North Korea says it fired anti-aircraft missile, 4th recent test

North Korea says it fired anti-aircraft missile, 4th recent test

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This photo provided on Oct. 1, 2021, by the North Korean government shows what North Korea claims to be the test firing of a newly developed anti-aircraft missile in North Korea, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. Independent journalists were not given … more >

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By Hyung-jin Kim

Associated Press

Friday, October 1, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Friday it test-fired a new anti-aircraft missile, the fourth weapons launch in recent weeks that experts say is part of a strategy to win relief from sanctions and other concessions.

South Korea, Japan and the United States typically publicly confirm North Korean ballistic missile launches, which are banned by U.N. resolutions, soon after they occur. But they did not do so for Thursday’s, indicating the weapon tested may have been a different kind. Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday that South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities monitored moves by North Korea but didn’t elaborate.

Three weeks ago, North Korea resumed missile tests after a six-month lull. As it has sometimes done before, the North combined the show of force with a more conciliatory gesture, offering earlier this week to reactivate hotlines that North and South Korea use to set up meetings, arrange border crossings and avoid accidental clashes.

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Diplomacy aimed at getting the North to abandon its nuclear arsenal in return for economic and political rewards has largely been deadlocked since early 2019. That has left North Korea under crippling U.S.-led economic sanctions, at a time when its fragile economy is suffering massive setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic. The North’s latest moves appear aimed at pressuring South Korea, which wants to improve strained ties on the peninsula, to persuade the U.S. to relax the sanctions.

On Friday, the Korean Central News Agency said the anti-aircraft missile test was “of very practical significance in studying and developing various prospective anti-aircraft missile system.”

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the launch appears to be the primitive stage of a test to develop a missile designed to shoot down incoming enemy missiles and aircraft. He said the missile resembles the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which he said has a maximum range of 400 kilometers (250 miles) and is reportedly capable of intercepting stealth jets.

Earlier this week, in his government’s latest mixed signal, North Korea leader Kim Jong-un expressed his willingness to restore the communication hotlines with South Korea in the coming days, but he also shrugged off U.S. offers for dialogue as a “cunning” concealment of its hostility against the North. He also insisted that South Korea abandon its “double-dealing attitude” if it wants to see an improvement in Korean relations. His comments largely echoed demands from his powerful sister, who has taken the lead in the North’s ongoing pressure campaign.

South Korea has said it would prepare for the restoration of the cross-border phone and fax lines, which have been largely dormant for more than a year. But as of Friday afternoon, North Korea remained unresponsive to South Korea‘s attempt to exchange messages through the channels, according to Seoul’s Unifications Ministry.

During the Armed Forces Day ceremony on Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed to repel any attempt to threaten his people’s lives and would strive to achieve lasting peace. But he didn’t mention North Korea’s recent tests in a possible effort to keep alive the possibility of talks between the Koreas.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Thursday that Washington “certainly supports” inter-Korean dialogue in principle. But he said the U.S. was concerned about North Korea’s recent launches, which he noted were in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and created “greater prospects for instability and insecurity.”

U.N. resolutions ban any ballistic activity by North Korea.

Among the weapons North Korea tested in September were a new hypersonic missile, a newly developed cruise missile and a ballistic missile launched from a train. South Korea’s military assessed the hypersonic missile to be at an early stage of development, but experts say the other weapons launched displayed the North’s ability to attack targets in South Korea and Japan, key U.S. allies that host American troops. Earlier this week, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said its commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan “remains ironclad.”

North Korea has not tested a long-range missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland for about four years – what experts see as an indication it is carefully calibrating its provocations to keep alive its chances for diplomacy.

___

Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Trains packed with commuters as Japan fully ends emergency

Trains packed with commuters as Japan fully ends emergency

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People eat and drink at a restaurant after 8 p.m., the time the government suggests to close under the ongoing state of emergency, in the famed Asakusa tourist spot in Tokyo, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. On Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, … more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Friday, October 1, 2021

TOKYO (AP) – Japan fully came out of a coronavirus state of emergency for the first time in more than six months as the country starts to gradually ease virus measures to help rejuvenate the pandemic-hit economy as the infections slowed.

At Tokyo’s busy Shinagawa train station, a sea of mask-wearing commuters rushed to their work despite an approaching typhoon, with some returning to their offices after months of remote work.

The emergency measures, in place for more than half of the country including Tokyo, ended Thursday following a steady fall in new caseloads over the past few weeks, helping to ease pressure on Japanese health care systems.

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Outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga thanked the people for their patience and cooperation, and asked them to stick to their basic anti-virus measures.

“Once again, I seek your cooperation so that we can return to our daily lives feeling safe,” he said.

The lifting of the emergency marked a fresh start for some people.

Office worker Akifumi Sugihara, 46, said he is back to the train station for the first time in about a year. “I had been working from home for more than a year, and I came to the office in Tokyo as (the emergency) was lifted today,” he said. “It’s really been a while. I feel it’s a new start.”

Another office worker, Kaori Hayashi, 37, said it was an ordinary Friday. “In my mind nothing really has changed,” she said. “We still need to be careful. I will stay vigilant and carry on my life as usual.”

Japan is eager to expand social and economic activities while balancing the need to prevent another wave of infections as the weather turns cooler. Officials say the government still needs time to create more temporary COVID-19 treatment facilities and continue vaccinations to prepare for any future resurgence.

The emergency measures have mainly involved requests for eateries to curb alcohol and hours. They can now serve alcohol and operate an hour longer but still have to close at 9 p.m.

Daily reported cases have fallen to below 1,600 as of Wednesday nationwide – less than one-tenth of the mid-August peak of around 25,000. Experts attributed the declining numbers to the progress of vaccinations and to people increased their social distancing efforts after being alarmed by the collapse of medical systems during the summer.

Nearly more than 59% of Japanese people have been fully vaccinated. Japan has had about 1.69 million cases and 17,641 deaths from COVID-19.

Fumio Kishida in line to be Japan’s next prime minister after close party vote

Kishida in line to be Japan’s next prime minister after close party vote

Establishment rallies behind safe choice after two women candidates nixed

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Japan’s former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida attends a press conference at the headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party after he was elected as party president in Tokyo Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Kishida won the governing party leadership election on Wednesday … more >

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By David R. Sands

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has won a hotly contested leadership race to head Japan’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, putting him on track to succeed resigning Yoshihide Suga as prime minister of a key U.S. ally.

For the first time in modern Japanese politics, the race featured two serious female candidates — conservative Sanae Takaichi and the more liberal Seiko Noda — but Mr. Kishida‘s main challenger proved to be popular vaccinations minister Taro Kono, whom he edged by just a single vote in the first round of voting. Mr. Kishida then won decisively, 257-170, in the run-off, as party leaders apparently rallied to the cause of the candidate seen as a steadier hand.

The choice likely signals a period of policy continuity for Tokyo, despite the unpopularity of Mr. Suga, who stepped down after only a year of the job. Mr. Kishida has backed closer ties with the U.S. and a policy of a “free and open Indo-Pacific region” that is viewed as an implicit challenge to China’s aggressive recent moves, but was also less aggressive in his rhetoric toward Beijing than some of his rivals.
The Associated Press reported that Mr. Kishida in his victory speech vowed to tackle “national crises” including COVID-19, the pandemic-battered economy and the falling national birth rate.

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Mr. Kishida was widely viewed as a safe choice for the ruling party, compared to the more outspoken and high-profile Mr. Kono, a fluent English speaker with a significant social media presence.

But Japanese political analysts say the current parliament is likely to be dissolved next month with a general election set for early November. It is not clear if Mr. Kishida‘s low-key image will help the party save off losses in the legislature.

Jesper Koll, a director at the Monex Group, said Wednesday’s result was “a win for the establishment.”

Kishida stands for stability, for not rocking the boat and most importantly, doing what elite technocrats tell him to do,” Mr. Koll told the Reuters news agency.

Ex-diplomat Fumio Kishida wins Japan party vote, to become new PM

Ex-diplomat Fumio Kishida wins Japan party vote, to become new PM

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In this Sept. 17, 2021, file photo, candidates for the presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party pose prior to a joint news conference at the party’s headquarters in Tokyo. Japan’s governing party will vote Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, … more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — Former Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida won the governing party’s leadership election on Wednesday and is set to become the next prime minister, facing the tasks of reviving a pandemic-hit economy and ensuring a strong alliance with Washington to counter growing regional security risks.

Kishida replaces outgoing party leader Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is stepping down after serving only one year.

As new leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Kishida is certain to be elected the next prime minister on Monday in parliament, where his party and its coalition partner control both houses.

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In his victory speech, Kishida vowed to tackle “national crises” including COVID-19, the pandemic-battered economy and the declining population and birthrate. He said he would pursue “important issues related to Japan‘s future” through a vision of “a free and open Indo-Pacific” that counters China’s assertiveness in the region.

Kishida defeated popular vaccinations minister Taro Kono in a runoff after finishing only one vote ahead of him in the first round, in which none of the four candidates, including two women, was able to win a majority.

In a landslide 257-170 victory in the second round, Kishida received support from party heavyweights who apparently chose stability over change advocated by Kono, who is known as something of a maverick and a reformist.

Kishida is under pressure to change the party‘s high-handed reputation, worsened by Suga, who angered the public over his handling of the pandemic and insistence on holding the Summer Olympics in Tokyo despite surging infections.

The long-ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party desperately needs to quickly turn around plunging public support ahead of lower house elections coming within two months.

Kishida said he heard many voters in the past year complaining that they were being ignored. “I felt our democracy is in a crisis,” he said in his speech. “I, Fumio Kishida, have a special skill of listening to people. I am determined to make an effort toward making a more open LDP and a bright future for Japan together with you all.”

The 64-year-old former foreign minister was once seen as an indecisive moderate. Lately, however, he has shifted to become a security and diplomatic hawk as he sought support from influential conservatives to win the party election.

Kishida has called for a further increase in Japan’s defense capability and budget, and vowed to stand up to China in tensions over self-ruled Taiwan that China claims as part of its territory, and Beijing’s crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.

On the economy, Kishida has called for a “new capitalism” of growth and distribution to narrow the income gap between the rich and the poor that widened under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan‘s longest-serving leader, and worsened during the pandemic.

He also pledged to promote clean energy technology to turn climate change measures into growth opportunities and proposed a generous economic recovery package.

“I will start a positive cycle of growth and distribution” to raise people’s income, not just to benefit big companies,” Kishida said at his first news conference as LDP president. He pledged to defend democracy, peace and stability and raise the country’s international profile.

Overall, little change is expected in key diplomatic and security policies under the new leader, said Yu Uchiyama, a political science professor at the University of Tokyo.

Kishida supports close Japan-U.S. security ties and partnerships with other like-minded democracies in Asia and Europe, in part to counter China and nuclear-armed North Korea.

Wednesday’s vote was seen as a test of whether the party can move out of the shadow of Abe, a staunch conservative. His influence in government and party affairs has largely muzzled diverse views and shifted the party to the right. Political watchers say Kishida’s win indicates a continuation of LDP power politics led by Abe and his influential allies.

“The results showed that LDP does not and cannot change,” said Yukio Edano, head of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. “As new LDP president, Mr. Kishida should explain how his leadership is different from the Abe-Suga administrations.”

Kishida has called for party reforms by limiting terms for executive positions, but is seen as a choice who could prolong an era of unusual political stability amid fears that Japan could return to “revolving door” leadership.

“Concern is not about individuals but stability of Japanese politics,” Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a telephone briefing ahead of the vote.

Green said voters will be watching if Kishida is swayed by power politics within his party or is attuned to the public.

Suga is leaving only a year after taking office as a pinch hitter for Abe, who suddenly resigned over health problems, ending his nearly eight-year leadership, the longest in Japan’s constitutional history.

Kishida lost to Suga in the 2020 party leadership race, which was determined by party heavyweights even before the vote. A third-generation politician from Hiroshima, Kishida has a reputation among his fellow lawmakers as polite and honest.

He was first elected to parliament in 1993. An advocate for nuclear disarmament, he escorted former U.S. President Barack Obama during his 2016 visit to Hiroshima, the city that was obliterated together with Nagasaki in U.S. atomic bombings in the closing days of World War II.

As foreign minister under Abe, he struck a 2015 agreement with South Korea to resolve a row over the issue of women who were sexually abused by Japan’s military during World War II, part of a legacy that still hampers relations between the two countries.

The banker-turned-lawmaker enjoys drinking sake and is a staunch supporter of his hometown professional baseball team, the Hiroshima Carp.

USS John McCain heading stateside after 24 years in Japan

USS John McCain heading stateside after 24 years in Japan

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The USS John S. McCain under repair at a dry dock is seen after a rededication ceremony for at the U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo, Thursday, July 12, 2018. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer dedicated one of two … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The USS John S. McCain is heading to its new homeport in Washington state after having spent nearly a quarter century operating out of Japan, where it was often called on to steam past disputed islands claimed by China to assert U.S. freedom of navigation rights.

After 24 years spent forward-deployed to Fleet Activities Yokosuka, the guided-missile destroyer is on its way to Naval Station Everett, located about 30 miles north of Seattle.

