Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is gradually shifting from pressure to dialogue in his policy toward North Korea because he has judged that President Donald Trump’s raising the abduction issue in the U.S.-DPRK summit on June 12 and other recent developments present a good opportunity for resolving this issue through dialogue.
North Korea has consistently taken the position that the abduction issue has already been resolved, but Kim Jong Un did not say so at his meeting with Trump. Japanese government officials are speculating that “North Korea may have changed its position in light of the U.S.-DPRK talks,” according to a diplomatic source.
Abe used to assert that “maximum pressure is indispensable” to prod North Korea to take concrete action for denuclearization. He has leveraged his personal relationship with Trump for the two countries to forcefully promote the pressure campaign. However, in light of the dramatic U.S.-DPRK rapprochement, Abe has judged that direct dialogue is now a better policy.
In addition, the family members of the abduction victims are aging. There is very little time left to resolve the issue.
However, a Japan-DPRK summit poses great risks. If Japan becomes overzealous about holding dialogue, North Korea might gain the initiative in the negotiations. Since Abe has set the abduction issue as his cabinet’s “top priority issue,” failing to produce sufficient results may destabilize his administration. Abe is aiming at holding the summit this summer based on an appraisal of North Korea’s possible next steps from the behind-the-scenes negotiations.
Meanwhile, Abe’s shift to a dialogue policy has been lauded even by forces that have traditionally been critical of the Abe cabinet.
Japanese Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii gave the following comments on the U.S.-DPRK summit on June 12: “We welcome wholeheartedly the agreement by the two countries to work for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to build a regime of peace, as well as to transform their hostile relationship into a friendly one.” He also called for efforts toward the normalization of Japan-DPRK diplomatic relations.
Former House of Representatives Speaker Yohei Kono, who normally distances himself form Abe, also expressed a positive view on Japan-DPRK dialogue during a speech in Tokyo on June 13. (Abridged)