Japan has detected its first outbreak of bird flu for the 2021 winter season, with confirmation of a case of "highly pathogenic avian influenza" at a poultry farm in the northeast of the country, the agriculture ministry said on Wednesday. About 143,000 egg-laying chickens are being exterminated at the farm in Yokote city in Akita Prefecture, the ministry said in a statement on its website, adding that restricted zones up to 10 km (6.2 miles) from the site have been established. "Under the current situation in Japan, we do not believe that there is any possibility of avian influenza being transmitted to humans through the consumption of chicken meat or eggs," the ministry said. But an increase in the number of people in China getting infected from bird flu this year is turning into a source of concern among epidemiological experts, especially as the world slowly recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. China has reported 21 human infections with the H5N6 subtype of avian influenza in 2021 to the World Health Organization, compared with only five last year, it said, with six dead and many of the others critically ill. Outbreaks of bird flu have also been reported in recent days and weeks in Europe with farms in Poland the latest locations for infections, totalling 650,000 poultry. Last winter, Japan had its worst season of winter flu on farms yet, with more than 3 million chickens culled and a quarter of the country's prefectures affected. Japan has an egg-laying flock of around 185 million hens and a broiler population of 138 million, according to the ministry of agriculture.
A former nurse who murdered three patients by contaminating their intravenous drips with disinfectant was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday by a Japanese court, according to local media. During her trial, 34-year-old Ayumi Kuboki admitted to killing the patients in their 70s and 80s five years ago in a case that shocked Japan. She had previously told police she may have killed 20 people over just two months, but later told prosecutors she could not comment on that during the trial. The presiding judge at the Yokohama district court said he had considered handing Kuboki the death sentence, public broadcaster NHK reported. "She said she regrets (her actions) and wants to pay for her crime. There's a chance she will be reformed, and I couldn't help but to hesitate over choosing a death sentence," the judge said. Court officials were unavailable for comment on Tuesday afternoon. Japan, where more than 100 inmates await execution, is one of the few developed nations that still have the death penalty. Prosecutors had demanded a death sentence for Kuboki but the nurse's lawyers reportedly argued that she suffered depression due to stress over the deaths of her patients, and had diminished capacity. Kuboki had told the court she did not want to be blamed by family members when something wrong happened to her patients when she was on her shift, and felt "relieved" when one of the victims died, NHK said. The son of one of the victims said he was not happy with the ruling, according to the broadcaster. "She killed innocent people with selfish motives and she's not sentenced to death. It's wrong," he said. Public support for capital punishment in Japan remains high despite international criticism, including from rights groups.
Japan announced on Tuesday that it has successfully launched a rocket carrying nine small satellites, all put into orbit, on a mission to test a variety of spaceflight technologies. The Epsilon-5 rocket lifted off from Uchinoura Space Center in the southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima at around, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said. The rocket, which measures 2.6 meters in diameter and 26 meters in length and weighs 96 tons, carried nine satellites, and the size of the rocket is half the size of the rockets that Japan has been launching, and it uses artificial intelligence to ensure its safety. JAXA stated that one of the satellites on board the rocket, developed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, is an experimental vehicle designed to collect space debris. JAXA launched an Epsilon in January 2019, sending seven satellites into space. The Epsilon series uses solid fuel, which takes less time to load on rockets than liquid propellant.
Japanese horse racing fans celebrated and commentators cursed their luck after a filly named Sumomomomomomomomo claimed her maiden win. The three-year-old made a dramatic late surge to claim victory at Tokyo's Oi racecourse on Monday, winning in the 12th race of her career. The horse's unusual name has made her a social media phenomenon in Japan, with fans and TV personalities lining up to cheer her first victory. "She finally won -- the horse with the name that makes race commentators cry!" wrote one Twitter user. "I'm finally able to say it properly," wrote another. Japanese television showed the commentator coping admirably with the eight "mo" in Sumomomomomomomomo's name as she sped down the final straight. The name is based on a Japanese tongue-twister that means "plums and peaches are both peaches". Nikkan Sports daily reported that soft toys of the filly were on sale in the racecourse shop, noting that the horse's popularity looked "set to take off". Jockey Naoki Machida said the fan support had helped secure the win. "When you hear cheers like that, it feels great when you're almost at the finish line," Nikkan Sports quoted him as saying.
