The Weekly Observer: May 3-7

I. News of the Week


1. State of Emergency Extended Until the End of the Month

  • Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday announced the extension of the state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto until May 31. Aichi and Fukuoka will be placed under the state of emergency as well. 

  • The pre-emergency measures (man-en bōshi-tō jūten sochi), already in place in Okinawa, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa and Ehime, will also be extended until the end of the month. Hokkaido, Gifu and Mie will place cities under stronger pre-emergency measures too. 

  • Suga said that while the movement of people in Tokyo and Osaka had decreased by 60-70 percent at night and 40-50 percent in the daytime compared to early April, daily case numbers there warrant inclusion in the most severe “Stage Four” category. He added that Aichi and Fukuoka’s numbers are also reaching “Stage Four,” or over 25 cases in the last week per 100,000 citizens. 

  • Although largely left to prefectural governments, the national government has relaxed some measures. Large shopping malls, previously requested to temporarily close, will now be asked to close by 8 p.m. Events, largely held without spectators, can now be held with a maximum capacity of 5,000 as long as they end at 9 p.m. The government added eateries that allow people to bring their own alcohol to the list of establishments requested to remain closed until May 31. 

  • Some have criticized the government’s decision to relax measures while extending the state of emergency. One expert said this contradiction sends the wrong message to the public, already tired from the multiple state of emergencies. 

2. Pondering Another State of Emergency

  • The government hoped to see a drop in cases from the 17-day state of emergency, but numbers remain high, with health care systems still being overwhelmed. Hospitals in Osaka have been forced to triage patients given the lack of bedspace.

  • Suga was reportedly reluctant to extend the state of emergency in order to avoid economic losses. There were rumors the government wanted to end the measures before IOC President Thomas Bach arrived in Japan on May 17. 

  • The governors of the greater Tokyo area requested the extension on Thursday, agreeing it was not the appropriate time to relax the measures in place. They noted the ratio of variant cases was surging at an alarming pace in all prefectures. 

  • Suga defended the short yet intensive measures, which experts said was too short to observe a sustained reduction in cases, saying Wednesday there was no doubt people’s movement was restricted by the measures. 

3. Uptick in Cases Across Prefectures

  • The number of cases nationwide topped 600,000 on Sunday, increasing by more than 100,000 in a matter of weeks since reaching 500,000 on April 9. Total daily cases hit a record high of 6,057 on Friday. Tokyo had 907 cases, 209 more than last Friday, while Osaka had 50 deaths, the most since the pandemic began. 

  • The number of newly confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the week leading up to May 5 dropped in Osaka (78.7 cases), Hyogo (54.1) and Kyoto (35.27), but rose in Tokyo (40.17), Fukuoka (44.51), Aichi (29.33) and Hokkaido (27.71). 

  • Data shows that compared to the same holiday season last year, nearly two times more people visited Tokyo station, while a whopping four times more went to Mt. Takao and Enoshima in neighboring Kanagawa (not under state of emergency).

  • The health ministry said Friday that the number of patients with severe symptoms—in need of ventilators or placement in intensive care units—reached a record-high 1,131 patients.  

  • The health ministry’s advisory board said Thursday that variant cases were spreading across large cities in the country, warning numbers would not fall as steadily with the pre-emergency measures in place. 

  • In Tokyo, 62 percent of cases on Wednesday were the variant strain. In neighboring Chiba, the number of variant cases shot up 19 points from last week to 57.5 percent on Thursday. The health ministry announced Friday that Tokyo had surpassed Osaka as the prefecture with the most variant cases overall.

  • The government notified governors on Monday that it plans to implement the “Yamanashi model,” in which a third party certifies eateries’ COVID-19 countermeasures, across the country. Despite its relative proximity to the greater Tokyo area, Yamanashi’s daily cases numbers have remained below 20. 

