The Weekly Observer: June 14-18

Condensed Ver.

I. News of the Week


Useful COVID-19 Resources (most are updated daily):

1. Government to Lift COVID-19 State of Emergency in Nine Prefectures

  • The government announced Thursday that it will lift the state of emergency in nine prefectures besides Okinawa, which continues to face strains on its medical system, on June 20 and move seven over to pre-emergency measures (man-en bōshi-tō juuten sochi). 

  • As a result, Hokkaido, Tokyo, Aichi, Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto and Fukuoka will continue implementing slightly relaxed coronavirus measures until July 11. Okinawa will remain under the state of emergency until July 11. 

  • The government also decided to lift pre-emergency measures in Gifu and Mie, while extending it in Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa until July 11.

  • The government will continue to ask eateries to close by 8 p.m., while these establishments will now be allowed to serve alcohol to groups of up to four people until 7 p.m. On top of that, governors can request eateries to stop serving alcohol depending on the number of new cases that arise. 

  • Large-scale events will be capped at 5,000 spectators. This cap will be relaxed once the measures are lifted on July 11, allowing up to 10,000 spectators for about a month following this date. 

  • While the government set these national guidelines, it has left much of the decision making up to the governors. For instance, both Tokyo and Osaka will allow groups of up to two people to order alcohol between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., but the former will also ask people to leave after 90 minutes

  • Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of economic revitalization, said Tuesday that while overall numbers nationwide have improved, the number of daily cases has not been declining as steadily in the greater Tokyo area. Tokyo’s seven-day average on Friday was 389 cases, the first time since May 17 that a weekly average was higher than the previous week.

  • He added that although some governors are voicing their support for lifting the current measures, there are still high case numbers and strains on medical systems that warrant careful consideration when making that decision. 

  • Some citizens believe the government is rushing to end the state of emergency and pre-emergency measures for the Olympic Games. Others believe the government is giving citizens some “breathing space” to ensure frustrations don’t bottle up.

2. Experts Predict the “Delta” Variant Will Become Dominant Strain in Mid-July 

  • The health ministry reported that as of June 7, there were 87 people who contracted the “delta” variant (Indian strain) across twelve prefectures. 

  • The number of new “delta” variant cases that week was 34, a significant increase from 24 cases a week ago and 21 cases two weeks ago. 

  • Compared to the “alpha” variant (U.K. strain), “delta” is said to have a higher transmissibility rate1.5 times more than “alpha” and 1.8 to 2 times the original—while the risks of symptoms turning severe are still unknown.

  • Some experts point out that the virus may weaken the effect of the vaccine, with a report suggesting that it is unaffected by immune cells produced by the white blood cell “HLA-A24” (Human Leukocyte Antigen), present in about 60 percent of Japanese people. 

  • The health ministry notes that the “alpha” variant currently constitutes over 90 percent of total cases in Japan. Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, a member of the ministry’s expert panel, published an estimate that the “delta” variant will make up half of total cases by mid-July and reach 80 percent by the end of July.

  • The health ministry reported some worrying statistics on Friday, which shows that last week, a daily average of 4,000 individuals in their 14-day quarantine period did not report their whereabouts through the app as required by the government. The ministry will begin daily video calls with individuals to ensure enforcement.

3. Japan to Complete Vaccinating the Elderly by the End of July

  • A government survey released Wednesday showed that all 1,741 municipalities expect to complete vaccinating citizens over the age of 65 by the end of July. 

  • The government has set the goal of administering a million shots a day, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga hopes to complete vaccinating everyone who wishes to get vaccinated in October and November. 

  • Vaccine czar Taro Kono said Thursday that Japan is likely to reach the government’s goal of a million shots a day this week. While there is a lag in obtaining local level data, it can be assumed that as of Tuesday, there were a total of 960,000 administered shots nationwide. 

  • Data released Tuesday by a University of Tokyo research team shows that reaching a million shots a day will reduce Tokyo and Osaka’s daily case counts in September by 20-30 percent. 

  • Assuming that the state of emergency is lifted on Sunday and the “delta” variant is the dominant strain by the end of August, they find that reaching a million shots will reduce case numbers from around 1,600 (assuming 750,000 shots a day) to 1,200 and push back the peak to the end of September. Osaka will also reduce its case numbers from around 1,500 in early September to 1,200 by mid-month. 

