Morning Alert   -   Monday, December 6, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 to more than 40 nations and regions in the world (NHK, NTV, TBS), a fire that broke out in a residential area in Koto-ku, Tokyo, early this morning (Fuji TV), and Princess Aiko’s coming-of-age ceremonial events held on Sunday (TV Asahi).

Top stories in national dailies included the French government’s desire to conclude a reciprocal access agreement with Japan to facilitate joint training and operations between their forces (Sankei), a Chinese automaker’s aggressive development of electric vehicles (Asahi), a story about an Imperial Japanese Navy officer who became the first Japanese prisoner of war after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack (Mainichi), the development of digital technology, including the metaverse, the next step in the evolution of social connection (Yomiuri), and efforts by companies everywhere to attract “migrant” workers with professional skills in preparation for the shrinking of the world population in the mid-21st century (Nikkei).


President Biden releases statement on National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Saturday evening’s Nikkei wrote from Washington that President Biden issued a statement on Friday ahead of the 80th anniversary on Dec. 7 of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The President said in part: “On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked our forces at Pearl Harbor and other locations in Hawaii, taking the lives of 2,403 service members and civilians and leading the United States to declare its entrance into World War II. It was a day that still lives in infamy 80 years later. As we mark National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we honor the patriots who perished, commemorate the valor of all those who defended our Nation, and recommit ourselves to carrying forth the ensuing peace and reconciliation that brought a better future for our world. Today, we give thanks to the Greatest Generation, who guided our Nation through some of our darkest moments and laid the foundations of an international system that has transformed former adversaries into allies.”

Kishida expresses hope to visit U.S. soon

Sunday’s Nikkei wrote that Prime Minister Kishida told reporters during a visit to Fukushima on Saturday that he is hoping to visit the United States as soon as possible after the extraordinary Diet session ends on Dec. 21. Asked whether he is planning to travel to the United States by the end of the year, the premier said the schedule is still under discussion. The paper wrote that it has been difficult for Japan to arrange a visit for Kishida because of the tight political schedule in Washington and the impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on international travel.

U.S., Japanese defense chiefs agree to hold 2+2 meeting soon

Saturday’s Yomiuri wrote that Secretary of Defense Austin and Minister of Defense Kishi spoke by phone for about 30 minutes on Friday and agreed that the United States and Japan will further strengthen the deterrence and capabilities of their alliance and hold a 2+2 meeting at an early date. Kishi reportedly commented on the Pentagon’s Global Posture Review completed last month by saying Japan welcomes the United States’ strengthened commitment to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific. The two defense chiefs also reaffirmed bilateral and trilateral cooperation with South Korea in response to North Korea’s missile programs. The paper wrote that although they discussed Japan’s share of the cost of stationing U.S. forces in Japan, Kishi declined to disclose the details of the discussion to reporters. Nikkei ran a similar report speculating that Washington and Tokyo are seeking to reach a broad agreement on host nation support by the end of the year.

Foreign Ministry to establish new post on human rights

Saturday’s Yomiuri, Asahi, and Mainichi wrote that Foreign Minister Hayashi told reporters on Friday that his ministry will create in April a new post for a senior official responsible for monitoring human rights violations in response to growing awareness of the issue around the world. The ministry has included in its budget request for fiscal 2022 the establishment of the new position under its existing Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Division. The papers speculated that the move is part of the Kishida administration’s efforts to demonstrate that it attaches importance to human rights issues in light of the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Group of LDP lawmakers seeks diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics

Saturday’s Asahi, Sankei, and Nikkei wrote that a group of conservative members of the ruling LDP decided on Friday to call on the GOJ to diplomatically boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics scheduled for February to protest China’s human rights violations. The lawmakers are planning to submit their request to Prime Minister Kishida and Foreign Minister Hayashi soon. Aoyama Shigeharu, an Upper House member who heads the group, told reporters on Friday that sending a delegation of Japanese officials to the Beijing Winter Olympics would convey the wrong message to the international community. However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno said at a news conference on Friday that the GOJ has not yet made any decision on the matter and will do so at the appropriate time after considering the various factors involved. A senior Foreign Ministry official also said Japan is not yet certain what the diplomatic boycott being considered by the United States entails.