The ship was named for three generations of a family with a legendary naval history, including the late Sen. John S. McCain III, who spent more than five years as a POW after he was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam War.

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In 2017, the destroyer was involved in a collision with a merchant ship in the heavily congested South China Sea that resulted in the deaths of 10 sailors. The ship’s commander was fired and later pleaded guilty to a single charge of negligence. He received a punitive letter of reprimand and was fined $6,000.

After extensive repairs, the USS John McCain eventually returned to duty.

During its 24 years as part of the Navy’s forward-deployed forces, the destroyer operated across the region from the Indian Ocean to the Sea of Japan. It supported a variety of joint and multinational operations to strengthen U.S. alliances and partnerships, enhance maritime security and promote regional stability in the Indo-Pacific region, officials said.

“After 24 years of faithful overseas service, we are ready to head back home to America, back to Washington State,” Cmdr. Tin Tran, the skipper of the destroyer, said in a statement. “Our sailors will forever remember the bonds of friendship and hospitality Japan has shown us.”

A 2019 visit to the Yokosuka naval base by then-President Donald Trump — a political opponent of McCain — resulted in a decision by the White House to ask the Navy to keep the destroyer out of sight during the visit. Mr. Trump said the request didn’t come from him but acknowledged it might have come from one of his staffers.

Although focused on the Indo-Pacific region, the USS McCain took part in several surge deployments to the Middle East to support U.S. warfighting efforts in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In March 2011, the USS McCain was part of Operation Tomodachi, the U.S. humanitarian response to Japan following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that resulted in the deaths of more than 15,000 people.

“It’s definitely a changing of the guard with the USS John S. McCain and her crew departing the 7th Fleet after over 24 years in Japan,” Capt. Chase Sargeant, commander of Destroyer Squadron 15, said in a statement. “The contributions of the current and all previous crews in defending peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific cannot be overstated.”

Although the USS McCain‘s new homeport will be in Washington, the ship will be assigned to the 3rdFleet, based in San Diego.

John S. McCain and her sailors have proven time and time again our Navy’s resolve to answer the call in support of our nations and our allies,” Cmdr. Tran said.

Pompeo hits Biden’s ‘dangerous moves’ on N. Korea

Pompeo hits Biden’s ‘dangerous moves’ on N. Korea

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Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday warned that President Biden is making “dangerous moves” on North Korea and  his lack of a coherent response to Pyongyang’s provocations jeopardizes American credibility with allies who want “leadership from the United States.”

“I’m concerned that the United States is returning to an Obama-era policy of ‘Strategic Patience’ 2.0,’” Mr. Pompeo told an audience of dignitaries from South Korea and Japan at a virtual gathering Saturday that included remarks from other former high-level U.S. diplomats and lawmakers.

Mr. Pompeo referred to years of waffling on North Korea by the former Bush and Obama administrations, prior to the Trump-era escalation of sanctions and other pressure on Pyongyang led to historic denuclearization summits between former President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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While the summits ultimately fell short of delivering an agreement for North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weapons arsenal, and U.S.-North Korea talks have since been stalled for more than two years, Mr. Pompeo warned that the Biden administration is now essentially handing a victory to Pyongyang.

“Choosing to firmly pursue neither pressure nor diplomacy will give Chairman Kim and his regime more opportunity to build out its arsenal,” the former secretary of state said, pointing to unsettling recent indications of new movement afoot at North Korea‘s infamous Yongbyon nuclear research facility.

“If the Biden Administration continues dithering, it will only give the regime more time to undermine sanctions,” Mr. Pompeo said about Pyongyang’s clandestine development of nuclear weapons in violation of decades of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

He also pointed to North Korea‘s recent claims to have successfully tested long-range cruise missiles” — tests last week that were followed by the circulation of eye-opening images purportedly showing the North Korean launch of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) from a railcar.

“They are testing the Biden Administration on how it will respond,” said Mr. Pompeo.

Thus far, the administration has remained largely silent in the face of the new provocations that have rattled U.S. allies South Korea and Japan. While Mr. Biden has kept in place existing sanctions against Pyongyang, it has not added new ones. However, it has gone forward with U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises that have triggered threats of escalation from the Kim regime.

All the while, the administration‘s new Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim has expressed hope for a resumption of talks with the regime, most recently asserting during a Sept. 13 meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo that, “we hope [North Korea] will respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions.”

Analysts characterize the current approach as tantamount to a reboot of the so-called “Strategic Patience” policy that Washington embraced initially during the final years of the George W. Bush administration and then carried on throughout the Obama era. The approach revolves around avoiding direct escalation while continuing sanctions and making offers to hold “working-level” dialogues that avoid rewarding the regime with any major diplomatic overtures.

The Trump administration engaged in an alternative approach of ramping up “maximum pressure” before spearheading top-level diplomacy with Mr. Kim himself. Mr. Pompeo, who was integral to that approach — first as CIA director and then as secretary of state — lashed out at the current administration’s posture on Saturday. “A strategy of ‘Strategic Patience 2.0’ will weaken our credibility with allies and partners throughout the world who want to see leadership from the United States,” he said. “It says North Korea isn’t a priority for us.”

 

Pushing for freedom

The former secretary of state’s remarks came at the inaugural event of “Think Tank 2022,” an initiative sponsored by The Washington Times Foundation and the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), a global non-government organization that operates in general consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

UPF co-founder Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon participated in an event officially launching “Think Tank 2022” in May. Mrs. Moon, the widow of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, is the leader of the Unification movement that grew from the Unification Church the Rev. Moon founded in 1954 — a year after the war between North and South Korea was frozen by a U.S.-backed armistice. She and her late husband devoted their lives to the reunification of the Korean Peninsula and to the promotion of world peace. They founded The Washington Times in 1982.

Mr. Pompeo, who praised the work of Mrs. Moon during Saturday’s event, focused a portion of his remarks on the virtues of “religious freedom,” calling it “the most fundamental of all human rights,” and asserting that its promotion is “crucial to peace in Northeast Asia.”  

In a roughly 30 minute speech, he reflected on his efforts to promote religious freedom as secretary of state, noting that it was America’s “first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote: ‘Almighty God has created the mind free. No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry, or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.’”

“When people are free to talk about the most consequential ideas, societies can find the best way forward,” Mr. Pompeo said. “When people see their neighbors worshipping peacefully, they gain tolerance for different viewpoints. When churches, mosques, and synagogues are free to engage in their neighborhoods, bonds of community are made stronger.”

He went on to emphasize the absence of religious freedom in North Korea, asserting that some 50,000 to 70,000 people are currently in prison in North Korea “just for being Christians.”

Mr. Pompeo also focused on China, citing the “contrast” between American respect for religious freedom and the “Chinese Communist Party’s soul-crushing deprivations.”

“You know what I mean,” he said. “We see brutal treatment of Falun Gong practitioners and Tibetan Buddhists. We read of churches forced to replace displays of the Ten Commandments with quotations from General Secretary Xi. We read reports of Party officials recruiting children to become informants against their churchgoing parents. And of course, we all know the truth about the sickening genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.”

“[The Chinese Communist Party] cannot abide the idea that the Chinese people would find their identity or their meaning in life in God,” the former secretary of state added. “Party leaders believe the Party alone should command the loyalties of the human heart. But little do they know that their suppression of faith is bound to backfire. Crippling religious freedom only creates more curiosity about faith and distrust of the regime.”

 

Growing China threat

U.S.-China tensions have risen since the Trump-era push to rally regional democracies to counter Beijing’s rise as an autocratic global power.

Mr. Pompeo broadly praised the Biden administration for embracing aspects of that push during recent months. Most notably, Mr. Biden has picked up where Mr. Trump left off in promoting the so-called “Quad” alignment of the U.S., Japan, India and Australia, the most powerful democracies of the Indo-Pacific.

The president is slated to hold a first-ever in-person summit of leaders from the Quad countries on Sept. 24 at the White House.

But Mr. Pompeo suggested Washington should be more focused on threats posed by China, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. “Make no mistake, China is a destabilizing force for this region,” he said, adding that Beijing is becoming “more aggressive” toward Taiwan, and noting that China has recently been found to be “constructing approximately 250 new nuclear missile silos.”

“What kind of message does that send to the region?” asked Mr. Pompeo, who criticized Mr. Biden‘s posture toward such developments, asserting that the administration has “made no effort to address Chinese nuclear weapons.”

Mr. Pompeo added that China also “continues to turn a blind eye to North Korea’s sanctions evasion,” behavior that he said “undermines the maximum pressure campaign that was successful in helping Chairman Kim come to the negotiating table.”

Organizers have described “Think Tank 2022” as a “global network of experts in all sectors and fields” that will work to encourage international efforts to promote peace around the North Korea issue. During Saturday’s event, Mr. Pompeo and other former U.S. officials repeatedly emphasized the depth of ongoing U.S. support for South Korea, Japan and other allies in the region.

Future events slated for the coming months are expected to feature other high-level dignitaries. In May, the initiative’s launch featured David Beasley, the executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian organization.

Away from Mr. Pompeo‘s prepared remarks, Saturday’s event featured panel discussions in which former high-level U.S., South Korean and Japanese diplomats exchanged views with the former secretary of state.

Former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Abe Nobuyasu was among the dignitaries on the Japanese panel, while former South Korean Minister of Unification Kim Yeon-chul and longtime South Korean diplomat Ho-Jin Lee were among the dignitaries on the South Korean panel.

The American panel featured former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Congressman Dan Burton, as well as former Assistant Secretary of State fo East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill and former CIA official and longtime U.S. diplomatic advisor Joseph DeTrani.

North, South Korea trade charges after dueling missile tests

North, South Korea trade charges after dueling missile tests

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In this image taken from video provided by the South Korea Defense Ministry, South Korea’s first underwater-launched ballistic missile is test-fired from a 3,000-ton-class submarine at an undisclosed location in the waters of South Korea, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. The … more >

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By David R. Sands

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

North and South Korea are trading rhetorical volleys just hours after the hostile neighbors staged near-simultaneous missile tests that sent tensions surging once again on the divided Korean Peninsula.

Following up on a test of a new cruise missile Monday, North Korea’s military on Wednesday test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles some 500 miles into waters claimed by Japan as its exclusive economic zone, the first incursion of its kind by Pyongyang since October 2019.

South Korea answered hours later with the successful debut of its first submarine-launched missile, which took out a prescribed target as President Moon Jae-in and other South Korean officials looked on.

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South Korea for now does not have its own nuclear program, relying on the U.S. security umbrella, but analysts say the new sub-based missile in time could be configured to carry a nuclear bomb.

Mr. Moon praised the new missile as a “sure deterrence against North Korean provocation,” but the test brought an immediate and angry response from Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and an increasingly powerful figure in the country’s political hierarchy.

In a statement carried Wednesday by state media, Ms. Kim rejected Seoul’s criticisms of the North’s latest military tests and said Mr. Moon risked a “complete destruction” of bilateral relations if he continued to attack Pyongyang.

The South Korean leader has long been a proponent of engagement with Pyongyang and is said to be under pressure to make a breakthrough in bilateral ties in his final year in office.

South Korean security officials for their part expressed “deep concern” at the spate of North Korean missile tests.

The Yonhap news agency reported that the South Korean National Security Council held an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss the tests.

Konshens Reveals What He Learned From Cardi B After Their Collab

Konshens says collaborating with Cardi B taught him something important as an artiste.

Since 2005 Konshens has been churning out the hits. He built a significant fanbase in Japan before becoming a household name in Jamaica and across the Caribbean. Even as his career kept rising in 2017, he recalls learning an invaluable lesson from a young artist who was also trying to make her way in the music biz.

Konshens was speaking to the Miami New Times and remembered his first encounter with now superstar Cardi B at a studio in New York City in 2017. They were meeting to put together the track “Back It Up.” The track was endorsed by fans, and to date, it has over 850,000 views on YouTube. It was made along with Hoodcelebrityy for her Gangsta B*tch Music, Vol. 2 mixtape.

“Cardi B showed me that: ‘Listen, give people a shot, bro,” he said when asked about the collab. Konshens added, “Even in this age when everything is numbers and everything is internet, listen to people. Give people a shot man, you never know.”

A lesson that many fans have touted to other artists over the years, including veterans like Bounty Killer and Beenie Man. Both artists have helped out younger artists trying to make their breakthrough into the highly competitive dancehall arena.

Konshens now lives in South Florida as he seeks to keep providing impetus to his career. While no date has been confirmed, the “Bruk Off Yuh Back” singer is working on his fourth studio album, which he promises will be the best one of his career so far.

His belief is that the upcoming album needs just two of the songs to be completed, and then it would be his best work.

“One is all ready — all it needs is a verse from a Latin artist. It needs to be a hardcore gyal song like ‘Bruk Off Ya Back.’ It needs that because when you listen to the album, there’s a lot of diversity going on, and there’s different topics and directions but there’s not that one,” he added.

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Japan suspends 1.63M doses of Moderna over contamination

Japan suspends 1.63M doses of Moderna over contamination

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In this June 30, 2021, file photo, a health worker prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Sumida ward of Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File) more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Thursday, August 26, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — Japan suspended use of about 1.63 million doses of Moderna vaccine Thursday after contamination was found in unused vials, raising concern of a supply shortage as the country tries to accelerate vaccinations amid a COVID-19 surge.