  • The government plans to have municipalities issue paper vaccine certificates/passports sometime in July for those who have passports to travel abroad. It will include the person’s name, nationality, passport number and dates of inoculation, among other information.  

4. Vaccination Pool Extended to General Population

  • Vaccine czar Kono announced Friday that workplace vaccinations for civil servants and ministers will begin on June 21. Ministries and agencies will begin vaccinating officials who are in charge of border measures and crisis management, as well as staff who work at Haneda and Narita airports. 

  • Based on applications submitted to the government, the number of people eligible for workplace vaccination reached 11.98 million on Wednesday. This is equivalent to 300,000 shots per day, which will rapidly accelerate vaccinations in the country.

  • Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda revealed Friday that 174 universities have submitted applications to set up vaccination sites on their campuses. Of these, sixteen plan to begin vaccinating university staff and students on June 21. The target pool could eventually be expanded to include neighboring universities, elementary and middle school teachers, and citizens who live nearby.

  • Vaccine czar Kono said Tuesday that the government will ask companies to avoid wasting vaccines by expanding the target pool to citizens in the neighborhood, affiliate companies and families of employees. 

  • Some companies have already started workplace vaccinations, with Japan Airlines completing the first day of vaccinations on Monday. The company plans to inoculate around 330 employees a day starting June 21 and vaccinate the first group of employees twice as early as mid-July. 

  • SoftBank Group CEO Masayoshi Son told reporters on Tuesday that the company plans to set up fifteen sites across the country to vaccinate 150,000 employees, affiliates and families of employees, as well as 100,000 citizens that live close by. 

  • The government’s SDF-led mass vaccination sites also expanded the target pool to individuals below the age of 64. Anybody with a vaccine ticket issued by municipalities can reserve a spot for vaccination starting Thursday. This comes following reports that there are a significant amount of vacant reservation spots.

Foreign & Defense Policy

5. G7 Summit

  • In the communique published after the summit came to an end on Sunday, the G7 leaders discuss a range of topics from vaccine support to climate change

  • On COVID-19, the leaders commit to providing an additional one billion doses over the next year, increase manufacturing capacity on all continents and support shortening the cycle for the development of safe vaccines from 300 to 100 days.

  • On economic recovery, the leaders second the agreements made in the finance ministers and central bank governors meeting to continue fiscal support for as long as possible, and agree to come to a consensus on the allocation of taxing rights and a global minimum tax of at least 15 percent. 

  • On trade, the leaders agree to reform the WTO, tackle forced labor in global supply chains; strengthen rules to protect against unfair practices such as IP theft and market-distorting action by state-owned enterprises; and establish digital standards for fair competition.  

  • On climate, the leaders commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050; end new direct government support for unabated international coal power generation by the end of the year; and jointly mobilize $100 billion per year through 2025 for decarbonization efforts of developing countries. 

  • The leaders commit to gender equality, democracy promotion as well as upholding the rules-based international system and the rule of law. Without naming China, they strongly oppose unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas. 

  • The leaders commit to challenging China’s unfair trade practices and calling out human rights violations especially in relation to Xinjiang and Hong Kong. They also underscore the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait for the first time in this communique. 

  • The leaders also launched the Build Back Better for the World (B3W) Initiative to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in providing infrastructure financing for developing countries. 

  • It will be a high-standard, climate-friendly, transparent, and rules-based alternative with a focus on climate, health and health security, digital technology, and gender equity and equality. However, the leaders failed to agree on details such as funding, leaving out the term “B3W Initiative” from the communique.

6. Reactions to the G7 Summit

  • Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Tuesday that Japan was able to actively contribute to the discussion and reflect its positions on issues such as the world’s COVID-19 response and the response to the rise of China in the communique. 

  • Japanese media focused on the inclusion of the Taiwan Strait for the first time in a G7 communique and support for hosting the Olympic/Paralympic Games. 

  • Opinions vary on the G7’s approach to China. Yomiuri ran an editorial praising the group for showing its determination to oppose China’s actions that challenge the international order. 

  • Asahi and Mainichi cautioned against being overly antagonistic, arguing that it would be counterproductive to addressing the world’s pressing issues.

  • While most domestic coverage was positive, Politico reported that the U.S. and Japan opposed setting a phaseout deadline for coal power. 