  • A survey released by the Tokyo metropolitan government on Saturday found that 33 percent of respondents below the age of 40 said they were outside during the state of emergency because they had masks on. Of the 609 cases confirmed on Tuesday, more than 60 percent were individuals in their twenties to forties. 

4. Measures Related to a Surge in Cases in India

  • Suga announced Friday that, for the time being, travelers from India, Pakistan and Nepal will be asked to undergo three PCR tests and stay at a government-designated hotel for six days after entering the country. Under previous measures, the government  required that individuals stay at designated facilities for three days following their return to Japan. 

  • Tokyo reported Thursday that five individuals in the capital, of which four did not travel or come in contact with anyone traveling from India, had tested positive for the Indian strain.

  • Shimadzu, a company known for its measuring instruments, announced Thursday it has developed the country’s first domestically made PCR testing reagent for the Indian strain, which it plans to begin selling in June. 

  • The foreign ministry on Sunday requested Japanese citizens in India to consider returning to Japan. It also encouraged individuals to take a PCR test 72 hours prior to departure and obtain proof of a negative test. 

  • Individuals returning from India will be asked to isolate for two weeks, and spend the first three days in a government designated facility. Once they test negative, the individuals may self-isolate in their homes. 

  • Government data shows that in the one week since March 28, seven out of 443 Japanese and foreign citizens flying in from India tested positive for the coronavirus upon entry to Japan. 

5. Vaccine Rollout

  • During a press conference on Friday, Suga said he aims for one million inoculations per day in order to finish vaccinating the elderly by the end of July. 

  • An EU press secretary said Thursday that the EU approved the export of around 178 million doses to 45 countries and regions on Monday. Japan is set to receive enough for around 72 million shots, or around 40 percent of the approved exports. 

  • Vaccine czar Taro Kono has come under fire for his statement on Wednesday that vaccinating 10,000 people per day at the planned mass vaccination sites came down to (the effectiveness of) the Self-Defense Forces.

  • Several sources say the SDF does not have enough personnel to conduct vaccinations at such a pace. There are also issues with coordination and avoiding overcrowding at the mass vaccination sites. 

  • Osaka, which faces record-high daily cases and deaths this week, will also begin operating an SDF-led mass vaccination site at the Osaka International Convention Center between May 24 and the end of August.  

  • The site will operate between 8 a.m.-8 p.m., with SDF personnel administering shots while the private sector helps with the administrative work such as reservations. The government is considering whether to expand the vaccination pool to the elderly in neighboring Kyoto and Hyogo.

  • The government plans to expedite the approval process for the Moderna vaccine to ensure it is ready for use when mass vaccination sites open. It has signed a contract to receive supply for 25 million people to administer the vaccine twice. 

  • Moderna recently announced that a clinical study showed its vaccine was 96 percent effective in 12-17 year olds.

Foreign & Defense Policy

6. Group of Seven (G7) Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting

  • The G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting was held in-person for the first time in two years in London, U.K., between May 3-5. India, Australia, South Korea, South Africa, and ASEAN joined parts of the meeting as guests. 

  • Among other things, the joint statement discussed cooperation on COVID-19, commitment to democracy and a rules-based international order, increasing efforts to achieve the SDGs by 2030, and greater engagement in the Indo-Pacific. 

  • The statement called on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also supported Taiwan’s participation in the WHO and, without naming China, underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. 

  • Japanese media largely approved of the G7’s unified position on strongly criticizing Chinese actions in various areas such as trade, cyber, development financing, and maritime security. 

  • The statement urged North Korea to commit to the “complete, verifiable and irreversible abandonment” of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program. Japan was also able to include the resolution of the abduction issue. 

7. Bilateral and Trilateral Meetings on the Sidelines of the G7 Meeting

  • Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi held bilateral and trilateral meetings with his counterparts from the U.S., U.K., EU, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, South Korea, India and Australia.