The health ministry said contamination was reported from multiple vaccination sites. Some doses might have been administered, but no adverse health effects have been reported so far, officials said. 

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., a Japanese drugmaker in charge of sales and distribution of the vaccine in Japan, said it decided to suspend use of doses manufactured in the same production line as a safety precaution. 

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It asked Moderna to conduct an emergency investigation and told medical institutions and organizers to stop using the vaccine produced in Spain and shared the production numbers that may be affected.

The health ministry and Takeda did not give details on the type of contamination or if the doses in question may have been distributed outside Japan.

The Moderna vaccine problem came just as Japan struggles with surging infections, with daily new cases hitting new highs in many parts of the country and severely straining the health care system. 

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters the government and Takeda are discussing ways to minimize the impact on Japan‘s vaccination progress. 

“We will do utmost in order to avoid any impact on vaccination progress, especially at worksites and large-scale centers,” Kato said. 

Japan relies entirely on foreign-developed vaccines by Moderna, as well as Pfizer Inc. and AstraZeneca. Moderna has been since mid-June at large-scale centers and workplace inoculations and has helped speed up Japan‘s rollout. 

About 43% of the Japanese population have been fully vaccinated, with daily doses of about 1 million. 

Japan further expands coronavirus emergency areas as cases surge

Japan further expands coronavirus emergency areas as cases surge

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — Japan expanded its coronavirus state of emergency on Wednesday for a second week in a row, adding eight more prefectures as a surge in infections fueled by the delta variant strains the country’s health care system.

The government last week extended the state of emergency until Sept. 12 and expanded the areas covered to 13 prefectures from six including Tokyo. With four new prefectures added to a separate “quasi-emergency” status, 33 of Japan’s 47 prefectures are now under some type of emergency measures.

Eight prefectures were upgraded from quasi-emergency status to a full emergency. They include Hokkaido and Miyagi in the north, Aichi and Gifu in central Japan, and Hiroshima and Okayama in the west.

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Japan’s state of emergency relies on requirements for eateries to close at 8 p.m. and not serve alcohol, but the measures are increasingly defied. Unenforceable social distancing and tele-working requests for the public and their employers are also largely ignored due to growing complacency.

The Japanese capital has been under the emergency since July 12, but new daily cases have increased more than tenfold since then to about 5,000 in Tokyo and 25,000 nationwide. Hospital beds are quickly filling and many people must now recover at home, including some who require supplemental oxygen.

More than 35,000 patients in Tokyo are recovering at home, about one-third of them unable to find a hospital or hotel vacancies immediately. Only a small percentage of hospitals are taking virus patients, either for financial reasons or because they lack the capability to treat the infections, experts say.

Japan has weathered the pandemic better than many other countries, with around 15,600 deaths nationwide since the start, but its vaccination efforts lag behind other wealthy nations. About 40% of the population has been fully vaccinated, mainly elderly people.

Economy and Fiscal Policy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, also in charge of the COVID-19 measures, said Wednesday that infections are spreading among those in their 20s to 50s who are largely unvaccinated. He urged them to take extra caution.

“Just imagine you may be the one getting infected tomorrow,” he said.

Rising infections among schoolchildren and teenagers could accelerate the surge as they begin returning to school after the summer vacation, said Dr. Shigeru Omi, top government medical advisor. He proposed schools curtail activity and urged high schools and colleges to return to online classes.

“Infections in Tokyo are showing no signs of slowing, and the severely tight medical systems will continue for a while,” he told a parliamentary session Wednesday.

The government has faced criticism for holding this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics despite strong opposition from the public. Officials deny any direct link between the games and the spike in infections.

Lockdowns or vaccines? 3 Pacific nations try diverging paths

Lockdowns or vaccines? 3 Pacific nations try diverging paths

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A commercial business is closed in Sydney on Aug. 13, 2021, as greater Sydney continues a weeks-long COVID-19 lockdown. Japan, Australia and New Zealand all got through the first year of the coronavirus pandemic in relatively good shape, but now … more >

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By Nick Perry, Mari Yamaguchi and Rod McGuirk

Associated Press

Sunday, August 22, 2021

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Cheryl Simpson was supposed to be celebrating her 60th birthday over lunch with friends but instead found herself confined to her Auckland home.

The discovery of a single local COVID-19 case in New Zealand was enough for the government to put the entire country into strict lockdown this past week. While others might see that as draconian, New Zealanders generally support such measures because they worked so well in the past.

“I’m happy to go into lockdown, even though I don’t like it,” said Simpson, owner of a daycare center for dogs that is now closed because of the precautions. She said she wants the country to crush the latest outbreak: “I’d like to knock the bloody thing on the head.”

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Elsewhere around the Pacific, though, Japan is resisting such measures in the face of a record-breaking surge, instead emphasizing its accelerating vaccine program. And Australia has fallen somewhere in the middle.

All three countries got through the first year of the pandemic in relatively good shape but are now taking diverging paths in dealing with outbreaks of the delta variant, the highly contagious form that has contributed to a growing sense that the coronavirus cannot be stamped out, just managed.

Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at New Zealand’s University of Otago, said countries around the world are struggling to adapt to the latest threat: “With the delta variant, the old rules just don’t work.”

The differing emphasis on lockdowns versus vaccines – and how effective such strategies prove to be in beating back the delta variant – could have far-reaching consequences for the three countries’ economies and the health of their citizens.

Japan has never imposed lockdowns against the coronavirus. The public is wary of government overreach after the country’s fascist period before and during World War II, and Japan’s postwar constitution lays out strict protections for civil liberties.

Before the delta variant, the country managed to keep a lid on coronavirus outbreaks in part because many people in Japan were already used to wearing surgical masks for protection from spring allergies or when they caught colds.

Now, almost everyone on public transportation wears a mask during commuting hours. But late at night, people tend to uncover in restaurants and bars, which has allowed the variant to spread. Hosting the Tokyo Olympic Games didn’t help either.

While strict protocols kept infections inside the games to a minimum, experts such as Dr. Shigeru Omi, a key medical adviser to the government, say the Olympics created a festive air that led people in Japan to lower their guard.

New cases in Japan have this month leaped to 25,000 each day, more than triple the highest previous peak. Omi considers that a disaster.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday expanded and extended a state of emergency covering Tokyo and other areas until at least mid-September, though most of the restrictions aren’t legally enforceable.

Many governors are urging the prime minister to consider much tougher restrictions. But Suga said lockdowns have been flouted around the world, and vaccines are “the way to go.”

Daily vaccinations in Japan increased tenfold from May to June as thousands of worksites and colleges began offering shots, but a slow start has left the nation playing catch-up. Only about 40% of people are fully vaccinated.

In Australia, a delta outbreak hit Sydney in June, after an unvaccinated limousine driver became infected while transporting a U.S. cargo air crew from the Sydney Airport. State authorities hesitated for 10 days before imposing lockdown measures across Sydney that have now dragged on for two months.

Early in the pandemic, Australia’s federal government imposed just one nationwide lockdown. Now, amid the delta outbreak, it is pursuing a strategy it calls aggressive suppression – including strict controls on Australians leaving the country and foreigners entering – but is essentially letting state leaders call the shots.

New infections in Sydney have climbed from just a few each week before the latest outbreak to more than 800 a day.

“It’s not possible to eliminate it completely. We have to learn to live with it,” Gladys Berejiklian, premier of Sydney’s New South Wales state, said in what many interpreted as a significant retreat from the determination state leaders have previously shown to crush outbreaks entirely.

“That is why we have a dual strategy in New South Wales,” Berejiklian said. “Get those case numbers down, vaccination rates up. We have to achieve both in order for us to live freely into the future.”

The outbreak in Sydney has spilled over into the capital, Canberra, which has also gone into lockdown. Government worker Matina Carbone wore a mask while shopping on Friday.

“I don’t know that anyone’s ever going to really beat delta,” she said. “I think we just have to try and increase our rates of vaccinations and slowly open things up when we think it’s safe to do so.”

But Australia lags far behind even Japan in getting people inoculated, with just 23% of people fully vaccinated.

Last year, soon after the pandemic first hit, neighboring New Zealand imposed a strict, nationwide lockdown and closed its border to non-residents. That wiped out the virus completely. The country of 5 million has been able to vanquish each outbreak since, recording just 26 virus deaths.

It went six months without a single locally spread case, allowing people to go about their daily lives much as they had before the pandemic.

But this month, the Sydney outbreak spread to New Zealand, carried by a returning traveler.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promptly imposed the strictest form of lockdown.

By Sunday, the number of locally spread cases in New Zealand had grown to 72, and the virus had reached the capital, Wellington. Officials raced to track 10,000 more people who might have been exposed.

Ardern has been steadfast.

“We have been here before. We know the elimination strategy works. Cases rise, and then they fall, until we have none,” she said. “It’s tried and true. We just need to stick it out.”

Baker, the epidemiologist, said he believes it is still possible for New Zealand to wipe out the virus again by pursuing the “burning ember” approach of taking drastic measures to stamp out the first sign of an outbreak.

That remains to be seen.

New Zealand doesn’t have much of a Plan B. A recent report by expert advisers to the government noted the nation has comparatively few intensive care hospital beds and said an outbreak could quickly overwhelm the health system.

And New Zealand has been the slowest developed nation to put shots in arms, with just 20% of people fully vaccinated.

Biden nominates Rahm Emanuel as ambassador to Japan

Biden nominates Rahm Emanuel as ambassador to Japan

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In this file photo, then-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks during a news conference in Chicago. Mr. Emanuel, who also previously served as White chief of staff in the Obama administration, was nominated to be ambassador to Japan on August 20, … more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Friday, August 20, 2021

President Biden on Friday nominated former Obama-era White House chief of staff and former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to serve as ambassador to Japan.

Mr. Emanuel, who represented Illinois in the House from 2003 to 2009, had been eyed for several positions in the Biden administration. He had been reportedly under consideration as U.S. Trade Representative or Transportation Secretary.

He has a connection with Mr. Biden, serving as former President Obama’s chief of staff from 2009 to 2011 when Mr. Biden was vice president.

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But progressive groups pushed back against Mr. Emmanuel landing a high-profile administration position because of his handling of a 2014 police shooting of a Black teenager while mayor of Chicago.

He decided not to run for a third term amid the controversy over the shooting. Mr. Emanuel had served as mayor from 2011 to 2019.

The controversy could cloud his Senate confirmation hearing, but two top Democrats expressed support for his nomination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, praised Mr. Emanuel for his “relentlessness and track record of success.”

“His great experience, from the U.S. House to the White House, will serve our nation well, as he works to deepen one of our nation’s most important alliances, champion American interests abroad and advance regional security and prosperity,” she said in a statement.

Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, vowed to do “all I can to help Rahm become America’s voice in Japan.”

And House Majority Whip James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, said in a statement that he supports the nomination.

Sen. Bill Hagerty, Tennessee Republican and a former U.S. ambassador to Japan, congratulated Mr. Emanuel on his nomination and said he looked forward to speaking with him.

“I understand firsthand that the U.S.-Japan alliance is critical to security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific,” he said. “Various challenges, including North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and the Chinese Communist Party’s drive for domination, will continue to test the United States, Japan, and our allies and partners in the region.”

The White House touted Mr. Emanuel’s international experience while leading Chicago.

“As mayor, he oversaw increased economic development that revitalized the city and helped solidify its status as a global hub of culture and commerce,” the White House said in a statement Friday.

The White House also announced the nomination of Nicholas Burns to serve as ambassador to China.

A longtime diplomat, Mr. Burns served as ambassador to NATO under former President George W. Bush and ambassador to Greece under former President Clinton.

He also advised Mr. Biden on foreign policy during the 2020 campaign and served as State Department spokesperson under former President Clinton.

Mr. Burns is currently the executive director of the Aspen Strategy Group.

Greg Kelly, former Nissan executive, wants boardroom, not criminal, trial

Ex-Nissan exec Greg Kelly wants boardroom, not criminal, trial

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Former Nissan Motor Co. executive Greg Kelly, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Tokyo. Nearly three years later, Kelly is still wondering why the questions that led to his arrest and trial in … more >

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By Yuri Kageyama

Associated Press

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — Nearly three years later, former Nissan executive Greg Kelly is still wondering why the questions that led to his arrest and trial in Japan weren’t simply taken up in the automaker’s corporate boardroom.

Kelly, an American lawyer who worked for three decades for Nissan Motor Co., is awaiting a verdict in his trial on charges of financial misconduct in the case of Carlos Ghosn. The embattled former chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance jumped bail and fled to Lebanon in late 2019, leaving Kelly in Japan alone to face charges of Ghosn’s under-reported Nissan compensation. Kelly has denied the allegations.

“I don’t think any of us were involved in a crime, or a criminal activity,” Kelly told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday in his Tokyo apartment, where he is out on bail.

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“We were involved in trying to solve a business problem, which was: What actions do you take that are lawful to retain a very valuable executive who was underpaid?” Kelly added, referring to Ghosn.

“It should have been resolved at the corporate level at Nissan. It’s not a criminal matter,” said Kelly, who faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted and is forbidden from leaving Japan as he awaits his fate. A verdict is not expected until March. More than 99% of Japanese criminal trials result in convictions.