Voting kicked off in Japan's general election on Sunday with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hoping to win over a pandemic-fatigued public with spending promises as his long-ruling conservatives seek a fresh start. Kishida became leader of the Liberal Democratic Party a month ago after Yoshihide Suga resigned just a year into the job, partly due to public discontent over his response to the Covid-19 crisis. Following a record wave of infections that pushed the Tokyo Olympics behind closed doors, cases have now plummeted and most restrictions have been lifted. While this may ease some voters' frustrations, the LDP -- which has held power almost continuously since the 1950s -- is likely to lose seats and may have trouble retaining its commanding majority, analysts say. Kishida, 64, has pledged to issue a fresh stimulus package worth tens of trillions of yen to counter the impact of the pandemic on the world's third-largest economy. He has also outlined plans to distribute wealth more fairly under a so-called new capitalism, although details so far remain vague. Voters in Tokyo told AFP the virus crisis was an important factor in their decision. "The economy is suffering because of the coronavirus, so I compared the politicians' responses," said Chihiro Sato, 38, a housewife and mother of a toddler. Teruyo Kaneko, a 76-year-old retiree, said she was "focused on virus policies, and also wanted to say something to the long-running government about its arbitrary way of decision-making". But engineer Hiroyasu Onishi, 79, said he was more concerned by "the military threat from China". As of 11 am, voter turnout stood at 11.3 percent, down nearly one percentage point on the last general election in 2017. Japan's 106 million voters have "struggled to get excited about the new prime minister", said Stefan Angrick, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics. "Kishida faces headwinds from weak ratings and a more coordinated opposition, but an improving Covid-19 situation and economic outlook are factors in his favour." Across Japan, 1,051 candidates are standing for election to parliament's lower house. In recent decades, votes against the LDP have been split between multiple major opposition parties, but this time five rival parties have boosted cooperation in a bid to dent its stranglehold. Nonetheless, the LDP enjoys "great advantages" in Japan's political arena, with a strong network of supporters nationwide, said Michael Cucek, assistant professor of Asian studies at Temple University. The LDP wants to put a tumultuous year behind it, but "the fact that they are still having to fight so hard is, for them, highly embarrassing", Cucek told AFP. Kishida's approval ratings are around 50 percent, the lowest in two decades for a new administration in Japan. He has set a comfortable target of winning 233 of the 465 lower-house seats -- a simple majority including lawmakers from the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito. However, such a result would be seen as a setback for the LDP, which previously held 276 seats on its own. Even if the party wins, a poor showing could lead to losses in next summer's upper-house vote, risking a return to Japan's history of revolving-door premierships, analysts warn. Since World War II, only five politicians have hung on to the prime minister's office for five years or longer, with some lasting just two months. Suga's predecessor Shinzo Abe was the longest-serving prime minister in Japan's history, in power from 2012 to 2020 after his first one-year term. "Kishida will need to convince the public and younger members of his party that continuity does not mean status quo, but rather maintaining what has worked and improving on what has not," Angrick said. As well as vowing to tackle the pandemic and working to boost the middle class, the LDP has said it will aim to increase defence spending to counter threats from China and North Korea. Meanwhile, some opposition parties have emphasised their support for social causes that Kishida has so far distanced himself from, such as same-sex marriage and allowing married couples to have different surnames.
* Japan's Princess Mako marries Kei Komuro, leaves royal family * Mako says aware of differing views on marriage * "Incorrect" reporting about husband caused her sadness, stress * Around 100 gather to protest marriage Japan's Princess Mako, the emperor's niece, married her college sweetheart on Tuesday, giving up her royal title and saying she was determined to build a happy life with her "irreplaceable" husband after a tumultuous engagement. In a news conference with new husband and commoner Kei Komuro marked by unusual candour for Japan's royal family, Mako said her marriage to Komuro had been inevitable despite the widespread opposition to it. Mako - now known as Mako Komuro - was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) earlier this year after an engagement plagued by a money scandal, intense media scrutiny and a three year separation from her fiance. "Kei is irreplaceable for me. For us, marriage is a necessary choice to live while cherishing our hearts," Mako told a news conference. She said "incorrect" reporting on her new husband had caused her "great fear, stress and sadness". "The flow of arbitrary criticism of Kei's actions, as well as one-sided speculation that ignored my feelings, made falsehoods somehow seem like reality and turn into an unprovoked story that spread," she added. The two, 30, were married in the morning after an official from the Imperial Household Agency (IHA), which runs the family's lives, submitted paperwork to a local office registering their marriage. Royal marriages usually involve a series of formal ceremonies and a celebration, but the two forewent all rituals and even turned down the $1.3 million usually given to women who leave the family. During the news conference, Komuro pledged to protect and support Mako. "I love Mako. I want to spend the only life I have with the one I love." "THEIR FEELINGS NEVER WAVERED" The two announced their engagement in 2017 at a news conference, where the smiles they exchanged won the hearts of the nation. But things soon turned sour as tabloids reported on a money scandal involving Komuro's mother, prompting the press to turn on him. The marriage was postponed, and he left Japan for law studies in New York in 2018, keeping in touch with Mako through the Internet. They were finally reunited this month. Television footage earlier showed Mako, wearing a pastel dress and pearls, saying goodbye to her parents and 26-year-old sister, Kako, at the entrance to their home. Though all wore masks in line with Japan's coronavirus protocol, her mother could be seen blinking rapidly, as if to fight off tears. Mako bowed formally to her parents, while her sister grabbed her shoulders and the two shared a long embrace. Komuro, dressed in a crisp dark suit and tie, bowed briefly to camera crews gathered outside his home as he left in the morning, saying nothing. His casual demeanour on returning to Japan in September, including a ponytail which was cut off before the marriage, had sent tabloids into a frenzy. The two will live in New York after Mako applies for her first ever passport. In a statement, Mako's parents acknowledged the opposition the marriage had faced. "But their feelings never wavered even once," they said. FINANCIAL DISPUTE Just months after the two announced their engagement, tabloids reported a financial dispute between Komuro's mother and her former fiance, with the man claiming mother and son had not repaid a debt of about $35,000. The scandal spread to mainstream media after the IHA failed to provide a clear explanation. Komuro said during the news conference he had offered a settlement and was working towards a solution, after issuing a 24-page statement on the matter earlier this year. About a hundred people gathered in a Tokyo park to protest the marriage. Public opinion polls show the Japanese people are divided. "There are various alleged problems involving Kei Komuro and his mother," said 44-year-old protester Kei Kubota. "However, they forced through this marriage without giving us any explanation." Analysts say the problem is that the imperial family is so idealised that people think not the slightest hint of trouble involving money or politics should touch them. In a statement issued after the news conference, Mako said she was distressed by one of the questions which had associated their marriage with the word "scandal". "What I would like is to just lead a peaceful life in my new environment," she said.
