Morning Alert   -   Monday, December 20, 2021
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Most broadcasters and national papers led with reports on Friday’s fire in Osaka that killed 24 and was started by a patient at a mental clinic in the building where the fire occurred while Fuji TV and TV Asahi led with stories on the sudden death of singer/actor Kanda Sayaka at the age of 35 on Saturday.


Senate approves appointment of Rahm Emanuel as next U.S. ambassador to Japan

All national dailies, TV networks, Jiji Press, and Kyodo News reported over the weekend that the Senate approved on Saturday the appointment of former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who also served as chief of staff under President Obama, as the next U.S. ambassador to Japan. Nikkei wrote that Emanuel is expected to assume the post of ambassador in early January. The papers said that Emanuel developed close personal ties with President Biden when he was chief of staff under President Obama. Yomiuri quoted a senior GOJ official as saying that once a relationship has been established between the government and Emanuel, there is no better person to serve as a liaison between the leaders of the two nations.

Asahi wrote that the past few ambassadors to Japan have been individuals who made financial contributions to presidential campaigns and Emanuel will be the first powerful political figure in quite a while to hold the post, following in the footsteps of former Ambassadors Mondale and Baker. The paper said Emanuel is not only close to President Biden but also Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Secretary of State Blinken, and others in the President’s inner circle, quoting one of his aides from when he was the mayor of Chicago as saying: “Japan will have the President’s ear, and it will be extremely meaningful to have a direct line of communication.” The paper claimed that since Emanuel is a powerful political figure who has a direct connection to the White House, he may become a strong political presence in U.S.-Japan relations, adding that U.S. pressure on Japan may increase as a result.

Yomiuri noted that since Emanuel expressed hope that Japan will increase its defense spending for dealing with China during his Senate hearing in October, attention will be focused on how he will call on the Japanese government to do so after he becomes the ambassador to Japan.

NHK reported online on Sunday that following his approval by the Senate, Emanuel posted a tweet that said in part: “Our 60-year-old alliance with Japan promotes peace and prosperity. Most importantly, it strengthens our shared democratic values.” The network noted that he also tweeted, “What we build in partnership over the next three years will determine America's posture over the next 30 years in the Indo-Pacific region,” and pledged to “work tirelessly to deepen our ties as our countries confront common challenges.”

According to Yomiuri, Senator Hagerty congratulated Emanuel on his confirmation by tweeting: “Though our political backgrounds differ, Amb. Emanuel shares my conviction that the U.S.-Japan relationship is the cornerstone of peace & prosperity in an important region.”

As for Japan’s reaction, MOFA reportedly sent Emanuel a congratulatory message from Foreign Minister Hayashi saying: “We are pleased to welcome you as you have earned President Biden’s strong trust. I look forward to coordinating and cooperating closely with you to further strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance and realize a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific.’”

MOFA to establish new post in charge of Taiwan

The Saturday editions of Asahi, Yomiuri, Nikkei, and Sankei reported that MOFA has decided to create in April 2022 a new position under the First China and Mongolia Division of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau charged with maritime and Taiwan issues. The paper said MOFA is hoping to strengthen the nation’s response to maritime issues as well as issues related to Taiwan out of concern over the possibility of a contingency in the region as the PLA is strengthening its military pressure on Taiwan. The new position will be responsible for dealing with the China Coast Guard’s intrusions into Japanese waters near the Senkakus.

FM Hayashi comments on diplomatic boycott of Beijing Games

Today’s Yomiuri, Nikkei, and Sankei highlighted remarks made on a Sunday talk show by Foreign Minister Hayashi on the possibility of Japan staging a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. He reportedly stressed that various factors will be weighed when making a decision, including the human rights situation in China and the potential impact on bilateral relations. Speaking on Beijing’s invitation for him to visit China, the top diplomat said there are no concrete plans right now. “We are deeply concerned about China’s robust military activities around Japan,” he was quoted as saying. “We will make forceful arguments on issues for which such arguments are warranted.”

