JAPAN MEDIA HIGHLIGHTS
Morning Alert   -   Monday, November 1, 2021
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HEADLINES

All national dailies and commercial broadcasters led with reports on the results of the general election on Sunday in which the LDP secured an “absolute stable majority” of 261 seats in the Lower House. Voter turnout was almost 56%, up about 2 points from the previous race in 2017. NHK led with a report on an earthquake with a maximum seismic intensity of 4 that hit the Tohoku and Kanto regions at about 6:14 a.m. today. No tsunami warning was issued.

POLITICS

Ruling coalition achieves resounding victory, opposition camp suffers setback

All national papers wrote that the ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito party scored a major victory in the general election on Sunday by winning 293 seats, down only 12 from the number it held prior to the dissolution of the Lower House on Oct. 15. Although the LDP lost 15 seats in total, it still obtained 261 for an “absolute stable majority.” Prime Minister Kishida told the press early this morning that he had obtained a popular mandate since his goal was to win a majority of seats. The papers said the prime minister succeeded in cementing his power base ahead of the Upper House election next summer.

The papers said, however, that the LDP was not as jubilant as Kishida since several heavyweights such as Secretary General Amari and former Minister for Digital Transformation Hirai failed to win their single-seat constituencies. Amari, who lost in his single-seat district by a margin of 2% but secured a seat in proportional representation, reportedly expressed his intent to step down. This was the first time in LDP history for the ruling party’s second-highest ranking official to lose his or her home constituency. Yomiuri claimed that the embattled secretary general is likely to be replaced. Mainichi said Kishida may tap Policy Research Council Chairperson Takaichi, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato or Foreign Minister Motegi as Amari’s successor. The premier is reportedly expected to hold a press conference this afternoon to comment on the LDP’s election performance, including what he plans to do about Secretary General Amari.

The largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), on the other hand, captured only 96 seats in the election, down 13 from the pre-dissolution level despite its unprecedented election coordination with four other opposition parties, including the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), which won 10 seats, 2 fewer than before. Such party veterans as former Secretary General Ozawa Ichiro, former Construction Minister Nakamura Kishiro, and the outspoken Deputy President Tsujimoto Kiyomi lost in their single-seat districts. The papers said calls may mount within the CDPJ for President Edano to resign to take responsibility for the setback.

Meanwhile, the Japan Innovation Party (JIP) captured 41 seats, almost four times more than its pre-dissolution level, to become the second largest opposition party. In addition to delivering victories for all 15 of its candidates in the 19 single-seat districts in Osaka, the party headed by Osaka Governor Matsui garnered strong support in Kanto and elsewhere in proportional representation. As such, the papers said the JIP has transformed itself from a Kansai-based party into a “national party.” Since along with the LDP and Komeito the JIP supports constitutional amendment, the papers said political forces in favor of amending the nation’s supreme law now control more than two-thirds of the lower chamber.

Voters deliver rebuke to opposition bloc

All national papers wrote that the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), and other opposition parties were shocked by the election results since they lost ground despite the unprecedented levels of election cooperation. While they fielded 213 unified candidates in the 289 single-seat districts, only 30% of them won. Many voters critical of the ruling coalition apparently did not support CDPJ candidates because they saw the cooperation between the CDPJ and the JCP as “collusion” on account of the differences between the two groups’ views on key issues such as the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and the constitutionality of the SDF. Because the LDP had stepped up its criticism of the CDPJ joining hands with the JCP in the final days of the campaign in response to CDPJ President Edano and other opposition officials’ vehement calls for a change of government, Nikkei conjectured that the ruling party may have succeeded in capitalizing on voters’ deep-seated wariness of communism.

As for the JIP’s solid performance, the papers speculated that voters critical of the ruling coalition probably voted for the JIP’s candidates instead of the CDPJ’s. Pointing out that both the LDP and the CDPJ focused on “wealth distribution” in their election campaigns, Nikkei conjectured that many voters perhaps responded positively to the JIP’s emphasis on its “unwavering commitment to reform.”