Behind him, the walls of the apartment Kelly shares with his wife, Dee, were plastered with photos of his two grandsons, including a 20-month-old baby he has never held. Family is most important, the 64-year-old Kelly said, especially this late in life.

“When you get into your 60s, you’re not looking at a long horizon,” Kelly said.

“Every day that you miss with your family, you know, that to me is the stress. To spend 33 months without my family. For a corporate matter, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

HOW IT HAPPENED

Kelly was working for Nissan but living in the Nashville area of Tennessee when he was asked to come to Japan for a meeting in November 2018. Since he was scheduled for neck fusion surgery to address a painful spinal condition he suggested a video conference. But Nissan booked a corporate jet for him, promising he would be back within the week.

After landing in Japan, he got in a van. The driver asked if he could pull over and make a call. Suddenly the van door opened, and several men rushed in, identifying themselves as prosecutors and a translator.

Kelly was taken to a detention center, handcuffed and searched, then led to an interrogation room, and questioned by prosecutors, initially without a lawyer present.

“It was a shock,” he said.

He was kept in solitary confinement for 35 days and interrogated daily. He was confused. He could not call his wife. He pleaded to be allowed to get help from Nissan. Little did he know, he said, that Nissan was behind the arrest.

LIFE ON BAIL

To pass the time as he awaits a verdict, Kelly takes long walks with his wife, who moved to Japan in January 2019 on a student visa, taking Japanese language courses to be near her husband.

Kelly says he is lucky to have Dee, his college sweetheart from their days at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.

She was at his trial, giving her husband a thumbs-up as he walked into the courtroom with his lawyers. Sitting in the front row, she took copious notes since court transcripts are only in Japanese.

Dee Kelly said she was taking a walk near the couple’s home in November 2018, when she heard a radio report about the arrest of Ghosn and “an American executive.”

“You feel like you can’t breathe,” she said, not knowing what could have happened to her husband while on a business trip. At home, Japanese reporters were already showing up at her door.

“You work all your life so you can have time during retirement to spend with your kids, and we really wanted to play a big part in our grandkids’ lives, and that was taken,” she said of the events that have unfolded since. “What was done to him is beyond terrible.”

Kelly dedicated his life to Nissan, she said. “To have him treated like this, especially by people that were your friends. That’s really hard.”

THE CASE

Unknown except to several top Nissan officials, Ghosn’s salary was slashed from about 2 billion yen ($20 million) to 1 billion yen ($10 million) in fiscal 2009, when the disclosure of individual executive pay became required in Japan.

Prosecutors contend there was an elaborate plan to make up for the pay cut, which should have been documented in Nissan’s annual securities report.

At trial, they presented as evidence tables on Ghosn’s unpaid salary, kept meticulously by another Nissan official. Kelly says he didn’t know about the tables.

From Ghosn’s native Lebanon, the auto magnate-turned-international fugitive has denied accusations of underreporting his compensation and misusing company funds, contending he was the victim of a corporate coup linked to a decline in Nissan’s financial performance as the Japanese automaker resisted losing autonomy to French partner Renault.

In an AP interview in May, Ghosn mounted a robust defense of Kelly, saying: “Obviously he is innocent.”

“Some observers think that Kelly may be a bit of a pawn in the (Japanese) government’s effort to salvage its reputation after Ghosn escaped,” said Carl Tobias, Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond. “In the end, there may be no winners in this sordid story.”

THE ALLIANCE BACKDROP

Yoichi Kitamura, Kelly’s chief attorney, says that in his 43 years as a defense lawyer, he has never encountered a case like the one against Kelly.

“There is absolutely no evidence,” Kitamura said, adding there was no motive either. “Nissan and the prosecutors got together and concocted this into a criminal case.”

Kelly was just trying to do what he thought was best for Nissan, Kitamura added.

Hari Nada, who worked with Kelly in Nissan human resources, went to prosecutors about Ghosn’s unpaid compensation, according to Nada’s testimony in Kelly’s trial. Nada is one of two Nissan officials who got a plea bargain to avoid prosecution.

Kelly says he may have been singled out because he, like Ghosn, supported a merger for Nissan and Renault, to strengthen the alliance in a way he thought would make the companies more equal yet remain competitive.

Nada, former Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa and several other Japanese executives opposed the merger, according to court testimony.

“It was a small group that put together this scenario,” Kelly said of his and Ghosn’s arrests.

KELLY’S BROTHERS

John and Dave Kelly, Greg Kelly’s brothers, were at the Chicago Auto Show last month, with cousins, spouses and friends all wearing “Free Greg Kelly” hats and T-shirts, to picket and hand out leaflets.

“To commit a crime, you have to have a motive. Greg didn’t get anything. He was trying to help Nissan,” Dave Kelly, a petroleum engineer who lives in Lafayette, Louisiana, said in a telephone interview.

“He was just doing his job.”

The brothers grew up playing baseball and football in their backyard together.

“He was always an honest guy. He was always someone you could trust and talk to,” said John Kelly, a general surgeon in Oneida, New York.

“I know my brother. I know he will never be involved in anything dishonest.”

Olympics now ended, Japan races to vaccinate as the coronavirus surges

Olympics now ended, Japan races to vaccinate as the coronavirus surges

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In this Aug. 10, 2021, file photo, people wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk under the scorching sun in the Ginza Shopping district in Tokyo. Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is pinning his hopes … more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Friday, August 13, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — The Tokyo Olympics have ended, but it’s still vacation season in Japan, and many people are ignoring government pleas to avoid travel and stay away from bars and restaurants even as the coronavirus spikes at record levels.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is pinning his hopes on vaccinations, which started slow but now are making good progress. How this race between shots and disease finishes may determine Suga‘s political future, not to mention the health of tens of thousands.

Suga seems optimistic vaccines will win, but with only about 36% of the population fully vaccinated, experts say the virus’s highly infectious delta variant is pulling ahead. They are urging the government to put more teeth in its weak state of emergency. Japan has managed the COVID-19 pandemic better than many countries, without the kind of restrictive lockdown used in other nations, but some believe that may now be needed.

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Japan’s daily coronavirus cases have topped 10,000 for more than a week, and the total has doubled in the past four months to exceed 1 million. Tokyo’s daily caseloads tripled during the Games that ended Sunday. And as hospitals fill up, nearly 18,000 infected people are isolating at home, over 10 times more than a month ago.

Suga has stressed the progress of the vaccine rollout despite its late and slow start.

More than 80% of Japan‘s elderly population of 36 million have completed their vaccinations since they started getting shots in mid-April. Suga says high inoculation rates among seniors have contributed to a significant decline in the number of elderly patients, serious cases and deaths, relieving strain on the medical system.

“This clearly shows the vaccine efficacy,” Suga said, pledging to accelerate vaccinations among younger people. “The most effective way to slow the infections and minimize serious symptoms would be to give everyone two shots as soon as possible.”

Serious cases are now mostly among people in their 50s or younger, who are still largely unvaccinated. So far, 14 million – less than 20% of those aged 12 to 64 who are eligible for shots – have been fully vaccinated, according to Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccinations.

Suga said his goal of fully vaccinating all willing elderly people by the end of July has been mostly achieved. As he pushes to inoculate younger people, Suga aims to fully vaccinate 40% of all those 12 years and older by the end of August, and to complete shots for all those who wish to do so by October or November.

But vaccines alone might not be enough, experts and officials say.

“With the ongoing surge accelerated by the delta strain, it is extremely difficult to deal with the infections just by promoting the vaccines,” Kono told a recent online program. He noted that young adults in their 20s and 30s account for about half of daily cases and urged them to stick to social distancing, mask wearing and handwashing.

Japan‘s delayed vaccinations began in mid-February, with medical workers getting the first shots. The pace, initially slowed by logistical bungling, inefficiency and shortages of vaccine supplies, dramatically picked up in May, and the number of daily shots has since risen beyond 1 million, meeting Suga‘s ambitious target.

Officials expect the vaccination pace will slow when young adults get their turn because of their reluctance to get jabs, in part because of false rumors about side effects. Many of them also think they are less likely to develop serious symptoms.

For Suga, who has been criticized for forcing through the Games despite strong local opposition, showcasing the relative safety of the Olympics and Japan‘s vaccination progress may be key to his political survival. Suga has repeatedly said there is no evidence of the virus spreading from the Olympics, and organizing officials agree. While some 400 positive cases were reported inside the Olympic “bubble” from early July until the closing ceremony, that positivity rate is only a fraction of Tokyo‘s overall, they say.

Suga said his government is urgently tackling the surge of infections, but his government has repeated the same set of unpopular emergency measures that mainly target bars and restaurants, requiring them not to serve alcohol and close early. Department stores, entertainment facilities and other non-essential businesses are also requested to close at 8 p.m.

Though businesses that comply receive a daily compensation of up to 200,000 yen ($1,800) and those that defy could be fined, thousands are staying open later than 8 p.m. The authorities can stiffen the requests to orders and eventually impose fines on those who defy, but punishment is rare amid growing criticism that the measures unfairly target eateries.

Measures aimed at the public, including masking, disinfecting and avoiding non-essential trips, are only requests, and many people still roam around, go to restaurants, gather in parks and streets to drink and commute on packed trains.

Economy Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, also in charge of virus measures, noted this week that large infection clusters have been detected in classrooms, department stores and “pachinko” pinball parlors, and asked that people avoid traveling during the summer vacation season.

Despite increased support for the Games thanks to a record 58 Japanese medals, post-Olympic media surveys show support ratings for Suga’s government dropped below 30%.

“The government should come up with measures on the premise that people won’t listen to its requests,” former Osaka governor and political critic Toru Hashimoto said on a television talk show this week. “Many people think it doesn’t make sense that only they have to keep restraining their activity even though the government forced through the Olympics.”

The state of emergency is no longer working, some say, because measures have dragged on and people are tired of following the government requests.

“If the infections continue to escalate, we may have to start discussing the possibility of legalizing a lockdown,” said Dr. Shigeru Omi, the government’s top medical adviser. “Political leaders did not send a unified, powerful and clear message” to persuade the public to cooperate in order to slow the virus’ spread.

Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Olympics

Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Olympics

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People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk under a water mist in Tokyo Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. New cases surge in Tokyo to record levels during the Olympic Games. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara) more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Thursday, August 5, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo reported 5,042 new daily coronavirus cases on Thursday, hitting a record since the pandemic began as the infections surge in the Japanese capital hosting the Olympics

The additional cases brought the total for Tokyo to 236,138, about a quarter of the national total. Japan reported more than 14,000 cases on Wednesday for a total of 970,000.

Tokyo has been under a state of emergency since mid-July, and four other areas have since been added and extended until Aug. 31. But the measures, basically a ban on alcohol in restaurants and bars and their shorter hours, are increasingly ignored by the public, which has become tired of restrictions. 

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“We need to tackle the situation as we now have a stronger sense of urgency,” Prime Minister Yosihide Suga told reporters, referring to Tokyo‘s new record exceeding 5,000 cases for the first time. “The infections are expanding at the pace we have never experienced before.”

Suga, who has been criticized for insisting on hosting the Olympics despite the coronavirus spreading, says there is no evidence linking the surge in cases to the July 23-Aug. 8 Games. He urged people to firmly stick to the emergency requests and stay home despite the summer vacation. 

Alarmed by the pace of the spread, some experts have called for a current state of emergency in Tokyo and five other areas to be expanded nationwide.

Instead, Suga on Thursday announced a milder version of the emergency measures in eight prefectures, including Fukushima in the east and Kumamoto in the south, expanding the areas to 13 prefectures. The less-stringent measures allow prefectural heads to target specific towns but cannot order business closures. 

Suga also pledged to “prevent the further spread of the virus by firmly carrying out vaccinations.”

Experts say people are not cooperating because many feel less of a sense of urgency about the pandemic while the Olympics are going ahead and Suga’s government keeps issuing the same requests for people to stay at home. 

Experts at a Tokyo metropolitan government panel cautioned that infections propelled by the more contagious delta variant have become “explosive” and could exceed 10,000 cases a day in two weeks.

Measures targeting business owners start from requests and increase to orders, and violators can be fined, though this rarely happens. Those who comply can receive compensation, but thousands of eateries still stay open after the requested 8 p.m. closing time. Measures for the general public are only requests, including stay home, wear a mask outside and avoid nonessential trips. 

Japan has managed to keep its cases and deaths lower than much of the world, but testing is still insufficient and Tokyo‘s positivity rate stands at 20%, indicating widespread infections.

In Tokyo, more than 14,000 patients with mild symptoms are currently isolating at home — more than a tenfold increase from a month ago — and about 8,400 others are waiting for beds in hospitals or special hotels.

As hospital beds start to fill, Suga’s government this week introduced a new policy in which coronavirus patients with moderate symptoms will isolate at home instead of in hospitals, an attempt to save hospital beds almost exclusively for serious COVID-19 patients.

Opposition lawmakers criticized Suga for not increasing hospital capacity sufficiently despite warnings about the fast-spreading delta variant. Coronavirus treatment in Japan is limited to public and university hospitals that have adequate facilities and expertise.

