Geopolitics were not high on the media’s attention list in the first months of 2020; we need to look back a little to capture the state of the Japanese debate before it was put on hold. The pandemic saw people look inward, but China, its source, and the United States, soon to become its epicenter, always loomed in the background. Given the troubled state of Japan-ROK ties, the impact of closing borders to insulate countries on this relationship also drew some attention. By early April, the media had turned inward in the face of a surge in COVID-19 cases, while some were lashing out at China for trying to shift the blame, others had lost hope in Russia, and many were expressing doubt that the United States would continue to be a reliable ally for Japan.
The start of 2020
The January issue of Toa offered a snapshot of Japanese concerns and expectations as 2019 drew to a close. Two themes were in the forefront: 1) China—the impact of US China policy, the relocation of supply chains owing to the Sino-US trade war, domestic politics and the US approach to China, and how China viewed Japan in 2019; and 2) South Korea—the prospects for restoring relations after GSOMIA extension, Moon Jae-in’s position in the second half of his term as president, and the fate of North-South talks. Despite earlier talk of Abe’s diverse initiatives across the Indo-Pacific, when times are troubled, the focus narrows. Vietnam is also included as the destination for shifting supplies from China.
Summarizing the views of Japan specialists in China on Japan, one article asserts that they do not see Japan as weak but as an advancing, mature, high quality country, strengthening ties with other countries with shared values and establishing a security state. Yet the Japanese people do not want to become a “normal country” that can wage war. In the Heisei 30 years Japan were beset by confusion as leaders kept changing. Demographic factors limit Japan’s options as it faces a tradeoff between security strengthening and social welfare. Given the accelerating trade clash with the US, China must improve relations with Japan, we read. This range of Chinese viewpoints may have given some Japanese hope, but that did not prevail.
Machidori Satoshi followed with an article on internal political causes for the new US hard line toward China, which will have enormous global impact. This is an historic shift supported by both political parties not just due to the distinctive nature of the Trump administration, but a reflection of changes under way before Trump and a structural transformation of US foreign policy not limited to China. China is the prime target because of differences in political systems: It is challenging for hegemony. What can Japan do? Machidori says: recognize that this is not just Trump, and there is a high likelihood that this will continue for a long time; consider that under Obama US globalization and free trade meant separation of politics and economics but that is no longer true for the US although it largely holds for Japan in its China policy; it is sticking to not one-sidedly following a hardline approach to China.
Another article focused on US human rights policy toward China, emphasizing religion despite abstaining from “moral” themes in general. The Uighurs are a major theme. Yet given Trump’s overall approach, this effort loses its legitimacy, and US policy smacks of double standards.
Ikebe Ryo commented on global companies since 2017 leaving China, especially for Vietnam. This is called a “China plus one” approach of reducing the “China risk” by shifting some production for foreign markets but not for China’s market outside. If the risk in China ranges from infectious diseases to loss of intellectual property, the merits of China are many, and companies are only gradually dispersing production from the “world’s factory.” Vietnam has cheaper labor costs, is geographically near to China; it has advantages besides being a place to avoid the “China risk.” The article also mentions familiarity to East Asians with its Confucian work ethic, similar political system, and greater protection of FTA. Although a breakdown is given for economic sectors, no special attention is given to Japanese companies.
After China, South Korea is the principal focus of articles in the January Toa. Moon Jae-in’s decision to continue GSOMIA offered a measure of relief, but there was little optimism about bilateral relations. It had become a symbol of the US-Japan-ROK alliance, and Moon acted only under intense US pressure. Moreover, despite South Korean claims, it is said that Japan did not make concessions on export controls. Another theme was the treatment of Moon’s troubled standing at home, including evaluations of his leadership at the halfway point in his tenure. In his time, he has seen North Korea’s threat decline from the danger of war, ties with Japan decline sharply, and the economic situation become much more troubled. Added to the picture is commentary that the US-ROK relationship has been badly hurt by the GSOMIA case. Coupled with scandals, these forces have damaged Moon’s standing in a society deeply split. There is no hint in the coverage that Japan has responsibility or should change direction.