  • On Wednesday, Motegi met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Chung Eui Yong for the first foreign ministers meeting since Biden’s inauguration. The three discussed the U.S.’s policy review and reaffirmed cooperation on achieving the complete denuclearization of North Korea. 

  • Motegi held bilateral talks with Chung the same day. The two could not settle the countries’ differences on the historical issues but agreed to continue deliberations to repair bilateral relations.  

  • Motegi and India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar agreed to cooperate on achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) and voiced their concern over China’s maritime assertiveness. Japan also agreed to provide ¥5.5 billion ($50 million) in aid to India for its response to the surge in coronavirus cases.

  • Motegi and Australia’s foreign affairs minister Marise Payne discussed furthering national security, defense and economic cooperation; working with Southeast Asia and Pacific island nations to achieve FOIP; and their serious concern over China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo as well as the situation in Hong Kong. 

  • On Tuesday, Motegi met with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. Motegi welcomed the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy and requested the continued export of vaccines to Japan. The two sides also agreed to cooperate on COVID-19, climate, WTO reform and in the digital sphere.  

  • On Monday, Motegi and Canada’s foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau agreed to advance a shared vision of FOIP through cooperation in six areas: the rule of law; PKO, peacebuilding, and HA/DR; health security and COVID-19; energy security; FTA promotion and supporting a rules-based trading system; climate change and the environment. 

  • Motegi and U.K. foreign minister Dominic Raab held the ninth foreign ministers’ security dialogue, exchanging views on defense equipment and technical cooperation, as well as economic security including cybersecurity. Motegi also welcomed the U.K.’s pivot to the Indo-Pacific and its interest in joining the CPTPP. 

8. Japan-U.S. Developments

  • Kurt Campbell, U.S. policy coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, said at an event hosted by the Financial Times on Tuesday that the U.S. will take appropriate steps with Japan on a host of efforts to maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

  • He added that a cross-strait conflict “would broaden quickly and it would fundamentally trash the global economy in ways that I don’t think anyone can predict.”

  • Foreign Minister Motegi and Secretary of State Blinken met Monday to discuss further cooperation on achieving FOIP, opposing Chinese actions in the East and South China Seas, maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, concerns over human rights issues, and collaboration in responding to China’s actions in the economic sphere. 

  • Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said last Friday that the U.S. needs a new approach, coined integrated deterrence, which marshals all the capabilities of domestic stakeholders and allies, to ensure security in the 21st century. 

  • General Koji Yamazaki, SDF chief of staff, attended a change of command ceremony for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command last Friday in Hawaii. He met General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and discussed the situation in the Indo-Pacific region, including China’s increased presence there.

  • Yamazaki, Milley and their South Korean counterpart agreed Thursday to strengthen cooperation in response to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. 

  • The two countries held a bilateral Extended Deterrence Dialogue online on Friday. The meeting provides an opportunity to discuss regional security, alliance defense posture, nuclear and missile defense policy and arms control issues as well as means to enhance alliance deterrence and deepen mutual understanding.

9. Japan-China Developments

  • On Friday, Chinese vessels entered waters around the Senkaku Islands for the 84th consecutive day. 

  • Yomiuri reported Sunday that the Japan Coast Guard requested a Chinese vessel to move away from its exclusive economic zone where the ship was supposedly conducting research with a wire-like object. It is the first time a Chinese research vessel has been confirmed in the EEZ around Okinawa since July 2019.

  • The Ministry of Defense announced Saturday that a Chinese Navy frigate had, for the first time, moved north between Yonaguni Island, the westernmost part of Japan, and Taiwan, and entered the East China Sea.

10. Other Policy Developments

  • Japan and Poland signed a five-year action plan on Thursday aimed at enhancing security and economic ties. The two sides agreed to work closely toward achieving FOIP and oppose any unilateral actions in the East and South China Seas. The plan also outlines cooperation from energy to agriculture. 