Official: Belarus sprinter receives Polish humanitarian visa

Official: Belarus sprinter receives Polish humanitarian visa

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Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, of Belarus, runs in the women’s 100-meter run at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 30, 2021. Tsimanouskaya alleged her Olympic team tried to remove her from Japan in a dispute that led to a standoff Sunday, Aug. … more >

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By Graham Dunbar

Associated Press

Monday, August 2, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — A Belarusian Olympic sprinter plans to seek asylum in Poland, an activist group said Monday, after the athlete alleged that her team’s officials tried to force her to fly home, where she feared she wouldn’t be safe from an autocratic government that recently was accused of diverting a plane in order to arrest a dissident journalist.

Athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya received a humanitarian visa from the Polish Embassy in Tokyo, according to a Polish Foreign Ministry official. The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation told The Associated Press that the group has bought her a plane ticket to Warsaw for Aug. 4.

The current standoff apparently began after Tsimanouskaya criticized how officials were managing her team — setting off a massive backlash in state-run media back home, where authorities relentlessly crack down on government critics. Tsimanouskaya said on her Instagram account that she was put in the 4×400 relay even though she has never raced in the event.

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Tsimanouskaya was then apparently hustled to the airport but refused to board a flight for Istanbul and instead approached police for help. In a filmed message distributed on social media, she also asked the International Olympic Committee for assistance.

“I was put under pressure, and they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent,” the 24-year-old runner said in the message.

The rapid-fire series of events brought international political intrigue to Olympic Games that have been more focused on operational dramas, like maintaining safety during a pandemic and navigating widespread Japanese opposition to holding the event at all.

Belarus’ authoritarian government has relentlessly targeted anyone even mildly expressing dissent since a presidential election a year ago triggered a wave of unprecedented mass protests. And it has also gone to extremes to stop its critics, including the recent plane diversion that European officials called an act of air piracy.

In this context, Tsimanouskaya feared for her safety once she saw the campaign against her in state media, according to the sports foundation, which she also contacted for help.

“The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus,” Alexander Opeikin, a spokesman for the BSSF, told the AP in an interview.

Athletes seeking asylum at global sporting events is nothing new. It was especially frequent during the Cold War but has also happened occasionally in the decades since. As many as 117 athletes defected at the Munich Olympics in 1972, for instance, according to reports at the time. At least four Romanians and a Soviet associated with the Olympics defected at the Montreal Games in 1976. And Cuban athletes have frequently done so.

Underscoring the seriousness of the allegations, several groups and countries say they are helping the runner. Poland and the Czech Republic offered assistance, and Japan’s Foreign Ministry said it was working with the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Olympics organizers.

The IOC, which has been in dispute with the Belarus National Olympic Committee ahead of the Tokyo Games, said it had intervened.

“The IOC … is looking into the situation and has asked the NOC for clarification,” it said in a statement.

Many critics of Belarus’ government have fled to Poland. Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said on Twitter that Tsimanouskaya was granted a humanitarian visa Monday. “Poland will do whatever is necessary to help her to continue her sporting career. Poland always stands for Solidarity,” he said.

Outside the Polish embassy Monday, two exiled Belarusian women who live in Tokyo offered the runner support. They waved a flag that was a mix of the opposition’s banner and the Japanese flag.

Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek also tweeted that the Czech Republic has offered her asylum.

“If she decides to accept it, we’ll do our maximum to help her,” he wrote.

The Belarus National Olympic Committee has been led for more than 25 years by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and his son, Viktor.

Both Lukashenkos are banned from the Tokyo Olympics by the IOC, which investigated complaints from athletes that they faced reprisals and intimidation during the crackdown following the wave of anti-government protests over the last year.

A spokeswoman for the Belarus Olympic team did not respond to a request for comment.

In May, Belarussian authorities diverted a passenger plane to Minsk — and pulled journalist and activist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend off the flight.

The elder Lukashenko maintained that there was a bomb threat against the plane and that’s why a fighter jet was scrambled to force it to land, but the move was roundly criticized by Western leaders.

Pratasevich, who ran a channel on a messaging app used to organize demonstrations against Lukashenko’s rule, left his homeland in 2019. He has been charged with fomenting mass unrest and is under house arrest while he awaits trial.

Amid Monday’s drama, Tsimanouskaya missed the Olympic 200-meter heats that she was due to participate in. She already competed for Belarus on the first day of track events Friday at the National Stadium in Tokyo. She placed fourth in her first-round heat in the 100 meters, timing 11.47 seconds, and did not advance.

___

Associated Press journalists Daria Litvinova and Daniel Kozin contributed to this report from Moscow.

Japan expands coronavirus emergency after record spikes amid Olympics

Japan expands coronavirus emergency after record spikes amid Olympics

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People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk across a shopping alley near Ueno Station in Tokyo Friday, July 30, 2021. Japan is set to expand the coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo to neighboring … more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Friday, July 30, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency to four more areas in addition to Tokyo on Friday following record spikes in infections as the capital hosts the Olympics.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared an emergency in Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba, near Tokyo, as well as in the western city of Osaka, effective Monday until Aug. 31. Emergency measures already in place in Tokyo and the southern island of Okinawa will be extended until the end of August, after the Olympics and well into the Paralympics which start Aug. 24.

The upsurge in cases in Tokyo despite more than two weeks of emergency measures is raising doubts that they can effectively slow infections.

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Five other areas, including Hokkaido, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka, will be placed under less-stringent emergency restrictions.

Tokyo has reported a record increase in cases for three days in a row, including 3,865 on Thursday, before logging another 3,300 on Friday. The cases have doubled since last week, although officials say the surge is unrelated to the Olympics.

“Infections are expanding in the Tokyo and western metropolitan areas at an enormous speed that we have never experienced before,” Suga said as he declared the expansion of the state of emergency. If the spike continues at the current pace with the spread of the more contagious delta variant, Japan’s medical system could collapse, he said.

Japan has kept its cases and deaths lower than many other countries, but its seven-day rolling average is growing and now stands at 28 per 100,000 people nationwide and 88 per 100,000 in Tokyo, according to the Health Ministry. This compares to 18.5 in the United States, 48 in Britain and 2.8 in India, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Officials said 2,995 are hospitalized in Tokyo, about half the current capacity of 6,000 beds, with some hospitals already full. More than 10,000 others are isolating at home or in designated hotels, with nearly 5,600 waiting at home while health centers decide where they will be treated. Tokyo is also setting up a facility for those requiring oxygen while waiting for hospital beds.

Nationwide, Japan reported 10,687 cases Thursday, exceeding 10,000 for the first time. It has recorded 15,166 fatalities from COVID-19, including 2,288 in Tokyo, since the pandemic began.

The emergency measures focus on an alcohol ban at eateries and karaoke bars and their shortened hours, but have become less effective because people are only requested to remain and work at home. Many have been defying the measures as they become tired of restrictive life.

Suga said his key strategy will be largely unchanged – to target dining. He said subsidies will be paid faster to business owners who cooperate, and local authorities will patrol “to increase the effectiveness of the measures.”

Earlier Friday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike noted that people in their 30s or younger account for many recent cases and urged them to “share the sense of crisis” and follow basic measures such as mask wearing and avoiding having parties.

As of Thursday, 27% of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. The percentage of the elderly who are fully vaccinated is 71.5%.

Antony Blinken’s India visit puts human rights, China on table

Blinken’s India visit puts human rights, China on table

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, arrives to board a plane, Monday, July 26, 2021 at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., traveling to New Delhi, India and Kuwait City, Kuwait. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP) more >

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By Sheikh Saaliq

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

NEW DELHI (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was en route to India on Tuesday to discuss strengthening Indo-Pacific engagement, seen as a counter to China, as well as New Delhi’s recent human rights record and other issues.

Blinken’s visit includes meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior officials on Wednesday, and comes just days after his No. 2 diplomat, Wendy Sherman, was in China for face-to-face talks.

Washington has long viewed India as a key partner in efforts to blunt increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region. The U.S. and India are part of the Quad – a group that also includes Japan and Australia – allies in the region helping deal with China’s growing economic and military strength.

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While the Biden administration has indicated it wants a more civil relationship with Beijing, its shown no sign of softening the Trump administration’s confrontational measures on trade, technology and human rights.

The rights record of India, the world’s biggest democracy, will also be on the agenda, according to comments last week from Dean Thompson, acting assistant secretary for South and Central Asia.

Opponents of Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party have accused it of squashing dissent and introducing policies aimed at refashioning a multifaith democracy into a Hindu nation that discriminates against Muslims and other minorities.

Modi has also been accused of trying to silence voices critical of his administration’s handling of the massive pandemic wave that tore through the country in April and May.

India routinely denies criticism of its human rights record and has rejected criticism by foreign governments and rights groups that say civil liberties have shrunk in the country.

Thompson said Blinken also will seek India’s support in stabilizing Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdrawal is completed at the end of August.

Blinken is set to travel to Kuwait on Thursday.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs last week said Blinken’s visit “is an opportunity to continue the high-level bilateral dialogue and bolster the India-U.S. global strategic partnership.”

Over the last few years, the ties between the two countries have improved, particularly in terms of their shared interests regarding a rising China. They have steadily ramped up their military relationship and signed a string of defense deals and deepened military cooperation.

In March, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met top Indian officials and Modi. Both sides agreed to deepen defense cooperation, intelligence sharing and logistics. His visit was followed by climate envoy John Kerry.

Tokyo reports record coronavirus cases days after the Olympics begin

Tokyo reports record coronavirus cases days after the Olympics begin

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People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk past extra papers reporting on Japanese gold medalists at Tokyo Olympics, in Tokyo Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara) more >

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By Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo reported its highest number of new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, days after the Olympics began.

The Japanese capital reported 2,848 new COVID-19 cases, exceeding the earlier record of 2,520 cases on Jan. 7.

It brings Tokyo’s total to more than 200,000 since the pandemic began last year.

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Tokyo is under its fourth state of emergency, which is to continue through the Olympics until just before the Paralympics start in late August.

Experts have warned that the more contagious delta variant could cause a surge during the Olympics, which started Friday.

Experts noted that cases among younger, unvaccinated people are rising sharply as Japan’s inoculation drive loses steam due to supply uncertainty. Many serious cases involve those in their 50s. They now dominate Tokyo’s nearly 3,000 hospitalized patients and are gradually filling up available beds. Authorities reportedly plan to ask medical institutions to increase their capacity to about 6,000.

Japan’s vaccination drive began late and slowly, but picked up dramatically in May for several weeks as the supply of imported vaccines stabilized and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government pushed to inoculate more people before the Olympics.

The government says 25.5% of Japanese have been fully vaccinated, still way short of the level believed to have any meaningful impact on reducing the risk for the general population.

Still, Japan has kept its cases and deaths much lower than many other countries. Nationwide, it has reported 870,445 cases and 15,129 deaths as of Monday.

Suga’s government has been criticized for what some say is prioritizing the Olympics over the nation’s health. His public support ratings have fallen to around 30% in recent media surveys, and there is little festivity surrounding the Games.

First lady Jill Biden hails Team USA as Tokyo Games kick off: ‘You did it during a global pandemic’

First lady Jill Biden hails Team USA as Tokyo Games kick off: ‘You did it during a global pandemic’

Enjoys incense workshop with Japanese PM's wife at Imperial Palace

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U.S. first lady Jill Biden waves as she arrives at Imperial Palace to meet Japan’s Emperor Naruhito in Tokyo, Friday, July 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, Pool) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Friday, July 23, 2021

First lady Jill Biden hailed Team USA’s sacrifices, “drive” and “faith” in Tokyo before the Summer Games formally kicked off Friday amid a sweeping coronavirus crisis.

“Becoming an Olympian is a rare accomplishment in a normal time. But you did it during a global pandemic,” Mrs. Biden told the team in a Zoom call. “In these moments, we are more than our cities or states or backgrounds. We are more than our jobs or are political parties. We are Team USA.”

Mrs. Biden is leading a small delegation to the Tokyo opening ceremonies that also includes Raymond Greene, the interim U.S. ambassador to Japan.

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It’s a bit of a surprise the Olympics, which were postponed for one year because of the coronavirus, are happening at all. Organizers banned spectators and insist they could hold a safe Games with testing and other protocols, despite public unease in Japan.

“You’ve given up so much to be here. You’ve sacrificed time with friends and pushed yourself harder than you thought you could,” Mrs. Biden told the American athletes.“Your journey was supported by dedicated parents and siblings, grandparents and cousins, friends, classmates and, of course, the coaches that guided you along the way to Tokyo.”

She singled out Sue Bird, a basketball player and flagbearer, as “one amazing woman.”

“You must be so excited!” she told another flagbearer — Eddy Alvarez, a baseball player who has competed in short-track speed skating at the Winter Games.

Allison Schmitt, a four-time Olympic swimmer and mental health advocate, spoke about her teaching work and said she’s pursuing a master’s degree.

“Go for the doctorate,” Mrs. Biden said.

Earlier in the day, the first lady met with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s wife, Mariko Suga, at the Imperial Palace for a cultural event that featured a Koju Raku Incense Workshop and host in a pale yellow kimono.

