity during a contingency without relying on China and imports. Amari reportedly said on a Sunday talk show yesterday that the economic security minister should be allowed to issue relevant instructions to all government ministries and agencies, including the National Security Secretariat.

Asahi noted that while Kishida tapped junior, mid-career, and veteran party Diet members equally in launching his cabinet, LDP heavyweights such as former Prime Ministers Abe and Aso are bound to enjoy a greater say because of the critical roles they played in electing Kishida. The daily projected that the Kishida’s Kantei may be hamstrung by the LDP in carrying out policy initiatives, quoting LDP Secretary General Amari as saying yesterday: “LDP Vice President Aso is very powerful. He is sometimes more powerful than the prime minister.”

Kishida gives consideration to Abe, Aso in LDP leadership appointments

All national papers on Saturday reported extensively on the launch of the LDP leadership headed by President Kishida, noting although the newly elected president stressed that he tapped “the right people for the right jobs,” the lineup apparently reflects Kishida’s deference to former Prime Minister Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Aso, who both played a key role in his election. The LDP president appointed Amari Akira, who belongs to the Aso faction, as secretary general because the veteran politician was reportedly instrumental in ensuring that the LDP’s two biggest factions effectively led by Abe and Aso joined hands to defeat Administrative Reform Minister Kono in the runoff. Furthermore, Aso was named as LDP vice president, and most of the other high-level posts were granted to Diet members belonging to the two factions.

Sankei wrote that Kishida has strong confidence in Amari’s political prowess, adding that as a staunch hardliner on China, Amari may serve as a “shield” for Kishida, who is known as a “dove” when it comes to diplomacy. Asahi said some LDP politicians are worried that Amari’s appointment will draw criticism from the opposition bloc and certain voters in the run-up to the general election because he was embroiled in a money scandal involving his secretary that cost him the post of trade minister about five years ago.

In related stories, Mainichi and Jiji wrote that Abe was not necessarily pleased with Kishida’s selections for LDP executives since he allegedly wanted his confidant Takaichi Sanae to be tapped as secretary general instead of Policy Research Council chairperson and Education Minister Hagiuda, a key ally of Abe, as chief cabinet secretary. While Kishida appointed Matsuno Hirokazu as chief cabinet secretary and Fukuda Tatsuo as LDP General Council chairman, both of whom are members Abe’s faction, these lawmakers are apparently not particularly close to Abe but have strong connections with former PM Fukuda, who was at odds with Abe when they served as chief cabinet secretary and deputy chief cabinet secretary, respectively, under the Koizumi administration. Jiji speculated that Amari, who reportedly maintains cordial relations with Abe, is expected to play the role of a “buffer” between Abe and Kishida.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s Yomiuri wrote that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary for administrative affairs Sugita and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Izumi will step down on Monday, saying that the two veteran Kantei officials earned respect under the Abe and Suga administrations as behind-the-scenes “powerbrokers” who cleared myriad bureaucratic hurdles to pursue various policy objectives. As the two elderly bureaucrats have wielded enormous influence over Kasumigaseki on account of the two prime ministers’ absolute confidence in them, the paper projected that their departure is likely to weaken the Kantei’s grip over other government agencies.

Poll: Majority want ruling coalition to win general election

Sunday’s Yomiuri took up the results of a nationwide mail-in poll taken from August through September regarding the upcoming general election. Some 64% expressed hope that the LDP and its junior ruling partner will continue to lead the government, while only 30% wanted the opposition bloc to take the helm. Some 55% of unaffiliated voters, who are believed to hold the key to the election outcome, said they wanted the ruling coalition to emerge as the victor, while 37% voiced hope for a change of government. Respondents reportedly projected that the coronavirus pandemic, social security, and economy will be the key campaign issues in the national election.


Editorial criticizes use of taxpayer money to dispose of U.S. military wastewater

Mainichi published an editorial today voicing strong opposition to the GOJ’s decision to use 92 million yen ($830,000) of Japanese taxpayers’ money to incinerate wastewater stored at MCAS Futenma. The paper claimed that the decision was not based on the SOFA, arguing that the U.S. military should be responsible for disposing of its own waste properly in accordance with Japan’s regulations. The editorial urged the GOJ to set up a system to prevent the U.S. military from unilaterally discharging wastewater without obtaining Japanese consent.

Anti-base group stages rally in front of Camp Schwab

Sunday’s Asahi reported that the “All Okinawa” confederation of civic groups opposing Futenma relocation held a rally near the main gate of Camp Schwab on Saturday for the first time in about a year. The participants protested the FRF construction, claiming that the GOJ has forged ahead with the initiative by capitalizing on the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced base opponents to forgo protest events. The organizers emphasized that they will hold demonstrations every month from now on since the state of emergency has been lifted.

In a related development, the same daily reported on Saturday on the Defense Ministry’s announcement on Friday that engineering work has begun to change the flow of a river that runs through Camp Schwab since the V-shaped pair of runways and other associated structures in the FRF design would completely block the flow of the river. The prefectural government is reportedly calling for the suspension of the engineering operation.