Japan's Princess Mako married her university sweetheart on Tuesday, giving up her title in a union bereft of traditional extravaganza, with the couple reportedly planning a move to the United States. Women in the imperial family cannot ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne, and lose their royal status when they marry a commoner. Emperor Naruhito's 30-year-old niece Mako is no exception as she weds Kei Komuro, who is the same age and works for a US law firm. Since announcing their engagement in 2017, the couple has faced tabloid scandals over reports his family had run into financial difficulties. But after years of delays, the pair have finally married -- albeit with no wedding ceremony, reception banquet or any of the traditional elaborate rites -- opting to do so privately, away from a public that has not always been kind. Mako has also turned down a large payment usually offered to royal women on their departure, reportedly up to 153 million yen ($1.35 million). Japanese royals are held to exacting standards and Mako has developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder because of the media attention, according to the Imperial Household Agency. A household official told AFP the marriage papers had been "filed and accepted" after TV footage showed her leaving the Akasaka Imperial Residence in the morning. The princess, holding a small bouquet of pale pink flowers, bid farewell to her family -- bowing to her parents and the press, and hugging her sister. Despite the negative press coverage and vicious online sniping, many Japanese say they support the marriage. "The most important thing is that she is happy," said Tokyo resident Machiko Yoshimoto, in her 60s. "Certainly, it would have been better to have a festive atmosphere, instead of this difficult situation, which is rather sad and regrettable," Shigehiro Hashimoto, 54, told AFP. In a survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily, more than half of respondents said they thought the marriage was a good thing, against 33 percent who did not. When the pair got engaged, they were all bashful smiles as Komuro called Mako "the moon" quietly watching over him, and she compared his smile to the sun. But while Japanese media initially fawned over Komuro, reports soon emerged that his mother had failed to repay a four-million-yen loan from a former fiance. The couple postponed their marriage and he moved to New York for law school in 2018, a move seen as a bid to defuse negative attention. The recent graduate only returned to Japan last month, sporting a headline-grabbing ponytail. Their reported plan to live in the US has drawn inevitable comparisons with another royal couple who have faced a media onslaught: Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It is not clear if Mako will work once there, but she is well qualified, having studied art and cultural heritage at Tokyo's International Christian University. She also holds a Master's degree from Britain's University of Leicester. Tuesday's muted proceedings stood in contrast to those of another royal to marry out of the family: Ayako, the youngest daughter of former emperor Akihito's late cousin. At her wedding in 2018, she wore a crimson kimono robe for female aristocrats, with her hair swept back in a ponytail in a traditional style. The Japanese throne can pass only to male members of the family, and the children of female royals who marry commoners are not included. There has been some debate over changing the rules, and a government panel in July compiled notes on the issue including a proposal that royal women stay in the family, even after marriage. Although polls show the public broadly support women being allowed to rule, any change is likely to be slow, with traditionalists vehemently opposed. The newlyweds are due to speak to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, but will give a statement and provide written answers to questions to make the experience less stressful for Mako, the household said.
Japan's new prime minister on Sunday sent a ritual offering to the controversial Yasukuni shrine that honours the war dead but is seen by neighbouring countries as a symbol of Tokyo's past militarism. Fumio Kishida sent the "masakaki" tree offering under his name as prime minister to celebrate the shrine's biannual festival held in the spring and autumn, a spokeswoman for the shrine told AFP. Two of Kishida's ministers also offered sacred trees. Yasukuni honours 2.5 million war dead, mostly Japanese, who have perished since the late 19th century. But the central Tokyo shrine also honours senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal. Earlier this year, three top ministers paid their respects at the shrine on the anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender. But a Japanese prime minister has not appeared there since 2013, when Shinzo Abe sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned a rare diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States. Kishida's predecessor Yoshihide Suga made a pilgrimage to the shrine on Sunday, the spokeswoman said, while public broadcaster NHK showed footage of his visit. Suga had avoided visiting the shrine after 2012, when he became the Abe government's spokesman, and only sent ritual offerings when he became prime minister. Visits to the shrine by government officials have angered countries that suffered at the hands of the Japanese military during World War II, particularly South Korea and China. Kishida, who became Japan's prime minister on October 4, does not plan to visit the shrine during the two-day autumn festival that runs through Monday, Kyodo News reported, citing unnamed people close to him.
Child suicides in Japan are the highest they have been in more than four decades, local media have reported, citing the country's education ministry. As the COVID-19 pandemic prompted school closings and disrupted classrooms last year, 415 children from elementary to high school age were recorded as having taken their own lives, according to the education ministry's survey. The number is up by nearly 100 from last year, the highest since record-keeping began in 1974, the Asahi newspaper reported on Thursday. Suicide has a long history in Japan as a way of avoiding perceived shame or dishonour, and its suicide rate has long topped the Group of Seven nations, but a national effort brought numbers down by roughly 40 percent over 15 years, including 10 straight years of decline from 2009. Amid the pandemic, suicides increased in 2020 after a decade of declines, with the number of women committing suicide surging amid the emotional and financial stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic, although fewer men took their own lives. The education ministry said a record high of more than 196,127 school children were absent for 30 days or more, media reported. The results showed that changes in school and household environments due to the pandemic have had a huge impact on children's behaviour, NHK quoted an education ministry official as saying.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said yesterday he would do his utmost to lead Japan out of the Covid-19 crisis, while protecting its territory and people in an increasingly tough security environment. Kishida took the top job in the world’s third-largest economy on Monday, replacing Yoshihide Suga, who had seen his support undermined by surging Covid-19 infections. Daily cases have recently fallen and a long state of emergency was lifted this month. “I’m determined to devote body-and-soul to overcome this national crisis with the people, carve out a new era and pass on to the next generation a country whose citizens are rich at heart,” Kishida said in his first policy speech to parliament. A big early test for him will be leading his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) into a general election on Oct 31. The 64-year-old former foreign minister, who has a reputation as a low-key consensus builder, said the government would quickly put together a stimulus package to support those hit hard by the pandemic and take legislative steps to secure medical resources. He did not specify the size of the stimulus package in his speech but last month he suggested a sum of 30tn yen ($268bn). Earlier, Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki said he hoped to compile an extra budget to fund the stimulus immediately after the elections and have it approved by parliament by year-end. Kishida underscored the need to support those in need to win public co-operation and he called for cash payouts to companies hit hard by the pandemic. He also pledged to give cash payouts to so-called non-regular workers, families with children, and those struggling to make ends meet because of the pandemic. Kishida reiterated his resolve to overcome deflation and said he would press on with bold monetary easing, expeditious fiscal spending and a strategy for growth. “We will conduct fiscal spending without hesitation to respond to crises and make sure all possible measures are taken,” he said. On national security and foreign affairs, Kishida said he would protect Japan’s peace and stability. “With the security environment surrounding the country getting tougher, I will resolutely protect our territory, territorial waters, air space and the people’s lives and property,” he told parliament. Japan faces China’s rapid military buildup and aggressive maritime expansion, as the threat from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes. Kishida said he planned to update national security strategy and aimed to bolster the coast guard and missile defence capabilities. On ties with giant neighbour China, Kishida said building stable relations and maintaining dialogue were important but Japan would not mince words when necessary. “While working with countries with which we share universal values, we say what needs to be said to China and demand firmly that it behave responsibly. We also maintain dialogue and continue co-operating with them in tackling common issues,” he said. China claims almost all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, where it has established military outposts on artificial islands. It also claims a group of Japanese-administered islets in the East China Sea. Calling Japan’s security alliance with the United States the “cornerstone of world peace and prosperity”, Kishida said he intended to build on that alliance. The parliament session in Tokyo.
