By Isato Kosaka and Seima Oki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersPrime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump again demonstrated the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance both at home and abroad by agreeing to apply the maximum level of pressure on North Korea at their bilateral meeting on Monday. However, Trump also expressed his dissatisfaction over trade with Japan, illuminating the possibility that the economic relationship could become a source of dispute between the two countries.
“We completely agreed to increase the pressure on North Korea to the maximum level,” Abe said at a joint press conference held in Tokyo on Monday. Concerning the issue of North Korea, Abe referred to the “complete agreement” of the two countries three times during the 35-minute joint press conference, emphasizing a trusting relationship with Trump.
Trump echoed Abe by saying: “There has never been such a close relationship between the leaders of two countries — Japan and the United States ... The United States of America stands in solidarity with the people of Japan against the North Korean menace.”
The two leaders also discussed the trade in defense equipment at the joint press conference.
Trump said that Japan will “be able to shoot missiles out of the sky” when it “completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the United States.” Abe clearly said that, in order to enhance the quality and quantity of Aegis vessels, Japan “will be buying more from the United States.”
Abe and Trump apparently aimed to reinforce deterrence against North Korea by emphasizing that Japan would strengthen its defense capability.
The Japanese government actually plans to purchase 42 cutting-edge F-35 stealth fighters from the U.S. government, some of which will be deployed to the Air Self-Defense Force from the end of this fiscal year.
In addition, new SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptors will be delivered to Japan in fiscal 2021, and the government also plans to purchase the ground-based Aegis Ashore systems.
“The deepening of the alliance has enabled us to introduce cutting-edge military technologies,” said a senior official at the Defense Ministry.
Preparing for contingencies
Abe has consistently called for stepping up pressure on Pyongyang since meeting with Trump in November last year before Trump became president, and Trump also has so far kept in step with Abe.
“No one wants to see a conflict. I’ll create a situation in which North Korea wants to have a dialogue,” Abe said, explaining that the pressure on North Korea is a means to bring the country to dialogue.
“China and Russia moved toward strengthening sanctions against North Korea simply because the United States hinted at military actions,” a senior Japanese government official said.
However, both the Japanese and U.S. governments are also considering measures to deal with contingencies.
During Trump’s latest trip to Japan, Abe and Trump had the opportunity to engage in a discussion accompanied only by their interpreters. They are believed to have intensively exchanged views on such issues as measures to evacuate Japanese nationals in South Korea in case of a contingency.
On Oct. 28, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis pointed out that, while many military options exist, diplomacy should be prioritized in dealing with North Korea. Within the U.S. government, the dominant view is that military actions should be avoided.
“The worst scenario is if the escalation of provocative actions leads to accidental military clashes. It’s necessary to involve not only Japan and the United States, but also the international community,” a source close to the Japanese government said.
Meanwhile, Trump repeatedly mentioned the U.S. trade deficit with Japan during his trip. Deep-rooted concern exists within the Japanese government over Trump’s penchant for “deal diplomacy,” in which Washington demands Tokyo make concessions in the economic field in return for security cooperation.
In the United States, former senior officials of Trump’s camp were indicted in late October over the “Russia scandal” that occurred during the presidential campaign last year.
Furthermore, on Monday, the day of the Japan-U.S. bilateral meeting, a scandal broke concerning the relationship between a company related to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Russia.
Trump has been eager to discuss trade issues with countries on his itinerary since before starting his latest Asian tour.