Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met U.S. President Donald Trump at the Akasaka Palace state guesthouse in Tokyo, where they discussed North Korea's nuclear weapon and missile programs and bilateral economic issues, among other subjects.
During the summit meeting, Abe and Trump -- who was on his first visit to Japan since his inauguration in January -- agreed that Japan and the United States will apply pressure on North Korea to the maximum possible extent in order to compel the country to change its policies.
On the economic front, the two leaders confirmed that their countries will continue discussions to invigorate bilateral trade and investment and step up cooperation in areas including energy and infrastructure.
The bilateral meeting was the fifth of its kind between the two leaders over the past 9 1/2 months, in addition of which they have held telephone talks on a total of 16 occasions. The level of frequency of their contact demonstrates that they have forged the closest ever collaborative relationship as leaders of the two countries.
At a joint press conference following the meeting, Prime Minister Abe said, "I believe that there have never been such close bonds intimately connecting the leaders of both nations as we do now in the history of the Japan-U.S. alliance of more than half a century." Trump, in response, echoed Abe's idea.
We appreciate the current state of bilateral relations, where the two countries' leaders can candidly discuss a broad spectrum of issues.
The top agenda of the bilateral meeting was how Japan and the U.S. will deal with North Korea over its attempts to improve its nuclear arms and intercontinental ballistic missile technology.
Japan and the U.S. share a strategy of intensifying pressure on North Korea to the maximum level in order to make the country change its attitude and comply with dialogue so it can move toward denuclearization. Following their meeting, Abe and Trump stressed that they were in complete agreement as to measures to be taken against Pyongyang.
Prime Minister Abe revealed that Japan will adopt additional sanctions against the North, while President Trump touched upon the moves in his country to redesignate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
It is only natural for the U.S. to put economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea in collaboration with the international community, and for Japan to provide support for such efforts. However, have the two leaders clarified what solutions they envisage beyond such a hard-line stance on Pyongyang? Concerns linger over rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea as Washington is stepping up its military pressure on Pyongyang in response to the latter's military activities.
The U.S. Department of Defense has told Congress that the only way to bring all nuclear facilities in North Korea under control is an invasion by ground troops, while mentioning the possibility of the North's use of biological and chemical weapons.
However, any military confrontation must be avoided at all costs.
At the joint press meeting, Prime Minister Abe stated, "No one likes conflicts," but stopped short of elaborating on specific measures to avoid unexpected contingencies through the exercising of self-restraint among the countries involved.
During the recent House of Representatives election, Prime Minister Abe labeled the situation surrounding North Korea as a "national crisis," evoking a sense of emergency among the Japanese public and attempting to make it a focal point of contention in the election. If Tokyo and Washington have been engaged in discussion on potential emergencies on the Korean Peninsula, Prime Minister Abe should explain to the public the level of risks that could entail such a scenario.
Even if North Korea complies with dialogue, there is no clear road map toward bringing about the country's denuclearization. There is a need to draw up a strategic, long-term road map to specify concrete steps to be taken toward the goal of denuclearization.
During his stay in Japan, President Trump also met the families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea. However, neither he nor Prime Minister Abe presented a concrete path toward resolving the abduction issue.
With regard to China, Abe and Trump confirmed during their meeting that it is essential for China to play an even greater role when it comes to the North Korean issue. Indeed, Beijing's cooperation is indispensable for an early resolution of the problem.
Abe and Trump also reaffirmed the significance of the so-called "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy," which is aimed at promoting stability and growth in a vast area stretching from the Asia-Pacific to Africa, with the quadripartite cooperation among Japan, the U.S., Australia and India at its center.
The strategy, which is said to have been proposed by Japan to the U.S., is apparently aimed at keeping China in check as it advocates the "One Belt, One Road" economic initiative encompassing a multitude of countries.
Although we cannot overlook China's maritime advancements in the East and South China seas, Japan should refrain from taking the initiative in efforts to deter China's military ambitions and provoke the country. Such a policy could only spark Beijing's backlash toward Tokyo.
Evidently, Japan and the U.S. are not free of their own bilateral issues. President Trump noted that the U.S. needs to eliminate its chronic trade imbalances and deficits with Japan. As part of such efforts, Washington is eager to form a bilateral free trade agreement with Japan, but Tokyo is wary about adopting such a system.
During the joint press conference, Prime Minister Abe withheld from bringing up those bilateral frictions and responded to President Trump's explicit pitch of made-in-America defense equipment to Japan, saying Japan has to enhance its defense capabilities both qualitatively and quantitatively, in order to show the two countries' bilateral collaboration against North Korea.
The Japan-U.S. alliance can find its raison d'etre not just in strengthening the bilateral relationship but also in maintaining order in the Asia-Pacific region and bringing freedom and prosperity to the area.
Prime Minister Abe's diplomatic prowess in overcoming a "crisis" while striking a balance between such efforts and Japan's relations with the U.S. or China is being put to the test.