The cabinet minister reportedly dismissed the idea of Japan’s participation as an observer in the first Meeting of States Parties to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons scheduled for March in Vienna.

LDP forgoes adopting resolution condemning China

Saturday’s Asahi, Yomiuri, and Sankei reported that the LDP decided to forgo adopting a resolution condemning China’s human rights abuses in the Xinjiang district and Hong Kong during the current Diet session. LDP policy chief Takaichi and senior members of a parliamentary league on Xinjiang and human rights diplomacy informed reporters of this on Friday after meeting with LDP Secretary General Motegi. Yomiuri said although Takaichi, former LDP policy chief Shimomura, and others had called on Motegi to adopt such a resolution during the current extraordinary Diet session, Motegi said now is not the right time because attention is focused on whether Japan will send official representatives to the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics.

Japan runs into difficulty resuming dialogue with North Korea

Monday’s Mainichi published a prominent inside-page story on the upcoming 10th anniversary of the launch of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un regime on Dec. 30, saying that despite Prime Minister Kishida’s statement during his key policy speech at the Diet on Dec. 6 that he is willing to meet with the DPRK leader “face-to-face without any conditions,” the administration has apparently not been able to reopen communications with the reclusive state. “The back channels of communication between Tokyo and Pyongyang dried up under the Suga administration due in part to the coronavirus pandemic” said an unnamed GOJ source. “They are not functioning at all right now.” The paper said the Kim regime is apparently not interested in conducting diplomacy during the pandemic and instead is concentrating on nuclear and missile development, adding that this has apparently prompted Tokyo to look into the possibility of allowing the SDF to acquire capabilities to strike enemy bases.

PM Kishida, European Commission president confirm stronger cooperation

Yomiuri reported on Saturday on a teleconference between Prime Minister Kishida and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen held on Friday during which they agreed to further strengthen cooperation toward realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific. According to the daily, Kishida also called on the EU to abolish its restrictions on imports of Japanese food products that were imposed after the Fukushima nuclear accident.


American civilian worker at U.S. base and her husband test positive for Omicron

Sunday’s Asahi reported on an announcement by the Okinawa Prefectural Government on Saturday that two more people were found to be infected with the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 in Okinawa. According to the daily, an American civilian worker in her 50s who works at Camp Hansen and her Japanese husband in his 60s were found to be infected with the Omicron variant. Saturday’s Asahi had reported that a Japanese man in his 50s working at Camp Hansen had tested positive for the Omicron variant. This brings the total number of people infected with the Omicron variant in Okinawa to three. The daily also reported that the Okinawa government was informed by the U.S. military that an additional 59 people in Camp Hansen tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases confirmed at the U.S. base to 158. Mainichi and Sankei carried similar stories.

Today’s Asahi wrote that the U.S. military notified the prefectural government on Sunday of 31 additional COVID-19 cases on bases in the southernmost prefecture. The paper said that other than one person stationed at Camp Foster, it is unknown which units the infected service members belong to.

The daily also said it remains unknown whether the cluster at Camp Hansen is due to the Omicron variant because there is no equipment to conduct genomic analysis at Camp Hansen. The paper also reported on the finding that U.S. service members stationed at the base are not subject to movement restrictions as long as they have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Under the SOFA, U.S. military personnel are exempt from Japanese domestic laws on quarantine. The paper said the Okinawa government is planning to ask the U.S. side to strengthen its quarantine measures.

According to today’s Nikkei and Mainichi, Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno visited Okinawa yesterday and held talks with the mayor of Kin Town, the host of Camp Hansen. The GOJ official reportedly promised Tokyo’s utmost efforts to alleviate local anxiety about the cluster infection at the U.S. installation.

GOJ keen to shore up viability of supply chains in defense industry

Today’s Sankei front-paged the disclosure by multiple GOJ sources that when drafting a bill on enhancing the economic security of the defense industry, the Kishida administration is considering incorporating a provision allowing the Defense Ministry to instruct domestic contractors to tap different procurement agents if the delivery of components that they plan to purchase from overseas poses risks. The GOJ is also mulling a separate clause mandating producers of critical defense hardware, such as fighter jets and submarines, to investigate their supply chains to identify any risks in parts shipment. The ministry is reportedly aiming to reinforce the foundation of the defense industry through the legislation as well as various financial incentives to assist contractors with improving production efficiency and bolstering capabilities to defend their computer networks from cyberattacks.

