Shortly after the US-North Korea Summit between the US President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jung-Un in June, Kim expressed his “readiness” to meet Prime Minister Abe in autumn this year. Subsequently, Tokyo prepared for a summit with the Pyongyang. Yet, with a prolonged discussion on the sceptical issue of the kidnapping of Japanese citizens by North Korea, it seems that the international community will not see any North Korea-Japan summit in the near future.
During the negotiations of a denuclearised North Korea, Japan almost seemed to take the role as a background player – despite having felt the direct threat of two North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles flying over Northern Japan over the past two years. Though, Japan remains seized on the matter.
In response to Kim Jung-Un’s willingness to meet, the Japanese government decided to react to his statement and schedule a potential meeting between Abe and Kim for this year’s autumn. Yet, the discussions surrounding the decades-long disputes about the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea stand in the way to reconcile.
Little progress has been made on the topic and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said on television at the beginning of the week that: “We [the Japanese government] don’t have an optimistic view that the talks will be concluded in one or two months,” – emphasising that there is little hope for a bilateral summit between North Korea and Japan.
During the US-North Korean summit in Singapore, President Trump shortly brought up the issue about the abductions, and many Japanese government officials became optimistic that a solution and thus, a bilateral meeting would be possible. However, according to the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the atmosphere has significantly changed, and the abduction issue seems to be off the table and not for discussion for North Korea.
Nonetheless, regardless of how well the conversations between the US and North Korea progress, Tokyo remains keen to hold a summit with North Korea. According to the Japan Times, Abe and Trump had a brief talk via phone during which Abe said that: “Taking the opportunity of the U.S.-North Korean summit, Japan is determined to face North Korea directly and resolve the issue”.
The two leaders were invited to meet in Russia’s eastern city of Vladivostok during the Eastern Economic Forum in September which Abe, and potentially Kim, are going to attend. Though, without any significant progress between Tokyo’s and Pyongyang’s talks on the abduction issue, a Japan-North Korea summit is a long way away.