At the turn of the year, as Abe was celebrating seven years in office, the longest tenure of a prime minister under the existing constitution, and Japan was entering the first full year of the Reiwa era, the mood was rather grim, even before COVID-19 upended all predictions. December 31, Yomiuri Shimbun headlined “Longest-serving Administration, Troubles One after Another.” If the year 2018 had its hopeful moments—the investiture of the new emperor, Trump’s state visit, the G20 summit, the July electoral success—Abe’s prospects were not promising for 2020 even before the pandemic hit, Xi Jinping’s state visit was postponed, and even the Tokyo Olympics were delayed by about one year. The article stresses that Abe had banked his legacy on constitutional revision, now much in doubt, and mentions Abe’s aim to secure the return of islands from Russia, something no prior leader could accomplish, which no longer had prospect of success.
Noting that Abe had just met in Chengdu with Moon Jae-in, the article calls South Korea Japan’s most intractable diplomatic challenge. Although Moon had shifted to retain GSOMIA, stress was put on views in Japan’s government to no longer indulge (amae) Seoul as the two countries mark 55 years since the 1965 normalization. Whether a mature bilateral relationship will be forged in 2020 is left as a question mark in the conclusion. On January 4 Yomiuri followed with an editorial on Abe’s 8th year and the slowness of the opposition parties to engage in policy discussions. It starts by warning that problems are mounting in domestic and foreign affairs. Abe has raised the consumption tax twice to address social welfare needs in an aging society and has strengthened security and the alliance with the US. Opposition parties are faulted for opposing raising the consumption tax yet calling for increased welfare expenses. Concern is expressed too about Trump’s pressure on Japan under “America First.” Other concerns focus on China’s Senkaku and Hong Kong policies and on South Korea’s demand for compensation for wartime forced labor. No optimism is raised, but an appeal is made for the LDP to strive to persuade public opinion to agree to constitutional revision as seemingly the first priority. The agenda for 2020 had already been trimmed.
The progressive press was harsher on Abe. On December 30 an Asahi editorial looked back at his year: he did not take responsibility; he demeaned the Diet; and he changed the character of the bureaucracy. In all of these respects, he had undermined Japan’s democracy, readers were told. On December 27 Abe’s extraordinary number of meetings over diplomacy and security was noted, pointing to a few figures whom Abe saw often: Yachi at the NSC until he resigned in September; Kitamura, his successor; and Imai, considered the eminence grise. These were not part of the established bureaucracy is the implication, bypassing Cabinet circles. A theme already prominent in Tokyo Shimbun was stressed: corruption was occurring, social problems were not being addressed, and stability gave a false sense of comfort. The articleworried about the democratic system of the Diet being undermined under Abe’s leadership. The progressives were outspoken in their critique of Abe even before his handling of the virus became an issue.
On February 26 Sankei’s Komori Yoshihisa accused Abe of prioritizing his diplomacy with China to protecting the lives of his own people. When Abe was still touting Xi Jinping’s visit to Japan, Komori charged that he was prioritizing not hurting China’s feelings. He was allowing travelers from China entry, enabling the virus to spread in Japan in order not to put Xi’s visit at risk, it was reported, citing US media. On February 20 Japan’s Newsweek had delivered the same message, warning that as a result Japan is becoming the second Wuhan. Abe had only restricted entry to people from Hubei for two weeks before, on February 12, finally extending the ban to Zhejiang. While Chinese were attacking the US for very unfriendly behavior due to its restrictions, they praised Japan’s conduct. On February 7, Nikai of the LDP and Saito of Komeito went to the Chinese embassy in Tokyo to assist in China’s fight against the epidemic, saying that if something occurs in a neighbor’s house it is the same as if in one’s own house. The paper argues that Nikai has long been active in the “pro-China faction” (shinchuha), including in preparations for Xi’s state visit. It added that when the two foreign ministers met in Munich they reaffirmed plans for the visit in April. Meanwhile, Xi was spreading a false narrative at home about his early wisdom in facing the epidemic, and he was now able to convey to the Chinese Japan’s high evaluation of this. In the planned meeting with the Emperor Xi seeks to be spared from blame for the high crime of spreading the virus to the world. Abe needs to explain to the Japanese people the reason he has to go ahead with this invitation. Health and Japan’s economy are being sacrificed. The US and others are banning Chinese travelers, not Japan, argued Komori in February. The far right in Japan was now critical.