Sunday’s Sankei wrote that Japan has yet to announce whether to join the boycott because it remains to be seen whether the United States and European nations will implement a diplomatic boycott and there is a possibility that China will refuse to accept foreign visitors for the Olympics out of concern over the infiltration of the novel coronavirus. Quoting an unnamed senior GOJ official as saying it is still early for Japan to announce its decision on the matter, the paper speculated that Japan, which needs to strike a balance between its relations with China and consideration for the United States and Europe, is trying not to get ahead of the international community on the issue.

Quad members refuse to co-sponsor resolution on Beijing Olympic armistice

Sunday’s Yomiuri, Mainichi, and Sankei wrote that the UN General Assembly approved on Thursday a China-sponsored resolution on an Olympic armistice for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. Some 173 nations co-sponsored the resolution, but the United States, Japan, Australia, and India and some other countries did not. The armistice for the Tokyo Olympics was co-sponsored by 186 nations. The paper speculated the nations who refused to sign it did so out of concern for the human rights situation in China.

Japanese, Taiwanese lawmakers to hold dialogue on economy and security

Monday’s Sankei wrote that the heads of the LDP divisions on foreign affairs and economy are planning to hold a virtual meeting with Taiwanese legislators belonging to the Democratic Progressive Party. The paper wrote that the participants in the event are expected to discuss such issues as economic security and Taiwan’s bid to join the TPP. The paper wrote that this would follow the two parties’ discussion in August on foreign and defense affairs.


Japan to shoulder greater share of hosting U.S. military forces

Kyodo News reported from Washington on Sunday that Japan has decided to accept a request by the United States to pay more for hosting its military forces from fiscal 2022 after the two countries held working-level negotiations in Washington from late November through early this month, diplomatic sources said on Sunday. Kyodo said that Japan is expected to reach an agreement on the increase with the United States before Prime Minister Kishida's Cabinet decides later this month on a draft budget for the next fiscal year. According to the wire service, the Japanese government is believed to have determined that an increase in host nation support is inevitable considering the need to strengthen the long-standing security alliance while U.S. forces are deploying their most advanced hardware in the region to address China's rapid military expansion. Focus will now shift to the extent of the hike, given that the cost for basing American troops in Japan is also rising, Kyodo added.

DM Kishi calls F-16 incident “regrettable” in talks with Defense Secretary Austin

Saturday’s Yomiuri, Asahi, and Nikkei wrote that in response to the incident on Tuesday in which a Misawa-based F-16 jettisoned two fuel tanks during flight training, Minister of Defense Kishi expressed regret and called for safe operations of U.S. military aircraft during a phone conversation with Secretary of Defense Austin on Friday. Yomiuri and Asahi wrote that Kishi told reporters that Lt. Gen. Ricky Rupp, commander of U.S. Forces Japan, told him on Friday that the U.S. military suspended operations of all F-16 fighters belonging to the Misawa Air Base and inspected them on Wednesday and Thursday morning before resuming their flights later in the day.

Asahi and Mainichi wrote that Aomori Governor Mimura asked Defense Minister Kishi on Friday to urge the U.S. military to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. Asahi wrote that although the U.S. military gave prior notification of its resumption of F-16 flights to the Misawa city government, it did not inform the GOJ or the prefectural government. The governor told the defense minister that the U.S. military’s failure to provide prior notification to the prefectural government could undermine their relationship of trust.

Monday’s Asahi and Mainichi wrote that the Aomori prefectural government announced on Sunday that the F-16, which had been at Aomori Airport after making an emergency landing, left the airport to return to the Misawa Air Base at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday after completing repairs. According to Asahi, the Defense Ministry told relevant local governments that it had been informed by the U.S. side that the aircraft would leave the airport on Sunday afternoon.

Saturday’s Mainichi ran an editorial on the incident saying that it is the GOJ’s responsibility to call on the U.S. military to investigate the cause of the incident and prevent a recurrence. The paper wrote that it is problematic that the U.S. military was slow to inform the Japanese side of the incident and resumed operations of F-16s without providing a sufficient explanation of how it confirmed the safety of the aircraft. The paper also said these attitudes could be interpreted as making light of the lives and livelihoods of residents. Claiming that the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement is responsible for these attitudes, the paper said the residents’ concerns will not be allayed until the agreement is reviewed.