Donning slipper-socks, Mrs. Biden removed her black mask to smell incense in small glass bowls, including sandalwood and cinnamon, though the Palo Santo caught her attention.

“Oh that’s strong, that wakes you up, right?” she said.

Olympics arrive to Tokyo with uncertainty, intrigue

‘Hell or high water’: Olympics arrive to Tokyo with uncertainty, intrigue

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Mexico’s Nicole Rangel, left, and Suzannah Brookshire collide as they attempt to take a catch during the softball game between the Mexico and Japan at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Fukushima , Japan. (AP Photo/Jae C. … more >

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By Andy Kostka

The Washington Times

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The opening ceremonies ringing in the Tokyo Olympics on Friday will look familiar: There’s the distinctive five-rings logo, the traditional torch-lighting and the procession of athletes marching in under their flags.

But make no mistake, these pandemic-delayed Games will be unlike any that have come before — from events staged in arenas emptied by virus concerns to athletes openly using the global platform to broadcast social and political messages.

The International Olympic Committee is adamant that holding the Games in virus-stricken Tokyo can be done safely, but the host country’s top Olympics official warned just Tuesday that, with coronavirus cases in the city hitting six-month highs, the entire two-week long event could still be canceled.

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Beyond the COVID-19 concerns and the official embrace of athlete activism, there are controversies galore, from the inclusion of Laurel Hubbard, the first transgender athlete in Olympics history, who will compete in women’s weightlifting, to the Russian team competing under doping violation sanctions to the specter of the Beijing Winter Olympics following in just six months in a country with an increasingly contentious relationship with the U.S. and much of the West.

“From [the IOC’s] point of view, having the Olympics — albeit flawed — is better than not having an Olympics,” said Mark Conrad, the director of the sports business program at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business. “They do want to hold the Games, almost to hell or high water. Almost to that point.”

The Games will bring almost 11,000 athletes to Japan, many of whom have ties to the Washington, D.C., area. In the pool, Katie Ledecky and Torri Huske open their Olympic slates this weekend on NBC’s family of networks. Troy Isley, a boxer who graduated from Alexandria City High School, competes next week. Kyle Snyder, from Woodbine, Maryland, will wrestle in early August.

The first events of the Olympics actually began Wednesday, with softball and women’s soccer games. The Games will continue through Aug. 8, when the men’s and women’s basketball gold medal games are held and the closing ceremony is held.

But there’s much to be done before then, with the coronavirus at the center of just about everything. 

Early warning signs cropped up when the first coronavirus cases were discovered within the Olympic village on Monday, with three members of the South African men’s soccer team testing positive. Those cases set off isolation attempts and contact tracing efforts ahead of Thursday’s opener against Japan.

There’s been a steady drip of athletes withdrawing due to positive tests in the build-up to this week. 

After an alternate for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team tested positive for the coronavirus, the team departed the Olympic Village to stay in a hotel instead. Coach Cecile Landi wrote on Twitter that “we feel like we can control the athletes and our safety better in a hotel setting!” 

There have been at least 67 positive cases among those involved with the Olympics, including athletes and officials.

“I’m always concerned when I see people who are infected, because it could be the tip of an iceberg,” said Dr. Lisa Brosseau, a research consultant at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy within the University of Minnesota. “The word I’ve been using all throughout the pandemic is ‘magical thinking.’ There is so much magical thinking, and the IOC is illustrating it for us perfectly.”

Some sports leagues have proven it’s possible to continue during the pandemic. The NBA and WNBA utilized bubble formats early in the pandemic to complete the 2020 playoffs before returning to a more natural setting this season. The NFL completed a season with fewer fans in the seats.

But those sports were more manageable, with far fewer athletes involved, than the massive Olympics. And the bubble format the NBA and WNBA used — with near-lockdown conditions — aren’t being used in Tokyo, with athletes sharing rooms, for instance.

“As much as the IOC says they have a bubble going, that isn’t happening,” Dr. Brosseau said. “You can’t make a bubble over the Olympic village. That just isn’t possible. Bubbles have to be much smaller than that.”

Dr. Brosseau said she’s alarmed at the naivety the IOC has shown while preparing to hold the Olympics during a pandemic. She pointed to the different risk levels between indoor and outdoor sports, yet the IOC hasn’t adapted different measures for each. The IOC has fallen short on planning to prevent aerosol inhalation of the virus, opting instead to count on face coverings, plexiglass barriers and opening windows every 30 minutes.

The IOC has staked much of the Games on daily testing practices, hoping to discover positive cases early. When there are positive cases, athletes will be sent to one of 300 isolated hotel rooms — but that draws skepticism, too.

“We are magically imagining we’re only going to get 300 people who are going to have to get quarantined or isolated, we’re magically imagining that all of these things that we’ve done are somehow going to prevent transmission in the Olympic Village,” Dr. Brosseau said. “Not so sure any of that’s going to happen.”

With much of the Japanese public disapproving of holding the Games while cases rise, several Japanese companies are distancing themselves from the Olympics. Toyota has pulled advertisements on TV in Japan, and Panasonic, Toyota and Asahi will skip Friday’s opening ceremony.

“People there are just simply not happy,” Mr. Conrad said, “and it doesn’t look good for brands that sell well in Japan — obviously, Japanese companies — to associate themselves with this event that they paid good money to sponsor.”

While the coronavirus hangs over proceedings, there are other factors at play beyond the athletic competition. In early July, the IOC altered rules against athlete expression, deviating from the previous standard aimed at maintaining political neutrality at the Games.

The new guidelines permit some forms of political expression, allowing athletes to demonstrate before their events begin, so long as the message isn’t disruptive. Demonstrating on the medal podium, in the Olympic Village or during the opening and closing ceremonies still isn’t approved.

The first of such protests was seen Wednesday as multiple women’s soccer teams, including the U.S., New Zealand and Great Britain, took a knee on the field before their matches. The move has become a staple for soccer across the world — from the Premier League to European Championship — to protest racial injustice. The U.S. team stood for the national anthem.

“It’s an opportunity for us to continue to use our voices and use our platforms to talk about the things that affect all of us intimately in different ways,” U.S. captain Megan Rapinoe said after Sweden ran away with a 3-0 win to open the Olympic group stages.

“We’re on the global stage,” Rapinoe added, “with the world’s media, and eyeballs and people’s attention, all drawn to one place with a collection of incredible athletes from all over the world, who care a lot about what they’re doing here in Tokyo in terms of their sport, and who care a lot about a lot of other things.”

Other protests could be expected throughout the Games. Gwen Berry, an American hammer thrower, turned away from the flag when the national anthem played during the medal ceremony last month at the U.S. track and field Olympic trials. Noah Lyles, a sprinter, raised a gloved hand before his race at the trials, too.

The IOC has also drawn criticism for allowing Hubbard, a transgender woman from New Zealand, to compete. Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen told Inside the Games that Hubbard’s inclusion is “like a bad joke.”

But Hubbard has received support, too. Emily Campbell, a British weightlifter who will compete against Hubbard, told the Independent last month that Hubbard “has qualified for this competition fairly like everyone else has, following rules that we all have to abide by.”

And after the Tokyo Games were postponed for a year, the scheduling is being squeezed for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022.

And the IOC is already hearing calls for a boycott of Beijing because of the host country’s human-rights abuses.

“First is the moral question,” Lhadon Tethong of the Tibet Action Institute told the Associated Press. “Is it OK to host an international goodwill sporting event such as the Olympic Games while the host nation is committing genocide just beyond the stands?”

That will ramp up more pressure on the IOC — and on the sponsors who help make the Olympics possible. But before the Olympics can look ahead to Beijing, there are two pressure-packed weeks to get through in Tokyo.

“At best, to sum up, the event could go on with minimal disruption — the actual event,” Mr. Conrad said. “At worst, for the Olympic Village, for the spread, for the society, it could be a [disaster].

Top Olympic sponsor Toyota pulls Games-related TV ads

Top Olympic sponsor Toyota pulls Games-related TV ads

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In this March 13, 2015, file photo, Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda, left, and IOC President Thomas Bach pose with a signed document during a press conference in Tokyo as Toyota signed on as a worldwide Olympic sponsor in … more >

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By Yuri Kageyama

Associated Press

Monday, July 19, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — Toyota won’t be airing any Olympic-themed advertisements on Japanese television during the Tokyo Games despite being one of the IOC’s top corporate sponsors.

The extraordinary decision by the country’s top automaker underlines how polarizing the Games have become in Japan as COVID-19 infections rise ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony.

“There are many issues with these Games that are proving difficult to be understood,” Toyota Chief Communications Officer Jun Nagata told reporters Monday.

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Chief Executive Akio Toyoda, the company founder’s grandson, will be skipping the opening ceremony. That’s despite about 200 athletes taking part in the Olympics and Paralympics who are affiliated with Toyota, including swimmer Takeshi Kawamoto and softball player Miu Goto.

Nagata said the company will continue to support its athletes.

Being a corporate sponsor for the Olympics is usually all about using the games as a platform to enhance the brand. But being linked with a pandemic-era Games may be viewed by some as a potential marketing problem.

Masa Takaya, a Tokyo 2020 spokesperson, said sponsors each make its own decisions on their messages.

“There is a mixed public sentiment towards the Games,” Takaya said.

“I need to emphasize that those partners and companies have been very supportive to Tokyo 2020. They are passionate about making these Games happen.”

Toyota Motor Corp. signed on as a worldwide Olympic sponsor in 2015, in an 8-year deal reportedly worth nearly $1 billion, becoming the first car company to join the IOC’s top-tier marketing program.

The sponsorship, which started globally in 2017, runs through the 2024 Olympics, covering three consecutive Olympics in Asia, including the Tokyo Games.

The Tokyo Olympics, already delayed by a year, are going ahead despite the Japanese capital being under a state of emergency.

It’s already virtually a made-for-TV Olympics with most events, including the opening ceremony, going ahead without fans in the venues. Some dignitaries, such as IOC President Thomas Bach and Emperor Naruhito, are likely to attend.

Toyota is one of the most trusted brands in Japan. The maker of the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models prides itself on its quality controls, with its “just in time” super-efficient production methods praised and emulated around the world.

Public opinion surveys reflect widespread concern among Japanese people about having tens of thousands of Olympic participants enter the country during a pandemic. Some already have tested positive for COVID.

Motoyuki Niitsuma, a manufacturing plant worker who was banging on a bucket in a recent Tokyo protest against the Olympics, said he didn’t like the idea of cheering for the national team, and the pandemic has made that message clear.

“The time to compete is over. Now is the time to cooperate,” he said. “We should never have gotten the Games.”

___

AP Videographer Johnson Lai contributed to this report.

___

Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

___

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/Olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

In ‘historic’ test, U.S. Patriot missiles shoot down drones in Australia

In ‘historic’ test, U.S. Patriot missiles shoot down drones in Australia

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In this Nov. 8, 2017, photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, German soldiers assigned to Surface Air and Missile Defense Wing 1, fire the Patriot weapons system at the NATO Missile Firing Installation, in Chania, Greece. The Pentagon … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Sunday, July 18, 2021

U.S. Army missile defense units have carried out the first ever firing of Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Australia as part of joint exercises with U.S. allies there that are likely to agitate China, which is engaged in its own increasingly aggressive military moves in the region.

Patriot missiles “successfully engaged drone targets” on Friday in what a U.S. military statement described as a “historic first” test of the system in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia, during “Talisman Sabre 21” exercises that run through mid-August.

U.S. officials say the exercises, which include participation of forces from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and South Korea, aim to demonstrate the ability of the allied forces to move easily around the region in response to threats that may arise from any adversaries.

Stars and Stripes, which first reported on the Patriot firing, emphasized the threat of Chinese and North Korean missiles as an ever-present concern for U.S. and other commanders in the region — noting that as recently as 2017, the North Koreans fired a ballistic missile over northern Japan.

In addition to the North Korean threat, the Pentagon has spent recent years warning of expanding great power competition with China, which has come to feature the establishment by the Chinese military of bases on man-made reefs in disputed island chains in the region.

China’s military recently deployed electronic warning and surveillance aircraft and helicopters on two disputed islands in the South China Sea in what analysts say is a sign that the People’s Liberation Army has begun routine air operations from the bases.

Satellite images obtained by The Washington Times show deployments in May and June of PLA KJ-500 airborne warning and control aircraft to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. Other satellite photos showed the stationing of a Y-9 transport aircraft and Z-8 helicopter to Subi Reef in June and this month.

The Biden administration has sought to pick up where the former Trump administration left off with by carrying out U.S. military exercises in the region, while also rallying unity among major democracies of the Indo-Pacific to confront the moves by China’s communist government — most notably through the so-called “Quad” nations that include the U.S., Japan, Australia and India.

The current “Talisman Sabre 21” military exercises in Australia are independent from the Quad push.

A U.S. military press release said the drills involve more than 17,000 participants from seven nations, including Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom, with India, Indonesia, France, and Germany also sending delegations to observe.

Stars and Stripes quoted U.S. Army Col. Matt Dalton, of Portland, Conn., who oversees air and missile defense units in Japan, including Okinawa, and on Guam, as saying during a conference call that American officials are “trying to demonstrate our ability to quickly move our units around the Indo-Pacific to be able to counter any threat that is out there.”