A Yomiuri editorial on February 26 called on Xi to take responsibility for the epidemic now spreading around the world. The economy is slowing and publicly announced economic goals will not be reached, dealing an unavoidable blow to the administration. Xi’s April visit and other plans may be thwarted. Not sending officials to the G20 finance ministers meeting has drawn criticism and is seen as an irresponsible response. Xi should fulfill the duties of a great power leader. China should actively provide information. Instead, we cannot overlook that Xi is strengthening surveillance and pressure on speech and those who report the facts risk disappearance. At the end, readers are told that a communist administration—in the name of social stability—blocks any dissent and heightens an existing danger. Clearly, the article finds the system deeply at fault.
Sankei on March 15 recalled that in January the number of visitors from China had risen 22.6 percent from 2019 to 924,800. Flights leaving from Wuhan brought about 18,000 people, second only to the 27,000 going to Thailand if flights were full, before the city was closed on January 23. Infections in Japan are blamed on these tourists from two months before. Abe is criticized for being extremely lax with Chinese arrivals due to his persistent pursuit of China.
On March 7, Mainichi editorialized about the postponement of Xi’s visit to Japan, as both sides aimed at a summit in the fall or after. Tenacious criticism has been leveled at Japan for delaying restrictions on Chinese arrivals in pursuit of the summit; just after the postponement was decided restrictions were announced on entrants from China and South Korea. First, the two together should pour all their efforts into stopping the epidemic while building an environment for calmly receiving Xi in Japan. From last year criticism in international society intensified over handling of the Hong Kong demonstrations and suppression of Uyghurs. With Chinese ships continuing to sail near the Senkakus, distrust toward China will not simply disappear. In contrast, the decline in Chinese tourists and stoppage in the supply of parts from China have reaffirmed China’s importance for Japan’s economy. The significance of Xi’s state visit to Japan is more than ceremonial. It is based on changing conditions of China becoming a great power and will show how China will maintain the stability of East Asia and how much Xi shares our consciousness. China has rich experience in fighting the epidemic and can cooperate in stopping its spread.
An editorial in the Daily Shincho on March 20 headlines the Chinese critique of the West for the crisis management of the epidemic. Also, the US is failing to assist other countries in fighting against the epidemic. The paper explains that at a time many Chinese doubt the Xi administration the CCP is taking credit for doing what democracies cannot and protecting its honor by putting the blame on the West. Intellectuals are likely to see through this, but the CCP proceeds this way from a sense of crisis. Fatal mistakes were made because of the absence of political freedom.
On March 31 Tokyo Shimbun editorialized about China’s self-praise about the epidemic. It is lauding success in stopping the virus and in contributing to the world. Is this not excessive in light of China’s place as the origin and its early troubled response? Chinese sources are saying that the world should be grateful to China. it cannot escape responsibility by one-sidedly portraying China as a victim. Spreading the rumor that the US military brought the virus to Wuhan rightly drew an official US rebuke. China deserves some praise for assisting other states, but it has to be criticized using its assistance to spread influence through “mask diplomacy.”