  • The MSDF said Wednesday that its Mashu replenishment vessel and the French navy frigate Surcouf conducted a joint replenishment exercise in waters off Okinawa on Tuesday. It is viewed as a response to China’s maritime assertiveness.

  • Reports on Sunday say the government is considering a multihull as one of the proposed designs for the Aegis-equipped ship replacing Aegis Ashore, which saw its deployment cancelled last year. Though costs may balloon, its stability makes it suitable for long-term operation at sea.

  • On Saturday, the MSDF’s destroyer Asagiri took part in a multilateral exercise in the Gulf of Eden with the U.S. and French navies. The exercise was held to deepen the cooperative relationship between the three countries. 

  • Nikkei reported Saturday that the SDF plans to establish a new transport unit in 2024 to carry fuel, equipment, ammunition, food and other supplies to the troops dispatched in a crisis situation. The ground, maritime and air SDF will jointly form the unit, and will also deploy one mid-sized and three small vessels. 

  • Foreign Minister Motegi met with his Bosnian counterpart on Saturday, affirming the importance of FOIP and a rules-based international order. Japan signed an agreement to provide grant aid to strengthen Bosnia’s security measures and support its demining activities.

11. Economic Security

  • Japanese companies NTT and Kyushu Electric are considering domestic alternatives to Chinese drones to protect sensitive data. Companies must balance a lack of cost-effective domestic alternatives with potential security risks. 

  • These moves come as Japan urges government agencies to replace drones that pose significant cybersecurity risks under new procurement guidelines that took effect this year. The JCG has already stopped the use of Chinese drones. 

  • Nikkei reported Monday that the government wants companies involved in strategic industries such as semiconductors to appoint an executive responsible for economic security issues. 

  • The government is preparing to create a forum as early as this year to discuss how to safeguard crucial technology and prevent excessive reliance on Chinese manufacturing. A group of LDP lawmakers headed by Akira Amari will present recommendations on the economic security forum soon.  

Domestic Politics

12. Monday Marked the 74th Anniversary of Japan’s Constitution

  • In a video message to a pro-amendment group’s online forum on Monday, Suga expressed his intention to realize the LDP’s “four-point” amendment proposal. He reiterated Friday that citizens have taken interest in adding an emergency clause to better respond to disasters such as COVID-19.

  • The LDP issued a statement Monday, restating its intention to realize the four items—Article 9, the emergency clause, Upper House and education reform—and resume discussions on amending the Constitution. 

  • LDP Policy Research Council Chair Hakubun Shimomura said the COVID-19 crisis was an opportunity to amend the Constitution. He proposes adding infectious diseases to the list of emergencies that can be dealt with by stronger authority bestowed through the Constitution.

  • Former prime minister Shinzo Abe said on April 22 that the supermajority hurdle stipulated in Article 96 is a major impediment to amending the Constitution. He reiterated that the condition should be lowered to a simple majority. 

  • Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said in a video message that his party’s approach to amending the Constitution is to “add” clauses, not delete provisions from the text. 

  • CDP leader Yukio Edano said in a statement that the Constitution does not have to be amended to adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. He criticized the LDP for diverting attention away from its poor response to the pandemic. 

13. Revised National Referendum Law Passes Lower House Commission

  • The ruling coalition and opposition agreed Friday to vote on the National Referendum Law in the Lower House on May 11. The bill passed the Lower House Commission on the Constitution on Thursday. 

  • The ruling coalition accepted the opposition’s demand to include a supplementary provision to discuss regulations on ads and foreign donations three years after the enactment of the revised law. 

  • The CDP hoped to delay revision by forcing the three-year condition on to the LDP, but the ruling coalition finds it is better than nothing. 

  • The law stipulates how to conduct the citizen vote, the final step to amending the Constitution. The revised law includes provisions such as setting up “common voting booths” that allows voters to cast their votes at places like train stations or shopping malls, rather than predetermined locations. 

