Morning Alert   -   Friday, December 10, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the start of the Summit for Democracy hosted by the United States (NHK), many local municipalities choosing to distribute 100,000-yen handouts to families with children in cash instead of partially as coupons because it would cost more to prepare and distribute coupons (NTV), and an increasing number of traffic accidents in Japan involving vehicles driven by elderly people (Fuji TV, TBS, TV Asahi).

Main front-page stories in national papers included a GOJ plan to revise relevant laws aimed at enabling public authorities to take stricter measures to combat COVID-19, the opening of the Summit for Democracy, the Environment Ministry’s finding that progress on separate collection of plastic garbage has been slow across the nation, and a report on growing criticism of Instagram for harming the mental health of young people.


Virtual U.S.-led Summit for Democracy begins

All national papers reported on the opening on Thursday of the Summit for Democracy that President Biden is hosting virtually, highlighting his remarks expressing his resolve to defend democracy from the challenges posed by autocratic regimes. “In the face of sustained and alarming challenges to democracy and universal human rights around the world, democracy needs champions,” the President was quoted as saying. “I wanted to host this summit because renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort.” Prime Minister Kishida reportedly participated and pledged some $14 million in aid for international institutions committed to protecting workers’ rights. The Japanese leader underscored the importance of unity among democratic nations to counter actions that undermine such basic values as liberty, democracy, the rule of law. He also vowed that Japan will continue to help promote democracy in Asia.

Calls mounting within LDP for diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics

Nikkei wrote that pressure is growing within the LDP on Prime Minister Kishida to announce a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics. Many conservative lawmakers, including former Prime Minister Abe and Policy Research Council Chairwoman Takaichi, are reportedly pressing the Kishida administration to take a concerted line with the United States, Australia, the UK, and Canada, which have already decided not to send government delegations to the international sporting event. According to the article, Abe said during a meeting of his faction yesterday: “Japan needs to issue a political message on the human rights situation [in China]. It is high time [for the Japanese government] to make its position known.”

The daily opined that if more G7 nations, including Japan, implement diplomatic boycotts of the Games, it will serve as a clear message to China and have a positive effect on Japan’s security cooperation with its G7 partners in the face of Beijing’s rapid arms buildup. The Kishida administration is reportedly carefully weighing various scenarios, including not sending high-ranking government officials without announcing the move in advance, to avoid antagonizing either the United States or China. A dispatch of senior JOC officials, on behalf of GOJ officials, appears to be one option. The daily said if the administration fails to make a decision until early January and more European countries join the U.S.-led boycott by the end of this year, Japan’s slow response will become conspicuous.

China allegedly threatens to “review” relations with Japan

Sankei printed a Kyodo piece from Beijing on an article published by the South China Morning Post on a meeting between a senior Chinese diplomat and Japanese Ambassador to China Tarumi that was arranged hastily on Dec. 1 following former Prime Minister Abe’s comment that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would be “economic suicide.” The Chinese official allegedly warned that if Tokyo were to take additional steps regarding Taiwan, Beijing would have no choice but to “conduct a review” of the bilateral ties.


Kishida promises to make diplomatic efforts to reach agreement at NPT meeting

All national dailies wrote that during a virtual meeting on nuclear disarmament held last night, Prime Minister Kishida unveiled a plan to dispatch to selected countries the special advisor on nuclear reductions and nonproliferation, Terada Minoru, so that they can cooperate for adopting an agreement in the upcoming NPT Review conference to be held in January. “Japan will do its utmost to help the session reach an agreement that will mark substantive progress toward a world without nuclear weapons,” he was quoted as saying. “We will continue to proactively lobby world leaders” by sending the advisor ahead of the confab.

Yomiuri added that the premier will dispatch Foreign Minister Hayashi and Terada to attend the NPT session that will open on Jan. 4. Noting that their participation will reflect Kishida’s strong commitment to nuclear disarmament, the daily projected that the foreign minister will deliver remarks on the first day expressing Japan’s plan to serve as a “bridge between the nuclear and nonnuclear powers” and urge the nuclear club members to increase transparency of their nuclear stockpiles. The daily noted that as a politician who represents Hiroshima, Terada heads an LDP parliamentary league on nuclear arms reductions.

Remote island in Okinawa calls for stationing of SDF troops

Asahi and Sankei wrote that the municipal assembly of Kitadaito, Okinawa, adopted a unanimous motion on Thursday asking the central government to base an SDF unit on the island from the standpoint of “beefing up security and national defense infrastructure.” The remote island has a population of 561 and is situated some 360 km east of the main island of Okinawa. The motion reportedly justified the call for SDF deployment by saying that the “level of unilateral military advancement by a certain foreign country around the Nansei Islands is rising to dangerous heights.”


GOJ asks Pfizer to deliver COVID-19 vaccines sooner than scheduled

Asahi, Yomiuri, and Sankei highlighted remarks made at the parliament yesterday by Prime Minister Kishida regarding COVID-19 booster shots amid the rapid spread of the Omicron strain overseas. Speaking on Japan’s existing contract with Pfizer for the delivery of 120 million doses of its vaccine next year, the premier said the GOJ is pressing the pharmaceutical giant to speed up the shipment so that booster shots can be administered sooner than previously planned.

Omicron variant not detected in sampled specimens in Tokyo

Asahi took up an announcement made by the Tokyo metropolitan government on Thursday that the Omicron strain was not detected in any of the upper respiratory specimens collected from 38 COVID-19 patients in the first week of December. Most of them were reportedly infected with the Delta variant.

Excess deaths increase sharply amid pandemic

Nikkei reported on Heath Ministry statistics showing that the number of deaths in Japan in the first nine months of this year rose by almost 60,000 from the previous year, which was even more than that in 2011 when the so-called excess deaths marked a postwar record high due to the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. While excess deaths declined substantially last year despite the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the corresponding figure this year marked a steep rise. As the number of people who died from heart failure and other cardiovascular illnesses spiked earlier this year, the daily speculated that many elderly people were forced to stay home and unable to exercise outdoors due to the prolonged pandemic. Some of those who died may have not undergone annual health checks and medical consultations on account of the pandemic, which resulted in delays in detecting fatal diseases. This year has also seen a steep rise in the number of suicides, especially among women, with the daily speculating that some people may have chosen to take their own lives due to economic hardships triggered by the pandemic.


Upper House election likely to be held on July 10

All national papers except Mainichi wrote that arrangements are underway within the Kishida administration and the ruling LDP to convene the regular Diet session on Jan. 17 through June 15 and hold an Upper House election on July 10. The official 18-day campaign period for the national race is likely to begin on June 22. The timeline for the Diet session may change depending on Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to the United States that he is hoping to realize in early January.

GOJ to organize ceremony to commemorate Okinawa reversion

Mainichi and Asahi reported on remarks made at the Diet on Thursday by Prime Minister Kishida, in which he disclosed a plan to sponsor a ceremony next May marking the semicentennial of Okinawa’s return to Japanese administration. “As the reversion was the earnest wish of Okinawa residents and the entire Japanese population, it was a national accomplishment,” he was quoted as saying. “It is important to use the anniversary as an opportunity to revisit the historical significance of the reversion and demonstrate Okinawa’s appeal and potential at home and abroad. The central government will look into holding a commemorative event in coordination with the prefectural government.”

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team