Col. Dalton emphasized the “ability to move to different locations quickly, set up and establish defense of a particular asset.”

The movement and firing of the Patriot system is likely to draw the most attention.

A U.S. military press release said soldiers “based in Japan and Guam from 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, successfully engaged drone targets with Patriot missiles as part of TS 21, Australia’s largest military exercise with the U.S.”

“Australian and U.S. Forces combine biannually for Talisman Sabre — a key exercise supporting the Indo-Pacific Pathways initiative to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific by strengthening relationships, building trust and interoperability among allies and partners,” the press release stated.

• Bill Gertz contributed to this article.

First resident of Olympic Village tests positive for COVID

First resident of Olympic Village tests positive for COVID

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National banners hang from balconies at an athlete’s village as Tokyo prepares for the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 17, 2021. The pandemic-delayed games open on July 23 without spectators at most venues. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) more >

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By Stephen Wade

Associated Press

Saturday, July 17, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — The first resident of the Olympic Village has tested positive for COVID-19, Tokyo Olympic organizers said on Saturday.

Officials said it was not an athlete with the Games opening in just under a week on July 23.

Tokyo officials including Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organizing committee, confirmed the case and said the positive test was Friday. Organizers say for confidentiality purposes they can only offer a vague description and few details.

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“In the current situation, that positive cases arise is something we must assume is possible,” said Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the Tokyo organizing committee.

The person is identified simply as a “games-concerned personnel.” The person is also listed as a non-resident of Japan. Tokyo officials said the person was placed in a 14-day quarantine.

The Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay will house about 11,000 athletes during the Olympics and thousands of other staff.

IOC President Thomas Bach said this week there was “zero” risk of athletes in the village passing on the virus to Japanese or other residents of the village.

Organizers say since July 1 and as of Saturday, 45 people under their “jurisdiction” have tested positive. Only one involves a person in the village and most are identified as “contractors” for Tokyo 2020 and “games-concerned personnel.” The list includes one athlete – who tested positive on July 14 – and three members of the media.

Of the 45, only 12 are listed as “non-resident of Japan.”

Organizers say that athletes and staff who have been away from Tokyo at training camps are excluded from this list and their accounting.

Tokyo officials said they could not give an estimate of the number of people in the village as of Saturday.

New COVID-19 cases on Saturday were reported at 1,410. They were 950 one week ago, and it marks the 28th straight day that cases were higher than a week previous. It was the highest single day since 1,485 on Jan. 21.

IOC President Thomas Bach, as he has done all week in Tokyo, again asked the Japanese to support the Olympics. Opinion polls, depending how the question is asked, show 50-80% want the Olympics postponed again or canceled.

“We are very well aware of the skepticism, obviously that a number of people have here in Japan,” Bach said Saturday in his first large briefing of the Olympics at the main press center in Tokyo. “My appeal to the Japanese people is to welcome these athletes.”

Bach was asked the question about the absence of support at least twice, both times by Japanese reporters.

“Even in Japan there was never 100% support for the Olympic Games or any other event. This is part of democracy,” he said. “You will always have different opinions and, that such a discussion is becoming more heated and more emotional in the situation of a pandemic, is something we have to understand. Many people feel under stress.”

IOC’s Bach gets mixed reaction in one-day visit to Hiroshima

IOC’s Bach gets mixed reaction in one-day visit to Hiroshima

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International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach offers flowers to Hiroshima Memorial Cenotaph during his visit Friday, July 16, 2021, in Hiroshima, western Japan. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool) more >

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By Haruka Nuga and Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Friday, July 16, 2021

HIROSHIMA, Japan (AP) — IOC President Thomas Bach got a mixed reception in his visit on Friday to Hiroshima to mark the first day of the so-called Olympic Truce.

Such a one-day visit by a dignitary would ordinarily be routine a week ahead, but the Olympics are set to open next week with Tokyo under a state of emergency and with a substantial part of the population opposed to the Games being held during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bach‘s vice president, John Coates, also appeared Friday in Nagasaki, the second city that was hit by an American atomic bomb in 1945.

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Bach and Coates have been meeting daily with Japanese officials from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, repeating their message that the Olympics will be “safe and secure.” He was accompanied to Hiroshima by Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee.

The Olympics and Paralympic involve 15,400 athletes and tens of thousands of others entering Japan, including media, broadcasters, officials, and judges and others.

The Olympics, already delayed by 12 months because of the pandemic, will be held with virtually no fans. Fans from abroad were banned several months ago, and last week Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures banned all local fans. A few outlying venues are expected to allow a smattering of fans.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported earlier this week that Bach asked Suga about the possibility of having some fans if conditions improve.

New COVID-19 cases on Friday in Tokyo were reported at 1,271. They were 822 a week ago, and it marks the 27th straight day that cases were higher than a week previous. New cases on Thursday were reported at 1,308, which was the highest in six months.

Bach has said there is “zero” risk of athletes in the Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay passing on the virus to Japanese or other residents of the village.

A group of 11 anti-Olympic and pacifists groups submitted a letter to the city earlier this week opposing Bach‘s visit. Separately, an online petition opposing the visit garnered 70,000 signatures.

Bach laid a wreath and observed a minute of silence in the rain in front of the Peace Memorial Park cenotaph. Faint voices of protesters, who were kept at a distance, could be heard shouting “go home Bach” and “you’re not welcome here.”

Dozens of protesters were seen near the Atomic Bomb Dome with signs that read “Cancel The Olympics” and “No Bach.”

“You should understand you are not welcome here,” one protester said, speaking into a microphone.

“The COVID-19 situation is getting worse, it hasn’t come to an end, and I wonder why this has to go ahead,” said Sayuri Yamada, who identified herself as a medical worker. She was not among the protesters.

She said she did not oppose Bach‘s visit, but raised questions about running unnecessary risks for the Olympics.

“It’s not that I don’t want him to come absolutely,” she said. “But rather, thinking about the safety of people, including the athletes, my opinion is like he doesn’t have to do this at a time when the risk is high.”

Takayoshi Kayano, who said he was an office worker, respected Bach‘s right to visit but raised other issues.

“I think it’s fine to host the Olympics. But the no-spectator policy is a bit disappointing,” he said. “But to me, I feel the IOC seems to be only focused on making money.”

The official cost of the Tokyo Olympics is $15.4 billion, although government auditors have suggested it’s much larger. All but $6.7 billion is public money.

As Bach was in Hiroshima, a Ugandan athlete training with his team near Osaka was reported missing by local officials. He is reported to be a 20-year-old weightlifter. No other details were immediately available.

—-

Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

Pacific Rim leaders discuss economic way out of the coronavirus pandemic

Pacific Rim leaders discuss economic way out of the coronavirus pandemic

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In this May 15, 2021, file photo, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks during a press conference in Wellington. U.S. President Joe Biden, his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Russian President Vladimir Putin are … more >

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By Rod McGuirk

Associated Press

Thursday, July 15, 2021

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — U.S. President Biden, his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Russian President Vladimir Putin are among Pacific Rim leaders gathering virtually to discuss strategies to help economies rebound from a resurgent COVID-19 pandemic.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will chair the special leaders’ meeting Friday of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

But the pandemic and vaccine diplomacy have proved to be divisive issues among members of a forum that says its primary goal is to support sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Biden spoke by phone with Ardern on Friday ahead of the leaders’ retreat and discussed U.S. interest in maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region, a White House statement said.

“They also discussed our cooperation on and engagement with Pacific Island nations,” the statement said.

The Biden administration has put a premium on tending to relations with allies in the Pacific early in his administration.

One of his first high-profile acts of diplomacy as president was hosting a virtual summit with fellow leaders of the Quad — Australia, India and Japan — a group central to his efforts to counter China’s growing military and economic power. And he hosted Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in for the first in-person foreign leader meetings of his presidency. South Korea is an APEC member and India is the only country in the Quad that is not.

Biden plans to use the virtual APEC retreat to talk to leaders about his administration’s efforts to serve “as an arsenal of vaccines to the world” in the battle against COVID-19 pandemic and how members of the alliance can collaborate to bolster the global economy, according to a senior Biden administration who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The U.S. has donated 4.5 million vaccine doses to Indonesia, 2 million to Vietnam, 1 million to Malaysia, and 3.2 million doses will soon be delivered to the Philippines. The White House says donations to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Papua New Guinea, will also soon be delivered. Laos and Cambodia are the only countries among those eight vaccine recipients that are not APEC members.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the “important meeting” came at a critical time as the world was facing a resurgence in COVID-19 infection numbers and international cooperation against the pandemic had entered a new stage.

“We hope all parties can uphold the vision of an Asia-Pacific community with a shared future, carry forward the Asia-Pacific partnership, send a positive message of fighting the coronavirus with solidarity and deepen economic recovery and cooperation,” Zhao said.

Suga will speak about his determination to hold a safe and secure Olympics when the games start in Tokyo on July 23, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said.

Suga will also emphasize Japan’s determination to secure fair access to vaccines for all countries and regions to support the global effort toward ending the COVID-19 pandemic, and Tokyo’s vision to expand a free and fair economic bloc, Kato said.

Ardern said APEC’s first leaders’ meeting outside the usual annual summits “reflects our desire to navigate together out of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis.”

APEC economies have suffered their biggest contraction since the Second World War over the past year, with 81 million jobs lost. Responding collectively is vital to accelerate the economic recovery for the region,” said Ardern, whose South Pacific island nation has been among the most successful in the world in containing the virus.

The pace of a global vaccine rollout and conditions attached to international vaccine deals are vexed issues among APEC members.

The United States has been accused by some of hoarding vaccines. Biden came up well short on his goal of delivering 80 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the rest of the world by the end of June as a host of logistical and regulatory hurdles slowed the pace of U.S. vaccine diplomacy.

Although the Biden administration has announced that about 50 countries and entities will receive a share of the excess COVID-19 vaccine doses, the U.S. had shipped fewer than 24 million doses to 10 recipient countries by July 1, according to an Associated Press tally.

Taiwan, an APEC member that China claims as a renegade territory, has accused Beijing of tying the delivery of coronavirus vaccines to political demands. The government of the self-ruled island says China has intervened to block vaccine deliveries to Taiwan from fellow APEC members Japan and the United States.

China has accused Australia of interfering in the rollout of Chinese vaccines in former Australian colony Papua New Guinea. Both Australia and Papua New Guinea are also APEC members.

Sino-Australian relations plummeted last year when Australia called for an independent investigation into the origins of and responses to the pandemic.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who will also join the meeting, said in a statement now was a “critical time for Australia to engage with regional partners to promote free trade facilitation, in particular for vaccines and essential goods; build momentum for strengthening the multilateral trading system; and secure a sustainable and inclusive recovery.”

China said that by May it was providing COVID-19 vaccines to nearly 40 African countries, describing its actions as purely altruistic.

The vaccines were donated or sold at “favorable prices,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry official said.

The online leaders’ meeting that is chaired from the New Zealand capital Wellington and straddles 11 time zones comes before the scheduled annual summit in November.

New Zealand’s pandemic response has been among the most effective in the world and the isolated nation of 5 million people has recorded just 26 COVID-19 deaths. But its vaccination campaign has been far slower than in most developed countries.

Ardern said leading a regional response to the pandemic was one of New Zealand’s highest priorities when it took over as APEC’s chair from Malaysia in an annual rotation among the 21 members.

“I will be inviting discussion on immediate measures to achieve more coordinated regional action to assist recovery, as well as steps that will support inclusive and sustainable growth over the long term,” she said. “APEC leaders will work together to get through the pandemic and promote a sustainable and inclusive recovery, because nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”

____

Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani in Chicago and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Jill Biden to attend Tokyo opening ceremonies; 85% of Olympic Village will be vaccinated

Jill Biden to attend Tokyo opening ceremonies; 85% of Olympic Village will be vaccinated

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In this July 8, 2021 photo, first lady Jill Biden delivers remarks before the start of the finals of the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Jill Biden will attend the opening ceremony … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

First lady Jill Biden will travel to Japan for the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, the White House said Tuesday.

President Biden in June said his wife was eyeing the trip, but officials hadn’t confirmed the July 23 visit as it examined the COVID-19 situation.

The Office of the First Lady said it would release more details soon.

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It is common for world leaders and dignitaries to attend the Olympic ceremonies as a symbol of national pride and global camaraderie. Preparations for the games in Japan have been anything but typical, however, after a yearlong delay and fears the event could spread the coronavirus.

Though Mrs. Biden will make this trip, congressional lawmakers are calling for a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing in February given the communist government’s oppression in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and threats against Taiwan.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach might have been thinking ahead as he offered assurances Tuesday to the “Chinese people,” only to quickly correct himself with “Japanese people.”

Mr. Bach said Tokyo is the best-ever prepared city for the Olympic games” as it puts the final pieces in place for the events from July 23 to Aug. 8.

“The Japanese people can have confidence in all the efforts we are undertaking to make these games for them secure and safe, with all the intensive, most strict COVID countermeasures, with the great vaccination program we’ve been undertaking worldwide,” Mr. Bach told Seiko Hashimoto, head of the organizing committee. “We are sitting in one boat and we are rowing together with full force in the same direction.”