On March 31 Tokyo Shimbun editorialized on China’s self-congratulations over the epidemic. It is propagandizing to the world about success in halting the spread of the virus. Is this not excessive given failure on the origins and early response? One Chinese source said that the “world should thank China.” Numerous articles have also played up donations from investors in China. There is no refutation of what China actually did, resulting in the epidemic. Instead, it is portrayed as a victim, avoiding responsibility. China’s foreign ministry spokesman even relayed on twitter that the US military had brought the virus to Wuhan, as part of what Pompeo charged is a campaign of falsification, despite the Chinese ambassador in Washington refuting his colleague. China is only damaging its own values. The article acknowledges the praise given to China for its assistance to other countries and success in reopening companies in China. Yet “mask diplomacy” to extend China’s influence has also led to criticism, readers are told.
On February 23 Yomiuri editorialized about Takeshima Day, applauding the commemorations and calling for raising public awareness. Present at the main ceremony was a cabinet secretary, stressing national cooperation with Shimane Prefecture and the importance of the issue for sovereignty. An exhibition hall now at the seat of government in Kasumigaseki links Takeshima to the Northern Territories and the Senkaku Islands. The article demands efforts to refute arguments that twist history and government protests every time the Korean military conducts training around the island or Korean parliamentarians land there. Yet it bemoans the fact that only 63 percent of Japanese are interested in Takeshima, a slight increase from two years earlier, and supports curriculum guidelines for elementary school to change this.
On March 4 Yomiuri editorialized about Moon Jae-in’s speech with an upbeat commentary about the virus leading Japan and the ROK to cooperate despite the historical questions. This is necessary for neighbors. On March 1 Moon called for overcoming the danger together and striving for future-looking, cooperative relations. More than historical problems, the speech put stress on overcoming unease about the virus. Moon emphasized the importance of cooperating with China and Japan against this growing threat that crosses borders. Drawing on experience with MERS, South Korea is testing heavily against a disease with many unknown features, and it is beneficial for Japan and South Korea to exchange information. Regularly, three-way meetings are held including China. Despite a 2016 agreement, China was slow to provide information to the other two sides. Seoul should not carry on freezing working-level cooperation with Tokyo completely. Moon is demonstrating willingness to find concrete policies to resolve problems and must remove the barriers to do so. In his speech Moon also expressed the hope of resuming exchanges with North Korea, but it tested a missile the next day. This exposed Moon’s indulgence instead of threat consciousness. Given the US-ROK suspension of military exercises due to the epidemic, we should expect concern about not lowering the deterrent force.
A Foresight article on March 27 depicted a counterattack by Xi Jinping, aiming for a healthy BRI and shifting blame to the US while calling for gratitude to the chairman. To alter China’s deteriorated image, which caused havoc in the world including forcing the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, Xi has seized an opportunity through a counterattack to expand China’s influence in international society.
On March 28 Sankei headlined that Moon was made president by North Korea. After taking office, Moon “followed the North, befriended China, opposed Japan, and broke from the US” in his leanings. Why? The article refers to a book claiming to have secret sources explaining it.
Tokyo Shimbun on April 5 focused on the South Korean elections scheduled for April 15, noting that complaints are being aired by ruling and opposition party candidates about “pro-Japan” and “pro-China” attitudes. Fearing reduced turnout, both sides are leaning to extreme positions. One issue is understanding shown by conservatives toward Japan’s restrictions on entry from South Korea. Also present are efforts to play on strong anti-Japan attitudes amid the boycott Japan movement. At the same time, there are criticisms of the government for insufficient restrictions on entry from China, faulting the progressives for being “pro-China.” This can be accompanied by calls for the government to stop relying on wishful thinking toward both China in the war against the “Wuhan virus” and North Korea, which continues to launch missiles. One quote mentioned is that the “government only takes a hardline against Japan, saying nothing about China.” The most recent polls show 56 percent approval for Moon owing to success in the face of the epidemic, positioning his party well for the elections. Yet large campaign rallies are avoided, and the noise of past election campaigns has quieted. In these circumstances, politicians have begun to appeal to nationalism reads the quotation at the end of the article.
