Morning Alert   -   Monday, May 2, 2022
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Broadcasters led with reports on the ongoing search for the 12 missing passengers and crewmembers of the tour boat that sank off Shiretoko, Hokkaido, nine days ago (NHK, NTV, TBS, TV Asahi) and traffic accidents in Gifu and Tokyo on Sunday (Fuji TV).

Top stories in national dailies included items on the war in Ukraine such as House Speaker Pelosi’s meeting with President Zelenskyy in Kyiv, the search for the missing passengers of the tour boat that sank off Hokkaido, and a report on Japan’s failure to tap people with doctoral degrees as viable resources for promoting industrial and economic innovation.


Ambassador Emanuel holds talks with Okinawa mayors of base-hosting communities

The Friday editions of Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times took up a meeting between Ambassador Emanuel and the leaders of four base-hosting municipalities held at the Naha Consulate General on Thursday. The mayors of Ginowan, Okinawa, Urasoe, and Chatan participated in the session upon the Ambassador’s invitation. The local officials reportedly explained various issues related to U.S. military operations, including noise pollution at MCAS Futenma and Kadena AB which they stressed has become worse due to increased flights. While also complaining that such planes have frequently deviated from predesignated flight routes, the visitors requested that the U.S. military pay more consideration to ease local anxiety. According to Ginowan Mayor Matsukawa, the Ambassador stated in reply that the U.S. military is taking into account the situation of the local communities in conducting training, and that he is calling for the military authorities to continue to do so. The Ambassador also reportedly expressed hope for increased exchanges and coordination between the U.S. military and the local communities.

Okinawa Times also noted that during the closed-door meeting with the mayors, Ambassador Emanuel commented on the situation in the Taiwan Strait by saying: “Relations between China and Taiwan are at high risk. The United States and the U.S. military are strongly committed to the U.S.-Japan Alliance and regional security.”


Kishida unlikely to attend inauguration ceremony of new ROK leader

Friday’s Sankei front-paged the disclosure by multiple sources that Prime Minister Kishida is inclined not to attend the inauguration ceremony of President-elect Yoon scheduled for May 10 on the grounds that a trip to Seoul by the prime minister in the absence of concrete measures on the part of the ROK to resolve the outstanding disputes over history issues would be “premature.” According to the daily, Foreign Minister Hayashi or another cabinet minister may be sent to attend the ceremony as a GOJ representative.

In a related development, the daily reported that the delegation sent to Tokyo by President-elect Yoon returned home on Thursday, saying that the Japanese side learned from the delegation that the incoming administration is ready to shift away from the outgoing Moon administration’s somewhat unfriendly attitude toward Japan. Prime Minister Kishida agreed to meet with Yoon’s delegates despite strong opposition from some LDP members based on the assessment that swift reconciliation with Seoul is indispensable for dealing with North Korea, China, and Russia, which apparently are not hesitant to use force to alter the status quo. However, Tokyo still believes that the next South Korean leader must take concrete steps to settle the former comfort women and requisition worker disputes before rapprochement will be possible. The GOJ is paying close attention to Yoon’s position on the proposed liquidation of the assets of Japanese steel companies to compensate wartime forced laborers.

Sankei wrote in a separate article that some South Koreans were surprised that the Yoon delegation was warmly welcomed by the Japanese side, including by PM Kishida and Foreign Minister Hayashi, as this marked a sharp contrast with the treatment of ROK Ambassador to Japan Kang, who has not been able to pay a courtesy call even on the foreign minister let alone the prime minister even though he took up the post more than 14 months ago. The daily said that the ROK delegation apparently tried to be extremely conciliatory toward the Japanese side during the visit perhaps out of deference to the Biden administration, which has reportedly urged the incoming Yoon administration to improve Seoul’s relations with Tokyo. The paper claimed that the United States is looking to invite Japan and South Korea to the NATO summit slated for June in Spain so a trilateral Biden-Kishida-Yoon summit can be held to facilitate reconciliation between the two Asian allies.

