Morning Alert   -   Thursday, April 21, 2022
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Most broadcasters led with reports on the situation in Mariupol. Fuji TV gave top coverage to the arrest of an anti-vaccine activist on charges of trespassing on the grounds of a Tokyo clinic administering coronavirus vaccines to minors.

Top stories in national dailies included Russia’s intensified offensive against a steel plant in Mariupol where more than 1,000 civilians are sheltering (Mainichi, Yomiuri), the Biden administration’s plan to provide additional military assistance to Ukraine (Sankei), the Russian Ministry of Defense’s announcement of the successful test launch of its Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (Asahi), and changes in the energy policies of European nations following the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Nikkei).


Diet approves legislation to revoke Russia’s most favored trade status

All national dailies wrote that the Upper House passed legislation on Wednesday that gives the green light for the GOJ to strip Russia of its "most favored nation" trade status as part of Japan’s strengthened sanctions. The Diet also enacted a bill amending the Foreign Exchange and Trade Law to prevent cryptocurrency from being used to sidestep economic sanctions on Russia.

Eight expelled Russian officials depart Japan

Yomiuri wrote that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Wednesday that eight Russian officials departed from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on a plane chartered by Russia on Wednesday following the GOJ's decision to expel them. Although the eight officials were based at the Russian Embassy and trade representative office in Japan, some of them are believed to work for the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate, known as GRU, or the Foreign Intelligence Service, known as SVR. The paper noted that it is unusual for Japan to expel multiple foreign diplomats, adding that the GOJ is concerned that Russia may take retaliatory steps. Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno told reporters on Wednesday that Japan has so far heard nothing from Russia about how it plans to respond to the expulsion.


ROK foreign minister nominee calls comfort women agreement “official”

All national dailies wrote that South Korea's incoming Foreign Minister Park Jin expressed his intention to the press on Wednesday to uphold the 2015 Japan-ROK agreement on comfort women under which the two nations confirmed that the comfort women issue was resolved finally and irreversibly. Park reportedly said the agreement is official because the administration of outgoing President Moon Jae-in acknowledged it as such. He added that both South Korea and Japan should make efforts to restore the honor and integrity of the victims.

Nikkei wrote that Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno remarked during a press briefing on Wednesday that keeping promises made to other nations is the basis of foreign relations and that Japan hopes incoming President Yoon Suk-yeol will exercise leadership on the matter.

Some LDP lawmakers oppose idea of Kishida meeting with ROK delegation

Mainichi and Sankei wrote that some LDP lawmakers expressed cautious views about the idea of Prime Minister Kishida meeting with a delegation of policy advisors to South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol that is expected to visit Tokyo starting on Sunday. They cited a lack of progress in resolving the outstanding disputes between Japan and South Korea, including the comfort women and requisitioned worker issues, as the reason. Sato Masahisa, the head of the LDP Foreign Affairs Division, said at a party meeting on Wednesday that the Japanese side should not be overly proactive about improving ties with South Korea ahead of the launch of a new ROK government because doing so would send the wrong message to Seoul. Yomiuri and Sankei wrote that Sato also expressed opposition to the idea of Kishida attending Yoon’s inaugural ceremony on May 10.

Western nations clash with Russia at G20

NHK took up the G20 financial ministerial meeting held in Washington on Wednesday, saying that the U.S., UK, and other Western delegates walked out of the venue when a Russian official began delivering remarks remotely. Some participants called for Russia to halt the invasion of Ukraine immediately to end the humanitarian crisis and prevent its adverse effects on the global economy. The Russian finance minister demanded the suspension of international sanctions on Moscow since they pose a serious risk to the world economy. The broadcaster said the confab ended up exposing the deep division between Russia and the West.


