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Wuhan Coronavirus Rings Economic Alarms

SNA (Tokyo) — The following stories were reported in the last half of January 2020 by the Shingetsu News Agency.

Rolling Coverage: Wuhan Coronavirus

—The Wuhan virus has reached Japan as a Chinese national who lives in Kanagawa Prefecture was infected. The infection happened some days ago, however, and he has already been released from the hospital.

—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds meeting at the Kantei to discuss countermeasures against the Wuhan virus, including enhanced monitoring at ports and airports, as well as quarantine policies.

—Ministry of Health reports that a second case of Wuhan Coronavirus has been discovered in Japan, from a Chinese tourist in his 40s. Face mask and hand sanitizer sales accelerating in Japan as concern spreads.

—Fears rising within Japan’s tourism industry about the possible spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus as Chinese tourists form the largest-single group of inbound tourists to Japan, and this is a major holiday weekend in China.

—Japan reiterates support for Taiwan to participate in the World Health Organization Assembly as an observer. Taiwan has three confirmed cases of Wuhan Coronavirus so far, but has been excluded from meetings because of Beijing’s pressure.

—Another Chinese traveler confirmed as infected with the Wuhan Coronavirus, making a total of three found in the past few days. There have yet to be any confirmed human-to-human coronavirus infection in Japan.

—Abe government to charter a plane to evacuate Japanese citizens from quarantined Wuhan city and Hubei Province. There are more than 500 Japanese trapped in Hubei, but the government wants to bring them back to Japan in spite of possibility of spreading the infection.

—First the South Korean boycott and now the restrictions on Chinese outbound tourism over the coronavirus outbreak are making it highly unlikely that the government’s target of 40 million foreign tourists in 2020 will be met, although it is still only January.

—A 4th Chinese traveler to Japan has been confirmed as having the Wuhan Coronavirus. The fact that patients may be asymptomatic for days after catching the bug makes it near impossible to stop at national borders.

—Japan confirms first domestic case of Wuhan Coronavirus of someone who hasn’t recently traveled to China. It is a bus driver in his 60s who operated a tour bus including travelers from Wuhan. Meanwhile, the number of cases in Japan rises to six.

—Prominent rightwing commentator Naoki Hyakuta has started calling for all Chinese to be banned from traveling to Japan, and has been attacking the Abe government for failing to take heavy-handed measures. He believes Wuhan Coronavirus could cause mass deaths in Japan.

—Meanwhile, Japanese journalist Kaori Arimoto wants the Abe government to make a demand to the Chinese government that all Chinese coronavirus patients who can’t pay their medical bills will have the money reimbursed by Beijing. There’s nothing that rightwingers and demagogues love so much as a climate of fear, and the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus is precisely the kind of atmosphere in which their political disease can also take wider hold. Fear melds so easily into hate.

—Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy Yasutoshi Nishimura: “There are concerns over the impact to the global economy from the spread of infection in China… we’re concerned it could hurt Japanese exports, output, and corporate profits.”

—The first airplane chartered by the Japan government returns from Wuhan, China, to Haneda Airport with 206 Japanese evacuees on board. There is no plan to quarantine the returnees.

—The Abe government wants to charge all of the Japanese citizens it evacuated from Wuhan and Hubei Province, China, a ¥80,000 fee for transportation. This policy is quickly coming under criticism from many directions.

—Of the 206 Japanese nationals evacuated from the Wuhan area, thirteen have fevers and/or coughing, and twelve of them have been hospitalized. As the total to be evacuated is about 440 people, the charter plane is beginning its second trip to Wuhan.

—All 206 returnees from the Wuhan area being tested for the new coronavirus, except for two people who are refusing to give their consent to be tested.

—The Japanese bus driver in Nara who was the first in Japan to be confirmed as having been infected by the Wuhan Coronavirus without traveling to China is not alone. Tests have found that the female tour guide on the same bus is also infected.

—Toyota Motor Corporation announces that it is freezing all automobile production at its plants in China until at least February 9 as a reaction to the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus.

—All Nippon Airways announces that it will suspend all flights to Wuhan, China, at least through the end of February as a measure to slow the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus.

—Health Ministry confirms that three of the initial 206 Japanese evacuees from Wuhan have been infected by the Coronavirus. Two of them have yet to show any symptoms and were only discovered because almost all the evacuees were tested.

—Second group of Japanese evacuees from Wuhan, this time numbering 210, has touched down in Tokyo and beginning their health checks.