GOJ to allocate smallest budget for Okinawa development in 10 years

Sunday’s Yomiuri wrote that it has learned from a GOJ source that the government is planning to allocate less than 300 billion yen ($2.7 billion) for Okinawa's economic development for the first time in 10 years in fiscal 2022. The paper speculated that Governor Tamaki’s continued opposition to the Futenma Air Station’s relocation to Henoko is behind the reduced spending on Okinawa. The governor directly asked Prime Minister Kishida in November to maintain the budget above 300 billion yen. However, resistance to Tamaki has grown within the GOJ and the ruling coalition following his rejection late last month of the Defense Ministry's application to alter the design for the construction at Henoko after the discovery there of a soft seabed.

High level of toxic chemicals found in wastewater from U.S. military facility in Okinawa

Saturday’s Mainichi wrote that it has learned from a source connected with the Okinawa Prefectural Government that wastewater containing toxic chemicals leaked from a water tank at a U.S. Army oil storage facility in Uruma, Okinawa, on June 10 and an extraordinarily high level of PFAS was detected in samples of the water. The amount of PFAS was almost 1,600 times higher than the permissible level set by the Japanese government. According to the prefectural government, although the U.S. military, the prefectural government, and the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa bureau collected and analyzed the samples and agreed to jointly publicize the results of the analysis, they have not yet announced them. Okinawa Governor Tamaki issued a statement saying the prefectural government cannot announce the results of its analysis because the U.S. military has not yet agreed to do so. However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno told reporters that arrangements are being made to announce the results and that the GOJ is not withholding the announcement out of consideration for the U.S. side.

Yokota-based Osprey makes precautionary landing at MSDF base in Chiba

Saturday’s Asahi wrote that an Osprey aircraft belonging to the U.S. military’s Yokota Air Base made a precautionary landing at the MSDF’s Tateyama Air Base in Chiba Prefecture at around 9:00 p.m. on Dec. 1. No personal or property damage has been reported. The paper wrote that Yokota-based Ospreys also made precautionary landings at domestic airports in June and September. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the governments of six municipalities around the Yokota AB requested the base and the Defense Ministry to investigate the causes of the landings, prevent a recurrence, and swiftly provide information about the incidents by saying it is very regrettable that precautionary landings have occurred three times in the past six months.

France sounds out Japan on concluding reciprocal access agreement

Monday’s Sankei led with a report on its finding that the French government has sounded out the GOJ on the idea of concluding a reciprocal access agreement between the two countries that will facilitate Japanese and French forces’ conducting of joint training and operations in each other’s country. The paper speculated that the move demonstrates the French government’s intention to strengthen security cooperation with Japan with the aim of curbing China’s hegemonic activities.

Russia deploys new surface-to-ship missile on Kuril Island chain

Saturday’s Yomiuri wrote from Moscow that Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced on Thursday that it has deployed a Bastion surface-to-ship missile defense system on Matua, a remote isle in the Kuril Island chain. The paper wrote that Russia is steadily moving forward with its military buildup in and near the Northern Territories as seen in its deployment of Bastion missiles on Etorofu and Kunashiri islands.

National Police Agency to launch cyber unit operations in April

Sunday’s Sankei led with a report saying the National Police Agency has decided to launch its cyber unit in April ahead of the original plan with operations starting in the fall in response to the increasing threat posed by cyberattacks. The agency detected 6,347 instances of suspicious access per day on average in the first half of this year due in part to the growing cybersecurity risks associated with increased telework.


Some returnees to be asked to quarantine at home amid fears of room shortage

Saturday’s Yomiuri, Mainichi, and Nikkei wrote that the GOJ announced on Friday that some people returning to Japan will be asked to quarantine at home because Japan’s tougher border control measures against the Omicron variant of COVID-19 could lead to a shortage of rooms at designated quarantine facilities. The GOJ currently asks returnees traveling from certain countries and regions to quarantine at designated facilities for 3 to 10 days. However, the government will ask returnees who are technically required to quarantine in designated facilities to self-quarantine at home or elsewhere if they are fully vaccinated. Measures will also be put in place to transport some of the people arriving at Narita Airport and other airports to quarantine facilities near Chubu Airport in Aichi Prefecture that have more capacity available.

The GOJ also announced on Friday that Japan has added the states of Hawaii, New York, Colorado, and Minnesota; Karnataka in India; Greece; and Romania to its Omicron watchlist. The total number of countries and regions on the list is now 40.

