JAPAN MEDIA HIGHLIGHTS
Morning Alert   -   Friday, December 17, 2021
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HEADLINES

Lead items on TV networks included two new cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, (NHK, TBS), the forecast for heavy snow in northern Japan over the weekend (NTV), a road rage incident in Saitama (TV Asahi), and a traffic accident in Aichi (Fuji TV).

Top stories in national dailies included the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision on Wednesday to end its stimulus measures in March in light of rapid inflation (Yomiuri, Nikkei), the U.S. Senate’s approval on Wednesday of the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes the recommendation to invite Taiwan to the 2022 Rim of the Pacific Exercise (Sankei), the scandal over the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism’s alteration of statistical data on the volume of construction work ordered nationwide (Asahi), and the discovery that the hometown tax donation program led to deficits in many municipalities in fiscal 2020 (Mainichi).

INTERNATIONAL

Kishida aims to visit U.S. in January

Nikkei wrote that the GOJ is looking into arranging a visit to the United States by Prime Minister Kishida in January. Although the government was hoping to have him visit Washington by the end of this year after the closure of the current Diet session on Dec. 21, it was unable to arrange a meeting with President Biden during that period due to scheduling conflicts. The paper wrote that Tokyo is asking the U.S. side to arrange a summit at an early date and preferably ahead of the ordinary Diet session to be convened around Jan. 17.

Kishida not planning to attend Beijing Olympics

Yomiuri wrote that Prime Minister Kishida said at an Upper House Budget Committee session on Thursday that he has no plans to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics. The paper wrote that the GOJ is planning to forgo sending any cabinet members to Beijing in concert with the United States and the UK.

In a related story, Nikkei wrote that the GOJ is mulling not using the term “diplomatic boycott” for its plan to send no cabinet members to the Beijing Olympics by explaining that Tokyo will act based on a “comprehensive judgment” by considering factors including, but not limited to, China's human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

UNSC members, Japan criticize North Korea’s human rights abuses

Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri, and Sankei wrote that the UN Security Council discussed on Wednesday the human rights situation in North Korea and six council members, including the United States, the UK, and France, and Japan issued a joint statement afterward saying that human rights abuses have been exacerbated by the DPRK regime’s implementation of measures purportedly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion was held behind closed doors because China and Russia opposed opening the session to the public. The statement also called on Pyongyang to immediately return the Japanese and other abductees.

President Biden taps former Ambassador to Japan Kennedy as envoy to Australia

All national dailies wrote that the White House announced on Wednesday that President Biden has nominated former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy to serve as the ambassador to Australia. The reports also said that Kennedy became the first female U.S. ambassador to Japan when she served in the post from 2013 to 2017 under the Obama administration. The dailies noted that Ambassador Kennedy contributed to realizing two historic events for the United States and Japan—President Obama's visit to Hiroshima and Prime Minister Abe's trip to Pearl Harbor. She was awarded Japan's Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun for enhancing bilateral ties and promoting friendship between the two countries. The papers speculated that the Biden administration is hoping to further strengthen ties with Australia by having her serve as the U.S. ambassador there.

SECURITY

U.S., Japan reach broad agreement on Japan’s share of cost for hosting U.S. troops

Mainichi wrote that it learned from multiple sources connected with the GOJ and the ruling coalition on Thursday that the governments of the United States and Japan have reached a broad agreement under which Japan will spend 210 billion yen ($1.84 billion) annually, up by about 10 billion yen ($88 million) from fiscal 2021, for five years starting in fiscal 2022 for hosting U.S. forces in the country. The paper wrote that the two governments are planning to officially announce the agreement soon and sign a revised Special Measures Agreement at their 2+2 meeting expected to be convened as early as Jan. 7. The paper wrote that with China’s military rise in mind, the Ministry of Defense will allocate additional funds for the SDF’s joint training with the U.S. military, while reducing spending for utility fees at U.S. bases in Japan. Sankei ran a similar report.

ECONOMY

Japan’s agricultural exports exceed 1 trillion yen for first time

All national dailies wrote that the GOJ announced on Thursday that the annual value of Japan's food, agriculture, forestry, and fisheries exports exceeded 1 trillion yen ($8.7 billion) for the first time in 2021. Sharp increases in shipments of beef and Japanese sake to the United States and China in particular contributed to the growth, and the coronavirus pandemic led to solid online sales. The papers wrote that the GOJ, which has set goals of 2 trillion yen ($17 billion) in such exports in 2025 and 5 trillion yen ($44 billion) in 2030, plans to strengthen budgetary support and tax incentives for producers to further expand exports. Mainichi wrote, however, that challenges remain for Japan to achieve these goals, such as some foreign nations’ restrictions on Japanese exports that have been in place since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.

COVID-19

Tokyo confirms first Omicron case outside of airport screening

All national dailies wrote that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced on Thursday that it has confirmed the first case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 outside of airport screening. On Thursday a woman in her 20s living in Tokyo was confirmed to be infected with the variant. She returned from the United States on Dec. 8 and tested negative upon arrival at Narita Airport but developed a fever the next day while quarantining at home and was confirmed to be infected with the variant on Thursday. A man in his 20s, who also lives in Tokyo and is regarded as having been in close contact with the woman as they met on Dec. 8 and 9, also tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. His sample is still being analyzed. The metropolitan government plans to ask about 80 people who sat near him at a soccer game at a stadium in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Sunday to undergo testing.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry announced on Thursday that a female staff member at the quarantine station at Kansai International Airport in Osaka also tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19. She had reportedly been working at a facility housing people who tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving at the airport. Since she has no recent history of travelling overseas, this represents the first domestically acquired Omicron infection in Japan.

JAPAN MEDIA HIGHLIGHTS
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U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team