Abe fears be­ing side­lined as DPRK peace process gath­ers mo­men­tum

When Trump threat­ened the DPRK with “fire and fury”, Ja­pan sup­ported sanc­tions, even mil­i­tary ac­tion against Py­ongyang. It is still the strong­est ad­vo­cate of “max­i­mum pres­sure” on Py­ongyang.

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - 11 Comment Editorial • Opinion - The author is China Daily Tokyo bureau chief. cai­hong@chi­nadaily.com.cn

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is known for his un­pre­dictabil­ity, and Ja­pa­nese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe re­sponds to this with con­stancy.

What­ever de­ci­sions Trump has made on his planned sum­mit with Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of Ko­rea leader Kim Jong-un, Abe has sup­ported him.

When Re­pub­lic of Ko­rea Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Chung Eui-yong an­nounced the his­toric Trump-Kim sum­mit, Abe, caught off guard, called Trump on the phone the same day to ap­plaud “Don­ald’s courage” in hold­ing face-to-face talks with the DPRK leader.

When Trump called off the planned sum­mit, Abe re­spected his “judg­ment”. And when Trump changed his mind again on the meet­ing, Abe again backed him.

Abe keeps in lock­step with Trump be­cause he fears Ja­pan might be left out of the process of re­solv­ing the Korean Penin­sula is­sue.

This year, the DPRK has had fre­quent con­tacts with China, the ROK, Rus­sia and the United States. These coun­tries, along with Ja­pan, are part of the SixParty Talks aimed at peace­fully re­solv­ing the penin­sula is­sue. Kim has met with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and ROK Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in twice, and held talks with US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo. And Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov trav­eled to Py­ongyang on Thurs­day to hold talks.

With di­plo­macy heat­ing up, Ja­pan’s fear of be­ing side­lined has in­ten­si­fied. Abe is mulling send­ing its For­eign Min­is­ter Taro Kono on Satur­day to Sin­ga­pore, which is ex­pected to host the planned Trump-Kim meet­ing, to seek the city-state’s co­op­er­a­tion to share in­for­ma­tion on the meet­ing. Be­sides, Abe is seek­ing a meet­ing with the DPRK leader af­ter the planned Trump-Kim sum­mit.

Abe will visit the US again on Thurs­day to apprise Trump of Ja­pan’s con­cerns in­clud­ing the re­lease of Ja­pa­nese ci­ti­zens al­legedly ab­ducted by the DPRK in the 1970s and 1980s. The re­lease of the Ja­pa­nese ci­ti­zens is Tokyo’s pre­con­di­tion for nor­mal­iz­ing re­la­tions with Py­ongyang.

The DPRK has said the ab­duc­tion is­sue has been set­tled, and crit­i­cized Ja­pan for “try­ing to take a free ride on the wind of peace” with­out play­ing its part. The DPRK re­leased five of the ab­ductees in 2002 and says the other eight have died. And it has stressed that the four other Ja­pa­nese that Tokyo says were ab­ducted never en­tered the DPRK.

Crit­ics in Ja­pan say Abe’s for­eign poli­cies are heav­ily de­pen­dent on Tokyo-Wash­ing­ton re­la­tions, par­tic­u­larly his “per­sonal rap­port” with Trump, with­out mak­ing suf­fi­cient ef­forts to im­prove Ja­pan’s ties with its neigh­bors. His ap­proach, as the Asahi Shim­bun said, has un­der­mined Ja­pan’s diplo­matic clout in the re­gion.

No meet­ing be­tween Abe and Kim is in sight. But what would Ja­pan bring to the ta­ble if Abe had a chance to meet with Kim?

When Trump threat­ened the DPRK with “fire and fury”, Ja­pan sup­ported sanc­tions, even mil­i­tary ac­tion against Py­ongyang. It is still the strong­est ad­vo­cate of “max­i­mum pres­sure” on Py­ongyang.

In May, Ja­pan and 18 Pa­cific is­land coun­tries and re­gions is­sued a state­ment de­mand­ing main­tain­ing pres­sure on the DPRK to force it to aban­don its nu­clear pro­gram af­ter their lead­ers’ meet­ing in Iwaki, Fukushima.

Also, given Korean re­sent­ment against Ja­pa­nese col­o­niza­tion and wartime atroc­i­ties, it is hard to imag­ine Py­ongyang forg­ing a strong re­la­tion­ship with Tokyo. Ja­pan and the ROK agreed in 2015 to settle the is­sue of “com­fort women”, a eu­phemism for girls and women forced into sex­ual slav­ery by the Im­pe­rial Ja­pa­nese army be­fore and dur­ing World War II. Ja­pan paid 1 bil­lion yen ($8.3 mil­lion) as com­pen­sa­tion to the ROK vic­tims.

But Hi­toshi Tanaka, chair­man of the In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Strat­egy, says Ja­pan will “never” pay the DPRK to settle the wartime is­sues. And Ja­pan still frames the DPRK as the most se­ri­ous threat to the coun­try since World War II, and is set to spend $19 mil­lion to ac­quire medium-range air-launched cruise mis­siles so it can strike DPRK sites.

No won­der Ja­pan has lit­tle lever­age over any pos­si­ble ne­go­ti­a­tions with the DPRK.

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