Editorial: Will Abe succeed in stressing denuclearization at Japan-U.S. summit?

A meeting between the U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has begun in the United States. High on the agenda are issues involving North Korea as well as trade and commerce between Japan and the United States. Mr. Abe, who takes pride in the friendly relations he says he has established with Mr. Trump, has previously said that the two leaders share the same understanding on essential points. But we wonder how successful Mr. Abe has been in communicating Japan’s desires.

The leaders of North Korea and China held talks last month. North Korea is also planning to engage in summits with South Korea and the United States. Since Japan does not have official channels for dialogue with North Korea, it looks as if Japan is out of the loop. Japan must make sure that the United States, which is Japan’s major ally, will address the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea and the threat of nuclear weapons and missiles.

Mr. Trump has pledged to raise the issue of Japanese abductees during his planned summit with the North Korean leader. Mr. Trump was quoted as saying that the United States “will do its best for Japan.” To Mr. Abe, this response must sound quite satisfactory. But we should not take Mr. Trump’s words at face value.

Midterm elections will be held in the United States in November. For the Republican Party to win the elections, Mr. Trump must achieve tangible results in both domestic and international politics. The restrictions he has put forward on the import of steel and aluminum is said to be one such measure. It is hard to predict how much support Mr. Trump will give to the issue of Japanese abductees.

The Japanese government is hoping to discuss this problem as part of a comprehensive look at human rights issues. Since three U.S. nationals have also been detained by North Korea, Tokyo supposes that these problems can be addressed as one issue. When Mr. Trump visited Japan last November, the Japanese government arranged a meeting with family members of abductees with a view to gaining his understanding of the issue.

During discussion on the concerns involving North Korean missiles and nuclear arms, the leaders of Japan and the United States confirmed that they will continue to put maximum pressure on North Korea until it has achieved denuclearization in a “completely verifiable and irreversible way.” It has been reported that a plan is being floated for the complete denuclearization of North Korea by the summer of 2020. We wonder whether the leaders have held in-depth discussions over this plan.

A direct threat to the United States is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that is capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. If Mr. Trump seeks immediate gain, he may think that he can put the issue of nuclear weapons on the back burner and press for the disposal of ICBMs. But since Japan could be hit by intermediate- or short-range missiles, this could create a nightmare scenario that must not be pursued.

According to U.S. newspapers, Mike Pompeo, who serves as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and has been nominated as the next secretary of state, paid a secret visit to North Korea and met with leader Kim Jong-un, the chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, about two weeks ago. More negotiations will be held before the first summit meeting of the two countries takes place, and Mr. Trump has suggested it is possible that the meeting will be canceled. This is a clear warning to the North Korean leader that Mr. Trump will not hesitate to cancel the meeting if he thinks it will not bring about favorable results.

It is embarrassing that Japan must rely on another country to engage in negotiations with North Korea. Though North Korea admitted in 2002 that the country had abducted Japanese citizens, this nation remains stymied in seeking a solution to the problem. This is, after all, a problem that must be resolved between Japan and North Korea. Japan should work out how to pursue direct negotiations with that nation.

The Japan-U.S. summit will continue to focus on the issue of trade and commerce. Observers say that Mr. Trump will press Japan into bargaining in exchange for his help with North Korean issues.

As the nation’s mistrust of his administration is growing, Prime Minister Abe might be hoping to recover a better approval rating through diplomatic achievements. However, he should not rush for quick gains and back down easily in such fields as agriculture.

(Originally published on April 19, 2018)