The May issue of Seiron discusses China’s diplomacy through the WHO, saying, ironically, that China may become the biggest winner from the virus, making use of UN diplomacy. The leader of WHO leans to China, refusing to use terms such as “Wuhan virus.” He also contributed to replacing the story of the virus spreading from Wuhan with that of thanking China for the contributions it is making to the world to fight the virus. China was key in January to getting WHO to hold back on a declaration of urgency, then won praise for its open information and record speed in uncovering the nature of the virus. Coming from Ethiopia, an object of great Chinese investment, Dr. Tedros is described as coming from a Marxist Party supported by China and influenced by Mao Zedong thought, which in power abandoned Marxism but kept ties to China, receiving massive support.
JBpress on April 9 also warned that China’s military is growing more active in conditions of the spreading virus in the US navy. It drew on the old expression of “a thief at a fire” taking advantage of weakness, as Russia had done in seizing islands from Japan at war’s end in 1945, and it called attention to the need for vigilance over the Senkaku Islands. After Abe declared an emergency declaration, Defense Minister Kono was quick on April 7 to assert that the capacity of the SDF to respond to an urgent situation was unchanged. The US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt is idled by the pandemic, which could be seen as a weakening in the defense of the Indo-Pacific. The Chinese, Japanese, and other militaries have also been hit. Yet the US on April 6 issued a warning about what China might do in the South China Sea. On April 3 Vietnam had reported that one of its fishing boats had been sunk by the Chinese. The article adds that China or Russia could attack if they spot a weakness, adding that in 2011 when the SDF was preoccupied after the typhoon and nuclear disaster, Russian aircraft repeatedly probed Japanese airspace until they saw joint Japan-US responses. The US military not only through “Operation Tomodachi” helped Japan but showed its resolve to Russia and China at that time. Mention is made of the Middle East, where Trump is warning about Iran, but the article concludes with China’s threat.
Weekly Shincho on April 9 assigned blame for the epidemic and the postponement of the Olympic Games. If South Korea is a “troublesome neighbor,” China is something more dangerous. Xi Jinping shows no remorse, never apologizing, even for destroying the Olympic plans. Detailing the war of words between the US and China over responsibility, the article focuses on China’s guilt. Recalling the “Black Plague” as having been spread by China, it also notes that China cast a cloud on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics with a nuclear test. This coverage is unstinting in blaming Xi Jinping for Tiananmen-like censorship and shameful efforts to transfer responsibility, while treating a sports competition as the measure of loss, not the human lives.
On April 11, Diamond Online warned of the cruel reality of international politics enveloping Japan. American hegemonic power is collapsing, China is rapidly widening its advantage over Japan in military power, and to avoid war this disequilibrium must not stand. Yet Japan today must prioritize health over defense and is short on money. It faces grave danger as the pandemic leads each country to look to itself. Trump’s diplomatic policies have failed badly, and he has no strategy. China is moving to seize hegemony in East Asia, which will not threaten America directly. It is economically dependent on China and will not contain it. Americans are weary of war and being the world’s policeman. Japan’s nightmare scenario is US abandonment in a deal where China and the US decide with little consideration of Japanese interests. The article points to the tradeoff between Japan’s own defense expenses to prevent war or health expenses, rather different from the US debate over prioritizing health or the economy in the face of the pandemic.
On April 1, Jiji.com covered the epidemic in North Korea, noting that more than 260 deaths have been reported, many of them soldiers. The border with China was closed in the final ten days of January, when the virus began to spread in the North, but in border areas near China the virus was gradually spreading until it reached the entire country. Since testing did not suffice, only a portion of those infected were recognized as such. It is said that more than 16,000 have been secluded, about 1300 of whom are in Pyongyang. Border guards are said to have caught the virus from contact with Chinese and spread it to other troops. However, North Korea has not officially declared disease and death rates. A refugee in Seoul received news that there are deaths in various areas and unease is spreading. This could cause destabilization given the poor medical system, the article concludes.
