By international news editor Hiroo Watanabe
In an interview with Sankei Shimbun, U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty stressed that the strong Japan-U.S. relationship based on the “closest possible personal relationship” between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump will contribute to efforts to deal with such issues as North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals and China’s pursuit of hegemony.
Q: How was the North Korea issue taken up at the summit meeting in New York?
Hagerty: The President shared with Prime Minister Abe Mr. Kim Jong Un’s second letter to him. This said a lot about the close relationship (between the President and Prime Minister Abe). We confirmed North Korea’s commitment to final, fully verified denuclearization. This goal remains unchanged. The President and the Prime Minister are cooperating closely on this.
Q: The President has hinted at a second U.S.-DPRK summit.
Hagerty: The President cancelled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to North Korea once. He made it clear at that time that he would not hold a meeting if this would be meaningless. He is not prepared to have another meeting unless there is an indication that progress can be made.
Q: How about the abduction issue?
Hagerty: I have discussed the abduction issue with the President several times. We met with the victims’ families in (November) last year. The President fully understands how important this issue is in terms of the Japanese people’s sentiment. He is determined to move this issue forward for Japan. At the same time, he regards Prime Minister Abe as the best person to negotiate on this issue. Our support will remain unchanged.
Q: What could produce a breakthrough in the negotiations?
Hagerty: Japan can play an important role in North Korea’s economic development. Prime Minister Abe will be able to offer the option of a bright economic future with a solution to the abduction issue. If Prime Minister Abe starts negotiating with Mr. Kim Jong Un, I am confident that he will be able to do the best job as the representative of the Japanese people. We can help with creating the environment for the talks.
Q: The summit meeting in New York agreed on the start of negotiations on the Japan-U.S. Trade Agreement on Goods (TAG).
Hagerty: We are not using the term TAG. This was probably coined by the media. Along with goods, the service industry was also a major sector in the joint statement.
Q: Are there any disparities between Japan and the U.S.?
Hagerty: The most important message is that the two leaders agreed to start bilateral talks. We have been talking about a trade agreement that is at the same level of importance as our security and diplomatic relations and not about entering multilateral negotiations like the TPP. While there is no deadline for the negotiations, the President is not very patient on this matter. We hope that the conclusion of an agreement will result in an increase in U.S. investment in Japan.
Q: It appears that there is a U.S.-China trade war due to the invocation of punitive tariffs on China.
Hagerty: The answer is simple. China needs to change its behavior. We welcome the joint statement by Japan, the U.S., and the EU on cooperation in dealing with the violation of intellectual property rights and other unfair trade practices. We hope for growing support from the international community for the President’s efforts to make China return to market-oriented behavior.
Q: What is your position on China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” for a broad economic sphere?
Hagerty: Our position is that through cooperation with Japan and other likeminded nations under our strategies for a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” we will work on critical infrastructure development in areas with high growth potential. While China’s initiative is government-centric and supports strategic investments that entail unsustainable debts and ruinous consequences, the Indo-Pacific strategy will provide world-class infrastructure with transparent methods. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investment is envisioned but we will not be leading with primarily government funding; rather this effort will be led by the private sector with limited government support.