Young voters opt for LDP

According to an exit poll conducted by Kyodo, the LDP apparently won the support of young voters. Over 36% of those aged 18 or 19 voted for the LDP in the proportional representation segment, twice as high as the 17.2% who picked the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. Close to 37% of voters in their 20s also supported the ruling party. On the other hand, almost one out of four swing voters voted for the CDPJ in proportional representation, followed by the Japan Innovation Party (21%) and the LDP (17%).

Special Diet session likely to be convened on Nov. 10

According to Saturday’s Sankei, the ruling coalition and the GOJ are considering convening a special Diet session to elect the new prime minister on Nov. 10. While some officials insist that the special session only last for a few days and that a separate extraordinary Diet session be convened later through December in order to pass an FY2020 supplementary budget, others are saying the envisaged special session should last through December.

In a related story, Yomiuri projected that former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hosoda Hiroyuki will be elected as the 78th speaker of the Lower House when the special Diet session is convened.

INTERNATIONAL

PM Kishida aiming to hold talks with President Biden in UK

Saturday’s Mainichi wrote that arrangements are being made for Prime Minister Kishida to hold a brief meeting with President Biden in the UK on Nov. 2 on the sidelines of the COP26 conference on the condition that the ruling coalition wins the general election. The Japanese side is reportedly hoping that Kishida will at least be able to exchange greetings with the President to confirm the bilateral alliance and build personal ties. The premier is set to give a speech on Japan’s environmental policy before the assembled world dignitaries on Nov. 2 after the U.S. leader delivers his address on Nov. 1. The paper added that Kishida is likely to hold talks with his British counterpart Johnson on the margins of the conference.

In a related development, today’s Asahi quoted Kishida as saying on NHK last night following the LDP’s victory in the general election: “Since the U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of Japanese diplomacy, I would like to visit the U.S. and hold a summit with President Biden as soon as possible.”

U.S. diplomat reiterates U.S. support for defense of Taiwan

Saturday’s Sankei reported from Taipei on the first press conference on Friday by the new Director of the American Institute in Taiwan Sandra Oudkirk at which she underscored U.S. support for Taiwan’s self-defense. “We are deeply concerned by ongoing PRC’s efforts to undermine the stability” of the Taiwan Strait, she was quoted as saying. “We are committed to helping Taiwan maintain its ability to defend itself.” Asked whether the U.S. military would come to the defense of the island territory if it were attacked by China, the U.S. envoy said: “U.S. policy toward Taiwan is clear, is well-known, and has not changed.” As for Taiwan President Tsai’s confirmation of the presence of U.S. troops for the purpose of training the Taiwanese military, the U.S. diplomat simply stated: “The U.S. commitment to Taiwan is rock solid.”

In a follow-up report, the daily’s Sunday edition took up remarks made by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang on Friday. He reportedly warned the United States against challenging the one-China policy. “Taiwan has no future other than reunification with the mainland,” he was quoted as saying. “The United States is undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. If it continues to behave unilaterally, it will have to pay the price.”

Japan, ROK remain at odds over forced labor dispute

Saturday’s Asahi reported on the third anniversary of the South Korean Supreme Court ruling ordering Nippon Steel to pay compensation to victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, noting that the schism between the two governments remains as the Moon administration has not responded to Japan’s call for rectifying what it referred to as Seoul’s violation of international law. The daily said President Moon is aiming to move beyond the history dispute to improve overall ties with Tokyo, claiming that he intends to respond to U.S. calls for reconciliation between its key allies at least on the security front by capitalizing on an international conference on UN peacekeeping operations that Seoul plans to host in early December. South Korea has allegedly extended informal invitations to Foreign Minister Motegi and Defense Minister Kishida to attend the confab. However, as Japan has no intention to heed South Korea’s calls for a “victim-oriented” solution, the daily said the ROJ judiciary is moving steadily to liquidate the seized financial assets of the Japanese firm.

Kishida calls for international rules on economic digitalization

Sunday’s Nikkei reported on Prime Minister Kishida’s remarks during the G20 summit in which he participated remotely on Saturday night. According to the daily, he vowed to take the lead in establishing international rules on economic digitalization. The prime minister mentioned the importance of high-quality infrastructure investment and free trade in order to accelerate global economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Kishida expressed support for the G20’s goal of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population against COVID-19 by next June, emphasizing the importance of the fair distribution of vaccines across the world.

