Only shortly after the historic handshake of South Korea’s Prime Minister Ban Ki-moon and North Korea’s Leader Kim Jong-Un at the demilitarised Korean border, the world prepares for the never-before existed US-North Korea summit on Tuesday. The summit promises to be a gateway for US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un to discuss the future of a denuclearised North Korea and the halt of the North Korean nuclear program.
The summit is going to be held in the neutral country Singapore (sometimes coined the Southeast Asia’s Switzerland) which maintains strong diplomatic ties to the US and North Korea, enforces strict laws against public demonstrations, and furthermore, is willing to bare all security costs of the summit – making it the ideal host for such unexpected event.
While President Trump excitedly announced his arrival in Singapore via Twitter this morning, worries that he will be unable to find peaceful and helpful solutions to the North Korean threat continue to persevere. Also, his friend and ally Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might not be as enthusiastic as it seems. Indeed, Abe had expressed his support for the reconciliation between the US and North Korea, but the North Korean threat has also served as a significant advantage for him and his country in regards to military and domestic politics. Thus, when President Trump priorly announced to cancel the summit, unsurprisingly Abe’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga quickly told a news conference that: “Having a meeting, itself, is not important. What’s important is to make progress in issues over nuclear weapons, missiles and … the abduction (of Japanese nationals by North Korea)”. (Japan-North Korea relations have been tainted since World War II due to continuing abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea and occurring missile overflying the Japanese peninsula).
Plagued by being demilitarised and without a standing army, Japan has been trying to change its security policy since the end of the Cold War. However, it has been unable to do so. With the regional security threat of North Korea, however, the country has used the situation as an opportunity to increase its military defence budget to a record of 5,255 billion yen ($48.1 billion) – arguing that Japan would need an enhanced defence system to counter potential North Korean ballistic missiles; most recently, Japan even secured new F-22 stealth fighters from the USA for the first time in three years.
Additionally, the North Korean threat has allowed Japan to maintain its status as an international actor while maintaining the close relationship with the USA. Prime Minister Abe has met President Trump already more than thirty times since Trump’s inauguration 18 months ago – using the US-North Korean rapprochement as a way to repetitively remind the US of Japan’s stance towards North Korea but also, to maintain US-Japan friendship during a time of American isolationism.
Conversely, the North Korean threat has served Prime Minister Abe domestically. During a time of low approval rates, Abe was able to enhance his political reputation by using a robust foreign policy stance against fighting Kim Jung-Un. This allowed him to gain support from the Japanese population (which felt threatened and scared by the missile threats), and consequently, win a snap election in 2017. Furthermore and more recently, his foreign policy even allowed him to distract the Japanese public from his cronyism scandals; which might force him to resign his position in the near future.
Therefore, while the US-North Korea summit is going to be a historical event attempting to denuclearise and stabilise the Asian region, for Japan, it would be somewhat beneficial to maintain North Korea as a security threat.