On April 2 Sankei observed that North Korea’s military provocations have resumed, linking this to the virus. It expressed disappointment that at the Security Council’s emergency session of March 31, only six European nations issued statements, observing that only if all 15 members, including the US, took a harsh attitude, North Korea would not care. The paper doubts the North’s claims that no cases of COVID-19 have occurred and it urges the Kim Jong-un administration to make the situation known and accept outside medical help. Eventually, the virus may spread from North Korea, it warns. Repeated missile launches aim to tighten the country if people are disturbed by the virus. A warning is added that Security Council sanctions must be maintained until nuclear and missile tests are halted, a point which must be confirmed by some countries.
Tokyo Shimbun’s April 1 editorial linked the missile tests to the virus as well, calling on North Korea to stop missile tests in order to devote all its resources to preventing the virus. Concern is growing that the accelerating pace of testing is linked to the virus, striving to lift the morale of troops. With the border with China closed, it is said that shortages have arisen and prices are rising. International society has offered aide and North Korea should accept it with gratitude.
Mainichi on February 7, the day of remembrance for the lost islands, editorialized about a peace treaty with Russia. It reviewed the January and June Abe-Putin summits and Abe’s eagerness to conclude a peace treaty based on a territorial agreement. Mainichi supports using the 1956 joint declaration as the basis for a deal, declaring that in 2018, and Nikkei showed its understanding for that two-island position too. Yet Sankei calls 1956 a dangerous foundation on which to proceed, observes the Mainichi editorial.
Yomiuri on February 19 wrote about the negotiations on the Northern Territories, charging that the Russian position lacks sincerity. This editorial stated that Japan should scrutinize Russia’s position and respond strategically. Motegi has met in Germany with Lavrov, who will be coming to Japan. Abe and Putin in 2018 agreed on a basis for talks to transfer two islands, but Russia has changed its position, leading to an impasse, against the background of rising public opposition inside Russia and plans for amending its constitution to forbid territorial concessions, to which Putin has agreed. If this occurs, bilateral relations will decidedly worsen. Japan must call for a stop to this amendment as it is a barrier to a peace treaty. The two governments have agreed to advance joint economic activity on the four islands. Needed urgently is a framework of not harming the legal positions of both countries. Japanese firms are donating equipment for health care in Khabarovsk and advancing plans to support production of natural gas in Siberia and Sakhalin. Many Russians are calling for more investment from in the face of the sanctions over Crimea by Europe and the US. The Japanese government should pay attention to the danger of only advancing economic cooperation while shelving the territorial question, insisting on ties going forward together on many fronts. It is important to build trust on security, too, through joint military drills and exchanges, as Russia fears US troops on the islands and missile deployments. The article hints at many things on the table but only on condition that the islands are there too.
On April 7, Foresight warned of the pandemic posing a danger to Putin, after Russia had boasted of success in blocking it. On March 31 Russia surpassed Japan in the number of reported cases, and Putin has indefinitely postponed the vote on constitutional reform. His popularity is falling with the drop in oil prices and it is said that the virus is exploding in the military and in prison camps. Domestic violence is rising with stay-at-home orders. There are hints that Russia could become the “second Hubei province.” If Putin were to catch the disease, the shock would be far greater than for Boris Johnson. Polling shows that many Russians do not want Putin to serve beyond 2024 with as many opposed to the constitutional reform as favor it. Russian stocks have fallen more since January than those of any other major country. The elite power balance is tricky, and the country could be shaken without Putin on top. On Japan-Russia relations, this is a year when world diplomacy is halted, and Russia may look for a place to reach a breakthrough. Despite shortages in local hospitals, Russia is sending emergency aid abroad, hoping in this way to get sanctions relief. In January, it offended China by closing the border, but Russia had some success in the virus war. The May 9 victory day celebration is bound to be greatly reduced. Trump will not attend and there may not be a military parade. Putin has lost an opportunity to raise national prestige. The idea had been floated that Abe would go in May, but there are no such preparations for this year. This may be first year since 1992 without visa-free exchanges to the Northern Territories. Talks planned for Sakhalin in March were cancelled, in light of two-week quarantines for those going to the island. Local conservative groups see a chance to curtail the visa-free program. A stop to the exchange would make resolution of the territorial problem more distant. This is further reminder of Japan’s “diplomatic failure” about 30 years ago right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when an opportunity existed.