  • The article notes that it is unclear whether Japan will follow through with the agreement to stop financing foreign coal plants by the end of the year. Tokyo currently funds coal only in countries where there is no viable alternative

  • The Chinese Embassy in the U.K. criticized the G7 on Monday for deliberately slandering China and interfering with its internal affairs. On Tuesday, a record-high 28 PLA aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone in a move viewed as a reaction to the G7 communique’s mention of the Taiwan Strait.

7. Bilateral Meetings on the Sidelines of the G7 Summit 

  • Canada: Suga and Trudeau agreed to promote further cooperation regarding the six priority areas recently agreed between the two countries to realize a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP); collaborate on ensuring equitable access to vaccines; and shared concerns about Chinese maritime activities and North Korea. 

  • Australia: Suga and Morrison agreed to deepen cooperation toward realizing FOIP; promote cooperation within the Quad and with ASEAN and Europe; welcomed the announcement of the “Partnership on Decarbonisation through Technology,” which strives to make low and zero emissions technology scalable and commercially viable; and shared concerns about Chinese maritime activities and North Korea. 

  • France: Suga and Macron agreed to advance further cooperation in fields such as green technology; increase cooperation in the Indo-Pacific; and exchanged views on the regional situation, including North Korea

  • Germany: Suga expressed his desire to cooperate with Germany to form an international order to address issues such as COVID-19 and climate change. He also welcomed Germany’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific, while Merkel said she hoped to strengthen bilateral cooperation in security. The two exchanged views on the situation in East Asia including China, Russia and others.

  • U.K.: Suga and Johnson agreed to work together to form an international order to address issues such as COVID-19 and climate change; shared the view to accelerate coordination of bilateral and multilateral exercises especially in the Indo-Pacific; discussed U.K.’s accession to CPTPP; exchanged views on the regional situation, including China; and confirmed cooperation in dealing with North Korea, including the abduction issue. 

  • U.S.: Suga and Biden reaffirmed that the two countries will work closely to achieve FOIP and acknowledge the importance of ASEAN. 

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato stated Monday that Japan protested South Korea’s claims that Tokyo unilaterally cancelled a Suga-Moon summit scheduled to be held on the sidelines of the G7 summit. President Moon Jae-in was present in Cornwall as a guest alongside Australia and South Africa

8. Foreign Policy Developments

  • A South Korean Foreign Ministry official revealed Wednesday that Sung Kim, the new U.S. envoy for North Korea, is expected to visit Seoul between June 19-23 and participate in a three-way meeting including Japan

  • Japan is sending Takehiro Funakoshi, the director-general of MOFA’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau. The three sides are expected to discuss a response to North Korea

  • Japan sent a million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Vietnam, which faces a surge in cases due to the “delta” strain, on Wednesday. Vietnam is the second country after Taiwan to receive AstraZeneca vaccines from Japan. 

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato announced Tuesday that Japan will host the triennial Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM) online on July 2. Japan views Pacific Island nations as critical partners to achieving FOIP. The countries will discuss topics such as the COVID-19 response, sustainable management of the seas, climate change, sustainable growth and developing human resources. 

  • Yomiuri reported Tuesday that Japan and South Korea are arranging for President Moon to visit Japan during the Olympic Games. South Korea reportedly wants to hold a leaders’ summit, while Japan is reluctant given it does not expect Seoul to make any proposals to resolve the historical disputes. 

9. Defense-Related Developments

  • On Thursday, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi became the first Japanese defense minister to speak at a meeting of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Security and Defense. 

  • In his speech, Kishi pointed out that Japan faces the same challenges with the EU in the Indo-Pacific region—namely, unilateral attempts to change the status quo. He also emphasized the importance of Japan-EU cooperation to uphold the rule of law and promote a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. 

  • Kishi attended the Eighth ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) Plus held online on Wednesday. The ADMM-Plus brought together the ten ASEAN countries with eight “Plus” countries including Japan, the U.S., China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and South Korea. 

  • In the meeting, Kishi expressed his resolve to take a leading role to address global challenges, such as climate change, cyber security, disaster response, and concrete cooperation in infectious disease control.

  • Kishi also expressed his intention to work closely with like-minded countries under FOIP; support for ASEAN centrality and its “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific”; and expressed his determination to contribute to practical defense cooperation under the ADMM-Plus framework.

  • Kishi also stressed the importance of upholding the rule of law, pointing out that there are continued attempts to unilaterally change the status quo in the East and South China Seas. 