SECURITY

Japan’s defense spending to come under scrutiny following election

Monday’s Asahi reported that following the ruling coalition’s victory in the general election, greater attention will be focused on how the Kishida administration manages relations with the United States since Washington has been asking Tokyo to play a more active role in the security arena. The daily said the administration’s commitment to “strengthening Japan’s self-defense capabilities” as cited in the bilateral joint statement released in April by President Biden and former Prime Minster Suga will be tested when it compiles the defense budget in December as calls are growing from the LDP and the United States to spend more than 1% of GDP on defense. The daily also projected that the Kishida administration will be pressed by Washington to coordinate even more closely to ensure economic security by building resilient supply chains that are free of Chinese influence.

U.S. allies press Washington not to declare no first use of nuclear weapons

Sunday’s Mainichi cited the Financial Times claim that Japan, the UK, Australia, and other U.S. allies are lobbying the Biden administration against adopting the principle of “no first use” of nuclear arsenals out of concern that the approach may result in undermining U.S. nuclear deterrence against China and Russia.

MOD mulls operating patrol vessels unmanned

Sunday’s Sankei front-paged a Defense Ministry plan to operate four new patrol vessels that it plans to procure for the MSDF unmanned in order to address the chronic shortage of personnel amid China’s rapid buildup of naval forces. To begin with, the ministry is looking to staff the new vessels with about 30 crewmembers, about 15% of the number assigned to conventional MSDF escort ships, with the goal of making their operation fully automated. Unmanned operation will reportedly make it possible for naval patrols to last longer and for the ships to engage in more dangerous operations.

Japan’s position on China to be redefined in updated national security strategy

Saturday’s Nikkei took up remarks made on an internet TV program on Friday night by Prime Minister Kishida on the administration’s plan to revise the 2013 National Security Strategy. Noting that the military threat posed by China has increased since the key national defense document was released almost a decade ago, the premier underscored that there are many elements that must be reviewed, including how to deal with China from the standpoint of defending Japan. He added that issues such as remote island defense and outer space and cyberspace will be taken up in the revised document.

Concern grows about AUKUS nuclear sub deal possibly undermining NPT

Saturday’s Yomiuri reported on the repercussions of the AUKUS initiative to provide Australia with nuclear submarine technology, noting that some experts are worried that the deal will undermine the nuclear nonproliferation regime by tempting some countries to pursue nuclear ambitions in the name of building nuclear submarines. They project that such nations as Iran, Brazil, and South Korea may try to secure enriched uranium, which is used as fuel for nuclear submarines, noting that nuclear materials used for submarines have long been seen as a “loophole" in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) since they are not subject to inspection by the IAEA. As the trilateral nuclear submarine plan has been criticized by some as a “double standard,” the daily stressed that the three partners will need to proceed with it carefully while addressing concerns that Canberra may try to acquire nuclear weapons.

ECONOMY

Top U.S. trade official to visit Asia

Saturday evening’s Mainichi and Nikkei reported that USTR Tai plans to embark on a three-nation tour of Japan, South Korea, and India on Nov. 15 to discuss with regional allies and partners the “enduring U.S. commitment to the Indo-Pacific region.” The top U.S. trade official will hold talks with Japanese officials to strengthen bilateral economic and trade relations with the goal of countering China’s unfair trade practices.

COVID-19

COVID-19 cases plummet across Japan

Saturday’s Mainichi led with a story on the dramatic improvement in the nation’s coronavirus infection situation, noting that the number of new cases was only 268 nationwide on Thursday, almost one-hundredth of the peak figure of 25,851 cases recorded on Aug. 20. Experts attributed the steep decline to the expedited rollout of vaccines and the enforcement of thorough infection prevention and mitigation protocols by individuals and businesses, such as wearing face masks, restricting alcohol sales at night, and ensuring adequate ventilation at restaurants and bars. The paper added that many epidemiologists are still worried that there is potential for a sixth wave in the winter as the air will become drier and more people are likely to venture out for holiday shopping and travel.

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