Morning Alert   -   Wednesday, October 20, 2021
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All national dailies, NHK, and TBS led with reports on the start yesterday of the 12-day campaign period for the Lower House election. Other broadcasters’ top items included the cold weather in the Tokyo area yesterday (NTV), the arrest of a man in his 70s for splattering paint onto the signs of the Internal Affairs Ministry and the Tokyo District Court yesterday (Fuji TV), and the large amount of pumice being washed up on the beaches of Okinawa possibly due to an underwater volcanic eruption (TV Asahi).


General election campaign kicks off

All national papers reported extensively on the official start on Tuesday of the general election campaign, saying that the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), and three other opposition parties are cooperating at an unprecedented level in a bid to unseat the ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito. The dailies said that although the LDP was able to regain public support to some extent following the inauguration of the Kishida administration, some LDP candidates do not feel the political winds are blowing in their favor. Prime Minister Kishida and other top ruling officials are emphasizing that their goal is to win a simple majority of 233 seats, which is far fewer than the 305 seats they held ahead of the dissolution of the Lower House last week, in view of the opposition’s election cooperation and the absence of public enthusiasm about the launch of a new administration. In a bid to boost the standing of its candidates, the LDP is keen to highlight what it is calling “collusion” between the CDPJ and the JCP, insisting that the two main opposition parties have forged a union without embracing common values for the sake of taking over the reins of the government.

The opposition bloc has reportedly succeeded in fielding single opposition candidates in 213 of the 289 single-seat constituencies. Asahi pointed out that the opposition camp could have prevailed in 63 additional single-seat districts if it had fielded unified candidates in the 2017 general election. The daily added that the CDPJ’s decision to cooperate closely with the JCP is a political gambit that may backfire by alienating the conservative voters that the No. 1 opposition party is eager to court for the sake of broadening its support base. Pointing out that public support for the CDPJ was only about 8% in a recent opinion poll compared with 51% for the LDP, Nikkei said the top opposition party’s realistic goal is to win at least 140 of the 465 seats up for grabs, 30 more than it currently holds.

Kishida cancels stump speeches to deal with DPRK missile launch

All national papers wrote that after the story that North Korea launched two ballistic missiles broke yesterday morning, Prime Minister Kishida wrapped up his election campaign tour in Tohoku and hastily returned to the Kantei to respond to the latest DPRK provocation. Before arriving in Tokyo at around 3 p.m., he gave a stump speech for LDP candidates in Sendai at around noon but called off another one scheduled in Akita for the afternoon. The chief cabinet secretary, who customarily remains in Tokyo while a prime minister is away from the nation’s capital, was campaigning in Chiba when the projectiles were fired. Opposition leaders criticized the administration for the absence of the two top officials at the Kantei, describing the episode as representing the administration’s inept handling of a security crisis.


Senior officials of U.S., Japan, ROK exchange views on DPRK’s ballistic missile launch

NHK reported this morning that senior officials of the U.S., Japan, and South Korea in charge of North Korean issues met in Washington on Tuesday and exchanged views on the DPRK’s latest ballistic missile launch. According to the network, the meeting was attended by MOFA Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau Director General Funakoshi, U.S. Special Representative for the DPRK Sung Kim, and Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Noh Kyu-duk. According to a MOFA source, Funakoshi strongly condemned North Korea’s missile launch as a violation of the UNSC resolutions, and the U.S. and South Korean officials also expressed concern. In addition, the network said the three officials confirmed continued cooperation toward easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and denuclearization, according to the State Department.

All national dailies also reported on the DPRK missile launch. According to Yomiuri, the GOJ is growing increasingly concerned about North Korea’s relentless pursuit of ballistic missile technology, speculating that Pyongyang is determined to continue staging provocations to maintain its negotiating leverage vis-à-vis the U.S. in denuclearization talks. The paper added, however, that Japanese defense officials are confident that Japan can deal with North Korea’s current SLBM capabilities since its diesel submarines cannot travel very far and can be readily detected and tracked because of the loud noise they generate.

In a related development, all national papers wrote that the GOJ convened a meeting of the National Security Council on Tuesday afternoon to respond to North Korea’s launch of what appeared to be two ballistic missiles, including one from a submarine. Prime Minister Kishida told the press afterward: “We confirmed again the necessity to look into every possible option [for national defense], including the possession of so-called capabilities to attack enemy bases.” He added that Japan must not overlook the considerable progress made on North Korea’s nuclear and missile technology from the standpoint of ensuring Japan’s and regional security.

GOJ offers condolences on passing of Colin Powell

Nikkei highlighted remarks made to the press yesterday by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Isozaki regarding the death of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. “We offer our heartfelt condolences,” he was quoted as saying. “The Secretary contributed to the development of very close and positive U.S.-Japan relations.”

Some 60% of Japanese embassy staff, others have arrived in Japan from Afghanistan

Nikkei took up the arrival in Japan yesterday of 88 Afghans, including those who worked for the Japanese Embassy in Kabul and their dependents, saying this brought the total number of Afghans who have fled the country to Japan to almost 300, including about 100 who departed the war-torn country by land without the Taliban’s approval. As Japan plans to evacuate some 500 Afghans, the GOJ is reportedly continuing to coordinate with the Taliban to help the remaining 200, many of whom don’t have passports, leave the country. The paper said the Qatari government has been instrumental in arranging the departure of the Afghans, adding that the Taliban has also become cooperative in allowing passport holders to leave the country for Japan since September. The daily speculated that the Islamic group is trying to maintain positive relations with Tokyo in preparation for the winter, when food shortages are likely to become severer. Asahi ran a similar story.

Japan, France discuss regional, global security challenges

According to Sankei, Japan and France convened a meeting of senior defense and foreign affairs officials in Tokyo yesterday and agreed that North Korea’s latest missile test must not be condoned. They also discussed a range of security issues, such as China’s maritime advancement, the situation in Afghanistan, and Iran’s nuclear development. They confirmed that they will arrange for their defense and foreign ministers to hold a 2+2 meeting later this year, during which the French side is reportedly hoping to obtain Japan’s cooperation in using artificial intelligence for the defense of outer space and cyber space.


Japanese, ROK business leaders to meet online

Sankei wrote that some 200 leading Japanese and ROK corporate executives plan to meet remotely on Nov. 2, noting that they are expected to discuss bilateral cooperation in the private sector for economic digitalization and the creation of a carbon-free society amid the prolonged political tensions between the two capitals over the comfort women and forced labor disputes.


Tokyo to end request for bars and restaurants to close early

Nikkei and Sankei wrote in front-page articles that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided not to extend beyond Oct. 24 its request for bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol after 8 p.m. and close at 9 p.m. if they are certified for enforcing proper COVID-19 prevention and mitigation protocols. The establishments will be allowed to operate according to their regular business hours starting on Oct. 25 for the first time in almost 11 months, although the number of customers per table may continue to be restricted. According to Nikkei, almost 102,500 bars, restaurants, and other nightlife establishments, or 85% of all such businesses in the nation’s capital, have already been certified.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team