When US President Donald Trump sits down to talk peace with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un later this month, one of the US’ closest allies — Japan — will be looking on with apprehension.
Like the first time Trump met Kim in June last year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has found himself on the outside peering in before their second summit set for Wednesday and Thursday next week in Hanoi.
The meeting brings both the promise of a less-dangerous North Korea and the potential peril of a weak deal that leaves Japan exposed to Kim’s weapons of mass destruction and does nothing to help ease Tokyo’s own hostility with Pyongyang.
Mitoji Yabunaka, who served as Japan’s envoy to six-party talks with North Korea more than a decade ago, said the country feared “a half-baked, deceptive agreement which leads to the Trump administration taking a soft line on North Korea by removing economic sanctions” without serious progress on disarmament.
That would be “the nightmare scenario,” Yabunaka said.
While Japan and the US — which guarantees the country’s security under a 1960 treaty — both want North Korea to give up its weapons, their interests could diverge as talks progress.
Kim’s short to medium-range rockets pose the most immediate danger to Japan, not the intercontinental ballistic missiles that now threaten the US homeland.
Moreover, Trump’s unilateral decision to grant Kim’s request to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea during their first summit has raised concerns about a potential US pull-back after the second. The presence of about 28,500 US troops on the peninsula provides Japan a valuable buffer against a rising China, as well as North Korea.
“We want the US forces to remain in South Korea for as long as possible,” said Rui Matsukawa, a diplomat-turned lawmaker with Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party. “Japan must keep reminding the US of what it needs from the US-North Korea deal.”
North Korea fired two missiles over Japan and tested others that landed in the country’s exclusive economic zone as tensions between Washington and Pyongyang rose in 2017.
However, Tokyo has been largely shut out of the subsequent thaw, with North Korean state media still churning out screeds denouncing the Japanese as “island barbarians, the sworn enemy of the Korean people” and other insults.
Meanwhile, Abe’s efforts to build a personal rapport with Trump — even recommending him for the Nobel Peace Prize, according to the US president — have shown their limits. Trump has accused Japan of falling short on troop payments, he has withdrawn from a shared Pacific trade pact and imposed tariffs on the country’s metals exports on “national security” grounds.
Japan was also forced to accept bilateral trade talks with the US after Trump threatened similar tariffs on its vital auto industry.
The US Department of Commerce on Sunday said that it turned over its report on vehicle imports to Trump, without offering any insights into the findings.
“Our advantage up until now has been the strong personal relationship between the leaders,” said Motohiro Ono, a former parliamentary secretary for defense and lawmaker for Japan’s Democratic Party For The People. “It doesn’t look as though we can use it now.”
There have been no calls or meetings between Trump and Abe since Nov. 30 last year, according to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site. By contrast, they met twice and spoke by telephone five times in the three months leading up to the first Trump-Kim summit in June last year, including calls the day before and the day of the meeting.
Japan plans to invite Trump in May so he can be the first state leader to meet the country’s new emperor, the Sankei Shimbun said. The visit will include a golf excursion with Abe, the newspaper said, citing unidentified people familiar with the bilateral relationship.
In parliament on Monday, Abe praised Trump for acting “decisively toward resolving the issues of the North Korean nuclear and missile problems,” while declining to say whether he nominated the US leader for the Nobel Prize.
Earlier this month, Abe told lawmakers that he wanted to speak to Trump before the summit.
“I want to coordinate our policies on the nuclear, missile and — most important of all for our country — abduction problems,” Abe said, according to the Sankei Shimbun.
Japan has long sought US support for the return of a dozen of its citizens believed kidnapped and taken to North Korea in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Although Trump and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo have pledged to help, the issue has not featured prominently in US-North Korea talks.
Abe has urged Trump to maintain a hard line on international sanctions against North Korea, including by clamping down on suspected transfers of fuel to its ships at sea, to push for a deal that includes shorter range missiles.
Many of North Korea’s shorter range missiles are capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction, but experts are not sure what sort of warheads the secretive state can affix to the missiles.
Former lead South Korean nuclear negotiator Chun Yung-woo — one of the few people who helped broker a deal that temporarily rolled back North Korea’s nuclear program — said that Japan and his own country share an interest in making sure the regime gives up all its fissile material.
“Just eliminating intercontinental ballistic missiles could be perceived as a US-first policy at the expense of Japan and the Republic of Korea,” Chun said in an interview. “That would be very bad. Japan has to make sure that denuclearization doesn’t end there.”
US President Donald Trump on Thursday issued executive orders barring Americans from conducting business with WeChat owner Tencent Holdings and ByteDance, the Beijing-based owner of popular video-sharing app TikTok. The orders are to take effect 45 days after they were signed, which is Sept. 20. The orders accuse WeChat of helping the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) review and remove content that it considers to be politically sensitive, and of using fabricated news to benefit itself. The White House has accused TikTok of collecting users’ information, location data and browsing histories, which could be used by the Chinese government, and pose
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at a ceremony on July 30 officially commissioned China’s BeiDou-3 satellite navigation system. The constellation of satellites, which is now fully operational, was completed six months ahead of schedule. Its deployment means that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is now in possession of an autonomous, global satellite navigation system to rival the US’ GPS, Russia’s Glonass and the EU’s Galileo. Although Chinese officials have repeatedly sought to reassure the world that BeiDou-3 is primarily a civilian and commercial platform, US and European military experts beg to differ. Teresa Hitchens, a senior research associate at the University of
There are few areas where Beijing, Taipei, and Washington find themselves in agreement these days, but one of them is that the situation in the Taiwan Strait is growing more dangerous. Such a shared assessment quickly breaks down, though, when the question turns to identifying sources of rising tensions. Several Chinese experts and officials I have consulted with recently have argued that Beijing’s increasingly belligerent behavior in the Taiwan Strait is driven mostly by fear. According to this narrative, Beijing is worried that unless it puts a brake on Taiwan’s move away from the mainland, Taiwan could be “lost” forever. They
Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who died on Thursday last week, coined the phrase “new Taiwanese” and used it in some of his public speeches. The concept of “new Taiwanese” was an important link in the chain of his political thought. Lee proposed the term in August 1998 on the eve of the anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. His intention was to consolidate a common understanding around the idea of “new Taiwanese,” and to embody the Taiwanese spirit of never giving up and not fearing hardship, and to create bright prospects for generations to come. However, after