Today’s national dailies took up Yoon’s decision to tap officials well-versed in American and Japanese affairs as the director and first deputy director of the Office of National Security, respectively, saying that the appointments represent the new administration’s intention to promote trilateral partnership with Washington and Tokyo. The “Japan hand” was reportedly criticized by detractors and forced to resign from another post in the same office for pursuing a general security of military intelligence agreement (GSOMIA) with Tokyo under the Lee administration.

Japan to host in-person Quad summit in late May

The Friday editions of all national papers reported on Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno’s announcement on Thursday regarding the in-person summit between the leaders of the United States, Japan. Australia, and India scheduled for May 24 in Tokyo. Asahi cited a diplomatic source based in Washington as saying that as President Biden is extremely eager to attend a Quad session in Tokyo, it was the first event to be arranged as part of his trip to South Korea and Japan. The U.S. leader is reportedly anxious to play up unity between the four democratic partners in the Indo-Pacific region to push back on China, Russia, and other autocracies and alleviate regional concerns about Beijing’s relentless hegemonic behavior. The daily added that the President’s leadership will be put to the test during the Quad session over whether he can persuade India to join the anti-Russia coalition.

Japan, Germany agree to step up support for Ukraine

All national papers reported on Friday on a summit meeting held at the Kantei on Thursday evening between Prime Minister Kishida and his German counterpart Scholz, during which they exchanged views on the situation in Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific. They condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a grave violation of international law that undermines the foundation of the global order, agreeing to ramp up support for Kyiv. They also reportedly agreed for the chancellor's aircraft to transport on its return flight donations from the Japanese public to the Ukrainian Embassy for the relief of Ukrainian refugees.

With China’s hegemonic ambitions in mind, the two leaders agreed to reject any unilateral attempts to alter the status quo by force in the South and East China Seas and shared “deep concern” about civil liberties and human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. The two officials forged a consensus on launching a framework for security dialogue by top leaders, with the first session to be convened next year, in which participants will discuss such topics as reducing energy reliance on Russia and creating resilient supply chains. In addition, they agreed to hold a 2+2 foreign and defense ministerial meeting at an early date.

The papers conjectured that Scholz chose Japan as the only destination of his first trip to Asia as chancellor in a bid to dispel the image that Germany has viewed China as its most important Asian partner since the Merkel administration. The Russian aggression against Ukraine, in addition to Beijing’s unabashed hegemonic ambitions, has prompted Merkel’s successor to change course and ally more closely with Japan and other countries that cherish democratic values, the paper wrote. Tokyo was reportedly very pleased with Scholz’s visit, which he described as signaling his country’s and Europe’s resolve to maintain and strengthen their commitment to this part of the region, based on the assessment that new European security and economic engagement with the Indo-Pacific, together with that of the United States, will send a strong message to China.

Meanwhile, Mainichi highlighted a speech delivered by Scholz in the nation’s capital earlier in the day during which he praised Japan for responding resolutely to the Russian aggression in close coordination with the United States and Europe. The German leader also voiced appreciation to Prime Minister Kishida for attending the G7 summit on Ukraine that he hastily arranged in Brussels in late March, underscoring that he has “strongly felt the depth of friendship between Germany and Japan in the past several weeks.”

GOJ leaders travel to Southeast, Central Asia to strengthen coalition against Russia

All national papers reported over the weekend on the ongoing tours of Southeast Asia by Prime Minister Kishida and Central Asia by Foreign Minister Hayashi, saying that the main purpose of their overseas travel during the Golden Week holidays has been to enlist each host government’s support in opposing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

In his meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Jakarta on Friday, the Japanese leader called for the country to take a concerted approach with Japan and other Western nations to help Ukraine push back against the Russian forces. According to Mainichi, as the leader of the only Asian member of the G7, Kishida feels strongly that Japan has a “responsibility” to lobby its neighbors to ratchet up the pressure on Moscow. The daily said, however, that Kishida’s diplomatic offensive may end up being counterproductive since the ASEAN nations may see his diplomatic outreach as an attempt to impose Western values on them in light of the group’s cherished principle of not intervening in the domestic affairs of other countries.

