Morning Alert   -   Monday, August 1, 2022
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Broadcasters led with reports on the extreme heat across Japan over the weekend (NHK, NTV) and explosions that injured two people during a fireworks event in Toyama on Sunday (Fuji TV, TV Asahi).

Top stories in national papers included a GOJ plan to use “My Number” identification cards to administer coronavirus and other vaccines more efficiently, China’s alleged preparations for resuming nuclear testing in Xinjiang, a Health and Welfare Ministry panel’s recommendation to raise the minimum wage, and an aborted GOJ plan to use subway stations as nuclear shelters.


Kishida’s popularity declines amid coronavirus resurgence, skyrocketing inflation

According to the results of the latest public opinion poll conducted by Kyodo, support for the Kishida administration plunged by 12.2 points from 3 weeks ago to 51%, a record low since its launch last October. Nonsupport rose 7.1 points to 29.5%. Approval of the administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic plummeted by 7.7 points to 53.3%. Almost 64% disapproved of its response to rising inflation, while 28% felt otherwise. About 53% voiced opposition to the administration’s decision to hold a state funeral for former Prime Minister Abe, whereas 45% were in favor of it. Three out of five called for parliamentary discussions on the pros and cons of the state-sponsored ceremony. The pollster speculated that the coronavirus situation, rising inflation, and the administration’s controversial decision on the state funeral were the primary factors behind the plunge in public support.

Nikkei also reported on the results of its monthly opinion survey that put support for the Kishida cabinet at 58%, down 2 points to mark the second lowest level since its inauguration nine months ago. Nonsupport remained the same at 32%. Noting that 56% approved of the administration’s response to the pandemic, down 7 points from a month ago, the daily attributed the declining popularity rate to public anxiety about the exponential rise in the epidemic curve. Some 35% chose the coronavirus as a policy priority that the administration should concentrate on, up 19 points. Pointing out that many people have run into difficulties receiving medical attention amid the considerable strain being imposed on hospitals due to the spike in infections, the daily said Kishida’s popularity among the public may further decline if the situation remains unrectified. The public was divided over whether people’s activities should be restricted to curb the spread of the virus, with 49% being in favor of and 45% against the idea. Younger voters in particular tended to oppose such regulations. Opposition to the plan to hold a state funeral for Abe exceeded support at 47% to 43%.


U.S., Japan reaffirm cooperation on rules-based international economic order

The Sunday editions of all national dailies reported extensively on the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-Japan Economic Policy Consultative Committee (EPCC), or Economic 2+2, held in Washington on Friday. The papers wrote that the United States and Japan reaffirmed close cooperation in establishing a rules-based international economic order with China and Russia in mind. The two nations released a joint statement and an action plan for achieving this goal that includes efforts to develop next-generation semiconductors through a research hub in Japan, strengthen supply chain resilience for semiconductors and other strategic materials, counter economic coercion and opaque lending practices, and secure critical and emerging technologies and infrastructure. They also agreed to strengthen investment in the energy sector and secure energy resources, including LNG, in response to the current energy crisis triggered by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Washington and Tokyo also agreed to promote their visions through the EPCC and other platforms, including the G7, APEC, and Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), and the ministers agreed to meet under the 2+2 format periodically.

Yomiuri speculated that Japan, which will host the G7 meeting next year, hopes to expand the coalition against China with likeminded nations based on the Economic 2+2 with the United States. The daily also wrote that attention will be focused on whether the United States and Japan will be able to win nations that depend on China over to their side.

Asahi highlighted Secretary Blinken’s statement at the post-meeting joint press conference in which he referred to China’s coercive economic practices and “debt traps.”

Nikkei, Yomiuri, and Mainichi wrote that Foreign Minister Hayashi conveyed to the U.S. side Japan’s plan to maintain its interests in the Sakhalin-2 oil and LNG project in the Russian Far East.

GOJ to establish office at Kantei to help small businesses find opportunities abroad

Monday’s Yomiuri front-paged a GOJ plan to set up a taskforce at the Cabinet Secretariat charged with assisting small companies to enter overseas markets. The ten-member team composed of officials from the Finance Ministry, METI, JETRO, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and other government agencies is expected to offer advice on how and where to market their products. It will also provide support on how to finance their investment plans overseas. The paper said the GOJ is keen to help small businesses find opportunities abroad as the domestic market is likely to shrink due in part to the declining population.


Secretary Blinken, FM Hayashi reaffirm enhanced deterrence of U.S.-Japan Alliance

The Sunday editions of all national dailies reported on a meeting between Secretary of State Blinken and Foreign Minister Hayashi in Washington on Friday. The papers wrote that the two officials agreed to boost the deterrence and response capabilities of the U.S.-Japan Alliance and continue to communicate closely to secure the reliability and strength of extended deterrence, including the nuclear umbrella. The papers also wrote that the two top diplomats reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the need for a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues.