  • He added that China’s Coast Guard Law should not undermine the rights of other countries. Kishi also stated that peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is important for the international community, urging for the peaceful resolution of issues pertaining to Taiwan. 

  • On Tuesday, Kishi protested South Korea’s undisclosed military exercise in the areas surrounding Japan’s Takeshima Islands (Korean name: Dokdo). South Korea holds two exercises near the Japanese islands annually. 

  • NHK reported Monday that the defense ministry is planning to develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with AI alongside the ASDF’s next generation fighters it plans to deploy around 2035. Using UAVs will allow for early detection of enemy fighters and missiles, as well as improve safety for pilots by flying into airspace away from aircraft. 

Domestic Politics

10. Cabinet Approves Economic and Fiscal Policy Guidelines for 2020-2021

  • Started in 2001, the basic policy document shows the core policies of the cabinet and the direction of budgeting for the next fiscal year. In this year’s document, economic policies feature heavily to aid recovery from the pandemic.

  • One major change from the draft presented last week is the inclusion of the October-November goal to complete vaccinating all willing residents. 

  • The government pledges to prioritize budgeting for four pillars of growth: realizing a green society, accelerating digitization, creating vibrant regional economies and achieving a society accommodating to families with children. The growth strategy also discusses expanding investments into these growing fields.

  • The government recommits to the goal of achieving a primary balance surplus (revenue – expenditure) by FY 2025, but adds that a reevaluation will occur by the end of the year to analyze the impact of the pandemic. A Cabinet Office calculation in January projected that COVID-19 spending and decreasing tax revenue will push back achieving primary balance surplus to FY 2029

  • The document also discusses strengthening measures to prevent the outflow of advanced technology, preparing for the establishment of a “Children’s Agency” to manage policies related to children, and a commitment to addressing loneliness and isolation that has become a more serious issue during the pandemic.

  • The growth strategy, which fleshes out measures to realize the basic policy, states that the government will install 1,000 hydrogen stations for fuel cell vehicles and 30,000 charging stations for electric vehicles by 2030. It also mentions establishing data centers to house critical data in Japan instead of abroad.

  • The Implementation Plan for Regulatory Reform, also approved on Friday, sets out goals such as transitioning most administrative procedures online in the next five years and permanently allowing online healthcare from the first visit starting 2022

11. No Confidence Resolution Submitted in the Final Days of 204th Diet Session

  • Four opposition parties submitted Tuesday a no-confidence resolution against the Suga cabinet ahead of the end of the Diet session on Wednesday. It was struck down in the Diet by the LDP, Komeito and Japan Innovation Party (Ishin no Kai). 

  • The opposition decided to submit the resolution after the ruling coalition rejected its demands to keep the Diet open for another three months to deliberate COVID-19 policies and form a supplementary budget for this fiscal year. 

  • Main opposition CDP leader Yukio Edano made a speech explaining why the opposition submitted the resolution, choosing to criticize the cabinet and provide a glimpse of what an Edano cabinet would advocate for. 

  • Among other policies, Edano proposed a temporary reduction in the consumption tax to five percent, an income tax exemption for those who make less than around ten million yen, and cash handouts for low-income earners. 

  • However, CDP Secretary-General Tetsuro Fukuyama said Wednesday that the party is unlikely to include a reduction in consumption tax in its campaign pledge, arguing that it will be difficult to achieve. 

  • This could cause problems when running a united front with the other opposition parties, which have demanded this be a centerpiece of the campaign.

12. Diet Session Ends on Wednesday

  • The 204th Diet session came to a close on Wednesday. The government passed 97 percent of the 63 bills it submitted to the Diet, including the revised special measures law for measures against the coronavirus and the law establishing the Digital Agency. This is the highest success rate in the last five years. 

  • The Diet approved Wednesday a bill restricting land purchases near SDF facilities or other areas with national security implications (jūyō tochi-tō chōsa hōan). It aims to fill what proponents say is a blind spot in reporting land transactions that leave strategically located properties at risk of falling into the wrong hands.

  • Set to take effect in FY 2022, the government can designate areas around 1 km from important facilities such as SDF bases and nuclear power plants as “monitored areas” (chūshi kuiki). It can also review owner names and nationalities as well as leasing rights. An owner found to have close ties to a foreign country will have to report the purpose of the land’s use.