—The Osaka Prefectural Government declares it will be fully transparent about any Wuhan Coronavirus cases, even if the Abe government characteristically refuses to be open. Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura says, “The national government must publicize the facts.”

—In second group of 210 Wuhan evacuees, all of them agreed to undergo checks for the Coronavirus. As for the two that refused the checks in the first group of 206, the government explains there is no law that compels them to consent if they adamantly refuse.

—The eleven Wuhan Coronavirus infection cases so far reported in Japan puts it third internationally, behind China’s 7,711 and Thailand’s fourteen confirmed cases.

—Former Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe attacks Abe government’s handling of Coronavirus issue, saying they’re too lax in measures to stop its spread; says their argument the two evacuees can’t be legally required to be tested is wrong. Constitution mandates “public welfare.”

—Foreign visitors to Japan over the course of 2019 came in at just under 31.2 million. About 25% of these visitors were mainland Chinese, so the potential effect of Wuhan Coronavirus combined with the South Korean boycott of the rightwing Abe government can be appreciated.

Rolling Coverage: Russia Relations

—Another Japanese fishing boat has been detained near the Southern Kurils. Shoyomaru 68 was fishing (with permission) for cod and flounder in Russia’s EEZ. The Russian authorities report “finding undeclared catch.” Five Japanese ships were similarly detained in December. There are a couple of possible explanations for the frequent detentions. 1) Japanese ships are regularly exceeding catch quotas. 2) The Sakhalin authorities don’t like the system that allows Japanese ships to operate in their local waters and are seeking to force its end.

—Russian authorities justify detention of Shoyomaru 68. The fishing vessel was allegedly carrying 714 kg of undeclared ray plus flounder that had been illicitly processed on board. The ship was damaged after being detained and may not be able to return to Japan unaided.

—Shoyomaru 68, which was detained on January 15, has been released and returned to Hokkaido. Russia says the boat had processed flounder on board (which is not permitted under the rules for fishing near Southern Kurils) and an undeclared catch of ray. It was fined ¥120,000.

—Foreign Ministry declines to comment on Dmitri Medvedev’s resignation. Some might think his departure positive for Japan since he took a harder line on the territorial dispute and visited Southern Kurils. This is wrong. He was not an influential independent actor in this area.

—Sakhalin Governor Valeri Limarenko is in favor of restarting Korsakov-Wakkanai ferry services, but says agreement is needed with Hokkaido on who will pay. The link was suspended in 2019. Limarenko says he also supports joint projects with Japan on the Southern Kurils.

—Japan’s National Museum of Territory and Sovereignty reopens after moving to Kasumigaseki. New museum is seven times larger, with much more on the Northern Territories, including claims that the territories are Japan’s “inherent territory” and “illegally occupied” by Russia.

—In a serious blow to Japan-Russia relations, Moscow’s first and only Japanese gyudon restaurant has closed after only six months, citing poor sales. The Matsuya branch was expected to be first of thirty, but the Japanese beef bowl seems not to have proved popular.

—Customs in Vladivostok have blocked entry into Russia of car from Japan in which radiation was detected. It is being returned to Japan. Since Fukushima disaster, Russian customs have blocked 875 radioactive cars from Japan, but this is the first in three years.

—Japan will regret the record Russian spending on developing the Kurils. The irony is that much of the money comes from energy taxes paid to Sakhalin, and Japanese companies are an active contributor to this budget through their involvement in Sakhalin energy projects.

—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe responds in the Diet to opposition claims that he made significant concessions to Russia in the territorial dispute: “The Northern Territories are a territory to which Japan’s sovereignty extends. There have been no changes in this position.”

—Abe is on the defensive because he changed Japan’s position on the Northern Territories. In 2018, he agreed to advance talks based on the 1956 Joint Declaration, which only mentions Shikotan and Habomai. He also won’t say any longer that the islands are “inherent territory.”

—Ex-National Security Adviser Shotaro Yachi effectively says that Abe’s efforts to resolve the territorial issue with Russia and sign a peace treaty have completely failed. It is unusual for a recently retired official to be quite so forthright about government policy.

—After being detained by police, a 48-year-old Japanese man has confessed to stealing data from SoftBank and selling it to Russian trade representatives in Tokyo. Police want to speak to two Russian officials. The Russian embassy complains of “anti-Russian spy mania.” The stolen SoftBank data that was passed to the Russians allegedly relates to telecommunications base stations. One of the suspected Russian trade officials is in his/her 50s, the other returned to Russia in 2017. Japanese police wish to speak to both.