Noting that the Indonesian leader, as the chair of the G20, disclosed on the same day as his meeting with Kishida that Russia is interested in taking part in the annual summit to be held in Bali in November, Sankei claimed that this announcement signified Jakarta’s intent to maintain neutrality.

On Sunday, Kishida met with his Vietnamese counterpart in Hanoi to discuss the situation in Ukraine. Although the two leaders affirmed the importance of respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity, achieving an immediate truce, carrying out humanitarian assistance, and not tolerating the threat or use of nuclear or chemical weapons, the Vietnamese official did not mention Russia by name. The Japanese leader told the press afterward: “We understand that the Vietnamese are in a difficult position on account of their traditional ties with Moscow. I appreciate the country’s decision to offer $500,000 in humanitarian aid for Ukraine as a positive first step.”

Meanwhile, Hayashi visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on Friday for meetings with his counterparts there, during which they agreed to coordinate closely in responding to the war in Ukraine. The Japanese minister also held talks with the Mongolian foreign minister in Ulaanbaatar on Sunday to exchange views on Ukraine. According to Hayashi, the Mongolian official underscored the importance of an immediate ceasefire to ease the prolonged tension.

Japan-EU summit to be held in Japan in mid-May

Saturday’s Yomiuri reported that President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and President of the European Council Charles Michel will visit Tokyo on May 12 for talks with Prime Minister Kishida. The main item on the agenda will be how to strengthen sanctions on Russia.

PM Kishida to meet with Pope Francis, deliver speech during European tour

Friday’s Yomiuri wrote that arrangements are underway for Prime Minister Kishida to hold talks with Pope Francis when he visits Rome on May 4, projecting that the two officials are likely to exchange views on abolishing nuclear arms. This will be the first visit to the Vatican by a Japanese leader in eight years.

Meanwhile, Monday’s Sankei said Kishida will deliver a speech in London on May 5 to explain his signature policy of seeking a “new form of capitalism.” He will also roll out Japan’s “Asia Zero Emission Community” initiative aimed at achieving decarbonization in the region.

About 60 nations endorse U.S. declaration for internet freedom

Friday’s Yomiuri and Mainichi reported that about 60 countries from around the globe, including Japan, joined the United States in issuing a “Declaration for the Future of the Internet” to protect human rights, freedom, and privacy in cyberspace; promote a global Internet that advances the free flow of information; and advance inclusive and affordable connectivity. Japan’s Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Kaneko reportedly participated remotely in the launch ceremony and told the other participants: “Japan strongly supports the declaration as it is extremely important for strengthening the free and non-divisive internet.”

Yomiuri noted that Washington introduced the initiative in response to Russia’s intense disinformation campaign about its war in Ukraine, quoting an unnamed senior administration official as saying: “Russia, China, and other autocracies are trying to fundamentally change the nature of the internet from an instrument of commerce and culture to an instrument of state power.”


SDF plane leaves for Poland to deliver relief supplies to Ukrainians

All national papers wrote today that an SDF C-2 aircraft departed Saitama on Sunday for Dubai to deliver blankets and other relief goods to Ukrainian refugees who have sought shelter in Poland. The weekly operation, which is being conducted in accordance with the so-called PKO law, will run through the end of June. In addition to Poland, ASDF cargo planes will fly to Romania. Asahi said that instead of chartering commercial aircraft, the GOJ has chosen to mobilize SDF planes to call global attention to Tokyo’s commitment to providing “maximum” support to the people of Ukraine.


Exxon Mobil begins scaling back participation in oil drilling project in Russian Far East

Friday’s Nikkei reported that Exxon Mobil is following through with its plan to disinvest from the Sakhalin 1 offshore oilfield development initiative in the Russian Far East by starting to recall its representatives and engineers from the Russian plant. The paper projected that the dwindling presence of Exxon may have an adverse impact on Japan’s procurement of Russian oil, half of which comes from Sakhalin 1.

