By Yu Takayama in Palm Beach, Florida
At his summit meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President Donald Trump demonstrated that he was aware that North Korea’s short- and mid-range missiles threaten Japan. He said: “The distance from North Korea to the U.S. mainland is more than 6,000 miles (approximately 9,700 kilometers) but the shortest distance to Japan is only 300 miles (approximately 480 kilometers).”
The worst possible scenario for Japan is if Trump only asks North Korea to freeze or discard ICBMs capable of reaching the U.S. mainland at the U.S.-DPRK summit. According to a government source, in light of Japan’s concerns, Trump told Abe that he will also ask North Korea to discard short- and mid-range missiles.
The Japanese government believes that rather than through a multilateral framework, it is better for the U.S. to take the lead in the discussions on North Korea’s denuclearization. The Six Party Talks consisting of the two Koreas, Japan, the U.S., China, and Russia have failed to denuclearize the DPRK. Japan reckons that with China and others that adopt a conciliatory approach to North Korea playing a central role in the Six Party Talks, denuclearization negotiations will probably fail. With Trump being unexpectedly considerate to Japan on the abductions and the issue of short- and mid-range missiles, a government source was relieved that “Japan and the U.S. are completely in sync on the North Korea issues.”
In light of the latest Japan-U.S. summit, it is very likely that Japan will become increasingly “dependent” on Trump to influence North Korea through the U.S. The predominant view is that in reality, it is difficult to predict what sort of agreement Trump, who prides himself on deal-making, will reach with North Korea. Furthermore, since Trump often links security and trade issues, there is concern in the Japanese government that the more he heeds Japan’s requests on North Korea, the more tough demands he will make in trade issues.