Posts Tagged ‘Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’

Abe wins promise that Trump will raise abductions issue with North Korea’s Kim — Trump does not give Japan tariff exemption

April 19, 2018

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U.S. President Donald Trump waves at the conclusion of a joint news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on Wednesday. REUTERS

KYODO, AP

In a win for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Japanese leader said Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to raise the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang decades ago during his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump and Abe met at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where the pair agreed to pile “maximum pressure” on North Korea until it takes concrete steps toward “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said.

Tokyo was also seeking a U.S. commitment that any denuclearization deal the president seals with Kim will include not just long-range missiles but those that could be aimed at Japan.

Appearing before the cameras on the first day of their two-day summit, Abe expressed gratitude for Trump’s “understanding that Japan has put emphasis on the abduction issue” and for his “promise to take it up” in the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit, which is expected by early June.

For his part, Trump stressed that the two sides in this week’s talks are unified.

“Japan and ourselves are locked, and we are very unified on the subject of North Korea,” he said.

Nishimura, who attended the meeting and then briefed reporters, quoted Trump as telling Abe that the United States “will do its best for Japan” on the North Korean issues as a whole.

“We will bring up the abductees. We’ll bring up many different things. I think it’s a time for talking, it’s a time for solving problems. I know that’s been a very big factor for you,” Trump told Abe at the meeting, part of which was open to the media.

Noting that Washington has been engaged in direct talks at “extremely high levels” with Pyongyang in preparation for the summit, the U.S. president said, “I look forward to meeting with Kim Jong Un. And hopefully, that will be a success. And maybe it will be, and maybe it won’t be. We don’t know. But we’ll see what happens.”

The abduction issue has long been a key issue for Abe, and is one of his government’s top priorities. Tokyo officially lists 17 of its citizens as having been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s.

Five of the 17 were returned to Japan in 2002, following then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s meeting with Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, but North Korea insists eight have died and the other four never entered its territory.

The U.S. itself is pushing for the release of three Americans.

In a stunning revelation that emerged during the first day of the two leaders’ talks, two officials confirmed a report that CIA Director Mike Pompeo had recently traveled to North Korea to meet Kim, a highly unusual, secret visit.

The officials were not authorized to discuss the visit publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Washington Post, which first reported Pompeo’s meeting with Kim, said it took place over Easter weekend — just over two weeks ago, shortly after the CIA chief was nominated to become secretary of state.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump and Kim had not spoken directly.

Contacts between the two side in recent weeks have involved U.S. intelligence and State Department officials, a U.S. official had said earlier this month. The most senior U.S. official known to have visited Pyongyang in recent years was then-U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper in 2014.

Trump, who has exchanged bellicose threats with Kim in the past year, said U.S. officials are looking at five different locations for a meeting with Kim. Asked if any of those were in the United States, Trump said “no”.

A U.S. official said sites in Southeast Asia and in Europe were among those under discussion. Kim has rarely left North Korea.

Speculation has centered on a range of sites including Pyongyang, the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas, Stockholm, Geneva and Mongolia.

The summit between Abe and Trump comes after Washington surprised Tokyo with Trump’s decision to meet Kim, a development announced last month by a South Korean official, as well as the president’s recent decision not to exempt Japan from steel and aluminum import duties.

Japan has been somewhat sidelined amid the flurry of diplomacy over North Korea’s nuclear program, including a meeting between Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping late last month, scheduled talks between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27, as well as the planned meeting between Kim and Trump.

While official remarks have lauded the close ties between the two leaders, experts on the Japan-U.S. alliance point to an apparent rift between them, in particular on trade.

Abe is believed to have demanded that the United States exempt Japan from the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, especially as most major U.S. allies have been extended such treatment.

Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, had said earlier Tuesday that issuing Japan a waiver on the tariffs was “on the table,” but he declined to say what Trump would ask for in return.

Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on Japan is seen as levying pressure to prod it into a bilateral free trade deal as a means to reduce the U.S. deficit with the country through increased exports.

Japan has expressed reluctance about a free trade deal with the United States, given Tokyo’s preference to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional free trade agreement from which Washington withdrew soon after Trump’s inauguration in January last year.

On Tuesday evening, Trump reiterated a call for a bilateral trade deal with Japan, saying he believes bilateral deals are “far more efficient” than multilateral arrangements like the TPP.

“Too many contingencies and no way to get out if it doesn’t work. Bilateral deals are far more efficient, profitable and better for OUR workers,” he tweeted.

The tweet came after Trump appeared to soften his stance on the TPP last week when he tweeted the United States would join the pact, now with 11 members, if it offered “substantially better” terms.

Given Trump’s talk of rejoining the deal, Abe has prepared to propose a new framework to discuss trade issues with the United States as a way of coaxing it back to the agreement, according to Japanese government sources.

In a major policy shift, Trump directed Kudlow and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last Thursday to look into rejoining the TPP, as the United States is embroiled in a simmering trade dispute with China, a non-TPP country.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump also confirmed that North and South Korea are negotiating an end to hostilities before next week’s meeting between Kim and Moon. The meeting will be the third inter-Korean summit since the Koreas’ 1945 division.

“They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war,” Trump said.

North Korea has long sought a peace treaty with the United States to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War. It is unusual for the North to seek to broach the issue directly with South Korea rather than with Washington itself. The armistice that ended the fighting was signed by the United Nations Command — the U.S.-led forces in the conflict — North Korea and China. South Korea was a member of the U.N. Command but was not a direct signatory.

The U.S. has traditionally sought to resolve the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program before addressing the North’s demands for a peace treaty, which the isolated, authoritarian nation views as a means to ensuring its security. The U.S. retains nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea to deter North Korean aggression.