Japan’s new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, yesterday called a parliamentary election for October 31 and vowed to bolster the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, shortly after being formally confirmed by lawmakers in the top job. Kishida, a 64-year-old former foreign minister with an image as a consensus builder, earlier unveiled a cabinet line-up dominated by allies of former prime minister Shinzo Abe and ex-finance minister Taro Aso. “I want to ensure we implement large-scale, bold coronavirus countermeasures and economic policies. To do that, we must ask the people whether they trust me, Kishida, to carry out these policies,” he said at his inaugural news conference. “I would like to pursue a politics of trust and compassion with the people’s mandate,” he said, drawing on the main theme in his campaign to become leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), making politics more accessible to the public. While Kishida may enjoy a honeymoon period usually afforded to new governments, analysts said he probably didn’t want to lose time, given risks posed by the pandemic. His decision to call an election came as a surprise to most analysts who had expected the election to be held in November. The parliament will now be dissolved on October 14. Kishida said he would consider Covid-19 relief payouts, adding he had also instructed ministers overseeing the pandemic response to come up with policies on vaccinations, to strengthen the medical system and to expand testing to help reopen the economy. New coronavirus cases in Tokyo yesterday totalled 87, the lowest since November 2 last year. Kishida’s predecessor Yoshihide Suga enjoyed support ratings of about 70% soon after taking office a year ago, but came under heavy fire over his handling of the pandemic. Following Suga’s decision to make way for a new face, Kishida beat three contenders for the LDP leadership last week, paving the way for parliament to formally elect him premier yesterday. Kishida’s cabinet features allies of Abe, Japan’s longest-serving premier, who quit last year citing ill health as his dream of another term faded. Of the 20 posts, 13 were filled by people with no prior cabinet experience, in line with Kishida’s pledge to promote fresh faces, but many heavyweight jobs went to allies of Abe or of outgoing finance minister Aso. “He won the election with the support of Abe and Aso, so now it’s time for him to return the favour, it’s not the time for him to cut them off,” said political analyst Atsuo Ito. Aso’s replacement at the finance ministry is his low-profile brother-in-law, Shunichi Suzuki, who is viewed as likely to continue the government’s policy of tempering growth spending with fiscal reform. Kishida said he wanted to pursue policies that achieve “a new type of capitalism” that distributes more wealth to households and tackles Japan’s widening income gap, adding that tweaking the financial income tax rate — which is levied on investment income — was among options he would consider. One of those closest to Abe, former economy minister Akira Amari, became the ruling party’s powerful secretary-general. Amari, who has promised a big extra budget after the election, told reporters yesterday it would need to include steps to ameliorate social divisions and Covid-19. Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, who is Abe’s brother, retained his position, as did Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, reflecting Kishida’s intention to continue Abe and Suga’s push to boost the nation’s security ties with the US while preserving trade ties with China. President Joe Biden congratulated Kishida, describing the US-Japan alliance as a “cornerstone” of peace and stability in the region.
After years of controversy, Japan’s Princess Mako will marry this month, but she will forego traditional rites and will not take a usual payment given to royal women marrying commoners. “Princess Mako will marry on October 26,” an Imperial Household Agency official said, adding that “wedding ceremony, reception banquet and other rituals won’t be held, and a lump-sum payment won’t be provided.” Princess Mako, who is the niece of Emperor Naruhito, has been engaged to sweetheart Kei Komuro since 2017. But the union has come under criticism, with the agency saying the 29-year-old princess was suffering complex post-traumatic stress disorder because of media coverage. Mako, the daughter of Japan’s crown prince, has endured years of sniping and stalling over her plans to marry Komuro, also 29. Japan’s imperial succession rules mean that Mako will lose her title after the marriage. But her partner has still been heavily scrutinised over allegations that his mother borrowed money from a former fiance and failed to repay it. After tabloid reporting on the claims, a furore erupted around the young couple in a country where the royal family is held to an exacting standard. The pair postponed their wedding, and Komuro moved to the US for law school in a move that was widely seen as a bid to defuse the negative attention. Crown Prince Akishino last year said he supported his daughter’s marriage, but that she needed to win the public’s “understanding”. However, the pair appear to have decided they have waited long enough, and are now expected to move to New York after marrying. Komuro returned to Japan earlier this week to a media frenzy, with particular scrutiny of his newly grown ponytail. Mako will become the first royal to forego traditional marriage rites and a payment — reportedly up to $1.3mn — since World War II, according to Japanese media. The tumult around her marriage, and the couple’s decision to move to the US, have made for inevitable comparisons with another royal couple: Britain Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The marriage news topped headlines, with several newspapers printing special editions to mark the announcement, but reaction online was divided, with some unhappy but others welcoming the wedding. “Congratulations. Imperial family members should have a right to make a decision on their lives,” wrote one Twitter user. The term “complex PTSD” was trending on Japanese Twitter, with some expressing sympathy for the princess. “It’s not surprising if she’s developed complex PTSD. There is no need to attack her further, is there?” wrote one person on Twitter. But others cast doubt on the announcement, with another Twitter user saying “this timing means ‘don’t criticise.’” Mako is sister to Prince Hisahito, 15, currently the only eligible male heir to the throne other than his father. Japan’s Chrysanthemum Throne can pass only to male members of the family, and the children of female royals who marry outside the aristocracy are not included. The strict rules have raised fears for the future of the royal family, with just two male heirs and no prospect of new ones for years to come.