  • The revised law was originally submitted to the Commission on the Constitution in June 2018, but the opposition rejected deliberations after learning the LDP’s intentions to submit its four point amendment proposal to the commission.

14. Government Pushes Forward with Olympic Games

  • As of Friday, a petition started by former Tokyo gubernatorial candidate Kenji Utsunomiya calling for the games to be cancelled has garnered 206,000 signatures. Questions remain whether the games can be held safely for those involved and the public. 

  • Seiko Hashimoto, president of the organizing committee, said Friday that IOC President Thomas Bach’s visit to Japan next week will be difficult given the pandemic. Bach was scheduled to arrive in Japan for the torch relay in Hiroshima on May 17-18, but it is likely to be delayed until further notice. 

  • Japan is enthusiastically promoting the games, with Olympics minister Tamayo Marukawa meeting World Athletics President Sebastian Coe on Friday. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike also met Coe and pledged to hold a safe tournament.

  • The IOC announced Thursday that it struck a deal with Pfizer to receive free doses of its vaccine for athletes and staff. While the government welcomed the deal, some are concerned the vaccine will not reach volunteer staff and the public

  • The Washington Post published an article Wednesday calling on the government to cancel the Olympics if the games have become a threat to national interest. 

  • A Mainichi Shimbun poll released Monday shows nine out of forty-seven prefectural governors think the games should be canceled or postponed. Of the nine, Saitama, Shizuoka and Yamanashi will provide venues for the games. 

  • Jiji reported Monday that the organizing committee is recruiting 200 sports doctors certified by the Japan Sports Association who can work at the medical offices at venues. There are concerns COVID-19 will hinder the recruitment of medical professionals including nurses and doctors. 


15. Parties Prepare for Snap Election Ahead

  • Suga said in an interview with monthly magazine Liberal Times that he plans to call the snap election before his term as LDP president ends in the end of  September. 

  • The Japan Innovation Party and Democratic People’s Party on Friday jointly submit a bill to amend the Public Offices Elections Act to reduce the number of proportional representation seats in the Upper House by six from 100, to a total of 242 seats. 

  • Nobuyuki Baba, secretary-general of the Japan Innovation Party, said Thursday the main opposition CDP is “a party Japan does not need.” He said the CDP contradicts its own actions by teaming with the JCP for elections while also disagreeing with them on other issues such as amending the Constitution.

  • Former prime minister Shinzo Abe said on a TV program Monday that Suga is “doing a really good job” as prime minister and that the LDP should not even consider replacing him a year after his election as president. 

  • Abe made an impromptu appearance on a TV program on Monday. You can watch the highlights from the first half and the second half.

Other Noteworthy News

  • Government Admits Existence of the ‘Akagi Files‘: The government on Thursday acknowledged the existence of a file made by Toshio Akagi, a finance ministry official, which chronicled the process of falsifying documents about the sale of a state-owned land to a school operator at a price well below market value. Akagi committed suicide after being forced to falsify documents in what is now known as the “Moritomo issue.” His widow demanded the government disclose the file in a lawsuit she brought last year. The government denied its existence until an Osaka district court urged the government to disclose it in March. The government will present the file next month in court after redacting some parts including personal information unrelated to the case. The opposition plans to pursue this issue in the Diet, arguing that disclosing a redacted file is useless.

  • Japan’s Child Population Hits Record Low: Government data released Tuesday shows Japan’s estimated child population hit a record low after falling for forty straight years. As of April 1, the number of children aged 14 or younger was 14.93 million, 190,000 fewer than last year and the lowest since data became available in 1950. The ratio of children to the overall population also fell to an all-time low at 11.9 percent. There were 2.65 million children below the age of two, relatively lower than other age groups and reflecting a decline in the number of births. Child population peaked in 1954 at 29.89 million, briefly picked up around the early 1970s, and has continued declining since 1982.