Tokyo offers PCR tests to detect Omicron variant

Saturday’s Yomiuri and Mainichi wrote that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government started on Friday offering PCR tests that can detect the Omicron variant of the coronavirus at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Public Health in Shinjuku Ward. The metropolitan government expects to conduct 100 tests a day and to provide the results in about 24 hours.

Merck’s Japan unit files for approval of oral coronavirus treatment

Saturday’s Yomiuri, Asahi, Mainichi, and Sankei wrote that MSD K.K., a subsidiary of U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck & Co., filed an application for approval of the oral coronavirus treatment molnupiravir with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry on Friday. The risk of serious illness can reportedly be reduced when people with mild symptoms take the antiviral drug early in the course of the disease. If approved, this will be the first oral drug to be used in Japan for the treatment of the novel coronavirus. The treatment has already been approved in the UK. The company said molnupiravir is likely to be effective against the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. The GOJ has agreed to receive a supply of 1.6 million doses based on the assumption that the regulatory authority will swiftly approve the drug. The government is hoping that the drug will be available for practical use this year.


Japan to create fund to attract foreign semiconductor businesses

Saturday’s Yomiuri led with a report on a GOJ decision to launch a fund to provide financial support for foreign semiconductor companies to encourage them to make capital investments in Japan. The GOJ is planning to submit to the extraordinary Diet session to be convened on Monday legislation to amend existing laws so the fund can be established in the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The paper wrote that the move is part of the Kishida administration’s efforts to strengthen economic security by securing a stable supply of semiconductors.

Japan to tighten monitoring of foreign companies investing in Japan

Sunday’s Yomiuri wrote that it has learned from multiple GOJ sources that the government will tighten its system to review and monitor foreign companies planning to invest in Japan to prevent the leakage of advanced technologies from Japanese firms. The GOJ is planning to launch an interagency taskforce under which the National Security Secretariat shares information on the matter with relevant government agencies. The government will use the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States as a model for launching the new taskforce.


Extraordinary Diet session to be convened today

Monday’s Yomiuri and Sankei wrote that an extraordinary Diet session will be convened today, with Prime Minister Kishida delivering a policy speech in both houses of the Diet this afternoon. The papers speculated that during the 16-day session until Dec. 21, deliberations will focus on the supplementary budget for fiscal 2021 that includes spending for measures against the coronavirus, the response to the Omicron variant of COVID-19, and booster shots of coronavirus vaccines.


89% approve of GOJ’s response to Omicron variant

Monday’s Yomiuri front-paged the results of its public opinion survey conducted from Friday through Sunday in which 89% of the respondents approved of the GOJ’s tightened border controls against the Omicron variant of COVID-19 while 8% did not. Support for the Kishida cabinet rose by 6 points to 62% from a month ago and nonsupport dropped by 7 points to 22%. The paper speculated that the public welcomed the GOJ’s swift move to ban the entry of all foreign nationals who are not residents in response to the spread of the Omicron variant overseas. About the GOJ’s overall response to the novel coronavirus, 55% approved of it, while 36% did not. Some 53% welcomed the GOJ’s planned spending of a record 55.7 trillion yen ($493 billion) on an economic stimulus package aimed at easing the impact from the coronavirus, while 33% did not. However, 55% disapproved of the GOJ plan to provide 100,000 yen ($886) each for all children aged 18 or younger, while 39% approved of it. Regarding the GOJ’s plan to use coronavirus vaccine records and proof of negative test results to relax social restrictions, 55% welcomed it while 37% did not.


Japan to exclude foreign students, trainees from consumption tax exemption

Sunday’s Yomiuri led with a report saying that the GOJ and the ruling coalition have decided to exclude foreign students and technical trainees based in Japan from the nation’s consumption tax exemption for foreigners and limit the application of the system to members of diplomatic missions and foreign travelers staying in the country for 90 days or less. Under the current system, students and other long-term foreign residents can purchase goods or receive services without paying consumption tax for the first six months after arriving in Japan. However, the GOJ is planning to make amendments to the system in its tax reform plans for fiscal 2022 with the aim of preventing people from profiting by reselling goods that they purchased tax free at prices including consumption tax. According to the paper, more than 80% of the 1,837 people involved in the tax-free purchases totaling over 1 million yen ($8,864) in Japan in the first half of this year were Chinese students. Among the 1,837, 69 spent more than 100 million yen ($886,407), and one of them bought about 32,000 items at over 1.2 billion yen ($10.6 million). Monday’s Nikkei ran a similar story.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team