Morning Alert   -   Tuesday, February 22, 2022
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NHK led with Russian President Putin’s announcement yesterday that he has recognized parts of two provinces in eastern Ukraine as “independent states.” Commercial TV networks’ top items included the arrest on Sunday of a mother for child abuse resulting in the death of her seven-year-old son in Kanagawa in 2019 (NTV, TV Asahi) and snowstorms in Hokkaido and northern Tohoku (Fuji TV).

Top items in national dailies included an agreement by the U.S. and Russian leaders to hold talks again over Ukraine (Asahi, Mainichi), a possible plan by the GOJ to restrict exports of semiconductors to Russia if it invades Ukraine (Yomiuri), President Putin’s recognition of two regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities (Sankei), and the GOJ’s plan to buy technical documents related to defense technology from companies that are withdrawing from the defense industry to prevent the leakage of such information (Nikkei).


PM Kishida mulls visiting Hiroshima with Ambassador Emanuel on Feb. 26

All national dailies except Yomiuri reported on Sunday that according to GOJ sources, arrangements are underway for Prime Minister Kishida to visit Hiroshima on Feb. 26 together with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Emanuel. According to the papers, they are considering offering flowers at the Peace Memorial Park. Nikkei and Asahi wrote that Kishida and Ambassador Emanuel discussed the possibility of visiting Hiroshima together when they met at the Kantei on Feb. 4. Noting that Hiroshima is currently under a quasi-state of emergency, the papers said the GOJ will make a final decision on the visit after assessing the infection situation in the nation. TV Tokyo’s evening news program “World Business Satellite” aired a similar story on Friday.

Asahi and Nikkei noted that the joint statement on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty released by the governments of the United States and Japan in January called on world political leaders and youths to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Asahi said that Kishida, who represents the No. 1 district in Hiroshima, has made striving to achieve a world without nuclear weapons his lifework. Nikkei also said Kishida was instrumental in realizing President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in 2016 when he was serving as foreign minister. Noting that President Obama traveled to Hiroshima when he visited Japan to attend the G7 Ise-Shima Summit, Nikkei speculated that the G7 summit to be hosted by Japan in 2023 could be an opportunity for President Biden to visit the city. The papers also noted that during his policy speech in January, Kishida referred to President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima by saying: “As a prime minister with his roots in Hiroshima, where an atomic bomb was dropped, I will carry this thought forward and courageously pursue a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Ambassador Emanuel says U.S., Japan “in lock-step” over Ukrainian crisis

Sankei reported online on Friday that Ambassador Emanuel released a statement earlier in the day on the increasing tension over Ukraine. He reportedly said: “The U.S. and Japan are in lock-step on Russia: any aggression toward Ukraine will not be tolerated and will come with severe costs.” The paper said the Ambassador also referred to Prime Minister Kishida’s call with Russian President Putin on Feb. 17 during which he directly urged the Russian leader to seek a diplomatic solution and welcomed the Japanese leader’s demonstration of “bold and firm leadership to preserve a rules-based international order.” Jiji Press and TV Asahi carried similar reports on Friday.


GOJ mulls restricting semiconductor exports to Russia

Tuesday’s Yomiuri gave top play to a report that the GOJ is considering joining the U.S.-led initiative to restrict exports of semiconductors, AI, and other high-tech items to Russia in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The paper said the GOJ has decided it needs to act in unison with the other G7 nations and join the anti-Russia coalition if Russia rejects calls for easing tensions. The daily said that although Japan only restricted exports of weapons and goods that could be diverted to military use to Russia when it annexed Crimea in 2014, the GOJ is considering imposing tougher sanctions this time by restricting exports of not only weapons and military-related goods but also high-tech items that are used in commercial-off-the-shelf products. In addition, the paper said the GOJ may also impose tougher financial sanctions than the ones imposed in 2014. Meanwhile, the daily said that like other G7 members, Japan is cautious about imposing energy-related sanctions out of concern that Russia will cut off its supply of LNG.

PM Kishida to attend G7 summit over Ukraine

Nikkei, Yomiuri, and Sankei reported today that Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno announced on Monday that Prime Minister Kishida will attend the G7 summit to be held virtually on Feb. 24. During the meeting, the G7 leaders are expected to discuss diplomatic challenges, including the growing tension over Ukraine. Matsuno reportedly said: “It is extremely important that the G7 nations, which share universal values such as democracy and the rule of law, unite and lead the international community.” He also reportedly disclosed that the GOJ has secured charter flights in countries neighboring Ukraine for the possible evacuation of Japanese nationals.

