Published: Tue, April 17, 2018
Global | By Shelia Dennis

Donald Trump, Japan's Shinzo Abe seek consensus on North Korea amid strains

Donald Trump, Japan's Shinzo Abe seek consensus on North Korea amid strains

Japanese officials said Abe and Trump might also discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership, after Trump indicated last week that the USA might be interested in rejoining what is now an 11-country trade agreement. "Abe was the first foreign leader to visit Trump after the election, and the two have met and spoken 20 times - more interactions than Trump has had with any other world leader".

Kim could propose a deal in which the United States curtails regional military exercises in exchange for a North Korean freeze on its testing of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

But Japan's government, which was dismayed by Trump's decision to pull out of a huge Pacific free trade deal a year ago, has made it clear that it's in no hurry to sign up for bilateral negotiations with Washington.

Trump's agreement to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a session expected in late May or early June at a place yet to be determined, has also raised some concerns among Japanese officials.

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Despite the "quietist approach" of the Abe administration towards America under Trump, it is clear that disquiet exists.

The two Asian neighbours are targets of USA steel and aluminium tariffs, while Beijing is also facing stiff tariffs on US$150 billion (S$196.6b) worth of goods and services.

"Japan is the only neighboring country that is not part of the diplomatic efforts for dialogue with North Korea", the liberal newspaper Asahi said. Japan, for example, has multiple times as much money invested in the it does in China, and even with the recent tensions, many Asian companies rely on the US market.

Takehiro Shimada, a spokesperson for the Embassy of Japan, said the country can't accept Trump's decision on the tariffs and will be pushing Trump to reconsider.

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China in 2016 extracted about 150,000 tonnes of rare earths, experts say, but has in the past restricted the supply amid political tensions. "Prime Minister Abe needs this reassurance, but will Trump provide it?"

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the regional trade deal Trump pulled out of previous year, would have helped lower those barriers for American farmers.

"We expect it to be very positive", White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday of Abe's visit. Instead, Abe is likely to offer a framework for the United States and Japan that looks a lot like what was negotiated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Abe and his wife have denied all wrongdoing.

"A peace treaty may [also] seem appealing - but if we start pulling apart the legal basis for our alliance we will invite pressure, including within South Korea, to dismantle American forward presence in Asia, which will have a direct impact on the security of Australia". Abe will want to talk about these foreign policy challenges and will have thoughts of his own on how Japan sees both the Syrian civil war and the possibility of a trade war with Beijing.

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As he left Japan, Abe told reporters that he would be reiterating Tokyo's "maximum pressure" policy towards Pyongyang, and that the "important abduction issue" would be high on his agenda. Both will want to spend time away from cameras, trying to resolve their differences and putting a strong statesman-like face on as they struggle through this increasingly fraught era.

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