Morning Alert   -   Monday, December 13, 2021
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Broadcasters led with the forecast for blizzards in Hokkaido and Hokuriku today (NHK) and reports on the deadly tornadoes hitting Kentucky and elsewhere in the United States (NTV, TBS, Fuji TV, TV Asahi). No papers were published today due to a press holiday.


U.S., Japanese diplomats hold talks in UK

Sunday’s Nikkei, Mainichi, and Sankei wrote that Foreign Minister Hayashi met with Secretary of State Blinken in Liverpool on Saturday on the margins of the G7 foreign ministerial meeting. In the first-ever in-person session between the two top diplomats, they reportedly agreed to quickly arrange for Prime Minister Kishida to visit Washington to hold a summit with President Biden and strengthen the bilateral alliance in the face of the increasingly severe security situation in East Asia. They also exchanged views on the human rights situation in China and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. The two officials confirmed their opposition to unilateral attempts by China to alter the status quo in the South and East China Seas. However, they reportedly did not discuss a “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Olympics. Other topics on the agenda included North Korea and the TPP.

According to the papers, Hayashi also held talks with UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Truss and agreed to deepen cooperation with the UK to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Senior DOS official urges Japan to join U.S., others in defending human rights

Sunday’s Nikkei front-paged a telephone interview with Under Secretary of State Fernandez on Friday, who is visiting Japan this week. He reportedly noted that economic pressure on human rights violators works best if countries act together. “Our sanctions are much more powerful and effective if they are done multilaterally,” he was quoted as saying. The official reportedly said Washington would welcome Tokyo’s enacting a law like the one recently adopted by Australia designed to penalize foreign officials involved in human rights violations. Speaking on China, U/S Fernandez said Beijing is “doubling down on an economic model that is at odds with the market-based global system that enables China’s very economy to grow.” He added that U.S. companies doing business with China “need to be mindful of how their activities can affect our national security and the values that we hold dear.”

Japan elects not to join U.S.-led consortium on export controls

Sunday’s Sankei front-paged the launch of a four-party export control regime between the United States, Australia, Denmark, and Norway aimed at protecting human rights in China and elsewhere, explaining that the GOJ decided not to join the group since Japan’s legal framework does not envision the application of export controls based on human rights criteria. Pointing out that the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Canada have voiced support for the “Export Controls Human Rights Initiative,” the daily claimed that the Biden administration did not ask Tokyo to endorse it. The paper added that some GOJ officials are hesitant to enable the application of export regulations for the purpose of preventing human rights abuses in China because similar restrictions would need to be applied to the Philippines, Myanmar, and other nations that Japan hopes to enlist in tightening the noose around China.

Kishida stresses Japan’s commitment to championing human rights abroad

Saturday’s Asahi reported that during a virtual meeting on nuclear disarmament that was held on Thursday night, Prime Minister Kishida emphasized his resolve to defend human rights overseas by saying: “We will continue to raise objections to serious human rights abuses without fail.” Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on human rights Nakatani also attended the session in a bid to highlight the administration’s goal of promoting universal values such as freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and civil liberties.

In a related story, Saturday’s Mainichi focused on remarks made by Kishida during the Summit for Democracy chaired by President Biden. He reportedly promised that Japan will strongly ask countries to take “responsible actions on human rights in coordination with the international community.” The paper conjectured that the premier made this comment with China in mind, speculating that he was keen to strengthen bilateral relations with the United States by demonstrating his support for President Biden’s goal of championing democracy around the world. According to the daily, Tokyo allegedly expressed opposition to Washington’s initial idea of calling for some summit participants to present justifications for calling themselves democratic nations out of concern that such a “high-handed” approach might alienate those countries and prompt them to team up with China. The paper said Japan aimed to serve as a “bridge” between the United States and the other participants during the online summit.

Japan inclined not to send officials to Beijing Olympics

Saturday’s Yomiuri led with the disclosure by several GOJ and LDP sources that the Kishida administration is likely to forgo dispatching senior government officials to the Beijing Winter Olympics. According to the daily, Prime Minister Kishida is hoping to visit Washington at an early date and convey to President Biden Tokyo’s intention to align its position on the international sporting event with those of the United States, the UK, Canada, and Australia. Instead of sending a government delegation, the GOJ is mulling dispatching President Hashimoto of the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee to the opening ceremony. The GOJ is reportedly hoping that China will not feel as though it has “lost face” if Hashimoto attends since she is a Diet member. However, the GOJ probably will not dispatch Sports Agency Commissioner Murofushi to the event because he is regarded as a high-ranking government official.

Other papers ran similar stories, with Nikkei claiming that the Kishida administration is likely to decide against sending GOJ officials to the Beijing Olympics to take a coordinated approach with the United States and other Western partners. The dailies noted that in addition to Hashimoto, JOC President Yamashita is likely to participate.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s Nikkei and Sankei spotlighted Kishida’s remarks at the parliament on Friday dismissing speculation that President Biden urged him to join the “diplomatic boycott” of the Games when he attended the virtual Summit for Democracy.