  • The government can also designate “specially monitored areas” (tokubetsu chūshi kuiki), or areas of particular importance such as SDF headquarters or uninhabited islands near territorial boundaries, where buying and selling land of a specified size will require the landowner to disclose their name and citizenship in advance.

  • The government can block the use of land and fine or imprison individuals who misuse land in ways that threaten national security. Submitting false information or failing to report a deal for land in “specially monitored areas” will carry a prison sentence of up to six months or a maximum fine of ¥1 million (≈$9,000).

  • The Diet approved Tuesday a bill that allows COVID-19 patients recovering at home or those who have come into contact with patients, and those who return from abroad and in quarantine, to vote by mail. It will come into effect before the Tokyo Assembly election campaign begins on June 25 (election day is July 4).

  • The Upper House Steering Committee (un-ei iinkai) decided Thursday that occupational vaccinations for lawmakers and Diet staff will begin sometime next month. The Lower House committee made a similar decision last week. 

13. State of the Economy

  • The finance ministry released on Wednesday Japan’s May trade statistics. It showed a trade deficit of ¥187.1 billion, the first deficit in four months. 

  • Exports grew 49.6 percent from the same month last year largely due to auto sales to the U.S. and Europe, while imports also rose 27.9 percent due to an increase in imports of crude oil and petroleum products. 

  • Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said Tuesday that Japan should reconsider its financing strategy for coal plants abroad, pointing out that the government should comply with the agreement in the G7 communique to phase out direct government support for coal plants. 

  • NHK reported Monday that the government plans to implement new measures to increase reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to 100 million tons. 

  • It will strengthen the joint crediting mechanism (JCM), in which Japan provides low-carbon technologies in exchange for credits which are shared with the partner country to reach their respective reduction targets. 

  • The government plans to introduce the JCM overseas, mainly in fields such as renewable energy, logistics and waste. The combined scale of business in both the public and private sector is expected to be up to about ¥1 trillion.

  • At the end of last year, the amount of emissions reduction from the JCM was projected to be 17 million tons between 2013-2030. The government hopes the new strategy will help it reduce emissions 46 percent by 2030 from 2013 levels. 

14. 35 Days Until the Olympic Games 

  • With a month or so left until the games, the question is not whether the event will proceed but how many spectators will be allowed into the venues. 

  • The government has ruled out on several occasions any possibility of cancelling the games. Suga emphasized G7 countries’ support, while junior coalition partner Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said cancelling the games now would be unrealistic and only cause citizens to feel uneasy. 

  • Meanwhile, Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s expert panel, reiterated his recommendation that the games should be held without any spectators if there are signs that case numbers are rising. 

  • He added that if spectators are allowed in, there must be stricter standards in place to mitigate a viral spread and avoid overwhelming the medical system. Omi submitted his recommendations to the organizing committee on Friday. 

  • The government is looking to allow up to 10,000 spectators, which is in line with the decision it made to relax maximum capacity from 5,000 to 10,000 for events held during or after the state of emergency and pre-emergency measures are lifted.

  • A final decision is likely to be made in the five-way talks between the GOJ, Tokyo, the organizing committee, the IOC and IPC on Monday next week. 

  • Minister Nishimura requested the Japan Business Federation, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives’ cooperation in promoting remote work and staggered vacations to curb the flow of people during the games.

15. Other Developments

  • Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato said Thursday that the government will make the appropriate decision regarding a Myanmar national soccer team player who sought refugee status after playing a game in Japan. 

  • The player refused to return home with the other players, citing fear of detention and “no guarantee of life” for making a three-finger salute in protest against the military coup in Myanmar during a recent match.

  • Since last month, Japan has taken emergency measures to allow Myanmar citizens to remain in the country for a year. On Friday, reports emerged that the immigration agency is arranging to grant the player refugee status once he submits an official application.

  • An LDP special committee for promoting women’s active participation put together a proposal on Thursday calling on the party to raise the percentage of female candidates running for office to 35 percent by 2030. 

  • The special committee previously considered proposing a 15 percent target for the upcoming snap election, but withdrew it after lawmakers voiced their opposition to setting an unrealistic goal. The committee will submit the proposal to Policy Research Council Chair Hakubun Shimomura soon.