Companies in critical sectors to be required to strengthen cyberdefense capabilities

Monday’s Nikkei gave top play to a GOJ plan to update the existing “action plans” designed to protect the nation’s key infrastructure, saying that corporations in the 14 designated industrial sectors, including some 1,700 financial institutions and 1,300 telecommunications service providers, will be required to take measures to defend their computer networks from cyberattacks. They will also have to identify and address risks to their supply chains, such as information leakage from their cloud servers.

Senior LDP official calls for greater preparation for Taiwan contingency

Monday’s Sankei and Nikkei took up remarks made on Sunday by LDP Policy Research Council Chairperson Takaichi during a Tokyo symposium on Taiwan. She reportedly underscored the importance for the U.S. and Japan to draft a joint operations manual for dealing with a contingency across the Taiwan Strait. She also called for the Japanese and Taiwanese governments to draw up a plan for evacuating Japanese residing in the island territory in the event of a military crisis.


PM Kishida says current border control measures against Omicron to be extended

Saturday’s Yomiuri reported that according to multiple government sources, the GOJ has decided to extend the current border control measures implemented in response to the new Omicron variant that were scheduled to end on Dec. 31. The measures include a ban on new foreign entrants from all nations and regions. The daily said the GOJ has concluded that the existing border control measures cannot be eased now since the details of the Omicron variant remain unknown from an epidemiological perspective.

All national dailies wrote on Sunday that Prime Minister Kishida told reporters on Saturday that the border control measures will continue at least until early 2022. He reportedly said: “I think we should assess the situation during the year-end and New Year period and then think about the future.”

GOJ to shorten interval for booster shots

All national dailies reported that Prime Minister Kishida announced plans to shorten the interval between the second and third doses of COVID-19 vaccine for about 31 million medical professionals and elderly residents of nursing homes who are at high risk of serious illness to six months from the current eight. In addition, the papers wrote that the GOJ plans to shorten the interval for other seniors to seven months starting in February. Kishida also reportedly said the GOJ will begin offering oral COVID-19 medications by the end of the year pending approval by the MHLW. The GOJ has reportedly secured 1.6 million doses of the oral drug Molnupiravir developed by Merck. Kishida also said he and the CEO of Pfizer agreed in principle during a teleconference on Friday that Pfizer will provide Japan with 2 million doses of the company’s oral drug.  


Regular Diet session to be convened on Jan. 17

Asahi and Nikkei reported on Saturday that it has learned from several senior members of the GOJ and the ruling parties that the GOJ and the ruling coalition decided on Friday to convene the ordinary Diet session on Jan. 17. The session will run for 150 days until June 15. According to the daily, arrangements are being made to hold the Upper House election on July 10 without extending the ordinary Diet session. A formal decision is expected to be made early next year.

Support for Kishida Cabinet rises to 54%

Sunday’s Mainichi reported on its opinion poll conducted jointly with the Social Survey Research Center on Saturday, which showed public support for the Kishida Cabinet at 54%, up 6 points from last month and higher than when the Kishida government was launched in October. Nonsupport was 36%, down 7 points. On the government’s handling of the COVID-19, 46% said they approved of it, while 26% did not. The paper attributed the strong public support to the low numbers of new cases. On the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, 52% said Japan should stage a diplomatic boycott, while 29% said a diplomatic boycott is not necessary.


Former abductee group head Iizuka Shigeo dies at 83

All national dailies reported on Sunday that Iizuka Shigeo, who headed the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea until recently, died on Dec. 18 at the age of 83. The papers said Iizuka had been the head of the association since 2007 but stepped down for health reasons on Dec. 11. He was the brother of abductee Taguchi Yaeko.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team