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Japan’s Suga to leave without progress in key diplomatic issues

  • September 6, 2021
  • , Jiji Press , 10:01 a.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo, Sept. 6 (Jiji Press)–Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to leave office without progress in key diplomatic issues, such as North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals.


Suga, who last week announced his intention to step down, took over the foreign policy of his predecessor, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, when taking the helm of the government in September last year.


Although his diplomatic skills had been largely untested, Suga worked to strengthen Japan’s alliance with the United States and shared serious concerns about China’s aggressive moves with other major nations.


But difficult problems, such as the abduction issue and the territorial dispute over four northwestern Pacific islands with Russia, are left intact. They will be passed to his successor, who will take office after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election Sept. 29.


His efforts on the diplomatic front were also thwarted by the persisting novel coronavirus pandemic.


In his inauguration press conference a year ago, Suga said he would “deploy policies that place a well-functioning Japan-U.S. alliance as their linchpin.”


He also said he would maintain the initiative to realize a free and open Indo Pacific region launched by Abe.


Suga relied on experts at the Foreign Ministry, while Abe took a top-down approach.


A key diplomatic event for Suga was his visit to the United States in April. He was the first foreign leader to meet with President Joe Biden in person since his inauguration in January.


Suga and Biden called for “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” in a joint statement. It was the first joint document between their countries’ leaders referring to Taiwan in 52 years.


At a Group of Seven summit in Britain in June, Suga worked to strengthen the unity among nations with common values, including by sharing concerns about China.


Suga made little progress to improve relations with Asian neighbors such as South Korea partly due to what a Foreign Ministry executive described as “structural problems” that persist from the time of Abe’s administration.


The two countries remain apart over issues related to wartime labor and comfort women, who were forced to work as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.


Suga remains unable to hold a full-fledged meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. They only exchanged greetings during the G-7 summit.


Chinese President Xi Jinping’s planned state visit to Japan stays on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Suga said he was ready to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions. But Suga could not find any opportunity that could help the two nations realize such a meeting.


This summer’s Tokyo Olympics could have provided an opportunity, but North Korea did not participate in the sporting event.


Suga also remains unable to meet in person with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who recently announced a plan to set up a tariff-free zone on the disputed Russian-held islands.


With his diplomatic activities restricted due to the coronavirus crisis, Suga made only three overseas trips since he took office as prime minister.


Suga also shelved discussions on Japan’s proposed acquisition of the ability to attack enemy bases, apparently in view of opposition from Komeito, the LDP’s ally in the ruling coalition.


The issue, taken over from the Abe administration, may be discussed at a so-called two-plus-two security meeting with the United States to be held later this year.

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