Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently vowed to “unconditionally” meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, breaking from reiteration of his earlier rhetoric that “any simple meeting would be meaningless.”
This has led some people to suspect he has switched to an appeasement policy. However, he has informed Kim of “conditions” for Japan’s economic assistance to North Korea through U.S. President Donald Trump. Included among them is a switch from Pyongyang’s traditional explanation that North Korea abducted only 13 Japanese citizens, of whom eight are dead.
If Pyongyang decides to meet the conditions, it will accept a Japan-North Korea summit. If not, then we do not have to interpret the word “unconditional” as meaning anything more than diplomatic rhetoric.
U.S. Pressed Kim to Resolve Abduction Issue
In early May, I had an opportunity to interview a number of senior United States officials in charge of North Korea about Washington-Pyongyang negotiations.
At the U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi in February, according to the officials, the U.S. side was ready to signal its cooperation on North Korea’s full-blown economic development on two conditions:
Dismantling not only nuclear weapons but also all other weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons and the missiles to deliver those weapons.
Showing serious improvements regarding human rights issues. Washington told Pyongyang clearly that human rights improvements would include the resolution of the abduction issue, without which there would be no Japanese assistance, the officials said.
When President Trump took up the abduction issue in the first part of the Hanoi summit, Kim tried to switch to another topic without discussing the issue, the officials said. When President Trump raised the issue again in the second part and urged Kim to respond, Kim apparently thought that he could not change the subject, leading to “substantive discussion” on the matter. The U.S. side told Kim, “You should finish the job.” Details of the discussion were reported to Prime Minister Abe, they said.
Since shortly after the Hanoi summit, media reports said President Trump raised the abduction issue multiple times at the summit. The U.S. officials described how it was raised.
No Change in Japan’s Conditions for Assistance
Prime Minister Abe has made no change to Japan’s conditions for providing economic assistance to North Korea. If views suspecting Abe of softening are spread needlessly, North Korea may become too confident, increasing the possibility of a Japan-North Korea summit ending without any agreement.
A good example is the Hanoi U.S.-North Korea summit that broke down. Before the summit, the dominant speculation in the mainstream U.S. media was that President Trump, plagued with the Russiagate scandal, could try to cut an irresponsible deal to score good points on diplomacy.
North Korea might have misinterpreted such media speculation as truth and become encouraged to come up with the impossible demand that the United States lift most sanctions in exchange for Pyongyang’s shutdown of some nuclear facilities.
The Japanese and U.S. governments have made no change to their stance that the United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea sanctions should be fully implemented towards the realization of North Korea’s complete denuclearization.
Equally important, economic assistance should never be proposed to induce negotiations. Such a proposal might lead North Korea to misinterpret Japan’s intentions. If this point is secured, diplomatic remarks may be allowed to be flexible.
(Click here to read more on the subject of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese.)
Author: Yoichi Shimada
Yoichi Shimada is a planning committee member and a senior fellow at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and professor at Fukui Prefectural University. He covers U.S. politics and diplomacy.