Organizers are trying to lift spirits 10 days before kickoff.

A pandemic state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of Japan forced the committees to ban spectators from venues, capping a series of setbacks for the showcase that was delayed for one year.

The IOC said the majority of the 11,000 athletes will be staying at the Olympic Village along the Harumi waterfront in Tokyo.

Organizers estimate that 85% of village residents will be vaccinated against COVID-19. They must wear masks, sanitize their hands and maintain physical distancing. They’ll also face regular testing and restrictions on their movements around the area.

“After all this additional stress during the pandemic, finally they can shine on the Olympic stage,” Mr. Bach said. “And I hope that they will, under these circumstances nevertheless, enjoy it to the fullest.”

Japan searches for dozens missing in mudslide; 4 dead

Japan searches for dozens missing in mudslide; 4 dead

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Rescuers continue a search operation at the site of a mudslide at Izusan in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, southwest of Tokyo Monday, July 5, 2021. (Kyodo News via AP) more >

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By Kantaro Komiya and Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Sunday, July 4, 2021

ATAMI, Japan (AP) — Rescue workers dug through sludge and debris Monday looking for dozens of people who may be trapped after a a torrent of mud, trees and rocks ripped with a roar through a Japanese seaside resort town, killing at least four people.

Eighty people were still unaccounted for two days after the landslide, according to Shizuoka prefectural disaster management official Takamichi Sugiyama. Officials planned to release their names, hoping that perhaps some were away when the disaster struck, since many of the apartments and houses in Atami are second homes or vacation rentals.

Initially, 147 people were unreachable, but that number was revised downward after officials confirmed some had safely evacuated or were simply not at home. In addition to the four people found dead, officials said 25 people have been rescued, including three who were injured.

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The disaster is an added trial as authorities prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, due to start in less than three weeks, while Japan is still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, with cases steadily climbing in in the capital and experts suggesting a need for another state of emergency.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters that rescue workers are doing their utmost “to rescue those who may be buried under the mud and waiting for help as soon as possible.” Three coast guard ships, and six military drones were backing up hundreds of troops, firefighters and others toiling in the rain and fog.

The landslide occurred Saturday mid-morning after days of heavy rain in Atami, which like many seaside Japanese towns is built into a steep hillside. It tore through the Izusan neighborhood, known for its hot springs, a shrine and shopping streets. The town has a registered population of 36,800 and is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu, who inspected the area Monday where the mudslide was believed to have started, said rain soaked into the mountainside apparently weakening the ground under a massive pile of soil at a construction site that then slid down the slope.

The prefecture is investigating. Media reports said a planned housing development in the area was abandoned after its operator ran into financial problems.

Witnesses described a giant roar as a small stream turned into a torrent, and bystanders were heard gasping in horror on cellphone videos taken as it happened.

Naoto Date, an actor who was visiting Izusan, was awakened by sirens. His neighborhood is now awash in muddy water with rescuers wading through knee-deep sludge. Just blocks from his home, some houses have been completely washed away, with only their foundations still visible. Mangled traffic signs stick out from the mud. At the seafront, he saw cars floating along with debris from destroyed homes.

“I grew up here, and my classmates and friends live here. I’m so sad to see my neighborhood where I used to play with my friends is now destroyed,” Date told The Associated Press by videocall from his home in Atami.

While Date’s mother, who was staying next door, has moved to a hotel along with other evacuees, the actor said he was staying away from evacuation centers because he is concerned about the coronavirus.

The Izusan area is one of 660,000 locations in Japan identified as prone to mudslides by the government, but those designations are not widely publicized and public awareness is low. Early July, near the end of Japan‘s rainy season, is often a time of deadly flooding and mudslides, and many experts say the rains are worsening due to climate change.

With other parts of the country expecting heavy downpours, authorities were urging people near hillsides in areas at risk to use caution. Public broadcaster NHK carried a program Monday about risk factors and warning signs that might precede a landslide.

A year ago, flooding and mudslides triggered by heavy rain in Kumamoto and four other prefectures in the Kyushu region in southern Japan left nearly 80 people dead. In July 2018, hillsides in crowded residential areas in Hiroshima collapsed, leaving 20 dead. In 2017, mudslides and flooding in the Kyushu region killed 40.

Miyoko Okamoto, an employee at a care home for the elderly, said the mudslide came close to but narrowly missed her house. She and her son ran out of the house, while her husband, a community association leader, escorted neighbors to safer ground.

Okamoto said she hasn’t been back home since fleeing because she is helping residents at the care home. “We were lucky to have survived, and that’s most important,” she said.

But her neighbor is still looking for his wife. “They are good friends of ours,” she said, “and that pains my heart.”

___

Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. Associated Press journalist Haruka Nuga in Atami contributed to this report.

Xi Jinping warns China won’t be bullied at Communist Party centenary

Xi Jinping warns China won’t be bullied at Communist Party centenary

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In this photo provided by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President and party leader Xi Jinping delivers a speech at a ceremony marking the centenary of the ruling Communist Party in Beijing, China, Thursday, July 1, 2021. (Li Xueren/Xinhua via … more >

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By Ken Moritsugu

Associated Press

Thursday, July 1, 2021

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Thursday that anyone who tries to bully China “will face broken heads and bloodshed,” in a defiant speech hailing the country’s rise that elicited loud cheers from a carefully chosen crowd at a celebration of the centenary of the founding of the ruling Communist Party.

In unusually forceful language, Xi appeared to be hitting back at the U.S. and others that have criticized the rising power’s trade and technology policies, military expansion and human rights record. In an hour-long speech, he also said the nation must stick to its one-party rule, emphasizing the communists’ role in lifting China to global prominence.

The rally — which featured a military flyover and people waving Chinese flags and singing patriotic songs — in some ways recalled the mass events held by Mao Zedong, communist China’s founding leader. Xi even wore a gray buttoned-up suit like the ones favored by Mao and spoke from the same balcony atop Tiananmen Gate where the revolutionary leader declared the start of communist rule in 1949. More than 70,000 people attended Thursday, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

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Xi, who heads the party and is thought to be considering a third term starting next year, received the biggest applause when he said the party had restored China’s dignity after decades of subjugation to Western powers and Japan in the 19th and 20th centuries, and turned it into the world’s second-largest economy in recent decades.

“The Chinese people will absolutely not allow any foreign force to bully, oppress or enslave us and anyone who attempts to do so will face broken heads and bloodshed in front of the iron Great Wall of the 1.4 billion Chinese people,” said Xi, who has eliminated limits on his time in office, prompting speculation that he could rule for life, as Mao did.

The strong language appeared aimed at revving up and playing to a domestic audience. The strongest elements of it — the references to bashing heads and bloodshed — were left out of state media’s English translation of the quote. 

Xi declared that China had restored order in Hong Kong following anti-government protests in 2019 and reiterated the Communist Party’s determination to bring self-governing Taiwan under its control.

Both policies have been widely criticized by Western democracies. They have accused the Communist Party of abusing its power at home, including detaining more than 1 million Uyghurs and other mainly Muslim minorities for political reeducation in the northwest region of Xinjiang, and for imprisoning or intimidating into silence those it sees as potential opponents from Tibet to Hong Kong.

As part of a continuing crackdown on anti-government protests in the city that long enjoyed freedoms not seen on the mainland, police in Hong Kong sealed off Victoria Park on Thursday. In the past, the park was the starting point for annual pro-democracy marches on July 1, the anniversary of the British return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. 

Xi also said the party would retain absolute control over the military, which now has the world’s second-largest annual budget after the U.S. “We will turn the people’s military into a world-class military, with even stronger capabilities and even more reliable means to safeguard the nation’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” he said. 

Xi appears to be setting up China for a protracted struggle with the U.S., said Robert Sutter of George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs. He said China is pursuing “its very self-centered policy goals at the expense of others and of the prevailing world order.” 

China and the U.S. are increasingly at odds over the former’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea and to unpopulated islands held by Japan, an American ally. The U.S. has also boosted ties and military sales to Taiwan to dissuade China from taking the self-governing democratic island by force. Elsewhere, the Chinese and Indian armies clashed last year over a disputed border high in the mountains.

Taiwan, commenting on the anniversary, accused China of seeking to upend the international order with ambitions of becoming a regional or even global hegemon. “Democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of the law are Taiwanese society’s core values, and the gap with the other side’s authoritarian political system is considerable,” a government statement said.

The Tiananmen Square event was the climax of weeks of ceremonies and displays praising the role of the Communist Party in bringing vast improvements in quality of life and expanding China’s economic, political and military influence. Those accomplishments, coupled with harsh repression of any critics, have helped the party remain in power.

The party’s official narrative glosses over past mistakes or current controversies, such as the mass famine of the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the violent class warfare and xenophobia of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution and the 1989 military intervention that crushed a democracy movement at Tiananmen Square.

Instead, it focuses on development, stability and efficiency — including its success in controlling COVID-19 — in contrast to what it portrays as political bickering, the bungling of pandemic control and social strife in multiparty democracies. 

Looking skyward, the crowd cheered a flyover by military planes, including helicopters forming the number “100” and a squadron of China’s J-20 stealth flyers. The final group of jets streaked blue, yellow and red contrails across the sky. 

The party faces no serious challenges to its rule, but it’s difficult to gauge the public’s level of support since few would dare to criticize it because of fear of arrest. Yang Shaocheng, a retired construction employee, said he is proud of the achievements of his motherland under communist rule.

“I think the Communist Party will be able to carry on for a thousand years, ten thousand years,” said Yang.

___

Associated Press researcher Yu Bing and news assistant Caroline Chen contributed to this report.

Top medical adviser says ‘no fans’ safest for Tokyo Olympics

Top medical adviser says ‘no fans’ safest for Tokyo Olympics

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Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto, left, and President Seiko Hashimoto attend the news conference after receiving a report from a group of infectious disease experts on Friday, June 18, 2021, in Tokyo. The experts including Shigeru Omi, head of a … more >

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By Stephen Wade and Mari Yamaguchi

Associated Press

Friday, June 18, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — The safest way to hold the Tokyo Olympics is without any fans, the top medical adviser to the Japanese government said in a report on Friday.

Dr. Shigeru Omi’s recommendation seems to put him at odds with organizers and the International Olympic Committee with the Olympics opening in just five weeks on July 23.

Fans from abroad were banned several months ago, and organizers are to announce early next week if some local fans should be allowed.

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“We believe the risks of infections inside venues would be lowest by holding the event with no fans,” said the report, which was compiled by a group of 26 experts led by Omi, a former World Health Organization official. It was submitted to the government and Olympic officials

Widely circulated reports say the government wants to allow up to 10,000 people at some sports and cultural events. This policy is expected to be applied to the Olympics with smaller ceilings at smaller venues, and differences for indoor and outdoor venues.

“We believe it would be most desirable not to have fans inside venues,” Omi told a news conference on Friday after submitting the written report. “Regardless of holding the Olympics or not, Japan has continuing risks of a resurgence of the infections that puts pressure on the medical systems.”

Omi said that putting fans in the venues increased the risk – and not only there but afterward as people exit. He said the Olympics easily get more attention from the public than other sporting events and are likely to trigger more movements and more partying.

Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the local organizing committee, said that the final decision on fans was likely to be made Monday in a meeting with organizers, the IOC, the Tokyo metropolitan government, the Japanese government, and the International Paralympic Committee.

Hashimoto said if Tokyo decides to allow fans, the rules will have to be much stricter than for half-filled stadiums in Japan for baseball or soccer. She also said organizers would have to be ready to suddenly ban local fans if conditions change.

“Dr. Omi has indicated that ideally the best way is to hold the games without spectators – that was his recommendation,” Hashimoto said. “But if we are to hold the games with spectators, Dr. Omi also had his recommendations.”

Hashimoto said she had consulted with baseball and soccer officials in Japan, where games with fans have been largely problem free.

“But Dr. Omi has also mentioned that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are very special,” Hashimoto said. “Therefore Dr. Omi has mentioned that we need to be even more stringent than the other sports events. So we need to look at stricter rules. There is this risk of people who come to the games, and after watching they stop by bars and restaurants before going home. So it is recommended that we urge people to go straight home after watching the games.”

Ticket sales were to account for $800 million in income for the organizing committee. Much of it will be lost and government entities will have to make up the shortfall.

Organizers say about 3.6 million-3.7 million tickets are still held by residents of Japan. About 800,000 tickets were returned locally.

The total number of tickets originally announced for the Olympics was about 7.8 million.

The official cost of the Tokyo Olympics is $15.4 billion, although government audits suggest it is much higher. All but $6.7 billion is public money.

The IOC is pushing ahead with Tokyo, partly because it depends on broadcast rights sales for almost 75% of its income. Sponsors supply about 18%,

Emergency measures in Tokyo and other prefectures are being lifted on Sunday, although “quasi-emergency” restrictions will remain in place that may limit bar and restaurant hours.

Japan has attributed just over 14,000 deaths to COVID-19 and has controlled the virus better than many countries, but not as well as many in Asia. Only 15% of Japanese have at least one COVID-19 vaccination, and much of the public has been opposed to holding the Olympics.

Poll answers have shifted depending on how the question is phrased, and the country’s second-most widely circulated newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun, has said the games should be called off.