—After 17 years, Aeroflot to restart Moscow-Kansai route with four flights weekly from Sheremetyevo (Moscow area), starting in June. This is part of a boom in Russia-Japan flights. JAL are ANA are starting flights to Vladivostok, and ANA will restart flights to Moscow.

—Russia says it detained a Japanese journalist in Vladivostok and expelled him from the country for attempting to gather secret info about the Russian military. This happened on December 25. The release of this news now is clearly connected with the SoftBank spy case.

—The Japanese journalist expelled from Russia in late December on suspicion of spying was working for Kyodo News. He says he was engaged in ordinary journalism activities. Russia handed note of protest to Japan’s embassy. Japanese media reported none of this at the time.

—In the SoftBank spy case, the info allegedly passed to Russia included manuals for mobile phone base stations. This seems like low-level material. Nikkei speculates that Russia would be interested with a view to increasing their knowledge of 5G infrastructure.

Rolling Coverage: Carlos Ghosn

—Junichiro Hironaka and Takashi Takano resign as defense lawyers for Carlos Ghosn, leaving only three Japanese lawyers remaining on the team.

—French President Emmanuel Macron tells a press conference that he had repeatedly asked Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to improve the treatment of Carlos Ghosn while was in custody.

—Carlos Ghosn reveals in an interview that at least some of the people who helped him escape from Japan were Japanese nationals, but again says he will not go into detail about these events.

—Behind the Sakura Curtain: Even the Japan Communist Party is taking the same line on Carlos Ghosn as conservative Justice Minister Masako Mori: “If he is so confident of his innocence, he should prove it in court.” Ghosn must “prove his innocence.”

—Carlos Ghosn escape may lead to changes in Japan’s criminal justice system. But don’t get excited. The main lesson they learned is that they should have tougher measures to prevent bail jumping, including the possibility of attaching GPS monitoring to the bodies of suspects.

—More than a year into the Carlos Ghosn case and weeks after his escape to Lebanon, the only response of the Japanese political and legal system has been to circle the wagons and not admit that even the slightest criticism of the case is warranted.

—Justice Ministry’s response to widespread “hostage justice” criticisms is simply a point blank denial that there’s any problem: “The Japanese criminal justice system does not force confessions by unduly holding defendants in custody.”

—Domestic rights groups issue “Joint Statement to Urge the Japanese Government to Immediately Accept the Country Visit by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.”

—Justice Minister Masako Mori grants an interview to the Financial Times, attacking Ghosn, but admitting the justice system “isn’t 100% perfect and without fault… I truly want you to trust me when I say that if there are faults we will fix them, openly and above board.”

—Tokyo prosecutors again raid the offices of former Carlos Ghosn lead lawyer Junichiro Hironaka. Ghosn’s defense team fended off an earlier raid by prosecutors, but presumably the prosecutors feel they are now on stronger ground since Hironaka resigned from Ghosn’s service.

—Tokyo prosecutors now investigating Michael Taylor and George Zayek, the two US citizens with strong links to Lebanon’s Maronite community who are believed to have assisted Carlos Ghosn in his flight from Japan.

—Tokyo prosecutors issue arrest warrants for Carlos Ghosn, Michael Taylor, George-Antoine Zayek, and Peter Taylor, none of whom are currently in Japan. The latter three are suspected of helping Ghosn plan and executed his escape from Japan.

Rolling Coverage: US-Japan Relations

—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proud of his golf: “I’ve played golf together with President Trump no less than four times thus far. Although in my heart I consider that too to be evidence that the US-Japan Alliance has deepened, never, of course, would I ever claim such a thing aloud.”

—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: “Let us keep and enhance the US-Japan Alliance, while making it even more steadfast, to make it a pillar safeguarding freedom, liberty, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, one that sustains the whole world, 60 years, 100 years down the road.”

—Japan to launch a “Space Domain Mission Unit” at Fuchu, Tokyo, as part of the Air Self-Defense Forces. This mirrors military organizational changes in the United States, and in fact the new unit is expected to work closely with their US counterparts.

—Tokyo resident Catherine Jane Fisher, who was raped by a US soldier in Japan in 2002, petitions the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to revise the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which allows US military criminals to escape justice.

—US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Korea and Japan Marc Knapper making waves by declaring that each Japan and South Korea “is an ally, not a dependent,” meaning that they should give in to Washington’s demands to pay the US billions more in protection money.