G7 foreign ministers urge Russia to swiftly withdraw troops from Ukraine’s borders

The Monday editions of all national dailies reported that the G7 foreign ministers released a joint statement on Saturday after holding an emergency meeting in Munich to discuss the Ukrainian crisis. The foreign ministers stated that they “remain gravely concerned” about Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine, which they called “a challenge to global security and the international order,” and warned that any further military aggression would have “massive consequences,” including powerful financial and economic sanctions. Concerning Russia’s recent announcement that it began withdrawing some of its troops from Ukraine, the foreign ministers reportedly pointed out that they have seen “no evidence” of this reduction and urged Russia to swiftly withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s borders.

Speaking to the press after the G7 foreign ministerial, Foreign Minister Hayashi stressed the need for Japan to act in unison with the other G7 members over Ukraine. He reportedly said: “The situation in Ukraine doesn’t only concern Europe.” Hayashi reportedly added that Japan plans to impose sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, saying: “We will work closely with the international community and respond in an appropriate way, including imposing sanctions.”

According to Asahi, Hayashi said he told his G7 counterparts that the Ukrainian issue is about “the fundamental principle of the international community that changing the status quo by force is not tolerated” and that Japan supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. A senior MOFA official reportedly told the paper that it was meaningful that he conveyed the message that Europe is not the only region affected by the Ukrainian crisis since China is increasing its military pressure over the Taiwan Strait and in the East China Sea.

Yomiuri wrote that although Japan did not join its U.S. and European partners in imposing strong economic sanctions on Russia when it annexed Crimea in 2014 because it wanted to show consideration to the Russian side in the hope of resolving the issue of the Northern Territories, it is now eyeing imposing tougher sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine in view of China’s attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas and growing military pressure on Taiwan. The paper said that as China supports Russia’s position over Ukraine, Japan fears that taking a soft stance toward Russia could send the wrong message to China.

FM Hayashi meets with European counterparts over Ukrainian crisis

All national dailies reported on Sunday and Monday on Foreign Minister Hayashi’s meetings with his European counterparts on the sidelines of the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Munich on Saturday. Hayashi reportedly met with NATO Director General Stoltenberg, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Borrell, and British Secretary of State Truss on Saturday. He reportedly shared the view with his counterparts that any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force is unacceptable and agreed to work closely with them to ease tensions over Ukraine. Yomiuri said Borrell expressed appreciation for Japan’s decision to divert a portion of its LNG imports to Europe. The two ministers also reportedly agreed to promote cooperation toward realizing a free and open Indo-Pacific. The papers added that Hayashi held meetings with the foreign ministers of Latvia and Romania on the same day.

FM Hayashi requests Romania’s help for potential evacuation of Japanese from Ukraine

Monday’s Mainichi reported that Foreign Minister Hayashi met with his Romanian counterpart Aurescu on Saturday and asked for Romania’s cooperation in evacuating the approximately 120 Japanese nationals who remain in Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Aurescu reportedly said Romania will “extend its utmost support.” The paper noted that Romania is a member of NATO and shares a border with Ukraine, adding that the GOJ is considering evacuating Japanese nationals via land since it could be difficult to evacuate them by air.

PM Kishida arranging visit to India in March

Sunday’s Sankei gave top coverage to the finding from several GOJ sources on Saturday that Prime Minister Kishida is making arrangements to visit India in March for talks with Indian Prime Minister Modi. Noting that Japan is expected to host a Quad summit in the spring, the paper said the two leaders are expected to confirm stronger cooperation toward a free and open Indo-Pacific with the growing threat posed by China in mind. The daily wrote that the premier will make a final decision on the visit after assessing the COVID-19 situation. Monday’s Nikkei carried a similar story, saying that Kishida is also hoping to encourage India to align with Japan, the United States, and Europe vis-a-vis Russia over the Ukrainian crisis.

French foreign minister: France “ready to act” to stabilize Taiwan Strait

Monday’s Nikkei reported from Paris that French Foreign Minister Le Drian said in a written interview with Nikkei that France is “ready to act” to stabilize the Taiwan Strait, where the military threat posed by China is rising. Le Drian reportedly said France will strengthen ties with Japan and hinted at sending troops to surrounding waters to keep China in check. In addition, the French foreign minister criticized attempts to change the status quo without mentioning China by name and stressed that France is “ready to act to prevent a conflict.” Noting that France has a military base in New Caledonia, the paper said Le Drian pointed out that the stability of the Taiwan Strait is important for the stability of the region as a whole. According to the daily, Le Drian also said France is willing to sign a free trade agreement or investment agreement between the EU and Taiwan.

President Biden vows “never again” on 80th anniversary of Japanese American “incarceration”

All national dailies reported over the weekend that Feb. 19 marked the 80th anniversary of the signing of a presidential order that led to the “incarceration” of some 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII, saying that on Feb. 18 President Biden released a statement in which he reiterated the U.S. government’s apology to Japanese Americans who lost their citizenship for no justifiable reason. The papers said the President pledged not to repeat the same mistake, using the expression in Japanese, “nidoto nai yoni,” which translates to “let it not happen again.”


