Afternoon Alert   -   Wednesday, March 31, 2021
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Noon news

Broadcasters led with follow-up reports on the revelation that 23 officials of the Health Ministry attended a farewell party until nearly midnight on March 24 despite restrictions on restaurants’ business hours due to COVID-19 (NTV, Fuji TV, TV Asahi), Osaka's plan to formally decide as early as tomorrow to request the GOJ to allow it to ask eateries and other facilities to take restrictive measures to prevent COVID-19 infection even when a state of emergency is not in place (TBS), and remarks by Chairman Omi of the government subcommittee on the new coronavirus that the time has come to examine the possibility of invoking measures set by the revised antivirus legislation to enable governors to take focused steps even if a state of emergency is not in place (NHK).


National security advisors of U.S., Japan, ROK to meet on April 2

NHK reported on a statement released by the White House on Tuesday that National Security Advisor Sullivan will welcome National Security Secretariat Secretary General Kitamura and Office of National Security Director Suh Hoon for a trilateral dialogue at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis on April 2. The statement reportedly said the meeting "provides an opportunity for our nations to consult on a wide range of regional issues and foreign policy priorities, including maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, and combating climate change." Noting that the Biden administration is in the final stages of reviewing its policy on North Korea, the network projected that the U.S. side will discuss this with Japan and South Korea and also discuss with Japan how to deal with the abduction issue. The network said this is the first national security advisor-level meeting among the three nations under the Biden administration, and the statement reportedly stressed the significance of the meeting by saying it reflects "the importance we place on broadening and deepening our cooperation on key issues and advancing our shared prosperity across a free and open Indo-Pacific."

U.S. calls China’s treatment of Uyghurs “genocide” in human rights report

TV Asahi reported at noon that the Biden administration released yesterday its annual report on human rights practices in the world in which it called China's treatment of people in Xinjiang "genocide." The network showed Secretary of State Blinken saying: "We see it in the genocide being committed in predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang." The report also stated that "there were multiple reports from Uyghur family members who discovered their relatives had died while in internment camps or within weeks of their release" and said more than a million Uyghurs have been detained and subject to forced labor, sexual assault, or torture. On Hong Kong, the report denounced China for "destroying political freedom and autonomy" and pointed out that words such as "Hong Kong" and "Taiwan" were censored in a certain online game.

Asahi spotlighted the human rights report’s focus on Japan’s refugee screening system, calling the process “strict.” Pointing out that only 44 out of 10,375 applicants were granted refugee status in 2019, the report said NGOs and the UNHCR have raised concerns about the low level of approval. It also mentioned the lengthy detention of refugees and asylum-seekers and conditions in detention facilities.

U.S., Japan, other nations voice concerns about WHO report on origin of COVID-19

NHK reported that the governments of Japan, the U.S., the UK and eleven other nations issued a joint statement on Tuesday expressing concerns about the WHO report on how the coronavirus first spread to humans. The nations particularly took issue with the significant delay in an inquiry by international experts and their lack of access to complete data and virus samples. According to the network, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato commented on the WHO report by saying: “A swift and independent evaluation of the origin of the virus by experts is indispensable to prevent a future pandemic. We are concerned about the lack of access to data and virus samples, in addition to the delay in the inquiry.” He added that Japan will join hands with other WHO members to call for an additional WHO investigation.

Top ROK diplomat calls for early talks with Japan

Nikkei focused on press remarks this morning by South Korean Foreign Minister Chung, who voiced hope to meet with Foreign Minister Motegi at an early date. He disclosed that one of his top deputies was sent to Tokyo earlier in the day for talks with Japanese diplomats. While explaining that the Moon administration is willing to hold dialogue with the GOJ to resolve bilateral history disputes, Chung failed to respond to Japan’s repeated calls for Seoul to take proper measures. On the requisitioned workers dispute, he said: "As we have already presented a concrete proposal within the scope of the [relevant] Supreme Court rulings, the matter could be resolved through dialogue if Japan would respond positively.” As for the comfort women issue, he was quoted as saying: “99% of the problem could be resolved if Japan would offer a heartfelt apology.”

State Department orders diplomats to leave Myanmar

NHK reported at noon that the State Department ordered its diplomats, government officials, and their families residing in Myanmar (Burma) to leave the country on account of the ongoing crackdown on demonstrators by the Myanmar military. According to the network, Secretary Blinken strongly condemned the Myanmar military and called on foreign governments and companies to reconsider their investments in firms that have relations with the military. The network said that according to a local human rights group, at least 510 people have been killed in Myanmar since the coup there. Secretary Blinken reportedly said at a press conference on Tuesday that the U.S. condemns the violations by security forces "in the strongest terms" and pointed out that "some countries and some companies in various parts of the world have significant investments in enterprises that support the Burmese military" and urged them to reconsider their investments to deny the military financial support. Noting that more than 400 Japanese companies have bases in Myanmar, the network said they may be required to take action depending on the moves of the USG.

Japan criticizes Chinese moves to alter electoral system in Hong Kong

Nikkei reported on remarks made to the press this morning by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato on China’s revision on Tuesday of an addendum of the Hong Kong Basic Law stipulating the electoral system for Hong Kong. “Our serious concern is deepening,” the government spokesman was quoted as saying: “It will deal a heavy blow to Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and cannot be overlooked.” The official added that the move is bound to further undermine global trust in the “one country, two systems” principle.