Another April 9 Yahoo Japan article commented on US talk of the pandemic being another Pearl Harbor. On September 11 the World Trade Center was called “Ground Zero,” which was also the term for Hiroshima in 1945. The article adds that no matter how close Japan-US relations are, the US keeps referring to Japan in these negative ways. This article from JBPress takes exception also to anti-Chinese sentiments in the US over the virus, suggesting that they may be anti-Asian. The headline accused the US government of bashing Japan, by recalling the Japan-US war. Odd as this sensitivity to supposed Japan-bashing is, the idea that Americans should not recall the “day of infamy” in 1941 in a generic manner as a call to mobilization—as if this would offend the population of Japan—is a kind of defense of Japan’s continuity with its wartime past and a show of hypersensitivity about US attitudes toward today’s Japan with no basis in reality.
Abe and the pandemic at home
On April 4, Tokyo Shimbun editorialized about the “two-mask” issue, saying that, given the shortage of masks, some are pleased. Yet it doubted that the effect will satisfy people. Instead it means that some in the household will not get a mask, group homes and homeless will not get what is needed. On the left and the right criticism abounded of state policies. The message is that people are dissatisfied, and the policies to date are not reassuring them.
On April 4, Yahoo Japan said that Abe’s failure to impose a lockdown, for which he was faulted in The New York Times and US News and World Report, citing social media anger, is due to him putting the economy first. Abe’s crisis management capabilities are questioned, as also happened when he was viewed as so obsessed with holding the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 that he downplayed the danger of the coronavirus. With people viewing the cherry blossoms (hanami) in the absence of a stay-at-home order, Abe was castigated. Fox News ridiculed his policy of two masks per household as an April Fool’s joke. In place of Abenomics, people were saying “Abenomasks.” Only 30,000 or so had been tested of 127 million, in contrast to 394,00 tests in South Korea with 40 percent of Japan’s population. The US has called on its citizens in Japan to return home, a sign of no confidence in Japan’s testing system, and how will Abe respond?
Tokyo Shimbun on April 4 editorialized that distributing two masks per household raises some questions. The number does not suffice for multi-person households. Facilities with many people such as nursing homes only get two. Vacant households get them, but not the homeless. On March 10 a second allocation of cloth masks to nursing homes and daycare centers was announced. The production capacity has been raised seven times compared to Japan, but the resources could be better used to support producers, the paper says.
On April 9, Yahoo Japan carried an article on Abe betting on the economy over human life, warning that his “emergency declaration” for the month to May 6 in seven prefectures still falls way short. Overseas media are reporting it as “too little, too late.” Restaurants and barber shops are open and violations are not legally enforceable. Commuter trains remain packed. Until the end of March, Abe was intent on holding the Tokyo Olympics as scheduled and he is perceived as “forced” by public opinion to make the declaration. Why? Foreign media blames it on Abe’s priority for the economy and fault him for failing to show leadership.
On April 9, Gendai Business focused on the response to Abe’s 108 trillion emergency financial package, 20 percent of Japan’s GDP, doubting that much money will reach sole proprietors and freelancers. It faulted the measure and said the rollout is being perceived badly. The scale will not suffice, and the infection control measures are inadequate, readers are told. Fearing total bankruptcy, small businesses will not shut down. A negative spiral will prolong the spread of the disease and the economic costs. If rent and debt repayment could be deferred for a fixed period of time—for example, three months—more businesses will be able to refrain from operating, it says.