Tokyo is paying a hefty price. The price for the country's prime minister's near-obsession to follow Trump's erratic and ever-changing policy lead on North Korea. The devote Shinzo Abe for a long time bragged about being in constant touch with Trump on respective policies towards North Korea. Too bad, however, that Trump decided to kiss good sense and even remotely rational behaviour good-bye for good changing his mind on and policies towards Pyongyang on a daily basis. Tokyo in turn could not keep up although one could argue that it didn't really matter as Tokyo under Abe never had a North Korea policy in the first place that went beyond parroting Trump, who engages in megaphone diplomacy centred around exerting "maximum pressure" onto Pyongyang. Now, Trump announced a few days ago, he and the "honourable" North Korean dictator Kim "get along just fine" and therefore decided to relax the "maximum pressure" he had reserved for Pyongyang. Abe too thought he would be on Trump's good side, but even he must have developed doubts about the friendship with (and sanity of) the U.S. president when Trump imposed hefty tariffs onto Japanese aluminium and steel exports, claiming that Japanese exports pose a threat to U.S. national security. Abe – arguably like some of the European leaders like Macron during a recent –over-the-top state visit to Washington – made a complete fool of himself when he unsuccessfully begged Trump not to impose the above-mentioned tariffs.
Recent news suggest that Tokyo is already panicking that Trump could settle for Pyongyang declaring that the so-called "abduction issue" was – as Pyongyang has declared – settled back in 2002 when Pyongyang officially apologized for having kidnapped up to 35 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. Abe has reportedly urged Trump to reject that position and ask Kim to explain what happened to numerous kidnapped Japanese Tokyo has no information about. Previous North Korean "explanations" that some of them died in car accidents others from cancer and some of them did not enter North Korea in the first place continue not to convince Tokyo. To be sure, who knows what Trump will or will not say about kidnapped Japanese in Singapore, but one thing is for (almost) sure: having to count on Donald Trump to represent your interests in a meeting with a North Korean dictator is as a good the idea of jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Hitoshi Tanaka, a former Japanese diplomat and Toky's North Korea chief negotiator agrees. "It's embarrassing that a state leader has to ask another leader in resolving the sovereignty of his people", he says. Indeed, and therefore Abe has decided to go on the offensive and is reportedly planning to meet Pyongyang on the side-lines of international security conference taking place in Mongolia later this week (the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on June 14/15). That encounter, Tokyo has announced, is aimed at laying the ground for a meeting between the Japanese Prime Minister and Kim later this year. During such envisioned meeting, Tokyo goes on to plan, Japan will urge Pyongyang to act on a 2014 bilateral agreement, under which Pyongyang agreed to reinvestigate the whereabouts of all Japanese abductees. The best of luck to Abe, but it remains to be seen whether Kim will be willing to meet when Abe wants to talk about the abduction issue and a bilateral agreement Pyongyang has ignored since it signed four years ago.
What is more, Abe was let down before on the kidnapped Japanese. South Korean president Moon Jae-in promised Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in April that he would also discuss the "abduction issue" with North Korea's Kim during his first encounter with him. Only that he did not and although Trump promised his buddy Abe some time ago that he would bring up the issue of abducted Japanese citizens when meeting with Kim in Singapore, recent experience has shown that Trump spends most of his time contradicting himself not remembering on Tuesday what he said on Monday.
In sum, Japan is a foreign and security pushover and Tokyo's decision to adjust its North Korea policies according to constantly changing and erratic U.S. rhetoric and policies towards Pyongyang has made sure that Tokyo finds itself in a position of extreme weakness. Or worse, as Richard Armitage, a former U.S. senior diplomat fears. Tokyo, Armitage argues in an interview with the Japanese press, runs a very real risk of finding itself out in the cold after the Trump-Kim talks. "We should absolutely prevent decoupling — decoupling Japanese and U.S. security", he said an interview with AFP. "This is and has been an aim of China and North Korea for a long time, and we can't allow this to happen. That would be falling into a terrible trap." The good news for Japan is that Kim will – if at all – agree to de-nuclearize at a very slow pace, which in turn means that Tokyo's military alliance with Washington is here to stay and 50.000 U.S. military troops will continue to stand in harm's way. Some of the harm, however, could have been avoided if Abe had not constantly caved in to Japanese nationalists and revisionists, who urged him to exclude any sort of dialogue and engagement with "evil" North Korea.