Despite progress on the diplomatic front that has culminated in an agreement for the leaders of North Korea and the United States to hold face-to-face talks, Japan remains convinced that Pyongyang is successfully pulling the wool over the eyes of its allies and fears that its own concerns are being sidelined.
Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, on Thursday emphasised the need for the international community to keep sanctions in place despite Pyongyang and Seoul announcing plans for the first inter-Korean summit since 2007.
“Sanctions should not be eased just because the country came forward for dialogue”, Mr Abe said in the Diet. “Concrete actions towards denuclearisation are necessary. We will raise the pressure to the maximum”.
Mr Abe on Friday morning applauded the “change” in North Korea after it was announced that Mr Trump has accepted an offer for direct talks from Mr Kim – although the Japanese government will retain its concerns. That much was indicated when it was announced that Mr Abe will travel to the US before Mr Trump meets with the North Korean dictator in order to spell out Japan’s disquiet.
Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University, said Japan has a long and prickly history with North Korea that the administration in Washington may have overlooked.
“The issue of Japan’s security is obviously the big one as there are several US military facilities across the country and that puts Japan in the front line in many ways of any conflict involving North Korea”, he told The Telegraph. “There is also concern here about an accident at the North’s nuclear facilities, which are poorly maintained and any problems would inevitably impact Japan.
“But Japan also sees North Korea through the lens of the abduction of a number of Japanese citizens, which is something that Tokyo consistently demands progress on but which the US does not take into account”.
North Korean missile test
For domestic political reasons, Japan will not be able to let the issue of the abductees slide, which will inevitably complicate any multi-national discussions on future international relations in the region.
There is also a sense that North Korea has already been at least partially successful in driving a wedge between Seoul and Washington and that it has ambitions of also peeling Japan away from what has previously been a solid three-nation bloc that it confronted.
“North Korea is going to continue to try to maximise the fractures that exist between all and any countries that it faces and any wedge that it can force between South Korea and Japan will increase their leverage”, said Mr Nagy.
North Korean state media has this week criticised Japan as “reactionaries” for accusing North Korea of being behind a series of recent hacking attacks on virtual currency exchanges in Tokyo, describing the claims as an “unpardonable provocation and a wicked and mean smear campaign”.
The Korea Central News Agency has also taken issue with Japan’s launch of an advanced intelligence-gathering satellite that is dedicated to monitoring North Korea.
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