Japan ranks 120th in gender equality

NHK reported on this year's global gender gap report released by the World Economic Forum on Wednesday, saying that Japan was ranked 120th out of 156 nations. The network said the document indicates that Japanese men still have more opportunities to participate in politics and the economy than women. According to the report, which looks into four categories—political empowerment, health and survival, economic participation and opportunity, and educational attainment—Iceland topped the list as the country with the smallest gender gap for the 12th straight time, followed by Finland and Norway. The network said although Japan fared well in the education and health categories, it received poor assessments in the political and economic categories. The report said the percentage of female members of the Lower House of the Diet and the Cabinet remains low, as does the percentage of women in managerial positions at companies.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato reportedly told the press this morning: "Japan is at the lowest level among the developed nations, and among Asian nations, it is ranked lower than South Korea, China, and ASEAN members. Our scores are low especially in the economic and political sectors. This shows that while other nations are accelerating their efforts to achieve gender equality, our efforts are lagging behind and we need to further step up our efforts." Concerning the fact that there are only two female Cabinet members, Kato reportedly said: "I think Prime Minister Suga made that decision from the perspective of appointing the right person for the right job while also promoting women's participation. It is important to promote women's participation in the political sector in order to reflect the will of the people in policies. We will promote women's empowerment while obtaining cooperation from each party."

Komeito’s Yamaguchi cautious about China sanctions (Yomiuri)

Japan: HK electoral changes cannot be overlooked (NHK WORLD)

LDP drafts resolution calling for caution in granting new ODA to Myanmar (Nikkei)

Japan to suspend infrastructure support to Myanmar (The Japan News)

Japan looks to cement Indonesia as key regional partner in 2-plus-2 (Nikkei Asia)

Japan facing possibility of involvement in Taiwan conflict (Jiji Press)

Japan to extend N.Korea sanctions for 2 years (NHK WORLD)

Editorial: Myanmar military must halt slaughter of citizens (The Mainichi)

Cartoon: Winds of unpleasantness (Tokyo Shimbun)


Chinese ships spotted near Senkakus for 46th consecutive day (Sankei)

Chinese military vessels operating with radars off while sailing toward Senkakus (Sankei)

Japan’s Diet OKs 1-year extension of U.S. base cost pact (Jiji Press)

NSS economic team marks first anniversary (Asahi)

Commentary: National consensus needed on the role of Self-Defense Forces in emergencies (The Japan Times)

Komeito heavyweight: Security legislation prompted joint training, information sharing between Japan, U.S. (Sankei)


Japan pension whale GPIF in China bond quandary: backlash or gains? (Nikkei Asia)

Former BOJ Deputy Gov. Yamaguchi tapped to lead GPIF board (Nikkei)

Bank of Japan to study how banks handle climate change risks (The Asahi Shimbun)

Chugoku Electric, JBIC to invest in Fiji electric power company (Nikkei)

Japan jobless rate unchanged at 2.9% as policy shift looms (Nikkei Asia)

8 Japan automakers’ domestic output down 9.1 pct in Feb. (Jiji Press)


Prime minister’s schedule on March 30, 2021 (Sankei)

LDP on edge over three Diet seat elections in April (Nikkei)

Suga-style politics 6 / LDP-Komeito partnership not in sync (The Japan News)

DPFP proposal calls for law revision to enable SDF to support JCG in patrolling Senkakus (Sankei)

“Suga project” and sense of entitlement led to scandals at MIC: Former minister Katayama (Asahi)


Japanese, Russian cities discuss marine plastic (NHK WORLD)


Japan’s new teaching guidelines adamant on territories (Jiji Press)


Japan reports no rise in excess mortality last year despite pandemic

Monday's Nikkei took up Health Ministry data showing that “excess mortality” in 2020 dropped by 9,373, or 0.7%, from a year ago despite the coronavirus pandemic. As the elderly have been hit hardest by COVID-19, public health experts were worried about a potential surge in excess mortality, which indicates whether the number of deaths has increased compared with the previous year. Until last year, the figure had increased by about 20,000 almost annually on account of the aging population. The number of people who died of influenza and pneumonia unrelated to the coronavirus dropped sharply by 70% and 20%, respectively, last year. The ministry attributed the decline to strict COVID-19 infection prevention measures such as social distancing and mask wearing that were in place throughout the year. The data also showed the number of people who died of stroke and heart disease also plunged despite a spike in the number of patients requiring emergency treatment owing in part to hospital beds being constantly occupied by coronavirus patients.

Japan retracts plan to give people coronavirus vaccine choice (Jiji Press)

1.35 pct in Tokyo have coronavirus antibodies (Jiji Press)

Exclusive: Coronavirus pre-emergency steps likely for Osaka (Jiji Press)

Health ministry staff party on in Ginza, ignoring virus restrictions (The Asahi Shimbun)

Editorial: Strengthen support for neediest to ease anxiety amid ongoing pandemic (The Japan News)

Infographic: Six COVID-19 indicators for 12 key prefectures (March 29, 2021) (NHK digital)

Infographic: Status of gov’t indicators for COVID-19 in Tokyo (March 30, 2021) (Tokyo Shimbun)

Infographic: 473,037 persons in Japan confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 (March 30, 2021) (NHK digital)


Lawyer: Popular support a flawed reason for death penalty in Japan (The Asahi Shimbun)


Defense chief dismisses speculation on SDF amphibious unit deployment in Okinawa

Ryukyu Shimpo highlighted remarks made at the Diet on Tuesday by Defense Minister Kishi on the deployment location of a third GSDF amphibious unit. "There are no plans to deploy any of the units, including the third one, at Camp Schwab or Camp Hansen," he was quoted as saying. "I don't think it will be deployed at a GSDF installation in Okinawa either." The daily noted that the two existing units are currently based at a GSDF camp in Sasebo, adding that the Defense Ministry is currently looking for a GSDF facility at which to base the third one and speculation is rife that Okinawa may be selected as the location.

U.S. Embassy Tokyo Media Analysis and Translation Team