Japan to buy tech documents from companies withdrawing from defense industry

Tuesday’s Nikkei gave top coverage to a report on the finding on Monday that the GOJ will offer to buy technical documents related to defense technologies from companies that are withdrawing from the defense business to prevent the leakage of such information. The paper said the GOJ will acquire and provide such documents free of charge to Japanese companies capable of replacing them as suppliers of defense-related equipment. The GOJ is planning to begin the initiative sometime this year as part of its efforts to strengthen economic security.

Defense chiefs of Japan, Poland share view that Ukrainian crisis is “grave”

Nikkei, Yomiuri, and Sankei reported on Tuesday that Defense Minister Kishi and his Polish counterpart Błaszczak met virtually for about 80 minutes on Monday. Kishi reportedly told the press after the meeting that the two ministers “shared the view that the Ukrainian issue is a grave issue that cannot be overlooked.” Nikkei noted that Poland shares a border with Ukraine and that the United States has deployed troops there to strengthen NATO’s forces. According to the daily, the two defense chiefs confirmed that the possibility of Russia invading Ukraine is a global issue that would affect the entire international community. Kishi reportedly told Błaszczak that Japan is closely monitoring Russia’s massing of troops in Ukraine with grave concern. The paper said the two ministers also signed a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation and exchange.

PM Kishida expresses intent to change wording of “capability to attack enemy bases”

The Saturday editions of all national dailies reported that the GOJ has begun considering changing the phrase “the capability to attack enemy bases,” which it is hoping to possess for the purpose of self-defense, in its security strategy. Prime Minister Kishida reportedly expressed his intent to revise the expression during a Diet session on Friday. Yomiuri wrote that the move is based on the thinking that the targets of attack in modern warfare are no longer simply “enemy bases,” adding that it is also aimed at avoiding using an expression that could be construed as meaning “preemptive attacks.” Yomiuri wrote that the GOJ is planning to use the new wording in its National Security Strategy that it plans to update at the end of the year. According to Yomiuri, the idea has emerged within the ruling coalition of using the words “strike capability” or “deterrence,” which can apply to both offense and defense. The paper added that by omitting the word “attack” and stressing Japan’s exclusively defensive posture, the GOJ is hoping to obtain public understanding for possessing such a capability.

DM Kishi says intercepting nuclear missile would not cause nuclear explosion

Nikkei reported on Tuesday that Defense Minister Kishi explained at the Diet on Monday that intercepting a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead would not cause a nuclear explosion. He reportedly said: “The triggering device would lose its functionality during interception and therefore we believe that it would not cause any damage by a nuclear explosion.”


Japan confirms 51,990 new COVID-19 cases on Monday

Yomiuri reported today that Japan confirmed 51,990 new COVID-19 cases and 173 deaths on Monday. The number of people with severe symptoms nationwide rose by 18 from the previous day to 1,495. Tokyo confirmed 8,805 new cases, 1,529 fewer than a week ago. This was reportedly the first time for Tokyo’s daily tally to drop below 10,000 since Jan. 24. The number of people who died of COVID-19 in Tokyo on Monday was 30 and the number of seriously ill patients dropped by 5 from the previous day to 82.

Keidanren chief calls for substantially raising cap on foreign visitors

Nikkei reported on Tuesday that Keidanren Chairman Tokura said during a regular press conference on Monday that he wants the GOJ to substantially increase the number of foreign visitors allowed to enter Japan beyond 5,000 per day. The paper noted that the GOJ will increase the number of foreign visitors to Japan from 3,500 to 5,000 per day starting in March. Tokura reportedly said: “Instead of saying 5,000, I want the government to greatly increase the number.” Tokura also reportedly mentioned that many other nations have already eased their entry restrictions and said: “Case numbers around the world have peaked. It is becoming less meaningful to maintain strict national isolation.”

GOJ decides to simplify entry procedures for foreign students

Nikkei reported on Saturday that concerning the GOJ’s decision to accept up to 5,000 foreign visitors per day starting in March, the GOJ has decided to simplify procedures for the entry of foreign exchange students. According to the paper, the GOJ is planning to integrate the screening procedures that involve multiple ministries and agencies and move the entire process online. The paper said although the measure is aimed at streamlining entrance procedures, universities are continuing to call on the GOJ to further relax the restrictions. The daily said that as of Jan. 4, 152,000 foreign students had been unable to enter Japan even though their visas had been approved in advance.

GOJ formally decides to extend quasi-state of emergency in 17 prefectures

The Saturday editions of all national dailies reported that the GOJ formally decided on Friday to extend the quasi-state of emergency measures currently in place in Osaka and 16 other prefectures until March 6 but lift them in Okinawa, Yamagata, Shimane, Yamaguchi, and Oita on Feb. 20 as scheduled. As a result, a total of 31 prefectures, including Tokyo, will remain under a quasi-state of emergency until March 6.