—US Navy MH-60 helicopter makes what Jiji Press calls an “unscheduled landing” in waters off the coast of Okinawa. All five crew members are rescued.

—Japan and the US military will conduct joint training exercises called “Northern Viper” at Hokudaien and Yausubetsu Training Areas in Hokkaido Prefecture from January 26 to February 8.

—Interim US Ambassador to Japan Joseph Young indicates that Japan must pay much more to host US troops. Meanwhile, Ryukyu Shimpo points out that since 1978, Japanese taxpayers have paid about US$70 billion for US armed forces, much more than the annual national budget.


—Just as in the Moritomo Gakuen case, it emerges that the Abe government not only destroyed evidence, but also rewrote at least one document provided to the National Diet in the cherry blossom viewing scandal.

—Cherry Blossom Viewing Scandal: Shinzo Abe would have the nation believe that his own political office compiles lists of his political supporters to be invited to the annual party and then quickly discards the list, not keeping a record of supporters in his own constituency.

—Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi and newscaster Christel Takigawa, Japan’s leading power couple, become parents to a baby boy. So long as the tot has some brains (and Japan being Japan), this could be the birth of another future prime minister or top business executive.

—Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi makes clear that he supports allowing married couples to use different surnames: “Quite often in Japan, simply offering an option sparks the kind of stiff resistance that you’d expect from abolishing the existing system,” he observes.

—Japan Communist Party 28th Congress also reemphasizes that the party aims to form a coalition government with other opposition parties to put an end to the LDP regime. They hope this will happen before the party’s 100th anniversary in 2022. In recent years, Japan Communist Party has radically reversed its traditional go-it-alone stance on working with other opposition parties, but it has been leaders like Yukio Edano who have been refusing the hand of cooperation, unwilling to commit to progressive politics.

—Japan Communist Party now all in on gender equality and LGBT rights: “Create a gender equal society; Defend and guarantee equality of rights between men and women in all fields… eliminate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

—Ruling party lawmaker Mio Sugita once again showcases her retrograde, rightwing views by demanding that women who don’t want to use their husbands’ family names can solve their problem by simply not getting married. She heckled the opposition over this matter in Diet debate.

—Conservative Okinawa lawmaker Mikio Shimoji, caught receiving a bribe from a Chinese lottery firm and being expelled from the Japan Innovation Party (Osaka Ishin), indicates he will not resign from the House of Representatives and will continue as an independent lawmaker.

—Opposition parties jointly submit a bill on the first day of the Diet session calling for the repeal of the 2016 and 2018 laws, pushed through by the Abe government, that legalized casino gambling at three yet-to-be-built Integrated Resorts.

—Abe government submits a new record budget for FY2020 amounting to ¥102.7 trillion (about US$934 billion). They are also asking for a supplementary FY2019 budget.

—Democratic Party For the People facing potential split after its lawmakers vote 28 to 21 against immediately joining the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. The conservatives in the party want their policies to prevail in the merger beyond what their numbers justify.

—Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan says that it has made all the concessions to the Democratic Party For the People that it is going to make, and since the DPFP has rejected merger on those terms, the party merger talks are at an end for the time being.

—Taro Yamamoto of Reiwa Shinsengumi may become the unified opposition candidate to run against incumbent Yuriko Koike in the July 5 Tokyo gubernatorial race. Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has now itself raised the possibility of supporting Yamamoto.

—Conservative Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda handily beats an anti-base challenger backed by the opposition parties to win a 4th term in office.

—Osaka High Court backs the central government over Izumisano city in their dispute over the Furusato Nozei (Hometown Tax) rewards scheme. Izumisano was ejected from the program by the Internal Affairs Ministry for offering taxpayers relatively expensive gifts.


—Defense Ministry deploys two Air Self-Defense Force C-130 transport planes and about 70 personnel to Australia to help the battle against the wildfires. This is the kind of international deployment that Japan should focus on, rather than the nonsense in the Gulf of Oman.

—At the Japan Communist Party 28th Congress, which has been held this week in Atami, China comes under heavy criticism. Chairman Kazuo Shii declares: “The Chinese leadership’s errors are extremely serious. They do not deserve the name of ‘Communist Party.'”

—Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association reports that 2019 sales of Japanese vehicles dropped 22% from the previous year, another reflection of the antagonism caused by the rightwing Abe government’s multi-year campaign to whitewash wartime history.