FM Hayashi eyes in-person meeting with Chinese counterpart

Saturday’s Yomiuri and Sunday’s Sankei wrote that they have learned from multiple GOJ sources that Foreign Minister Hayashi is making arrangements to hold an in-person meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang on the sidelines of an ASEAN meeting to be held in Cambodia in early August. Yomiuri speculated that the envisaged meeting is intended to reaffirm the importance of communications between Japan and China ahead of the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic normalization in September. If the meeting is realized, it will be the first in-person session between the Japanese and Chinese foreign ministers since November 2020. The papers wrote that Hayashi is planning to express to Wang Japan’s concerns over China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force in the East China Sea and its sympathetic position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Yomiuri wrote that the two foreign ministers may also discuss China’s participation in the state funeral for former Prime Minister Abe. According to the paper, Hayashi is also making arrangements to hold a trilateral meeting with his U.S. and Australian counterparts and bilateral talks with his South Korean counterpart.

Speaker Pelosi leaves for Asian tour

All national papers reported today that a congressional delegation led by House Speaker Pelosi departed Saturday on a trip to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan, noting that the Speaker’s office stopped short of mentioning Taiwan as a destination. The Speaker reportedly said the six-person delegation will seek to “reaffirm America’s unshakeable commitment to our allies and friends in the Indo-Pacific region,” adding that the trip will focus on mutual security, economic partnership, and democratic governance.

Kishida to announce fund for youth education on atomic bombings in NPT speech

The Sunday editions of all national dailies wrote that Prime Minister Kishida is making arrangements to announce a plan to help create a UN fund to assist young people from around the world learn about the reality of the atomic bombings through visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The prime minister is planning to make the announcement when he becomes the first Japanese prime minister to deliver a speech at a review conference on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in New York on Aug. 1. Asahi wrote that Japan is considering holding a meeting of political leaders and scholars to discuss nuclear disarmament and the goal of realizing a world without nuclear weapons in Hiroshima in late November.

Monday papers wrote that Kishida left for New York last night, quoting him as saying upon his departure: “International momentum for seeking a world without nuclear weapons has declined considerably. I would like to use the NPT conference as an opportunity to reverse this trend and rebuild the momentum.”

In a related development, all national papers wrote today that Kishida’s executive secretary Shimada will not accompany the premier to New York because he tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. Another secretary contracted the virus last week.

Ukrainian envoy thanks Japan for hosting Ukrainian students, researchers

Sunday’s Sankei wrote that in remarks to a group of Japanese scientists on Saturday, Ukrainian Ambassador to Japan Korsunsky expressed his nation’s gratitude to Japan for taking in Ukrainian students and researchers following Russia’s invasion of his country. The paper wrote that Korsunsky called for Japan’s continued support for Ukraine by saying that support for Putin is tantamount to support for the slaughter of Ukrainians.

Yoon administration explains position on requisitioned workers to Supreme Court

The Sunday editions of all national dailies wrote that a source connected to the South Korean Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that the Yoon administration submitted to the ROK Supreme Court on July 26 a written opinion explaining the government’s efforts to resolve the issue of compensation for requisitioned workers by saying it is making diplomatic efforts to seek a reasonable solution that benefits both Japan and South Korea. The papers wrote that the Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies in 2018 to pay damages to the Korean plaintiffs for their labor under Japanese rule and that the procedure to liquidate these companies’ seized assets has been moving forward. The papers speculated that the move by the Yoon administration was aimed at avoiding the liquidation of the Japanese assets.

Japanese national reportedly detained during anti-coup protest in Myanmar

The Sunday editions of all national dailies wrote that according to Myanmar media reports, a Japanese man was detained along with two Myanmar citizens on Saturday in Yangon. According to this morning’s papers, the Japanese man is a photographer in his 20s. He was reportedly detained while taking pictures of an anti-junta rally. The Japanese Embassy has confirmed his identity and called for his early release.


U.S. admiral comments on RIMPAC

Monday’s Asahi ran an interview with U.S. 3rd Fleet Commander Boyle on the RIMPAC exercise currently being conducted off Hawaii. The vice admiral reportedly emphasized that the fact that 26 nations, including the United States and Japan, who share such values as the rule of law and discipline, come together and conduct joint operations in unison represents a “strategic victory” in view of China’s hegemonic pursuits. He said the multinational training sends a powerful message to the world that Washington and its allies and friends are committed to joint actions to deter conflicts. He also said the purpose of the exercise is to improve military responses to a variety of situations, including in the Taiwan Strait, adding that top political leaders will decide whether Taiwan will participate in future RIMPAC exercises.