LDP panel to propose increasing defense budget to 2% of GDP in five years

All national dailies wrote that senior members of an LDP panel on security affairs headed by former Defense Minister Onodera agreed on Wednesday that the panel will recommend to the GOJ that Japan’s defense budget be increased from the current 1% to more than 2% of GDP within the next five years. The papers wrote that the panel is also planning to recommend allowing Japan to acquire capabilities to attack enemy bases and changing the wording of the phrase “capabilities to attack enemy bases.” However, the panel members failed to reach a consensus on new wording on Wednesday and decided to leave the decision up to Onodera.

Komeito leader expresses opposition to idea of nuclear sharing

Mainichi wrote that Chief Representative Yamaguchi of the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito said during a radio interview on Wednesday that his party opposes the idea of nuclear sharing. He expressed displeasure at calls from some LDP lawmakers for discussions on the idea of nuclear sharing and insisted that Japan should uphold its three nonnuclear principles. According to Yomiuri, Yamaguchi also expressed a negative view about the LDP’s idea of increasing Japan’s defense spending to 2% of GDP.

Russian ships pass through Tsushima Strait

Yomiuri and Sankei wrote that the Ministry of Defense announced on Wednesday that six Russian vessels, including three naval ships, transited the Tsushima Strait. The ships reportedly did not intrude into Japan’s territorial waters. An MSDF patrol plane spotted the Russian ships at around 9 a.m. on Tuesday about 80 kilometers west of the Danjo Islands, Nagasaki Prefecture, before they passed through the strait toward the Sea of Japan. The ministry also said a Chinese navy reconnaissance vessel sailed eastward between Amami-Oshima Island and Yokoate Island in Kagoshima Prefecture. The vessel did not enter Japan’s territorial waters.

Chinese defense chief warns U.S. not to get involved in Taiwan affairs

NHK reported on a teleconference between Secretary of Defense Austin and his Chinese counterpart Wei on Wednesday, during which the Chinese official warned the United States against getting involved in Taiwan affairs by saying: "If the Taiwan issue is not handled properly, it will have a catastrophic impact on Sino-U.S. relations,” according to a PRC readout. The network explained that the warning came following recent visits to the island territory by U.S. government and congressional delegations. Pointing out that the two defense chiefs exchanged views on a range of regional and global security issues, including the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the network said Wei pressed Washington to not capitalize on the Ukraine situation to slander or intimidate China.


Wakayama withdraws bid to host casino resort

Nikkei wrote that the city of Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, and Nagasaki Prefecture will likely submit formal applications to the GOJ for the right to host integrated resorts featuring casinos. Although Wakayama Prefecture had been planning to submit an application, its assembly voted down the idea on Wednesday. The Osaka prefectural and municipal assemblies approved last month a plan to build a casino resort on Yumeshima, an artificial island in Osaka Bay, in partnership with MGM Resorts International and Orix Corp. Nagasaki Prefecture, whose assembly approved the bid on Wednesday, has teamed up with Casino Austria International Japan to build a casino resort on the site of its Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Sasebo. Yomiuri, Asahi, and Sankei ran similar stories, with Asahi saying that Wakayama’s withdrawal from the bid following Yokohama’s will deal another blow to the GOJ’s plan to stimulate the economy by hosting integrated resorts.


61% say Japan should take firm stance on China’s intrusions into Japanese waters

All national dailies except Nikkei wrote that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released on Wednesday the results of its survey of the Japanese people’s views on foreign relations. Asked about the issues Japan should focus on in diplomacy toward China with multiple answers allowed, 61.6% of respondents said Japan should take a firm stance on Chinese vessels' intrusions into Japanese territorial waters and other actions. Regarding how Japan should deal with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 64.6% said it should strengthen coordination with the international community, including the other G7 members, and 63.7% said it should accept evacuees from Ukraine more actively. Some 88% said they feel the security environment in East Asia is becoming more severe. The ministry speculated that the increasing military moves by China, North Korea, and Russia surrounding Japan may be affecting the Japanese public’s feelings about the security environment in the region.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team