* Japan's factory activity grows at slowest pace in 7 months - PMI * S.Korea activity increases but optimism dented - survey * Fallout from China's slowdown seen weighing on Asian economies Asia's manufacturing activity broadly stagnated in September as pandemic-induced factory shutdowns and signs of slowing Chinese growth weighed on the region's economies, surveys showed on Friday. Countries where large outbreaks of the Delta variant receded saw an improvement in activity, such as Indonesia and India. But factory activity in September shrank in Malaysia and Vietnam, and grew in Japan at the slowest rate in seven months, as chip shortages and supply disruptions added to the woes of a region still struggling to shake off the hit from Covid-19. China's waning economic momentum dealt a fresh blow to the region's growth prospects, with the official Purchasing Manager's Index (PMI) on Thursday showing the country's factory activity unexpectedly shrank in September due to wider curbs on electricity use. While the private Caixin/Markit Manufacturing PMI fared better than expected after slumping in August, growing signs of weakness in the world's second-largest economy are clouding the outlook for neighbouring Asian countries. "While coronavirus curbs on economic activity may be gradually lifted, the slow pace at which this will happen means Southeast Asian economies will stagnate for the rest of this year," said Makoto Saito, an economist at NLI Research Institute. The final au Jibun Bank Japan Manufacturing PMI slipped to 51.5 in September from 52.7 in the previous month, marking its slowest pace of expansion since February. Manufacturers in the world's third-largest economy faced pressure from pandemic restrictions and heightened supply chain disruptions as well as shortages of raw materials and delivery delays. South Korea's PMI for September rose to 52.4 from 51.2 in August, helped by an expansion in production and new orders. It stayed above the 50-mark threshold that indicates expansion in activity for a 12th straight month, but continued supply chain disruptions dented business optimism for manufacturers. Taiwan's factory activity continued to expand but at its slowest pace in over a year. Taiwan's PMI index eased to 54.7 in September from 58.5 in August, while Vietnam saw the index unchanged from August at 40.2. In a glimmer of hope, the PMI for Indonesia rose to 52.2 from 43.7 in August, while that for India improved to 53.7 in September from 52.3 in the previous month. "While regional PMIs showed that the disruption from large virus waves in the region is easing somewhat, unmet orders continue to pile up, meaning that the resulting shortages further down supply chains are set to remain for some time to come," said Alex Holmes, emerging Asia economist at Capital Economics. Once seen as a driver of global growth, Asia's emerging economies are lagging advanced economies in recovering from the pandemic's pain as delays in vaccine rollouts and a spike in Delta variant cases hurt consumption and factory production.
Two of the candidates vying to become Japan’s next prime minister denied yesterday they had toned down their positions on nuclear energy and gender issues to attract conservative backing in a tight ruling party leadership election this month. The winner of the Sept 29 contest to lead the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is almost certain to succeed Yoshihide Suga as the country’s next premier because the party has a majority in the lower house. Suga announced he would step down two weeks ago amid sinking approval ratings, triggering the leadership race between four candidates. They are vaccine minister Taro Kono, 58, former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, 64, Sanae Takaichi, 60, a former internal affairs minister from the party’s most conservative wing, and Seiko Noda, 61, a former minister for gender equality. Surveys of voters show Kono is their top choice, a key factor ahead of a general election due by November. But the social-media savvy, US-educated Kono, who has also served as foreign and defence minister, is widely seen as a maverick - an image that worries many veteran party members. Contenders need to attract votes from grassroots party members and younger lawmakers, who are more likely to be swayed by popularity ratings, while also garnering support from party bosses who remain influential. A Kyodo news agency poll showed on Saturday that 48.6% of grassroots party members surveyed support Kono, followed by Kishida’s 18.5%, Takaichi’s 15.7% and 3.3% for Noda. Long seen as a critic of nuclear power, Kono rejected the suggestion that he had flip-flopped on the issue. “What I’ve been saying about an exit from nuclear power is decommissioning quickly nuclear power plants that are reaching retirement and gradually exiting nuclear energy,” he said in a televised debate. “As I explained before, we should stop the use of coal, increase energy conservation and renewable energy and nuclear power can be used to fill the gap,” he added. Kishida, a more traditional LDP consensus-builder saddled with a bland image, was asked whether he had back-pedalled over allowing married couples to have separate surnames. Japanese law does not permit that option, and a change is strongly opposed by conservatives - including candidate Takaichi - on the grounds that it would undermine family values. Asked about the impression that he had earlier favoured the change, Kishida said he recognised diversity but that questions remained as to how to treat children’s names under a new system. “At least considering the broad understanding of the people, I think that discussion is necessary now,” he said. During a broad debate on topics ranging from Covid-19 to pensions and diplomacy, Kono called for dialogue with China amid growing concerns about its maritime assertiveness - a stance echoed by Kishida. “(Japan-China) summit meetings should be held regularly,” Kono said. “Perhaps, we should tell the Chinese leadership to exert their power as one of players in the international order, not in the way of expansionism.” Highlighting the predominant view emerging among politicians ahead of the general election, Kishida - considered the most hawkish on fiscal policy among the candidates - said he would not raise the sales tax rate for a decade and instead prioritise revitalising the economy over fiscal reform. The uncertain outcome of the LDP race contrasts with last year, when Suga quickly emerged as the leading candidate after Shinzo Abe quit citing ill-health after a nearly eight-year term that made him Japan’s longest serving premier. Party factions coalesced around Suga, Abe’s long-time lieutenant, and grassroots members had minimal say. This time, most factions are not unified and rank-and-file members will be apportioned the same number of votes as lawmakers. If no candidate takes a majority in a first round, a run-off between the top two will be held and grassroots members’ votes will be diluted, potentially boosting Kishida’s chances against Kono. Takaichi and Noda, both vying to become the country’s first female prime minister, are seen as long-shots, although Takaichi has the backing of Abe and other party conservatives.