U.S., Japan, ROK defense officials affirm trilateral coordination

Saturday evening’s Nikkei highlighted a teleconference held on Friday between Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ratner and his Japanese and South Korean counterparts. They reportedly confirmed the importance of defense cooperation between the three partners in dealing with regional security challenges, including North Korea’s recent testing of various missiles. According to a Pentagon readout, the three officials agreed to arrange a trilateral defense ministerial meeting in the future.

DPRK unresponsive to U.S. overtures

Sunday’s Asahi focused on remarks made to the press on Friday by White House Press Secretary Psaki, who commented on the Biden administration’s outreach to North Korea: “We’ve made specific proposals for discussion with the North Koreans but have not received a response to date.… And we remain prepared to discuss the full range of issues.” With regard to the Kim regime’s recent testing of a range of cruise and ballistic missiles, the spokesperson said: “We’re assessing the specific nature of these launch events.”

In a related development, Sunday’s Mainichi and Sankei wrote that the UN Security Council discussed on Friday North Korea’s firing of what it referred to as a “new hypersonic missile” called the Hwasong-8 on Sept. 28. While most member states denounced the latest provocation as a violation of relevant resolutions, they stopped short of issuing a joint statement due to opposition from China and Russia.

GOJ dismisses Okinawa municipality’s request for access to Senkakus

Saturday’s Sankei front-paged a finding that the GOJ has turned down the Ishigaki municipal government’s request for permission for its officials to land on the Senkaku Islands to install a signpost bearing the new address of the outcrops. The application was turned down on the grounds that only central government officials are authorized to land on the islets to ensure their stable maintenance and control. The local government reacted strongly to the rejection.

Russia to conduct military training in Sea of Japan

Saturday’s Sankei wrote in a front-page story that the Russian government has informed the GOJ that its military plans to conduct a week-long exercise in Japan’s EEZ in the Sea of Japan beginning on Oct. 3. Warships are reportedly expected to fire missiles during the training. The Russian military is also set to conduct a major drill on and around Kunashiri Island later this month. The GOJ has reportedly protested the planned drills.

More Afghan allies arrive in Japan

All national dailies wrote over the weekend that 27 additional local JICA staff members and their dependents from Afghanistan arrived at Narita Airport on Friday night, bringing the total number of Afghan allies evacuating to Japan to 53. All of them traveled to a neighboring nation over land before heading to Japan.


Japan likely to allow emergency use of Merck’s COVID-19 pill

Mainichi front-paged the finding that the GOJ has launched negotiations with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck to procure its experimental oral drug for the novel coronavirus as early as this year. According to the daily, the Health Ministry is likely to give the medicine, which is called molnupiravir, exceptional approval in December if the U.S. FDA issues emergency use authorization next month. The oral antiviral drug is expected to become extremely beneficial in the fight against COVID-19 since a pill that is effective in preventing mild and moderate cases from leading to dire outcomes will greatly reduce stress on healthcare capacities because it is easy to prescribe and take.

Crowds flock to leisure spots following lifting of emergency declaration

All national papers wrote that many people visited entertainment facilities and sightseeing spots across the country over the weekend because they were eager to go out following the lifting of the coronavirus state and quasi-state of emergency on Friday. Smartphone tracking data reportedly indicated a considerable rise in people’s mobility not only near major stations in metropolitan areas but also around hot springs and other tourist attractions in the countryside.

Prefectural governors call for analysis of fifth wave in preparation for sixth

Sunday’s Nikkei, Asahi, and Mainichi wrote that on Saturday the National Governors’ Association put together a package of recommendations regarding the novel coronavirus calling for the central government to pinpoint the factors that brought the fifth wave of the epidemic this summer under control based on the assessment that a six wave is “bound to arrive.” The governors also pressed the GOJ to resume the Go To Travel and Go To Eat campaigns swiftly and secure enough vaccine doses for booster shots.

Major seasonal flu outbreak unlikely this winter

According to Sunday’s Nikkei, only four people contracted seasonal influenza nationwide in the week ending on Sept. 26, far fewer than in regular years. As a similar trend was detected last year, the daily speculated that there may not be a major outbreak of seasonal flu this winter either perhaps on account of the continued entry ban for foreign visitors and COVID-19 infection prevention protocols that many people are likely to practice in the foreseeable future. However, epidemiologists and doctors are warning that some people may suffer from serious flu symptoms if they do contract the virus due to a lack of immunity to it.


China lobbying hard for membership in TPP

Monday’s Sankei took up the accelerated Chinese moves to win support for its application for TPP membership, saying that Foreign Minister Wang and other senior officials have already reached out to certain member nations to ask for their blessing. Mexico, Brunei, New Zealand, and others have already indicated their willingness to allow China to join. Beijing is reportedly set to ramp up its lobbying of other member states in a bid to prevent Taiwan from joining the free trade pact.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team