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Anthony Kuhn

Athletes holding the Olympic torch set off on a relay run Thursday morning in Japan's northeast, showing the organizers' determination to proceed with the Summer Games, despite widespread public skepticism.

The relay is set to crisscross across Japan and arrive at the opening ceremony in Tokyo on July 23.

North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan Thursday, in its first provocation of the Biden White House.

The missiles fell into the waters that lie between North Korea and Japan, and avoided the latter's economic zone, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in a statement.

Suga condemned Pyongyang's actions and said it "threatens the peace and security of Japan and the region." He noted that North Korea's actions violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin left East Asia on Thursday, having reassured allies, reasserted American diplomacy and outlined foreign policy priorities on the first Cabinet-level overseas trip of the Biden administration.

But the trip also showed divergent interests and policy approaches among the allies to the two issues that loomed large over the visit: North Korea's growing nuclear arsenal and China's growing assertiveness.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today, Japan held commemorations to mark 10 years since the triple calamity of a massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown struck the Fukushima area. NPR's Anthony Kuhn looks back at the event and its impact on the nation.

SEOUL — The U.S. and South Korea struck a preliminary deal to share defense costs, as the Biden administration moves to quickly reassure allies and mend rifts opened by the Trump administration.

The U.S. agreement in principle follows a one-year deal recently struck with Japan, where the U.S. has some 55,000 military personnel. Both deals come less than two months into the new U.S. administration.

SEOUL — The military's killing of at least 18 protesters on Sunday in Myanmar has increased pressure on foreign governments to use their influence to push for the release of the country's elected leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, from detention, and restore some measure of democratic rule.

Japan's Olympic organizing chief, Yoshiro Mori, plans to resign Friday amid a firestorm of criticism about his remarks disparaging women's participation in organizing the games, according to Japanese news reports.

Japan may have several million fewer coronavirus vaccine doses than originally planned because the country does not have the appropriate syringes. It's another setback to one of the slower vaccination rollouts among developed economies.

The Pfizer vaccine normally contains five doses per vial. But a special syringe known as a low dead space syringe, which expels more medicine from the space between a syringe's needle and plunger, can eke out six doses per vial.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

With this summer's Tokyo Olympics already hanging in the balance due to the coronavirus pandemic, public outrage over sexist remarks by the Games' organizing chief has thrown the event into a deeper crisis.

Despite the efforts of Japanese and Olympic officials to quash the debate, pressure on 83-year-old Yoshiro Mori is mounting over his comments last week saying that women talk too much in board meetings.

Unable to tame a third wave of coronavirus infections after a month-long state of emergency, Japan announced Tuesday it is extending the emergency for another month. The move comes despite a mounting toll on the economy and the threat of bumping up against the country's Summer Olympics preparations.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Japan announced today that it is extending a state of emergency across parts of the country in order to try and get COVID-19 infections down. Many hospitals in Japan are overwhelmed, and some patients have even died waiting for ICU beds. Here's NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

Japanese officials are swatting away rumors and reports that the government has concluded that, with the Tokyo Olympics 151 days away and much of the country in a COVID-19 state of emergency, the games cannot be held.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un staked out a hardline position just days ahead of President-elect Joe Biden taking office, calling the United States his country's "biggest enemy," and vowing to advance his country's nuclear arsenal.

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency for the greater Tokyo region, as alarm at rapidly increasing coronavirus case numbers overtook concerns about economic losses. The emergency will take effect Friday, and last until Feb. 7.

As with an earlier state of emergency last April, which was expanded nationwide, the latest restrictions entail no punishments for violators. Residents will simply be asked to avoid nonessential outings, especially at night.

Mistakes were made.

That's according to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who in an address to a ruling party meeting made a frank admission — that the country's policies in the past five years had ended in abject failure.

"Almost all sectors fell a long way short of the set objectives," Kim told thousands of delegates to the Workers' Party's 8th Congress who were seated in a huge auditorium in Pyongyang.

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

South Korea, one of the most successful countries in fighting the pandemic, is doing worse. Case numbers are growing during a third wave of infections. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports on the debate over how to respond.

During the pandemic, Japan's government has been subsidizing travel and tourism to juice the economy. After a spike in coronavirus cases, it will now suspend the program for two weeks.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

South Korea is awaiting new social distancing measures, due to take effect Tuesday evening, as earlier measures have failed to bring new coronavirus case numbers down. The government warns of an impending crisis, brought on by a third wave of infections.

New cases reported Monday exceeded 600 for the second day in a row, bringing the total to more than 38,000, with about 550 deaths.

John Lee was not trained for combat, but he eventually found himself in the thick of a pivotal battle in the Korean War.

Lee was a sophomore at Korea University in Seoul when the war broke out in June 1950. He joined the South Korean army and was assigned as an interpreter to the U.S. 1st Marine Division.

At one point later in the war, he was taking cover under a truck, under fire from Chinese troops, on the main road leading away from the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, in an area dubbed "Hell Fire Valley."

South Korea's capital recorded its highest-ever number of new coronavirus cases, 291, on Thursday, while nationwide there were 629 cases — the largest total in nine months. Amid criticism of the government's recent handling of the pandemic, it is considering tightening public health restrictions.

That criticism — that the government has been too timid in tacking the current third-wave of infections — follows international praise for South Korea's aggressive response to the initial outbreak in February.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

After winning global praise for aggressively tackling the pandemic, South Korea is now dealing with a third wave of infections, and the government is facing criticism for flouting its own rules. NPR's Anthony Kuhn has the story from Seoul.

North Korea is taking increasingly harsh measures to stop the coronavirus from entering the country, including executing an official in August who violated anti-virus rules, South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers on Friday.

After beating back two waves of coronavirus infections — and garnering international praise for its competent handling of the pandemic — South Korea now finds itself fighting a trickier, stealthier uptick in cases, which has forced it to ramp up social distancing quickly.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President-elect Joe Biden reassured Asia-Pacific allies of the U.S. commitment to the region in phone calls Wednesday to the leaders of Australia, Japan and South Korea, attempting to allay concerns built up over four years of the Trump administration's America-first policy.

Despite President Trump's baseless insistence that he won the election, Biden's phone conversations with foreign leaders show that key U.S. allies have acknowledged Biden will be the next president.

The United States' chief allies in East Asia, South Korea and Japan, welcomed Joe Biden's electoral victory over the weekend, expecting that the former vice president will rebuild their decades-old alliances, which have been challenged during four years of unprecedented strain under the Trump administration.

Kim Jong Un began a military parade in Pyongyang on Saturday with what was an unprovocative speech without any mention of the United States. But then, the North Korean leader displayed what appeared to be several new strategic weapons, including some that could potentially hit the U.S. mainland.

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