Japan’s popular coronavirus vaccination minister, Taro Kono, yesterday announced his candidacy to lead the ruling party and, by extension, become the next prime minister, highlighting his image as an outspoken reformer with a conservative streak. Kono becomes the third candidate to throw his hat in the ring for the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which opened up last week when Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he would step down. Kono, speaking at a news conference in Tokyo, portrayed himself as a reformer taking on Japan’s stodgy bureaucracy, underscoring his achievements in breaking down barriers during the vaccination rollout and promoting working from home. Known as a critic of nuclear energy, Kono sounded more cautious at the news conference, declining to be labelled “anti-nuclear”. He said nuclear power plants dormant since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, that are deemed safe, could be restarted to help achieve a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. But he said building new plants was “unrealistic”. “Nuclear power usage will eventually become zero, but if we are to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and work on preventing climate change, then we must stop the use of coal and oil first, and then eventually move away from natural gas,” said Kono. “We also need to save energy and then introduce renewable energy to the maximum extent as a priority. If there’s still more that needs to be done, I think it is realistic to restart nuclear power plants that are deemed safe,” said Kono. At times criticised for his short temper, Kono said he would be an empathetic leader who “laughs and cries together” with the Japanese people and would aim to create a “warm” country where everyone who worked hard had a chance to succeed. On foreign policy, Kono promised to strengthen Japan’s deterrence against “unilateral attempts to shift the status quo”. Officials have warned China over its assertiveness in the East and South China Seas. The winner of the September 29 vote of grass-roots LDP members and its lawmakers is virtually assured the premiership because the LDP has a majority in parliament’s lower house. Kono appears to have an edge over former foreign minister Fumio Kishida and former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi who have also declared they will run. Nearly a third of respondents in a poll by major domestic media last week said the Georgetown University-educated Kono, 58, was the most suitable to succeed Suga. Japan must hold a general election by November 28 and LDP lawmakers are counting on a new leader to boost support after Suga’s ratings hit record lows, undermined by haphazard handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Kono, who has been in charge of a rocky vaccination rollout, has remained popular, particularly among younger voters. That is partly thanks to his ability to reach out to the public through Twitter, where he has 2.3mn followers — a rarity in heavily scripted Japanese politics dominated by older men less adept with social media. Kono said there should be debate on the possibility of giving the government the authority to impose strict coronavirus lockdowns, while on the economy, he said it would be difficult to achieve a 2% inflation target. “Inflation settles at a certain level as a result of economic policy. So the question is first of all how to make the economy grow,” he said. “The corporate sector has raised profits but that hasn’t spread to wages. I want to steer economic policy supporting individual citizens, rather than corporations,” he said.
• State of emergency extended until Sept 30 in Tokyo, other areas • Too early to lower guard: health minister • Outgoing PM regrets not having been able to secure enough beds Japan extended emergency Covid-19 restrictions yesterday in Tokyo and other regions until the end of this month to curb infections and prevent hospitals being overwhelmed. Announcing the extension, ratified earlier by an advisory panel, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said it was needed to shore up a medical system still stretched by serious cases even though new infections were falling and vaccinations were rising. “Inoculation of all those who wish to be vaccinated will be completed in October or November,” Suga told reporters. “And from then, we will be able to ease restrictions by using proof of vaccination or testing results.” Japan has been struggling with a fifth wave of the virus and last month extended its long-running curbs until Sept 12 to cover about 80% of its population. The number of severe cases and the strain on the medical system have not eased sufficiently in Tokyo and surrounding areas to allow restrictions to be lifted. The measures will now stretch until Sept. 30, including for Osaka in the west. Japan’s emergency curbs have centred on asking restaurants to close early and refrain from serving alcohol. Residents are being urged to work from home as much as possible and refrain from travel. “I believe we’re starting to see results, but it’s still too early to lower our guard,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said. Looking back on his time in office, Suga told a news conference that not having been able to secure enough hospital beds was one major regret. In a surprise announcement last week, Suga said he was stepping down, ending a one-year term as prime minister that has seen his support crumble as Covid-19 surged. “My days in office have been absorbed with the battle against the coronavirus ... I had a tough time securing enough medical care. That is one big point of reflection,” he said. With hospital beds filled to or nearing capacity, many people have been forced to convalesce at home, with some dying before they can get treatment. The Nikkei newspaper reported that the government was moving towards easing international entry restrictions by reducing quarantine times for vaccinated travellers. The move has been urged by Keidanren, Japan’s main business lobby, and foreign chambers of commerce. “We welcome any proposal to re-open Japan’s borders to business travel, as part of a science-based approach to preserving public health,” Christopher LaFleur, special adviser to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, said. LaFleur said many of Japan’s top trade partners allow vaccinated travellers to enter freely and mandate quarantines of 10 days for those without shots, and that it was “reasonable that Japan adopt the same policy.” Local media have reported that the government may allow restaurants to resume regular business hours and alcohol sales as the vaccination push nears completion in October and November. About half of the population has now been fully vaccinated in Japan. Tokyo’s new daily coronavirus infections totalled 1,834 on Wednesday. Japan has reported around 1.6mn cases and 16,436 deaths but the death rate has declined in the latest outbreak. The 1% fatality rate compares with 1.6% in the United States and 1.9% in Britain. Shigeru Omi, Japan’s chief health adviser, said on Wednesday the pandemic fight was shifting to focus more on the threat of new viral variants or a possible decline in the effectiveness of vaccines. Japan PM Yoshihide Suga speaks during a meeting on coronavirus countermeasures at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo yesterday. People wearing protective masks in a cafe in Tokyo.
