Shinzo Abe to meet Donald Trump before Trump-Kim summit to prevent sidelining of Japan's security concerns

Tokyo: Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, unable to meet North Korea's leader himself, is heading to Washington to try to make sure President Donald Trump doesn't overlook Japan's security and other concerns at the unprecedented US-North Korea summit next week.

Abe will have less than two hours to make his points to Trump at the White House on Thursday, before both go to Canada for a G-7 summit scheduled on  8-9 June, and the American president then flies to Singapore for his 12 June meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Japan, which relied on the US for its post-World War II diplomacy and security, has been absent in the recent burst of engagement with North Korea. Chinese president Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have both met Kim twice, as Abe waits his turn to raise Japan's concerns directly.

File image of Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe. AP

File image of Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe. AP

Abe doesn't want Trump to strike a compromise that would leave Japan exposed to shorter-range missiles that do not threaten the US mainland or that relieves pressure on North Korea before it takes concrete steps toward complete denuclearisation. He is expected to ask Trump once again to raise with Kim the fate of the Japanese abducted by the North in the 1970s and 1980s.

"It wouldn't be my style to have to ask the US for help on the abduction issue," said Hitoshi Tanaka, a former diplomat and head of a think tank, the Institute for International Strategy.

"It's embarrassing that a state leader has to ask another leader in resolving the sovereignty of his people."

While in Washington, Abe is also likely press Trump to remove Japan from US steel and aluminum tariffs, as well as express his opposition to threats of US tariffs on Japanese automobiles.

Japan hopes to hold talks with North Korea after a successful Trump-Kim summit. Abe has said he is open to meeting with Kim, but only if it would lead to resolving the abduction issue. He said Japan would then normalize ties and provide economic aid as rewards for a North Korean commitment to both denuclearization and resolution of the abduction issue.

Japanese analysts agree that if Abe's turn to meet Kim comes, it would be at the very end of a long process as Trump and other regional leaders deal with North Korea's denuclearisation.

"Japan eventually should develop its own diplomacy to deal with North Korea independently to resolve its problems, including the abductions," said Atsuhito Isozaki, a Keio University professor specializing in North Korea.

He said that economic aid or financial compensation for Japan's 35-year colonisation of Korea could be attractive, but noted that North Korea now has other potential sources of assistance.

"Japan's economy does not stand out in northeast Asia as it did 16 years ago," he said, when Pyongyang and Tokyo last tried to negotiate a normalization of ties. Without Japan's help, North Korea has arranged a summit with the US and possible economic cooperation from South Korea, he said this week at a briefing for media.

After a 2002 summit between then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, North Korea acknowledged abducting 13 Japanese and allowed five of them to visit Japan, though they then stayed, angering North Korea. Japan says at least 17 Japanese were abducted and possibly more.

Japanese officials are scrambling to get information on the Trump-Kim summit. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan will dispatch diplomats to Singapore to try to get the latest updates.

After his last meeting with Trump in April, Abe said the two leaders were in complete agreement on North Korea policy, namely to keep sanctions in place until Pyongyang takes concrete action toward verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.

Concerns have since grown in Japan that Trump may be prioritizing holding a summit rather than the goal of full denuclearization. Abe, who has played tough on the North, also worries that a growing reconciliatory mood between the two Koreas may prompt leniency toward Pyongyang.

Trump's recent statement that he doesn't want to keep using the phrase "maximum pressure" against North Korea reinforced those fears.


Updated Date: Jun 06, 2018 15:16 PM

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