Morning Alert   -   Thursday, December 30, 2021
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Broadcasters led with reports on the number of new COVID-19 cases in Japan reaching 501 yesterday, exceeding 500 for the first time since Oct. 16 (NHK), 103 new cases confirmed at airports yesterday (TBS), and 76 new cases confirmed in Tokyo yesterday, half of which were “breakthrough infections” (TV Asahi).

Lead stories in national papers included the possibility of Japan equipping its MSDF submarines with long-range cruise missiles (Yomiuri), various overseas reports pointing to a low risk of hospitalization for Omicron (Asahi), 70% of CEOs of Japanese companies saying in a survey that the Japanese economy is expanding (Nikkei), the finding that the United States urged Japan to review its laws to enable it to export low-level nuclear waste (Mainichi), and the possibility of Japan and Australia revising their joint declaration on security cooperation (Sankei).


GOJ studying possibility of equipping MSDF submarines with long-range cruise missiles

Yomiuri gave top play to a report saying that according to multiple GOJ sources, the GOJ is examining the possibility of equipping the MSDF’s submarines with domestically produced long-range cruise missiles capable of attacking targets on land. The paper said the missiles are expected to be regarded as defense equipment that demonstrates Japan’s “capability to attack enemy bases.” The daily added that by equipping the submarines, which are difficult for enemies to detect, with the ability to strike back, the GOJ is hoping to strengthen Japan’s deterrence. The deployment would probably take place in the second half of the 2020s or later.


Japan, Australia considering revising joint declaration on security cooperation

Sankei gave top play to a report on the finding on Wednesday that the governments of Japan and Australia are considering revising the 2007 Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation. The paper wrote that since the current joint declaration is focused on security cooperation against North Korea, the two governments are planning to revise it to include strengthening security cooperation against China. The daily added that Japan and Australia are hoping to increase their joint response capabilities for responding to contingencies, including over the Taiwan Strait. The paper said the new joint declaration will also map out deeper cooperation toward realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific, wider cooperation with India under the Quad framework, and stronger ties with ASEAN, Pacific island nations, and European nations.

NPT conference to be postponed again

All national dailies reported that according to several diplomatic sources, the review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons that was slated to begin on Jan. 4 in New York is expected to be postponed again in light of the spread of the new coronavirus.

South Korean military conducts drills for defending Takeshima

Asahi, Nikkei, Yomiuri, and Sankei reported that according to Yonhap News Agency, the South Korean military conducted regular exercises simulating the defense of the disputed Takeshima/Dokdo Islands on Wednesday. The South Korean forces reportedly did not land on the islands. Yomiuri wrote that this is the second such exercise this year, adding that the GOJ lodged a strong protest with the South Korean side through its diplomatic channel.

South Korean foreign minister urges Japan to address history issues “more seriously”

Mainichi reported that South Korea’s Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said at a press conference on Wednesday that Japan must address the issues of wartime labor and comfort women “with a more serious attitude” in order to resolve them. The ROK foreign minister reportedly stressed that the South Korean government will continue to steadily seek a realistic resolution of the issues based on a victims-centered approach.


Almost half of personnel testing positive for COVID-19 at Camp Hansen have Omicron

Asahi, Yomiuri, and Sankei reported that MOFA announced on Wednesday that 47% of the U.S. service members and others stationed at Camp Hansen who tested positive for COVID-19 were found to be infected with the Omicron variant. The USFJ reportedly conveyed the test results to the ministry. Asahi wrote that as of Wednesday morning, a total of 272 U.S. military personnel at the base had tested positive for COVID-19.

Eighty additional military personnel at MCAS Iwakuni test positive for COVID-19

Asahi, Yomiuri, and Sankei reported that MCAS Iwakuni announced on Wednesday that 80 additional military personnel tested positive for COVID-19. Yomiuri said the press section of the U.S. base did not disclose the nationalities or genders of the military personnel or whether they were tested for the Omicron variant. The U.S. base will reportedly isolate all the people who tested positive and identify those who have been in close contact with them.

Omicron variant confirmed in 19 prefectures

Yomiuri wrote that one month has passed since the first Omicron case was confirmed in Japan, saying that a total of 471 cases of the new variant had been confirmed in the nation as of Dec. 29. Out of those 471 cases, 360 were confirmed at airports. The network said community transmission of the new variant has also been confirmed in eight prefectures.

GOJ encourages testing of people who have been “in contact with” COVID-19 patients

Yomiuri reported that in order to curb the spread of Omicron, the GOJ has informed local municipalities to test people deemed to have been “in contact with” those who have tested positive for COVID-19 even though they have not been identified as being “in close contact with” the infected. According to the daily, the Health Ministry decided that in addition to “people who have been in close contact with the infected,” it will define those who sit close to the infected at school or work, live in the same room as the infected, or dine or bathe in the same facilities as the infected in dormitories as “people who have been in contact with the infected.” The Health Ministry is calling on local public health centers to test such people.


U.S. urged Japan to review law banning disposal of low-level radioactive waste overseas

Mainichi gave top play to the finding that the U.S. urged Japan in April 2020 to review its law and regulations banning the disposal of low-level radioactive waste overseas so that U.S. companies could receive orders from Japan to dispose of such nuclear waste. The paper wrote that as a result, the GOJ decided to review its regulations to make it possible for Japan to export some of the equipment generated from decommissioning reactors. The paper pointed out that the finding highlights Japan’s reliance on foreign capital in its nuclear policy.

Ecuador formally applies for TPP membership

Nikkei, Mainichi, Yomiuri, and Sankei reported that Ecuador has filed an application to join the TPP. The nation’s foreign ministry reportedly tweeted on Dec. 17 that it had submitted a letter of application for membership in the trade pact. Sankei noted that South Korea applied for TPP membership this month, and Columbia is also showing interest in joining the trade pact.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team