Japan’s outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will back the popular minister in charge of the nation’s vaccination rollout, Taro Kono, to succeed him, Nippon News Network reported yesterday. Political manoeuvring was heating up among potential candidates and ruling party grandees on Saturday, a day after Suga’s surprise announcement that he was stepping down, ending a one-year term as prime minister that has seen his support crumble as Covid-19 surged. Hours after Suga’s announcement, broadcaster TBS reported, without citing sources, that Kono intended to run for head of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Kono told reporters only that he wanted to consult party colleagues before deciding. Suga is expected to stay on until his successor is chosen in the party election scheduled for Sept 29. The LDP leader will become prime minister given the party’s majority in parliament. A former foreign and defence minister, Kono, 58, is popular among young voters after building support through Twitter, where he has 2.3mn followers - a rarity in Japanese politics, which is dominated by older men less adept with social media. Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida has already thrown his hat in the ring, while several others have voiced interest. With no clear front-runner, the stance of Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe will be closely watched, given his influence inside the two largest factions of the LDP and among conservative MPs, analysts say. Abe, who stepped down citing ill health last September after a record eight-year term, had publicly backed Suga’s reelection. With Suga out, Abe now supports former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, who is close to the former premier, TBS said. Takaichi, who would be Japan’s first female prime minister, had been seen as struggling to gain the backing of the 20 LDP lawmakers needed to run in the party race. Abe’s support could boost her chances. Kishida said he would leave the national sales tax at 10% if elected, reiterating that he would fund a new economic package worth tens of trillions of yen (hundreds of billions of dollars) by issuing more government bonds. “I’m not thinking of touching the sales tax for the time being,” Kishida told a Nippon News Network programme. “We then must consider Japan’s finances from the standpoint of how to make use of the fruit of economic growth.” Before Abe, Japan had six prime ministers in as many years. The Japanese government plans to extend a state of emergency in and around Tokyo until the last week of September in a further bid to contain the coronavirus epidemic, the Mainichi newspaper reported on Saturday. Japan last month expanded emergency curbs to cover about 80% of its population until Sept 12, but the number of severe cases and the strain on the medical system have not eased sufficiently in Tokyo and surrounding areas to allow the restrictions to be lifted. The government plans to extend them by about two weeks in Tokyo and neighbouring Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures, the Mainichi said, without citing sources. Under the state of emergency, the government has sought to reduce foot traffic by asking restaurants to shorten their hours and refrain from serving alcohol, and companies to let staff work from home more frequently. The extension would take the curbs through the fourth week of September, which has two public holidays and during which many people make travel plans. The government will also consider an extension in hard-hit areas in central and western Japan, including Aichi - home of Toyota Motor - and Osaka, the paper said, adding a decision would likely be made in the middle of next week. It will consider downgrading or lifting states of emergency in prefectures that have seen hospital beds free up to non-critical levels, the Mainichi said. Japan is battling its fifth and biggest wave of Covid-19 cases, driven by the highly infectious Delta variant. On Friday, new daily nationwide cases hit 16,729, with 63 deaths.
• Suga’s stepping down sparks wide open succession race • Former defence minister Kono throws hat into the ring-media • Former foreign minister Kishida already in the running Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in a surprise move yesterday he would step down, setting the stage for a new premier after a one-year tenure Covid-19 response and sinking public support. Suga, who took over after Shinzo Abe resigned last September citing ill health, has seen his approval ratings drop below 30% as the nation struggles with its worst wave of Covid-19 infections ahead of a general election this year. Suga did not capitalise on his last major achievement - hosting the Olympics, which were postponed months before he took office as coronavirus cases surged. His decision not to seek re-election as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president this month means the party will choose a new leader, who will become prime minister. There is no clear frontrunner, but the popular minister in charge of Japan’s vaccination rollout, Taro Kono, intends to run, broadcaster TBS said without citing sources. Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida has already thrown his hat in the ring. Before Abe’s record eight-year tenure, Japan had gone through six prime ministers in as many years, including Abe’s own troubled first one-year term. Tokyo stocks jumped on news of Suga’s decision, with the benchmark Nikkei rising 2% and the broader Topix hitting its highest levels since 1991. “I want to focus on coronavirus response, so I told the LDP executive meeting that I’ve decided not to run in the party leadership race,” Suga told reporters. “I judged that I cannot juggle both and I should concentrate on either of them.” He said he would hold a news conference as early as next week. Suga’s abrupt resignation ended a rollercoaster week in which he pulled out all the stops to save his job, including suggestions he would sack his long-term party ally, as well as plans to dissolve parliament and reshuffle party executive and his cabinet. He is expected to stay on until his successor is chosen in the party election slated for Sept 29. The winner, assured of being premier due to the LDP’s majority in the lower house of parliament, must call the general election by Nov 28. Suga has been an important ally for US President Joe Biden in pushing back against China’s increasingly assertive behaviour and he was the first foreign leader Biden welcomed in person at the White House in April. A State Department spokesperson said Biden was grateful for Suga’s leadership and partnership on shared challenges, including Covid-19, climate change, North Korea, China, and preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. “The US-Japan alliance is and will remain ironclad, not just between our governments, but our people,” the spokesperson said. Suga’s departure will raise questions about the timing of an in-person summit of the Quad grouping of the United States, India, Japan and Australia seen as a means to counter China that Washington has been looking to host this fall. Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University, said Kishida was the front runner for the moment, “but that doesn’t mean his victory is assured.” Nakano said Kono, Suga’s administrative reform minister, could run if he gets the backing of his faction leader in the party, Finance Minister Taro Aso. Declaring himself a contender, Kishida, a soft-spoken Hiroshima lawmaker, on Thursday criticised Suga’s coronavirus response and urged a stimulus package to combat the pandemic. Former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba said he was ready to run if the conditions and environment are right. He was a rare LDP critic of Abe during his time as prime minister. Kono has led Japan’s rocky inoculation drive, but remains high on the list of lawmakers voters want to see succeed Suga. Kono has stopped short of declaring his candidacy, telling reporters he wanted to carefully consult with party colleagues first. A former foreign and defence minister, Kono, 58, is popular with younger voters after building support through Twitter, where he has 2.3mn followers - a rarity in Japanese politics dominated by older men who are less social media-savvy. Abe’s stance will be closely watched given his influence inside the two largest factions of the LDP and among conservative MPs, experts say. The LDP-led coalition is not expected to lose its lower house majority, but forecasts suggest the LDP could lose the majority that it holds on its own, an outcome that would weaken whoever leads the party next. “Stock prices are rising based on a view that the chance of LDP’s defeat in the general election has diminished because anyone other than Suga will be able to regain popularity,” said Toru Suehiro, a senior economist at Daiwa Securities. Suga’s image as a shrewd political operator capable of pushing through reforms and taking on the stodgy bureaucracy propelled his support to 74% when he took office. He initially won applause for populist promises such as lower mobile phone rates and insurance for fertility treatments. But removing scholars critical of the government from an advisory panel and compromising with a junior coalition partner on policy for healthcare costs for the elderly drew criticism. His delay in halting a domestic travel programme - which experts say may have helped spread coronavirus around Japan - hit hard, while the public grew weary of states of emergency that hurt businesses. An extra edition of a daily newspaper reporting on Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga deciding not to run for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election is distributed in Tokyo’s Ginza district yesterday. A large screen on a building shows a live broadcast of Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declaring a state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures in a file picture.
A contaminant found in a batch of Moderna Inc’s Covid-19 vaccines delivered to Japan is believed to be a metallic particle, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported, citing sources at the health ministry. Japan on Thursday suspended the use of 1.63mn doses shipped to 863 vaccination centres nationwide, more than a week after the domestic distributor, Takeda Pharmaceutical, received reports of contaminants in some vials. NHK, in a report published late on Thursday, cited ministry sources as saying the particle reacted to magnets and was therefore suspected to be a metal. Moderna has described it as “particulate matter” that did not pose a safety or efficacy issue. A health ministry official said the composition of the contaminant has not been confirmed. In a statement, Takeda said it asked Moderna to investigate the issue and that it would work with the health ministry to replace the affected vaccine supply. News of the contaminant could provide a fresh setback for Japan’s inoculation drive as it struggles to persuade many - particularly young people - to get vaccinated. Yesterday, eight more prefectures entered a state of emergency, meaning about 80% of Japan’s population is under coronavirus restrictions. The government reported nearly 25,000 new infections and severe cases at a record 2,000 for Thursday. The ministry has said the suspension of the Moderna batches was a precaution but it prompted several Japanese companies to cancel worker vaccinations and the European drugs regulator to launch an investigation. Airline ANA Holdings Inc said it had secured more Moderna supplies and would resume inoculations on Saturday after a two-day suspension of the shots. Spanish pharma company Rovi, which bottles Moderna vaccines for markets other than the United States, said the contamination could be due to a manufacturing issue on a production line. A spokesperson said the company could not say anything more while it was investigating. Moderna put the lot in question and two adjacent ones on hold. Another health ministry official said it would take “some time” to confirm how many shots from the contaminated batch had been administered in Japan. Kyodo News reported that at least 176,000 shots have been used based on its own tally of figures reported by municipalities. About 54% of Japan’s population has received at least one dose, according to a Reuters tracker. Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the vaccination programme, said he did not expect the contamination issue to have an impact on the government’s goal of fully inoculating the adult population by November.
Japan yesterday suspended the use of 1.63mn doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, more than a week after the domestic distributor received reports of contaminants in some vials. Both Japan and Moderna said no safety or efficacy issues had been identified and the suspension was just a precaution. But the move prompted several Japanese companies to cancel worker vaccinations planned for yesterday. “Moderna confirms having been notified of cases of particulate matter being seen in drug product vials of its Covid-19 vaccine,” the US vaccine maker said in a statement, adding it put the lot in question and two adjacent lots on hold. “The company is investigating the reports and remains committed to working expeditiously with its partner, Takeda, and regulators to address this,” it added, referring to Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical, which distributes the vaccine in the country. A health ministry official said Takeda first found out about the contaminated vials on August 16 and reported the issue to the government on Wednesday. The delay was because Takeda needed time to gather information on which vials were affected and where they were in the country, the official said. Moderna said the contamination could be due to a manufacturing issue in one of the production lines at its contract manufacturing site in Spain. A spokesperson for the company added that the affected production batch, plus two more batches held back out of caution because they were processed before and after the affected batches, were meant for distribution only in Japan. Spanish pharma company Rovi, which bottles or “fills and finishes” Moderna vaccines for markets other than the US, said it is investigating possible contamination of Moderna doses and the issue appeared to be limited to a few batches bound for Japan. Shares in Rovi dropped 4.6%. The suspension is a fresh setback for Moderna, whose partners had production delays last month that disrupted supplies to countries including South Korea. Japan’s defence ministry, which operates a mass vaccination site in Osaka, said shots from the lot in question, which contains 565,400 doses, had been used in the western prefecture between August 6 and August 20, but it did not say how many people were affected. Japanese carrier ANA said about 4,700 shots of the halted Moderna lot had been used and all vaccinations planned for yesterday had been stopped.