Abe to meet Trump again today; shows Tokyo’s worry over being left out of N Korea peace process
The North Korean crisis has several parties having stake in it. Besides the US and North Korea, three other big regional powers also have an interest to serve through the Korean Peninsula's denuclearisation and they are China, South Korea and Japan. But although China, South Korea and he US have engaged more than once with North Korean leaders and officials by now - the case has not been the same with Japan.
In fact, the only time Japan got to speak on the issue in a multilateral platform was when its top leadership met the Chinese premier and South Korean president in Tokyo in May. This apart, the only other power that the Japanese leadership has met and talked over the issue is the US.
Abe has only been meeting Trump but not Kim
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has in fact, met US President Donald Trump several times already, flagging off the meetings even before the latter became the president in January 2017. They had their seventh meeting in Washington ahead of Trump's historic summit with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un scheduled in September on June 12.
Japan is not convinced over the idea of easing the pressure on North Korea - whose nuclear ambitions have often posed it threats in the past - and also the Abe administration is not very sure about Trump's whims.
The US president announced the date and venue of his meeting with Kim on May 10 but cancelled it on May 24 citing Pyongyang's "anger" and "hostility". He, however, corrected the course on June 1, by reinstating the summit.
An op-ed published in China's Daily Times titled 'Japan strives for relevance on North Korean nuclear issue' has said that Abe made frequent visits to the US after Trump's election to get closer to the new administration after having backed Hillary Clinton initially but as Trump started displaying his "erratic style", Abe needed to know the man afresh.
Abe was set to meet Trump in Washington again on June 7 and according to the op-ed piece: "It's clear that Abe wants to evaluate the US stance on the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore."
It was also reported that Abe's hurriedly organised trip to Washington was aimed at reminding the US leadership of Tokyo's security concerns during the historic meeting in Singapore.
Abe will urge the US leader in their latest meeting not to forget Tokyo's security concerns in his drive for a historic deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un besides of course, issues like trade and US's relations with China.
After their meeting in Washington in mid-April, Trump had promised to bring up the issue of North Korea kidnapping Japanese people in the 1970s and 1980s and Abe was expected to request Trump he same again on Thursday though this stance of Abe of asking another leader to take up issues related to his country with Kim was not received well by all quarters.
Abe's only point of contact with the entire episode has been Trump for he did not get to meet Kim directly. The peace agreement between the two Koreas also did not feature Japan - be it the trilateral talks involving the US or four-party talks including the US and China - and that is a major disappointment for Tokyo.
Both Chinese President Xi Jinping and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in have meet Kim twice till date but Abe hasn't had a single one-to-one meeting with the main players except Trump.
Russia, too, joined the party recently
Russia was another member of the Six Party Talks that did not initially feature in the North Korean peace process. But Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Pyongyang in May end and met Kim, who in turn, is likely to visit Russia later this year. This leaves Japan in "an awkward position," said the Global Times piece.
"In fact, even Japan is not sure what makes it a stakeholder in the Korean Peninsula issue. It used to play up the nuclear threat posed by North Korea as an excuse, but as hopes rise on resolving the nuclear issue, Japan turns out to be dispensable over it. Thus Japan can only keep bringing up the kidnapping issue, which however has little significance compared to the nuclear crisis," the piece said.
"What Abe can rely on is just the Japan-US alliance so that he puts forward his demands about the peninsula to maintain the country's regional clout. Although Japan is getting less discourse power on the peninsula, it's not completely useless for Trump."
According to the piece, Japan is worried that the US and China would reach an agreement leaving out Japan and neither does it want the North Korea bring a change that would see Japan being sidelined on major international issues.
Abe's 30 calls with Trump till date is thus a desperate effort to assert Tokyo's position in Washington's US-Pacific strategy.