Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, December 21, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the finding that a support organization of Okayama Governor Ibaragi had been receiving donations from the governor’s father in excess of the limit on the donations (NHK), the start of COVID-19 booster shots in Japan (NTV), 14 new cases of the Omicron variant confirmed at airports yesterday (TBS), the sudden death of singer/actor Kanda Sayaka (Fuji TV), and the cluster of COVID-19 infections at Camp Hansen (TV Asahi).

Top stories in national dailies included the Diet’s approval of a record 36 trillion-yen supplementary budget for fiscal 2021 (Yomiuri), the Hong Kong Council election on Sunday in which pro-Beijing candidates swept elected seats (Sankei), the arson at an Osaka mental clinic in which 24 people died (Mainichi), the application of new guidelines for workers' compensation in the case of a man who died from overwork (Asahi), and a GOJ plan to review regulations on nursing home staffing to address their personnel shortages (Nikkei).


U.S., Japan agree to include spending on training equipment in Host Nation Support

Yomiuri wrote that it has learned from multiple GOJ sources that concerning Japan’s share of the cost for hosting U.S. troops in the country from fiscal 2022 through 2026, the governments of the United States and Japan have formally agreed to allocate funds for the procurement of equipment such as flight simulators that will enhance training for the U.S. military and also be used by the SDF. The paper wrote that the GOJ is hoping to gain the Japanese public’s understanding for its budget for host nation support by increasing spending for items that will help enhance deterrence in view of China’s military buildup.

LDP begins review of National Security Strategy

All national dailies wrote that a joint panel of the ruling LDP’s Research Commission on Security and National Defense Division started discussing on Monday a review of the National Security Strategy, including the possible introduction of the capability to attack enemy bases. The panel plans to draw up a proposal around May next year and will also review and update the National Defense Program Guidelines and the Mid-Term Defense Program. Former Defense Minister Onodera, who chairs the joint panel, said that Japan might need to develop a Japanese version of the U.S. National Defense Strategy. The paper speculated that the strategy would be developed to enhance coordination between the U.S. military and the SDF by making the two nations’ documents consistent with each other.

Defense Ministry considers subsidies for Mageshima

Mainichi wrote that concerning a plan to build an SDF base on Mageshima Island in Nishinoomote City, Kagoshima Prefecture, the Ministry of Defense told the city assembly on Monday that it is considering setting aside funds for the municipality in its fiscal 2020 budget. The ministry told the assembly that it is planning to construct facilities to house some 150 to 200 SDF personnel in Nishinoomote and two other municipalities and take measures to protect the local environment. Mayor Yaita reiterated his opposition to the construction of SDF facilities. Asahi ran a similar report.


Japan, China hold working-level maritime talks

Yomiuri wrote that senior working-level officials of the Japanese and Chinese governments held online talks on Monday and agreed to expedite discussions on setting up a hot line between senior officials of their militaries under the two countries' maritime and aerial communication mechanism in view of the growing tensions in waters near the Senkaku Islands. The paper wrote that although Japan and China agreed in May 2018 to set up such a hot line to prevent accidental clashes between the SDF and the Chinese military near the Senkakus, the implementation of the plan has been delayed due to technical problems.


Cases in COVID-19 outbreak at Camp Hansen reach 186

Mainichi wrote that Okinawa Governor Tamaki told reporters on Monday that the number of cases in the outbreak of COVID-19 at Camp Hansen reached 186. The paper also wrote that a Japanese worker in her 40s who works at Camp Hansen tested positive for the Omicron variant, bringing the total number of Omicron cases in the prefecture to four. Tamaki told reporters that the prefectural government’s efforts to prevent COVID-19 infections will have gone up in smoke if the lack of sufficient anti-COVID measures at the U.S. base causes the spread of the Omicron variant in the prefecture.

Fuji TV and TV Asahi aired similar reports this morning, saying that Governor Tamaki is planning to call on the U.S. and Japanese governments to not allow U.S. military personnel to leave Camp Hansen. TV Asahi aired footage of U.S. service members leaving the base on Saturday evening, saying some of them were not wearing masks. The broadcaster also aired footage of service members tottering on streets outside the base, commenting that they appeared to be inebriated.

Japan launches COVID vaccine certificate app

All national dailies wrote that the GOJ launched on Monday a smartphone app that allows people to display proof of vaccination that can be used for multiple purposes, including immigration procedures. The app, called the COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate Application and available for both iPhone and Android smartphones, displays information such as the number of doses a user has received, the dates of inoculation, and the vaccine manufacturer. Municipal governments have been issuing vaccine certificates in paper form since the summer, but the app makes it easier for people to obtain certification through the "My Number" national identification system. By scanning their My Number cards with a smartphone, people can pull up information on the app regarding their inoculation status from the Vaccination Record System (VRS), a cloud system created by the government and used by municipalities to manage data on residents' inoculation status. For use in international travel, users will also need to input their passport data. In addition to using the digital certificates for quarantine inspections in destination countries, the Digital Agency is also considering domestic use in a program designed to ease COVID-related restrictions on vaccinated people. However, errors have been found in about 100,000 cases in the VRS system as of Friday, and the agency has warned that some registered vaccination data may be incorrect and called on users to seek any necessary corrections at their municipalities. According to Yomiuri, as of 8:30 p.m. on Monday, about 500,000 people have obtained the digital certificate.


Diet approves record extra budget to fund economic package

All national dailies wrote that the Diet on Monday approved a record 35.9 trillion yen ($315 billion) supplementary budget for fiscal 2021, including spending for the government's latest economic package to get the coronavirus pandemic-hit economy back on a solid recovery path. The government will need to issue new bonds worth 22.1 trillion yen ($194 billion) to cover most of the supplementary budget, with the outstanding balance of government bonds expected to top 1,000 trillion yen ($8,789 billion) by the end of the fiscal year in March. As a key policy measure in the stimulus package, 1.2 trillion yen will be used for the government's program to dispense 100,000 yen in cash and vouchers for children aged 18 or younger in households where the primary earner's annual income is less than 9.6 million yen.

Public support for Kishida cabinet rises

Asahi wrote that its nationwide telephone survey conducted on Dec. 18-19 showed that public support for the Kishida cabinet rose to 49%, up 4 points from a month ago, and nonsupport dropped by 4 points to 27%. While support from male respondents rose from 47% to 50%, support from female respondents increased from 43% to 49%. More than 50% of women in their 30s and 40s approved of the Kishida cabinet. When asked about the government's program to dispense 100,000 yen in cash and vouchers to households with children aged 18 or younger, 50% of the respondents welcomed it, while 40% did not.

Sankei also reported on the results of its joint public opinion poll conducted with the Fuji News Network on Dec. 18-19, which showed that support for the Kishida cabinet rose by 3.2 points to 66.4% while nonsupport declined by 4.5 points to 26.2%. When asked whether Japan should politically boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics, 45.4% said it should, while 44.1% said it should not. Asked their views on the GOJ’s measures against COVID-19, 67.7%, up 7.8 points, welcomed them, while 24.5%, down by 10.6 points, did not. Some 84.3% approved of the government’s ban on the entry of foreign travelers from around the world, while 12% did not.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team