Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that Japan appreciates the planned summit meetings with North Korea on possible denuclearization, saying, “It is important that North Korea takes concrete actions to achieve what it has said.” Abe’s remarks came during his meeting with South Korean National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon, who was visiting Tokyo to brief him on the outcome of his recent trips to Pyongyang and Washington. “It is our basic stance that the nuclear and missile problems and the kidnapping issue of Japanese people should be resolved,” he also stressed. The meeting, which had been planned to be around 15 minutes long, apparently took more than an hour with Abe asking detailed questions about the stance of Pyongyang.
Japan seems to have been taken aback by the recent developments on the Korean Peninsula. No wonder it would be, for the Abe administration has been consistent in putting itself in lockstep with the Trump administration in taking a hardline approach towards North Korea by applying maximum pressure and sanctions. Sudden changes in circumstances made Tokyo rush to keep up with the developments, such as scheduling a U.S.-Japan summit meeting in haste. While remaining doubtful about the sincerity of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s willingness of denuclearization, Abe is understood to have told Suh, “North Korea has big negotiations to make, and in light of the situation, I don’t think it will use this opportunity to simply buy time.”
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are considered as a bigger threat to national security in Japan than any other country. Ballistic missiles that Pyongyang fired last year flew over the Japanese islands twice. Japan is also the first and last country in the world where nuclear weapons were used. Thus, it seems only logical that the country is extra sensitive to the North’s nuclear and missile developments. This is why Japan’s becoming a third wheel in recent discussions on the issue has grown into a huge controversy domestically. Sudden turns of circumstances and rising controversy would be particularly bruising for Abe, who has placed a high priority on the resolution of the issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens.
In his visit to Washington in early April, Prime Minister Abe is likely to demand that President Trump discuss the abduction of Japanese people at a North Korea-U.S. summit. Still, if the inter-Korean and North Korea-U.S. summit meetings end in success, it may open a way for the resumption of dialogue between Pyongyang and Tokyo. Then the abduction issue, which Abe said was his “life’s work,” would be accordingly resolved. Japan’s role in the future is by no means small. Particularly considering that Japan will make a large economic contribution to North Korea through compensation for colonization in the process of establishing a new order in North East Asia, Japan should not be bypassed in current discussions.