  • LDP Policy Research Council Chair Shimomura said Wednesday that the party will begin considering additional economic policies next week to aid individuals and businesses that have been hit especially hard by the prolonged pandemic. This is likely to include consideration of a supplementary budget, which the LDP decided not to form in the last days of the Diet session.

  • NHK reported Tuesday that the communications ministry found information leaks resulting from the Fujitsu software hacking incident which occurred last month. 

  • Fujitsu’s ProjectWEB software is widely used by both the public and private sector, including various ministries such as the land, infrastructure and transport ministry, which reported that at least 76,000 email addresses of its employees and business partners were leaked. 

  • A group of casualty insurance companies announced that, due to an increase in natural disasters in recent years, fire insurance premiums will be hiked a record-high 10.9 percent. A price increase will likely impact households that need insurance to cover damages from fires, typhoons and other natural disasters.

  • An LDP parliamentary federation promoting the Free and Open Indo-Pacific held its first meeting on Tuesday. The federation was established by Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and welcomed former prime minister Shinzo Abe as its senior advisor.


16. Parties Begin Preparing for Consequential Election

  • At a press conference on Thursday, Suga stated that he will call the Lower House election before his term as LDP president ends at the end of September. 

  • Reports suggest the prime minister believes winning the Lower House election will lead to his reelection as LDP president. An electoral victory is likely to quash any factional moves to remove Suga, unaffiliated with any faction, from office.

  • Suga is likely to wait until after the Paralympic Games, which end on September 5, to dissolve the Lower House. Yomiuri reports that the most likely scenario will be dissolving the House at the beginning of an extraordinary Diet session in early September, with election day on October 10 or 17 (both Sundays). 

  • Multiple reports suggest that the prime minister will also decide based on the COVID-19 situation, progress in vaccinations and the cabinet’s approval rating.

  • At a Japan Trade Union Confederation (JTUC) Central Executive Committee meeting on Thursday, CDP leader Edano said he will not form a coalition government with the Communist Party and will only seek partial cooperation

  • This comes after the JTUC, a major backer of the CDP, and the Democratic People’s Party, a potential coalition partner, voiced opposition to forming a coalition with the JCP due to fundamental differences in policy views.

17. Tokyo Assembly Election 

  • The Tokyoites First Party (Tomin Fāsuto no Kai), which holds the most seats in the assembly, announced Tuesday its campaign pledges ahead of the assembly election slated for July 4 (campaign begins on June 25)

  • Its three key policies are accelerating vaccinations to resume economic activities; helping citizens through policies such as cash handouts and health checkups; and demanding the Olympics be held without spectators.

  • The third, in particular, is a strong contrast from the LDP-Komeito coalition’s pledges, which did not include any mention of whether the games should be held. The coalition has stated at press conferences that it supports holding the games as long as coronavirus countermeasures are in place. 

  • A major point of interest that could sway the result of this election is whether Governor Yuriko Koike officially endorses the Tokyoites First Party. So far, she has circled around voicing support for the party she led to victory in the last election.

  • Reports suggest that Koike is assessing how the LDP and the Suga cabinet performs. Others suggest that she is reluctant to oppose the LDP because national subsidies are indispensable to improve Tokyo’s finances, which were hit hard by heavy spending during the pandemic.

Other Noteworthy News

  • Ex-justice Minister Kawai Sentenced to Three Years in Prison: On Friday, the Tokyo District Court sentenced Katsuyuki Kawai, former LDP lawmaker and justice minister in the Abe cabinet, to three years in prison and ordered him to forfeit ¥1.3 million. The court certified that Kawai paid around ¥29 million to bribe one hundred local politicians and members of his supporters’ association (kōenkai) in Hiroshima to have them support his wife’s campaign in the 2019 Upper House election. The court rejected the defense’s claim that Kawai should be given a suspended sentence (shikkō yūyo), stating that the case undermined the fairness of elections and thus warranted a severe sentence. Kawai initially pleaded not guilty until he reversed course in March, admitting to most of the vote-buying charges and requesting a suspended sentence. The sentence means Kawai’s civil rights will be suspended for the next five years, barring him from running for public office for five years following the end of his prison term. In February, Anri Kawai, his wife, was also sentenced to a year and four months with a five year suspension for paying ¥1.6 million in bribes to four Hiroshima prefectural assembly members.

  • Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry Weighs in On Toshiba Issue: Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama said Tuesday that the ministry will not conduct its own investigation into the issue in which Toshiba and METI conspired to prevent shareholders from exercising their voting rights at last year’s annual general meeting. Kajiyama added that Toshiba cannot maintain stability if its “activist shareholders” continue to demand changes to the board and a return of profits. Toshiba, which has security-related projects such as nuclear power plants, is currently subject to the Foreign Exchange Law that regulates foreign investment. The third-party report published by three lawyers last week indicated that Toshiba requested METI use its authority to threaten companies with this law to prevent them from exercising their voting rights. The company planned to prevent Effissimo Capital Management, which holds 9.9 percent of Toshiba shares, from exercising its shareholder proposal to add three of its nominees to the board. The report concludes that Toshiba did not “fairly manage” the meeting. Despite demands from the business world to explain its involvement in the issue, METI maintains that there is nothing to explain. There is a risk that this decision prompts domestic and foreign investors to become more suspicious of government intervention. It will also throw into question the government’s commitment to improving corporate governance.

II. Public Opinion Polls

  • An NHK poll released Monday showed a 37 percent approval rating for the Suga cabinet, up 2 percent from May, and a disapproval rating of 45 percent, up two percent.
    • 41 percent of respondents said they disapprove because they believe Suga can’t execute, while 34 percent said they have low expectations for the cabinet’s policies.
    • 71 percent of respondents said they are somewhat or very worried about their family (or themselves) contracting the coronavirus, while 16 percent said they are a little worried or not worried at all.
    • 38 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly approve of the government’s coronavirus response, up 6 percent, while 58 percent said they disapprove, down 5 percent.
    • 24 percent of respondents said the government’s vaccination program is proceeding at a good pace, while 65 percent it is slow
    • 56 percent of respondents said they want a vaccine passport/certificate that can be used domestically and internationally; 17 percent said there should be no vaccine passport; and 16 percent said they want a passport that can be used only when traveling abroad. 
    • 32 percent said the Olympic Games should be held with limited spectators; 31 percent of respondents said it should be cancelled; 29 percent said it should be held with no spectators; and 3 percent said it should be held as originally planned
    • 29 percent of respondents said they were somewhat or very convinced by the government and organizing committee’s explanations about the significance of hosting the games and the adequacy of the coronavirus countermeasures in place, while 68 percent said they were not very convinced or not convinced at all
    • 80 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly feel that China’s increasing military power and maritime assertiveness in the East and South China Seas are a security threat, while 13 percent don’t feel that it is a threat.
    • 69 percent of respondents will consider the ongoing issue of money and politics greatly or a little when voting in the upcoming Lower House election, while 24 percent will not consider it too much or at all
  • The survey also collected data on the latest approval ratings of political parties.
Party NameApproval Rate (%)
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)36 (+2)
Komeito (coalition partner of the LDP)4 (+1)
Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP)6 (±0)
Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party)2 (±0)
Democratic Party for the People (DPP)1 (±0)
Japanese Communist Party (JCP)3 (±0)
Social Democratic Party (SDP)0 (±0)
Reiwa Shinsengumi0 (±0)
Independents41 (-3)
Number in parenthesis shows net change from May survey
  • A Jiji Press poll released Friday showed that 41 percent of respondents believe the Olympics should be cancelled, up one percent from April; 30 percent believe it should be held, up one percent; and 22 percent believe it should be postponed again, down four percent. 
    • 64 percent of respondents said the games should be held without spectators; 27 percent said with a cap on spectators; and 4 percent said without any limits.
  • A Tokyo Shoko Research poll released Tuesday revealed that 36 percent of Japanese companies (9,163 surveyed) want the Olympic Games to be held as originally planned, down 8 percent from the last survey in February; 35 percent want it cancelled, up 12 percent; and 29 percent want it postponed, down 4 percent.
    • Of the companies that want the games postponed or cancelled (5,859 companies), 76 percent (multiple answers allowed) cited low domestic vaccination rates; another 76 percent cited concerns about a spike in cases when those involved in the games come from abroad; and 64 percent cited concerns that taking medical staff away from local healthcare systems will overwhelm these systems further.
    • Out of 4,092 companies, 59 percent said postponing or cancelling the games would have a negative impact on business, while 41 percent said it would have a positive impact 

Image: Captain76 (CC BY-SA 3.0)


One thought on “The Weekly Observer: June 14-18

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