Morning Alert   -   Friday, December 3, 2021
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NHK, TBS, and Fuji TV led with reports that an earthquake with a magnitude of 4.9 hit Yamanashi at 6:37 this morning. There have been no reports of injuries or damage and no tsunami warning has been issued. Other broadcasters led with reports on the Transport Ministry’s withdrawal of its request for airlines to stop accepting reservations for Japan-bound flights (NTV) and the cancellation of the figure skating Grand Prix Final in Osaka on account of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 (TV Asahi).

All national dailies except Nikkei gave top play to reports on the retraction of the request for airlines to halt bookings for Japan-bound flights. Nikkei led with the results of a survey showing that Japan's roster of startups worth more than 100 billion yen ($884.4 million) doubled to six in 2021.


China expresses displeasure over former PM Abe’s remarks on Taiwan

Yomiuri, Mainichi, and Sankei wrote that China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Thursday that it has lodged a protest with the GOJ over former Prime Minister Abe's comments on issues related to Taiwan. At a virtual event hosted by a Taiwanese think tank on Wednesday, Abe said: "If China were to launch an armed attack against Taiwan, it would be an emergency for Japan and for the U.S.-Japan alliance.” In response, Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying called an emergency meeting with Japanese Ambassador to China Tarumi on Wednesday evening and said Abe’s remarks were a violent interference in China’s domestic affairs and China objects to them. Tarumi reportedly responded by saying China should understand that in Japan there is such a way of thinking about Taiwan and that Tokyo cannot accept Beijing's unilateral assertions. Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno told reporters on Thursday that the GOJ would not comment on remarks made by Abe since he is no longer a member of the Japanese government.

Japanese, Malaysian leaders confirm cooperation

Yomiuri, Mainichi, and Nikkei wrote that Prime Minister Kishida spoke by phone with Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob for 25 minutes on Thursday. The two leaders agreed to strengthen their nations’ cooperation ahead of the 40th anniversary next year of Malaysia's adoption of its "Look East" policy, under which the nation looked to Japan as a model for economic development. Kishida stressed Japan’s opposition to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force in the South and East China Seas with China in mind. Kishida expressed Japan’s desire to boost cooperation with Malaysia to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific and the ASEAN Outlook for the Indo-Pacific.

FM Hayashi speaks with Iranian counterpart

Yomiuri and Mainichi wrote that Foreign Minister Hayashi spoke by phone with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir Abdollahian for about 35 minutes on Thursday. The two officials exchanged views about Iran’s indirect talks with the United States on the Iran nuclear deal and agreed to maintain close communications. According to a briefing by the Foreign Ministry, Hayashi urged Iran to return to the nuclear accord soon and address the matter seriously.


U.S. military says F-16 jettisoned tanks after being warned of engine trouble

Mainichi wrote that concerning the incident on Tuesday in which a Misawa-based F-16 jettisoned two fuel tanks during flight training, the U.S. military told the Misawa city government on Wednesday that the pilot jettisoned the tanks after being warned of engine trouble. On Thursday the U.S. military reportedly found the second tank about 900 meters southeast of the location where the other tank was found on the day of the incident. According to the municipal government, the deputy commander of the Misawa Air Base said the pilot jettisoned the tanks in accordance with the U.S. military’s flight manual that instructs pilots to jettison fuel tanks to make the plane lighter in the event of engine trouble. Asahi, Nikkei, and Sankei ran similar articles, while Yomiuri only published a brief story on the finding of the second tank.

CCS Matsuno says Japan to ensure transparency in extending range of cruise missile

Nikkei wrote that Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno commented during a press briefing on Thursday on Japan’s plans to extend the range of a cruise missile that is currently under development to about 1,000 km by saying Japan has been making efforts to ensure transparency on its defense capabilities to avoid causing misunderstandings with other nations. The government spokesperson added that the plan is aimed at strengthening Japan’s standoff defense capabilities.


Transport Ministry retracts halt of bookings of Japan-bound flights

All national dailies wrote that the Ministry of Transport retracted on Thursday its instructions issued to airlines on Monday to completely stop accepting reservations for international flights to Japan until the end of the year as a measure to tighten Japan’s border controls against the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Under the measure, Japanese citizens and foreign residents would have been unable to return to Japan for the holidays unless they already had reservations by Wednesday. The ministry told airlines on Thursday to fully consider demand from Japanese nationals wishing to return home. Under the new instructions, bookings will be allowed as long as they stay below the government's daily cap of 3,500 passengers arriving from overseas.

The ministry's Civil Aviation Bureau issued the initial request to airlines on Monday as an “emergency precautionary measure” against the Omicron variant without consulting either Prime Minister Kishida or Transport Minister Saito, and the request triggered a backlash from people who were suddenly faced with the prospect of being unable to return home for weeks. Although both Kishida and Saito apologized for the confusion, the papers expressed concern about a lack of communication within the Kishida administration.

In a related story, Mainichi wrote that Michael Ryan, the head of the WHO's Health Emergencies Program, commented on Japan's ban on new entry by foreign nationals during a press briefing on Wednesday by saying the measure was hard to understand epidemiologically and that preventive steps must be decided based on public health principles rather than for political considerations.

Japan to scale back “exemption” visas for foreign entrants

Nikkei wrote that the GOJ will temporarily invalidate special visas issued to foreign nationals who meet certain conditions to curb the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. Japan halted new foreign arrivals on Nov. 30 but has issued visas to people with "special circumstances." However, the government announced on Wednesday that it will tighten its definition of "special circumstances," narrowing the scope to those traveling for diplomatic or other special purposes. Visas issued under the previous criteria will be temporarily invalidated and foreigners wishing to enter the country during the one-month suspension will be asked to reapply. The refiled applications will be processed according to the new criteria. Around 10,000 people were admitted to Japan under "special circumstances" in October. Under the new criteria, visas will only be issued to family members of Japanese nationals, diplomats, and those entering Japan for humanitarian or public interest reasons, and the government is planning to tighten restrictions for the entry of people involved in music, sports, and art events, which were included under the previous criteria.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team