In a related story, the business daily highlighted remarks made on Friday by a Hong Kong-based business executive affiliated with major Chinese energy company CNOOC, who said that the state-owned firm is “interested” in the stakes in the Sakhalin 2 LNG development project that UK oil giant Shell plans to relinquish on account of the Russian aggression of Ukraine.

Japan Tobacco mulls sale of operations in Russia

Friday’s Nikkei, Yomiuri, and Asahi wrote that Japan Tobacco Inc. is considering selling off its business interests in Russia in light of the growing uncertainty of the economic prospects there on account of the war in Ukraine. The Japanese company surpasses even Philip Morris as the biggest cigarette maker in Russia, with 37% of market share and four factories that are staffed by almost 4,000 workers. JT is reportedly looking for a buyer from overseas, including Russia, that is willing to take over its commercial stakes there.


Two former prime ministers fight “proxy war” in Tokyo

Friday’s Mainichi reported that in the upcoming July Upper House election in Tokyo, where six seats are up for grabs, former Prime Ministers Abe and Suga are rooting for two different LDP candidates, with pundits calling the intra-party competition a “proxy war” between the ex-premiers. As it remains uncertain whether the ruling party will be able to secure victories for both contestants, supporters of each competitor are poised to step up their campaigning in the belief that if only one of the two is elected, the prime minister who backed the loser might not be able to maintain his grip on power within the ruling party. Suga has reportedly endorsed the reelection bid of athlete-turned incumbent junior member Asahi Kentaro, while Abe fielded former entertainer Ikuina Akiko. “The clout of the two political heavyweights is on the line in the Tokyo race,” said an unnamed LDP Diet member.

Matsuno attends labor union event

The Saturday editions of all national dailies wrote that Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno participated in a major labor union event sponsored by Rengo in Tokyo on Friday, saying that this was the first time for a top Kantei official to attend a May Day ceremony in 12 years. As the confederation of labor unions is the primary supporter of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, the papers speculated that Matsuno’s attendance was part of the ruling LDP’s recent attempts to undermine the CDPJ’s political foundation.


GOJ eyes partially classifying key security document when updating it

Kyodo reported on Sunday that the GOJ is mulling classifying certain portions of the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) when it updates them in December to prevent the nation’s detailed plans for responding to contingences from being disclosed to such potential adversaries as Russia, China, and North Korea. In revising the existing 2018 NDPG, the GOJ is reportedly set to follow the example of the U.S. National Defense Strategy, large portions of which are classified.

MOD steps up social media messaging in Korean, Chinese

Sunday’s Yomiuri wrote that the Defense Ministry has been posting its social media messages regarding defense cooperation and joint training between the SDF and the United States, European, and other militaries in multiple foreign languages, including Chinese and Korean, in a bid to wage “information warfare” more proactively amid the intense social media disinformation campaign on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. An April 12 message on recent SDF drills with the 7th Fleet carrier strike group that was posted on the Defense Ministry’s official Twitter account in Korean and Chinese has reportedly received more than 4,000 “likes.”

MOD studies deployment of drones around Japan to track hypersonic weapons

Sunday’s Sankei highlighted a Defense Ministry proposal on deploying over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea around the clock dozens of fixed-wing drones that can fly for long periods of time without refueling to monitor the airspace around the Japanese archipelago for incoming hypersonic glider vehicles and other missiles that travel at between 5 and 25 times the speed of sound because it might not be possible to intercept such ultra high-speed projectiles using existing missile defense platforms. The ministry has reportedly sought 100 million yen ($770,000) in research funding for the project in FY2022. The daily said the proposal will complement the U.S. military’s “satellite constellation” initiative aimed at observing missile activity by deploying numerous low-orbit satellites equipped with smart sensors. The ministry has already identified several types of UAVs, including those developed by U.S. companies, as potential candidates.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team