Fri, Feb 22, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Japan frets over ‘nightmare scenario’ ahead of Trump-Kim meet

By Isabel Reynolds and Emi Nobuhiro  /  Bloomberg

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.

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