Beginning with the Japan-United States Summit on April 17, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is about to embark on a series of summit meetings. The aim is to prevent North Korea from escaping containment, as it has begun testing the boundaries with recent attempts to engage with the international community.
As the flag-bearer of keeping the pressure on North Korea, Prime Minister Abe is calling for containment to be maintained. He cites the importance of applying continued pressure until North Korea undertakes concrete measures to not just denuclearize, but also to stop firing the missiles. At the same time, he is pursuing commitments to cooperate toward the resolution of the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents.
Ahead of the Japan-US Summit, Japanese officials are saying that many in US government think it would be better if Prime Minister Abe talks to President Donald Trump about the important issues such as diplomatic, security and trade problems in Asia and in the world.
Even the US government is relying on Prime Minister Abe to convince President Trump, who is prone to ignoring the advice of his own aides, to pay attention to the matters at hand.
Although this month’s Japan-US Summit will be the 6th meeting between the two heads of state since Trump’s inauguration, the Japanese are calling it “the most important meeting to date.” The reason is that Trump is expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by the end of May.
The Prime Minister will explain the practicalities of North Korean denuclearization, and warn Trump of the importance of carrying it out within a short period of time, without allowing delays. The idea includes the essential disposal of mid- and short-range missiles, which present a threat to Japan. He will also request Trump to directly urge Kim to resolve the abduction issue.
After meticulous discussions with the US, the Prime Minister will then leverage the Japan-US alliance to verify the commitments of South Korea, China, and Russia to maintain containment of North Korea.
While South Korea is currently aligned with Japan and the US, given recent developments, it would not be a surprise if, at some point, it would shift alliances toward North Korea and China. The concern is that, if the Japan-US-South Korea vs China-North Korea-Russia structure of the six-party talks on North Korean denuclearization was to change to a Japan-US vs China-South Korea-North Korea-Russia format, the current international containment measures would lose effectiveness.
The Prime Minister will meet separately with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the May Japan-China-South Korea summit to be held in Tokyo, in a bid to maintain the current six-party alignment and international pressure on North Korea. Furthermore, Abe will visit Russia at the end of May to meet with President Vladimir Putin, and he is calling for cooperation at the G7 Summit to be held in Canada at the start of June.
There is strong support for the theory that Japan is being abandoned by North Korea, given that in addition to summit talks with the US, South Korea, and China, there is speculation about a North Korea-Russia summit being held in the near future. However, it was Japan which spearheaded the line of pressure, which forced North Korea to seek those talks in the first place.
Since the beginning of the Trump administration, Japan and the US have promoted three principles: (1) that all options, including military force, are on the table; (2) exertion of maximum pressure; and (3) creating a situation where North Korea would seek talks. Japan proposed all three, and then supported the US as the latter took the lead advocating for their adoption by the United Nations and other individual member states.
Foreign Ministry officials claim outright that Japan drew up the strategy of dealing with North Korea to date, and it is definitely not being left out the talks. It seems that the Prime Minister’s series of foreign visits are geared towards proving Japan's engagement with the North Korean problem.
Makiko Takita is a staff writer of the Sankei Shimbun Political news department.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)