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Multi-tiered Japan-U.S. cooperation vital for resolving abduction issue

The Yomiuri ShimbunDeepening Japan-U.S. policy cooperation is essential to work toward resolving the stalemated issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who doubles as state minister in charge of the abduction issue, has visited the United States and met with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior U.S. government officials, confirming the bilateral cooperation in policy vis-a-vis North Korea.

U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit Tokyo late this month to hold a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, following the one held in April. It is highly significant that the two countries are holding practical consultative talks repeatedly at various levels, including those involving cabinet ministers, in addition to mutual visits of their top leaders.

It is unusual for a chief cabinet secretary, who is tasked with playing a pivotal role in national crisis management, to travel overseas. The U.S. side treated Suga warmly, most likely taking into consideration that he is a powerful politician sustaining the Abe administration.

Suga expressed strong willingness to resolve the abduction issue in a symposium held at the U.N. headquarters, saying, “Japan is prepared to break the shell of mutual distrust with North Korea and get off to a new start.”

Many of the abduction victims were kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s, and since then long years have passed. While obtaining wholehearted cooperation from the Trump administration, it is necessary to realize the return of all abductees at the earliest possible timing.

During his meetings with Pence and other U.S. government officials, Suga conveyed Abe’s intention that he would like to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, without setting preconditions.

Abe had expressed an idea of holding a summit with Kim on condition that it would lead to resolution of the abduction issue, but has changed tack. This is most likely aimed at preparing the environment for a summit with Kim wielding absolute power, thereby breaking the stalemate on the issue.

Keep pressure on North

It is essential to work toward realizing a summit with Kim through various channels.

Comprehensively resolving the abduction issue, as well as the nuclear and missile issue, and normalizing diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea — if this is realized, economic cooperation sought by the North will become possible. It is vital to convey this fundamental policy of Japan to Kim and thus draw concessions from him.

Suga and Pence shared their “regret” over North Korea’s recent firing of ballistic missiles.

The firing cannot be overlooked, as it violated U.N. Security Council resolutions. It is imperative to strongly call for Pyongyang to exercise self-restraint so as not to escalate tensions. The international community must work together to keep pressure on the North.

During a meeting with Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, Suga explained the status quo concerning the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district in the city of Nago in Okinawa Prefecture. The two agreed to cooperate to promote the relocation.

The Henoko relocation is the core of a realignment program for U.S. military forces stationed in Japan, which has been undertaken jointly by the two countries to strike a balance between the maintenance of deterrence and reduction of the burden of hosting U.S. forces. Relocation-related work is delayed but should be moved forward tenaciously. That Suga and Shanahan have confirmed the policy to go ahead with the relocation plan is highly meaningful.

The government, for its part, must meticulously explain the importance of relocation to residents of Okinawa Prefecture and thus obtain their understanding.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 13, 2019)Speech



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