- On Thursday, President Donald Trump accepted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s invitation to meet, setting in motion a potentially historic diplomatic engagement on the subject of its missile program.
- Though the exact time and location of the meeting has yet to be announced, the news appears to have taken Japan by surprise.
- Now Japanese officials are scrambling to meet with Trump and US officials to get some clarity about what’s going on.
While President Donald Trump’s acceptance of an invitation to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un shocked the world on Thursday, no other nation could have been more alarmed than Japan.
The Japanese government received no warning of Trump’s decision, according to The New York Times. Trump is believed to have immediately accepted the invitation after South Korean officials briefed him at the White House. They, too, who were reportedly bewildered by his quick response.
After accepting the offer, Trump called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and reassured him that the US would continue to exert maximum pressure on North Korea – a talking point that White House officials touted heavily on Friday in the hours after South Korean leaders announced the Kim Jong-Un invite in front of the White House.
Officials say that during Trump’s call with Abe the Japanese prime minister requested a meeting with the US president. Abe told reporters afterward that the US and Japan would be “together 100%” and that he would meet Trump in April.
US officials asserted that a Trump-Kim meeting would hinge “on the basis that we see concrete and verifiable steps” with regard to North Korea’s commitment to refrain from nuclear and missile testing.
But the statement did not appear to ease worries for some officials in Japan.
One unidentified ruling-party lawmaker speculated that North Korea could end up taking advantage of the detente: “Time is in North Korea’s favour,” he told Reuters.
Japan considered total abandonment of North Korea’s nuclear and missile program as a precondition for talks, similar to the US State Department’s stance before Trump’s abrupt shift, according to Reuters.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono is already scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington on March 16 to get clarity on US demands for North Korea’s denuclearization, according to Japanese public broadcasting company NHK. Prior to his US trip, Kono will also be briefed by South Korean officials on the recent South-North Korean talks.
Japan’s apparent trepidation amid these latest developments are not occurring in a vacuum. The nation is no stranger to the threats posed by North Korea’s missile tests, and it has felt the brunt of the regime’s provocations.
Some experts on the Korean Peninsula agree that the US should not sideline Japan’s interests in a possible US-North Korea summit.
“Our North Korea policy should never come at the expense of our allies,” Center for Strategic and International Studies Korea chair Victor Cha wrote in an opinion column.
“While South Korea is clearly on board, so must be Japan, whose leaders must be suffering a case of diplomatic whiplash after having been Mr. Trump’s biggest cheerleader in his campaign to pressure Pyongyang and consider military options.”