Record 455 cluster infections confirmed at elderly care facilities

Nikkei reported that according to the Health Ministry, the number of cluster infections confirmed at elderly care facilities from Feb. 7–13 hit a record high of 455. This was reportedly nearly nine times the number confirmed about a month ago. The paper said Chairman Omi of the GOJ subcommittee on the novel coronavirus pointed out that many residents of elderly care facilities have not yet received booster shots. According to the Digital Agency, 12.92 million elderly people had received third doses of vaccine as of Feb. 20, which is only 36% of those aged 65 or older in Japan.


Nissan to boost electric vehicle production in U.S.

Sunday’s Yomiuri reported that Nissan Motor announced on Thursday that it will begin producing two new types of electric vehicles (EV) at its Mississippi plant starting in 2025. The paper said Nissan has been promoting the electrification of automobiles as a pillar of growth, adding that it will boost production and expand the lineup of EVs for the U.S. market. The daily said Nissan is planning to increase the percentage of EVs among the new cars it sells in the United States to more than 40% by 2030. Nissan reportedly plans to invest $500 million in technology for EV-specific assembly lines at the plant. Saturday’s Asahi carried a similar story.


Oishi wins Nagasaki gubernatorial race, becoming youngest governor in Japan

Asahi reported on Tuesday that Oishi Kengo, a 39-year-old physician, beat both the incumbent Governor Nakamura, who was seeking his fourth term, and another rookie candidate, Miyazawa Yoshihiko, who runs a food consulting firm, in the Nagasaki gubernatorial election on Sunday and became the youngest governor in Japan. Voter turnout was 47.83 %, up from 36.03% in the previous election. The paper said that for the first time in 52 years, the LDP was split over which candidate to support in a Nagasaki gubernatorial election. According to the daily, the LDP prefectural chapter, which had backed Governor Nakamura for his last three terms, was dissatisfied with his policies and management and decided to back Oishi. But Diet members in the LDP prefectural chapter and half of its prefectural assembly members wanted Nakamura to be re-elected again. All other papers carried similar stories on Monday or Tuesday.

LDP General Council chief Fukuda welcomes FM Hayashi’s economic talks with Russia

Saturday’s Asahi reported that LDP General Council Chairman Fukuda commented on Friday on Foreign Minister Hayashi’s meeting with Russian Economic Development Minister Reshetnikov amid growing tension over Ukraine. He reportedly expressed understanding for the meeting by saying: “It is important to maintain all types of channels.” LDP Policy Council chief Takaichi had previously criticized Hayashi by saying such a meeting would only benefit Russia.


Public support for Kishida Cabinet drops amid prolonged sixth wave of COVID-19

Sunday’s Mainichi reported on the results of its opinion poll jointly conducted with the Social Survey Research Center on Feb. 19, which found that the public support for the Kishida Cabinet dropped 7 points from last month to 45%, the lowest since the Kishida administration was launched in October 2021. Nonsupport was 46%, up 10 points. Concerning the GOJ measures against COVID-19, 27%, down 4 points, welcomed it, substantially less than the 51%, up 12 points, who did not. The paper attributed the drop in public approval to public frustration with the government amid the prolonged sixth wave of infection. Meanwhile, when asked about COVID-19 restrictions, 40% said the GOJ should ease them, while 28% said it should strengthen them. In addition, 63% said the GOJ's COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been slow, while 29% felt otherwise.

Monday’s Nikkei and Sankei reported on the results of a Kyodo survey conducted on Feb. 19 and 20, which found that 73.5% of respondents thought the GOJ’s efforts to administer COVID-19 booster shots have been “slow.” Public support for the Kishida Cabinet was 56.6%, up 0.7 points from last month, and nonsupport was 27.4%, up 2.2 points. Asked whether Japan should possess the capability to attack enemy bases, 49.1% expressed support for the idea and 45.1% disapproved of it.

Tuesday’s Asahi reported on its opinion poll conducted on Feb. 19 and 20, which showed that public support for the Kishida Cabinet fell 4 points from last month to 45% and nonsupport rose 9 points to 30%. When asked whether they think Kishida is exercising leadership in implementing COVID-19 measures, 34%, down 3 points, said “yes,” while 53%, up 12 points, said “no.”

Sankei also reported on the results of its joint survey with FNN on Feb. 19 and 20, which found that public support for the Kishida Cabinet dropped 4.3 points from last month to 62.6%. This was reportedly the first drop since the launch of the cabinet in October 2021. Disapproval rose 3.2 points to 30.0%. On Ukraine, 43.9% said Japan should impose sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine, while 44.1% said it should not. Regarding the Beijing Olympics, 70.9% welcomed the GOJ’s “diplomatic boycott,” while 19.2% did not.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team