II. Public Opinion Polls

  • A Kyodo poll released on May 1 showed 66 percent of respondents feel amending the Constitution is necessary, while 30 percent said they do not feel it is necessary. 
    • 69 percent of respondents were interested or somewhat interested in amending the Constitution, while 31 percent were not. 
    • 44 percent of respondents said the discussion on amending the Constitution should be expedited in the Diet, while 54 percent said it was not the priority.
    • 44 percent of respondents said amending Article 9 should be discussed, and another 36 percent said an emergency clause should be discussed. 
    • 51 percent of respondents said Article 9 needs to be amended, while 45 percent said it does not. 
    • 57 percent of respondents said Japan needs to amend its Constitution to introduce an emergency clause to better respond to the coronavirus pandemic and other disasters, while 42 percent said it should not. 
    • 50 percent of respondents said eateries complying with the government’s orders to shorten business hours should be compensated based on the Constitution that guarantees property rights, while 47 percent said they should not be compensated.
    • 79 percent of respondents agreed that Diet sessions should be held online while the pandemic continues, while 20 percent said the Constitution states attendance of at least a third of the members of both Houses is necessary to proceed with Diet matters, ruling out virtual meetings.
    • 78 percent of respondents said they favored restricting online ads before a national referendum on amending the Constitution, while 21 percent were against it. 

  • Other polls showed a general uptick in support for amending the Constitution, most likely due to COVID-19 and public awareness of China’s assertiveness.
Graph created by author depicting net approval for amending the Constitution
  • Yomiuri, 5/3: 56 percent of respondents support amendments, up 7 percent from May 2020, while 40 percent oppose it, down 8 percent from last year.
    • 59 percent of respondents support including an emergency clause to expand the government’s authority during crises, while 37 percent said it could be dealt with through legal measures.
    • 66 percent of respondents said Chinese incursions into the waters around the Senkaku Islands posed a “great” threat to Japan’s national security, while 29 percent said it “somewhat” posed a threat. 
    • 53 percent of respondents approved of the 2015 security laws, up 7 percent from 2020, while 41 percent disapproved of it, down 9 percent.
    • 59 percent of respondents said they would consider a party’s views on amending the Constitution when voting in the upcoming Lower House election. 
  • Mainichi, 5/3: 48 percent of respondents support amending the Constitution, while 31 percent oppose it. 
    • 58 percent of male respondents support amending the Constitution, while 29 percent oppose it; 32 percent of female respondents support amending the Constitution, while 35 percent oppose it.
    • 67 percent of LDP respondents support amending the Constitution; 63 percent of CDP respondents oppose it; and 39 percent of independent respondents support, while 32 percent oppose. 
    • 51 percent of respondents support amending Article 9 to include the Self-Defense Forces in the text, while 30 percent oppose it. 
    • 61 percent of male respondents support amending Article 9, while 28 percent oppose it; 32 percent of female respondents support amending Article 9, while 34 percent oppose it.
    • 69 percent of LDP respondents support amending Article 9; 60 percent of CDP respondents oppose it; and 42 percent of independent respondents support, while 32 percent oppose. 
  • NHK, 5/2: 33 percent of respondents said amending the Constitution is necessary, while 20 percent said it is not. 
    • 28 percent of respondents said Article 9 should be amended, while 32 percent said it should not.
    • 54 percent of respondents who believe the Constitution should be amended said the changing security environment warrants it; 19 percent said Japan should make clear its defense posture and the SDF’s presence; 14 percent said new rights such as those to privacy and the environment should be included; and 7 percent said the Constitution is still one forced upon Japan by the U.S. 
    • 56 percent of respondents who believe it should not be amended said Article 9 should be preserved; 16 percent said the current text has become entrenched in Japanese citizens’ minds; 16 percent said it already covers basic individual rights; and 4 percent said amending it would heighten tensions with neighboring countries and the world. 

Image: Captain76 (CC BY-SA 3.0)


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