Kishida running into difficulties seizing diplomatic initiative

Saturday’s Asahi wrote that Prime Minister Kishida’s diplomacy has apparently failed to get off to a good start due in part to the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, noting that he has only been able to travel abroad once since assuming office in early October. Prospects for Kishida’s visit to Washington for a summit with President Biden are still uncertain because the U.S. leader is busy dealing with the domestic agenda. The Japanese leader is also walking a tightrope when it comes to dealing with China in view of the “diplomatic boycotts” of the Beijing Olympics announced by the United States, Australia, and other key Japanese partners. The prime minister has also reportedly failed to seize the initiative in relations with Russia, South Korea, and North Korea. The paper added that as a politician elected from Hiroshima, Kishida is keen to play up his commitment to nuclear disarmament by lobbying global leaders to produce an agreement at the upcoming NPT Review Conference next month.

Abductees’ family association chooses new leader

All national papers wrote on Sunday that Chief Representative Iizuka of the association of the families of the Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea has stepped down due to illness, and the younger brother of abductee Megumi Yokota has taken his place. Upon taking the helm of the group on Saturday, Takuya Yokota stressed that the families’ resolve to win back their loved ones remains steadfast and the group will continue to seek international coordination to achieve that goal.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki mayors unlikely to travel to New York in January

Saturday’s Mainichi reported that Hiroshima Mayor Matsui has informally decided to forego the idea of visiting New York next month to attend the NPT Review conference. Nagasaki Mayor Taue will probably cancel his planned participation as well, according to the paper.


Taskforce on economic security to be launched in Cabinet Office

Sunday’s Yomiuri gave top coverage to the Kishida administration’s plan to establish a new section in the Cabinet Office charged with overseeing government-wide efforts to ensure economic security. The “office of economic security” will ask commercial firms to submit their plans for securing supplies of strategic materials with the goal of building resilient supply chains. It will also review foreign-made equipment and systems employed by utilities and telecommunication firms to identify vulnerabilities to ensure that the nation’s basic social and economic infrastructures are safe and secure. The taskforce will also be responsible for supporting corporate R&D of artificial intelligence and quantum computing as well as screening patents connected to sensitive defense equipment.

GOJ weighing legislation to safeguard defense equipment supply chains

Saturday’s Sankei front-paged a GOJ idea of drafting a bill on strengthening defense industry infrastructure, saying Defense Ministry officials are calling for legislation separate from the bill that the GOJ plans to submit to the Diet next year on building resilient supply chains. The ministry is reportedly insisting on the need to enact a law that focuses exclusively on ensuring the “economic security” of the defense industry.

Japanese warships to conduct joint training with German frigate again

Sunday’s Sankei front-paged a story saying that arrangements are being made for the German frigate Bayern to conduct a joint drill with MSDF vessels later this month before heading home from a months-long cruise in East Asia. Noting that the German warship conducted similar training with MSDF ships last month, the paper said the Japanese side is hoping to continue and deepen bilateral defense cooperation with Germany, which just elected a new chancellor, with the goal of pushing back against China, which is increasing military pressure.


Concern rising about shortage of quarantine facilities

Saturday’s Asahi reported on Japan’s border controls against the infiltration of COVID-19, saying that starting on Friday, travelers from certain nations such as Argentina and Mexico are now being asked to self-quarantine at home for two weeks upon arrival irrespective of vaccination status. They were previously required to stay at designated facilities for 3 to 6 days and then self-quarantine at home for the rest of the two-week quarantine period. The regulations were eased to free up space in facilities for travelers from countries where the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly. The GOJ has reportedly asked the governors of Tokyo, Osaka, and other prefectures to secure more quarantine facilities for people arriving from countries experiencing a sharp increase in the number of patients infected with the new strain out of concern about a potential shortage of such facilities. According to the daily, as many as 5,000 people per day have been arriving in Japan from overseas recently.

Eight additional cases of Omicron confirmed in Japan

All national papers wrote on Saturday that according to the Health Ministry, eight additional people arriving in Japan from Namibia, Congo, the United States, and Mozambique tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19 between Nov. 28 and Dec. 7, bringing the total number of Omicron cases to 12.

Sunday papers reported that another person who lives in Gifu and returned from Sri Lanka last week has tested positive for the Omicron strain. He initially tested negative for COVID-19 when he arrived in Japan.


Ceremony held on Ioto to pay tribute to fallen soldiers

NHK reported online that a ceremony was convened on Ioto Island on Saturday to commemorate the U.S. and Japanese soldiers who were killed in the brutal battle on the Pacific island in the final days of WWII. Some 40 people from both sides attended the ceremony, including U.S. Embassy Acting DCM Lang, who said in delivered remarks: “The U.S. and Japan abandoned hatred, accepted reconciliation, and built a friendship and a cooperative relationship that are a model for the world. We wish to continue to remember the sacrifice of the fallen.” The network added that while the annual ceremony is customarily held in March, this year’s event was postponed until December and the number of participants was significantly restricted due to the pandemic.


Kishida comments on TPP

Saturday’s Asahi took up remarks made at the Diet on Friday by Prime Minister Kishida on the official applications for CPTPP membership filed by Taiwan and China. With regard to Taiwan’s wish to join the 11-member free trade framework, Kishida said: “We welcome it because Taiwan is an extremely important partner with which we share the same values and close economic bonds.” On the Chinese bid, however, the premier said: “It is necessary to carefully discern whether Beijing is ready to fully comply with the TPP’s high standard of trade liberalization.”

UK to remove regulations on Japanese food products

Saturday evening’s Nikkei and Mainichi wrote that the British government has commenced internal procedures to abolish restrictions on Japanese foods imports that have been in place since the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. The UK food safety authorities have reportedly concluded that the risk to public health of removing the regulations would be “negligible.” The regulations are likely to be lifted by the spring.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team