China allegedly preparing to resume nuclear testing in Xinjiang

Monday’s Nikkei reported on its analysis of satellite photos, claiming that the Chinese military appears to be preparing to test a nuclear device in Xinjiang. The daily asserted that China has upgraded its facilities at its Lop Nur nuclear test site in the desert. Power transmission cables and a facility that could be used for storing high explosives have recently been installed. “China could conduct nuclear-related tests anytime,” the paper quoted an expert at AllSource Analysis, a U.S. private geospatial company, as saying. A Japanese academic reportedly speculated that Beijing is perhaps eager to discourage U.S. intervention in the Taiwan Strait by threatening to use small nuclear weapons.

ROK deployed multiple research ships to survey waters around Liancourt Rocks

Monday’s Sankei front-paged the finding that South Korea dispatched three oceanic surveillance vessels to the vicinity of the Liancourt Rocks one after another in late July. One of them apparently conducted maritime research, in response to which a JCG cutter issued a warning on the spot. The ROK side reportedly said the vessel was engaged in “legitimate research activities within our territorial waters.”

Tongan prime minister expresses gratitude for SDF’s aid after volcanic eruption

Saturday’s Sankei wrote that on Friday Defense Minister Kishi held a video conference with Prime Minister and Minister for Armed Forces Hu’akavameiliku of Tonga, which suffered a volcanic eruption and tsunami in January. Hu’akavameiliku expressed gratitude for Japan’s participation in international emergency relief activities during which the SDF provided drinking water, high-pressure washing machines, and other equipment.


Yamaguchi may continue to serve as Komeito chief

The Saturday editions of all national dailies wrote that although Komeito Chief Representative Yamaguchi had been expected to step down when his term expires in September, there are opinions within the party that he should stay in the post. The papers wrote that there is a sense of urgency within the party to rebuild it ahead of the nationwide local elections next spring because it lost a seat in the proportional presentation segment of the July 10 Upper House election. The papers also wrote that although it had been widely expected that Secretary General Ishii would succeed Yamaguchi, some in the party believe that Yamaguchi’s popularity and experience will be necessary to regain voter support. However, others reportedly insist that the party should refresh its leadership ahead of the spring elections.

Ishin approves party leader Matsui’s resignation

The Sunday editions of all national dailies wrote that the Japan Innovation Party (Ishin) officially accepted the resignation of its leader, Matsui Ichiro, during a virtual convention on Saturday. The party will hold its first-ever leadership election on Aug. 27 to choose Matsui's successor. The papers speculated that the resignation of Matsui, a co-founder of the party, could affect the party's future. Baba Nobuyuki, the co-leader of the party, has expressed eagerness to run in the leadership race, and Umemura Mizuho, an Upper House member, also intends to run.


Russian space agency head clarifies earlier statement on withdrawal from ISS

Saturday’s Mainichi ran a Kyodo report saying that Yury Borisov, the head of the space agency Roscosmos, said in an interview with Russian state TV on Friday that Russia has not set a date for its withdrawal from the International Space Station (ISS). Kyodo interpreted this as an indication that Russia will continue to cooperate with the ISS beyond 2024. The wire service said Borisov reportedly told President Putin on July 26 that Russia will withdraw from the ISS after 2024 and focus on building its own orbiting outpost. This was widely interpreted to mean that the nation would pull out of the ISS in 2024. However, Borisov said on Friday that he meant Moscow will start the exit process after 2024 and that the actual timing of the withdrawal will depend on the condition and working capacity of the ISS. He reportedly added that politics should not interfere with international cooperation in space.

Science minister welcomes council’s shift in stance on dual-use research

Saturday’s Sankei wrote that Minister of State for Science and Technology Policy Kobayashi told reporters on Friday that the government welcomes the announcement made by the Science Council of Japan last week that effectively endorses research on dual-use technologies that can be applied for both military and civilian purposes. The minister said the move will help improve Japan’s research capabilities and international competitiveness and promote economic security. The council, which had maintained a negative stance on military research, said on July 25 that it is no longer possible to simply divide cutting-edge science and technology into the two categories of civilian and military use and that it is not practical to make uniform judgments on the handling of such technologies based on their potential for diversion to military applications.


Japan to drastically review foreign trainee program

The Saturday editions of all national dailies wrote that Justice Minister Furukawa told reporters on Friday that the GOJ will set up a panel of experts by the end of this year to discuss a full-scale review of Japan’s foreign technical intern program in order to address human rights issues involving foreign trainees, including harassment, abuse, and low wages. The papers wrote that harassment and abuse of foreign trainees has drawn criticism from overseas. The foreign technical intern program was launched in 1993 as part of Japan’s international contributions through personnel development. Furukawa told reporters that it is necessary to "make the purpose and actual operation of the system consistent." The minister also said he wants to seek a “historic resolution” of the longstanding issue.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team