Can Abe get Japan back on the North Korea bus?

Author: Yoshihide Soeya, Keio University

In the current flurry of summitry involving North Korea, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s generally hardline approach makes Japan the odd man out. But that trend is beginning to change.

At the UN General Assembly in September 2017, Abe outlined his hardline approach to North Korea in no uncertain terms: ‘Again and again, attempts to resolve issues through dialogue have all come to naught … What is needed … is not dialogue, but pressure’. A year later at the 2018 assembly, the same Abe said that he is now ‘ready to break the shell of mutual distrust with North Korea’ and ‘meet face to face with Chairman Kim Jong-un’.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in shake hands as they attend the ASEM leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, 19 October 2018 (Reuters/Francois Lenoir).

This striking shift in attitude was seemingly caused by the three summits that took place in the first half of 2018: between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April, Moon and Abe in May, and Kim and US President Donald Trump in June.

The Moon–Abe meeting attracted comparatively little attention. But it was an important occasion that influenced Abe’s attitudes toward both South and North Korea. According to an anonymous source, the initial half of the meeting consisted of …continue reading