Morning Alert   -   Thursday, December 2, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the first case of the Omicron variant confirmed in the United States (NHK), restaurants certified by the Tokyo government now being allowed to accept groups of up to eight people starting on Dec.1 (NTV), the second case of the Omicron variant confirmed in Japan (TBS, Fuji TV), and the death of kabuki actor Nakamura Kichiemon at the age of 77 (TV Asahi).

Most national dailies gave top coverage to the GOJ’s request for airlines to temporarily stop accepting new reservations for Japan-bound flights to prevent the infiltration of the Omicron variant. Nikkei’s lead item was a Defense Ministry plan to develop an anti-ship cruise missile with a range of 1,000 km, six times longer than the existing model.


Senior Misawa AB official apologizes for mishap involving F-16

All national papers reported that Deputy Commander Murphy of the 35th Fighter Wing at Misawa AB met separately with Governor Mimura and other local officials on Wednesday and apologized for the emergency landing by an F-16 at Aomori Airport on Tuesday by saying: “We regret causing anxiety and concern.” The base authorities reportedly said the pilot, after being warned of engine trouble, jettisoned the plane’s two fuel tanks to make the plane lighter and extend the flight distance. Although the U.S. military initially explained that the tanks were jettisoned in an unpopulated area near a mountain, one of them landed near a major road close to the Fukaura town hall. The other one has yet to be found. The governor reportedly stressed to Col. Murphy that “one wrong step could have turned the incident into a major disaster,” pressing the U.S. military to identify the cause and take measures to prevent a recurrence. Senior Vice Defense Minister Oniki, who inspected the scene of the mishap, underscored that the ministry has asked the U.S. military to ground its F-16s until their safety is confirmed.

According to Asahi, the U.S. military notified the Defense Ministry of the incident 3.5 hours after it occurred. The Fukaura municipal and prefectural governments learned from the Tohoku Defense Bureau of the jettisoning of the fuel tanks almost four hours after they were dropped. The paper emphasized that since certain parts of the Aviation Law are not applicable to the U.S. military under the SOFA, the U.S. military is not required to report to the Japanese side the details of incidents and accidents, projecting that the Aomori police will run into difficulties investigating the mishap since it will not have direct access to the aircraft or the fuel tanks.

Japan to acquire longer range cruise missile

Nikkei gave top coverage to the Defense Ministry’s plan to extend the range of a cruise missile that is currently under development to about 1,000 km in order to enhance deterrence amid the intense missile race in the Asia-Pacific region, which the daily referred to as a “powder keg.” According to the paper, the Type 12 surface-to-ship missile with a range of about 150 km currently produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will be redesigned as a longer-range cruise missile and its prototype will be developed in FY2026. A separate variant for fighter jets will also be developed in FY2028. The daily said the ministry decided to extend the missile’s range in response to growing U.S. concern about China’s rapid deployment of longer-range missiles capable of reaching Japan or Guam, adding that Beijing is bound to react sharply to Tokyo’s moves to enhance Japan’s missile capabilities, including the proposed possession of capabilities to strike enemy bases.

LDP calls for ramping up defense budget

Nikkei reported that the ruling LDP is set to ask the Kishida administration to increase defense spending substantially in FY2022 in view of China’s relentless military operations across the Taiwan Strait and in the South and East China Seas. The ruling party will also call for “fundamental enhancement” of defense capabilities in view of the rapidly changing security environment, including in outer space and cyberspace.

Japan to bring warship home from Middle East

Mainichi reported on the disclosure by a GOJ source that the current deployment of an MSDF destroyer to escort Japanese commercial vessels in the Middle East will be terminated by the end of this month so the warship can be called home to counter China’s robust naval operations around Japan.


Airlines stop accepting reservations for Japan-bound flights

All national papers reported extensively on the decision by JAL, ANA, and other airlines on Wednesday to stop accepting reservations for international flights to Japan this month in response to a request from the Japanese government. The GOJ reportedly made the request as part of measures to prevent the infiltration of the Omicron variant in anticipation of a rise in the number of holiday travelers from overseas in December. While reservations made in November or earlier will remain valid, the airlines will stop accepting new reservations not only from foreigners but also from Japanese nationals. Reservations for transit flights to third countries via Japan can still be made.

“This is an emergency precaution amid the uncertainty about the nature of the new COVID-19 strain,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno was quoted as telling the press on Wednesday. He also disclosed that no foreigners, including those who have residential status, will be permitted to enter Japan from South Africa, Namibia, and eight other African nations until further notice, adding that the entry of GOJ-sponsored international students and those participating in the JET program has also been prohibited since Tuesday. Travelers from 51 countries and regions, including South Korea, are now required to quarantine at predesignated facilities upon arrival in Japan for up to 10 days. The government spokesperson stressed that Japan-based foreign residents will only be able to enter the country “under truly extraordinary circumstances.”

Japan’s second case of Omicron variant confirmed

All national dailies highlighted a Health Ministry announcement on Wednesday on the detection of the second case of the Omicron variant in Japan, saying that a person in his 20s who arrived at Narita Airport on Nov. 27 from Peru via Qatar tested positive upon arrival. Other Information on the traveler, including his nationality, was withheld, except that the person had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine and that he had been asymptomatic at the time, although he later showed symptoms, including fever. Although all the passengers on the same Japan-bound flight as the patient were designated as close contacts irrespective of where they were sitting, they all tested negative.

Booster shots to be allowed six months after second shot

All national dailies wrote that the GOJ decided yesterday to allow municipal governments to administer COVID-19 booster shots to residents six months after their second shots instead of eight months as previously recommended based on the judgment that every possible measure should be taken to prevent infection amid the emergence of the Omicron strain.


Female politician to assume CDPJ’s No. 2 post

All national papers reported that new CDPJ President Izumi decided yesterday to appoint former Senior Vice Minister for Health and Labor Nishimura as secretary general. He also tapped former Parliamentary Vice Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Ogawa as Policy Research Committee chairman and former Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Osaka as acting president. The new leader reached out to all his rivals from the leadership election in a bid to ensure party unity. On the appointment of a female lawmaker to the party’s second-highest portfolio, Izumi said: “I wanted to embody the party’s commitment to respecting diversity.” Former Minister for Land and Infrastructure Mabuchi will assume the post of Diet Affairs Committee chairman.


MOFA to establish new post in charge of human rights

Sankei front-paged a MOFA plan to create in FY2022 a new senior portfolio tasked exclusively with dealing with international human rights issues, saying that the diplomat to be assigned to the post in the Foreign Policy Bureau will handle such issues as human rights violations in Xinjiang. “Human rights issues in the global community are growing more complex and extensive,” said an unnamed senior MOFA official. “It is urgently necessary for Japan to strengthen its human rights diplomacy.”

Prime Minister Kishida speaks with Cambodian, Turkish leaders

Yomiuri and Nikkei took up a videoconference between Prime Minister Kishida and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen held on Wednesday morning during which they agreed to deepen coordination in dealing with the situations in Myanmar and the South China Sea. They also confirmed that they will increase bilateral defense exchanges. Cambodia will be ASEAN’s chair next year.

According to the papers, Kishida also spoke by phone with Turkish President Erdogan yesterday and forged a consensus on deepening cooperation in education and energy.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team