By Toshimitsu Miyai and Seima Oki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersPrime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson agreed to closely coordinate policies toward North Korea and further strengthen Japan-U.S. and Japan-U.S.-South Korea cooperation, at a meeting on Thursday in Tokyo. But the Japan-South Korea relationship and the political situation in South Korea are seen as areas of concern for trilateral cooperation.
At a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Tillerson said efforts made by successive U.S. administrations over the past 20 years for the denuclearization of North Korea have “failed.”
He said he exchanged views with Kishida over a “new approach” the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is currently considering.
It is believed that Japan and the U.S. also exchanged views on the day over the United States possibly relisting North Korea as a state sponsoring terrorism.
Reviewing the policy toward North Korea under the Trump administration includes such options as a preemptive attack against North Korea, redeployment of nuclear weapons in South Korea and strengthening sanctions against Chinese companies conducting business with North Korea.
The Trump administration is moving toward increasing pressure on North Korea. The United States has started deploying the advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile system to U.S. forces stationed in South Korea earlier than previously planned, and is considering deploying unmanned attack aircraft.
But the Trump administration has not ruled out the possibility of having direct talks with Pyongyang.
Some Japanese government officials are therefore wary. “The United States may start bilateral talks with North Korea and make a compromise deal, with Japan being left out,” a Foreign Ministry source said.
Due to this concern, both Abe and Kishida, in separate meetings with Tillerson, asked for “close coordination” over the policy toward North Korea between Japan and the United States.
As Abe and Tillerson agreed on the importance of the two countries sharing a strategic goal on North Korea, the Japanese side is relieved for now.
The strained relationship between Japan and South Korea over the issue of comfort women has cast a shadow in dealing with North Korea.
Depending on the result of the South Korean presidential election, it is possible that the South Korean government will take a stronger anti-Japan stance.
Some Japanese government officials expect the Trump administration will serve as a bridge between Japan and South Korea, as was the case with the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama.
During the talks with Tillerson, Kishida emphasized the importance of implementing the Japan-South Korea deal on the comfort women issue as the foundation of cooperation between Japan and South Korea and between Japan, the United States and South Korea.