—Voluntary Agency Network of Korea, a Seoul-based group promoting South Korean history and culture, says it has collected 56,800 signatures for a petition calling for a ban on the Rising Sun Flag at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which many associate with Japanese imperialism.

—Permanent Hero: About 5,000 mourners gathered in Fukuoka for a ceremony honoring slain Dr. Tetsu Nakamura. The Afghan ambassador to Japan praised Nakamura as a “permanent hero” for his life of service to the poor and to refugees.


—In a major and unexpected legal victory for the anti-nuclear movement, the Hiroshima High Court orders Shikoku Electric to suspend operations of the Ikata No. 3 nuclear reactor, agreeing with plaintiffs that it is vulnerable to natural disasters.

—Shikoku Electric decides not to immediately appeal the January 17 Hiroshima High Court verdict which suspended operation of the Ikata No. 3 nuclear reactor. The company doesn’t give a clear reason, but the reactor has been suffering a series of small mishaps this month.

—Shintaro Wakiyama, mayor of Genkai town in Saga Prefecture, admits receiving a ¥1 million yen bribe from Shiohama Industry Corporation, a construction firm connected to the nuclear power industry.

—Kansai Electric admits that it will have to suspend operations at the Takahama No. 3 and No. 4 nuclear reactors because it has yet to build in the counterterrorism safeguard facilities that government regulations now require.

—JR Joban Line scheduled to be fully reopened on March 14 after a nine-year closure. Service on this train line came to a sudden end on March 11, 2011, with the earthquake and tsunami. Parts of it remained closed because it runs near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

—National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) engaging in street campaigning for a national 1,500 yen (about US$13.65) minimum wage.

—World Economic Forum ranks Japan a very respectable 15th worldwide for social mobility, the highest ranked nation in Asia. Northern European nations dominate the highest rankings.

—Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) is urging its member companies to think for themselves and stop the practice of unified industry wage hikes. They say that each company should bear its own circumstances in mind when setting yearly wage levels.

—Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) says major Japanese firms need to start raising worker wages based on performance, not simply giving higher pay based on seniority or years of service. It argues that the digital world no longer fits the old industrial employment models.

—In a major expansion of the casino bribery scandal, prosecutors have raided the Tokyo offices of Melco Resorts & Entertainment, one of the top companies bidding for an IR license. Arrested lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto appears to have visited one of their Macau IRs in 2017.


—Return to Sender: The Malaysian government announces that it has sent back thousands of tons of plastic waste that had been imported illegally from thirteen nations, including Japan. The message is clear: Stop exporting your waste to developing nations.

—International criticism may be getting to Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi as he is showing signs of possibly opposing Japanese financing for the Vung Ang 2 coal-fired power plant in Vietnam’s Ha Tinh Province.

—Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which is going to begin installing 5G antennae within a few months, will be geographically prioritizing 2020 Olympics venues for the new services.

—Cabinet Office survey finds only 13% of local government authorities in Japan are working to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many other local governments are interested in SDGs, but don’t know what concrete actions they should take.

—All Nippon Airways (ANA) is testing an autonomous electric bus at Haneda International Airport through the end of the month. If the test is deemed successful, autonomous electric buses may start running regularly within the airport by the end of this year.

—Reuters reports ruling party lawmakers led by Akira Amari are working on a proposal to create a Digital Yen. They feel urgency to push this policy (tell us if you’ve heard this one before) because these conservative lawmakers are worried that Japan is falling behind China.


—Suicides in Japan fell to fewer than 20,000 for the first time since records began to be kept in 1978. In large part this is a reflection of the aging society and smaller workforce, but it may also involve changing social attitudes about work among the younger generation.

—In its first test before the courts, the hate speech prevention ordinance of Osaka city is found to be constitutional by the Osaka District Court.

—Petition calls out Minamiuonuma Mayor Shigeo Hayashi for alleged “discriminatory comments against foreign residents” he made on local television. The mayor asserted foreign students’ opinions less important because they would soon move elsewhere.

—Cabinet Office survey shows that only 9% of the public supports abolition of the death penalty. These results are always skewed, however, by the fact that very little serious debate about the issue appears in the media, and executions of innocent people are often covered up.

—Okinawa prefectural police report that the evidence is inconclusive about what caused last October’s fire that destroyed Shuri Castle in Naha. Most likely it was an electrical short. They do not believe there was any arson or other intentional damage.

—The Hiroshima Prefectural Government has decided to postpone demolition of the Hiroshima Army Clothing Depot after citizen outcry. Destruction is still possible, but the final decision will at least take more time.

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