Trump took credit for the inter-Korean talks, saying, “Without us and without me, in particular, I guess you would have to say, they wouldn’t be discussing anything.”

On Wednesday, the agenda will broaden to include other issues affecting the Indo-Pacific region, including trade and energy, and Trump said he and Abe would “sneak out” to play a round of golf. Trump and Abe will also hold a news conference before the president and first lady host the Japanese delegations for dinner.

Both leaders could use a successful summit to give themselves a political boost at home. Trump has been hounded by controversies linked to an investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election and Abe is struggling with declining popularity because of scandals over suspected cronyism. After five years in office, Abe is one of Japan’s longest-serving, post-World War II prime ministers but has suffered plummeting poll ratings over allegations that a school linked to his wife received preferential government treatment in a land sale.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/04/18/national/politics-diplomacy/trump-welcomes-abe-gives-blessing-korean-peace-talks/#.WthjAIjwaUk

See also:

Trump, Abe agree to intensify trade talks, but tariff exemption proves elusive for Japanese leader

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/04/19/national/politics-diplomacy/abe-underscores-tpp-trump-remain-loggerheads-trade-issues/#.WthjqYjwaUk

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Stocks Tumble on Tech Rout as Support Levels Fail — “You’re seeing people coming out of the stocks that had been performing well.”

April 2, 2018

Bloomberg

  • Tech shares in focus again after Trump’s fresh Amazon attack
  • Ten-year Treasury yield rises; dollar steady, yen declines
Javelin CEO Davies Sees Strong Earnings Growth From Tech
Javelin’s Davies discusses markets and his investment outlook.

U.S. stocks tumbled to start the second quarter, as the weakness in technology shares worsened amid renewed presidential criticism of Amazon.com and retaliatory tariffs from China. Treasuries pared losses and gold rallied.

The S&P 500 Index slumped for the sixth time in eight days, punching through its average price for the past 200 days, a level of support that’s held in three prior bouts of selling. The index is now lower by more than 10 percent from its January record. Volumes were 13 percent below average and the Cboe Volatility Index jumped to 23.5.

The Nasdaq 100 Index lost 2.9 percent as investors continued to offload some of the bull market’s biggest gainers. Amazon and Netflix sank at least 6 percent. The two had led the rally in the past year with gains of more than 50 percent. Bonds erased declines and gold spiked higher as the equity selling picked up steam.

“This is definitely a flight to safety type of market,” said said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at Oakbrook Investments. “You’re seeing people coming out of the stocks that had been performing well. There’d been various stories that momentum was extended in the market place, and I would say today’s activity supports that trying to unwind a bit.”

Investors are entering the second quarter on the defensive after the worst three months for global stocks in more than two years. February and March were characterized by a surge in volatility amid a barrage of concerns, from escalating trade tensions to a selloff in technology shares. Focus this week will turn to U.S. labor market data Friday, which is expected to show unemployment fall to its lowest level since 2000, while traders will also have one eye on trade developments.

“The US markets will likely serve as a focal point as investors stateside and elsewhere consider what tact the administration will take toward trade in the weeks ahead and what effects it could have on the US economy and the economies of its trading partners,” John Stoltzfus, the chief investment strategist of Oppenheimer & Co., wrote in a note to clients Monday.

Equities in Japan, China and South Korea declined during late Monday trading, reversing an earlier advance. Most European markets were closed for the Easter holiday. China on Monday to tariff treatment for more than 100 types of U.S. goods in reply to Trump’s ordering higher steel and aluminum import duties. Agricultural commodities and metals gained.

The yen fell after traders digested a poll showing improved support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet. The South Korean won rose to its strongest against the dollar in over three years as tensions in the region showed further signs of easing. The euro edged higher and the pound strengthened.

“The U.S. economy is showing a lot of symptoms of being late-cycle,” said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. “I’m looking for a downturn in maybe late next year or early 2020, with the fiscal stimulus they’re getting from the White House giving us a little bit of late-cycle expansion, but nothing that changes the game plan.”

Terminal users can read more in our markets live blog.

Here are some key events coming up this week:

  • Easter Monday is a public holiday in many major markets including the U.K., Australia, Canada, and most of Europe.
  • U.S. manufacturing PMI and ISM manufacturing data due Monday.
  • Reserve Bank of Australia April monetary policy decision due Tuesday.
  • New York Fed debuts the Secured Overnight Financing Rate on Tuesday.
  • Reserve Bank of India April policy decision due Thursday.
  • U.S. employment data due Friday; jobless rate probably fell in March after holding at 4.1 percent for five straight months.

These are the main moves in markets:

Stocks

  • The S&P 500 Index declined 1.7 percent as of 11:20 a.m. New York time.
  • The Nasdaq 100 was off 2.3 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.2 percent.
  • The MSCI Emerging Market Index increased 0.2 percent.

Currencies

  • The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index fell less than 0.05 percent to 1,124.38.
  • The euro climbed 0.1 percent to $1.2333.
  • The British pound increased 0.3 percent to $1.4059, the first advance in a week.

Bonds

  • The yield on 10-year Treasuries advanced three basis points to 2.77 percent, the biggest gain in a week.
  • The yield on two-year Treasuries advanced two basis points to 2.28 percent.

Commodities

  • Gold increased 0.7 percent to $1,334.57 an ounce, the biggest climb in more than a week.
  • West Texas Intermediate crude dipped 0.8 percent to $64.42 a barrel.
  • Corn climbed 0.8 percent to $3.91 a bushel, the highest in almost three weeks.

— With assistance by Samuel Potter, Adam Haigh, and Todd White

Includes videos:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-01/asian-stocks-set-for-muted-start-to-second-quarter-markets-wrap

Tokyo stocks hit by Abe worries, with most Asia markets down

March 19, 2018
© AFP | Traders have been spooked as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and Finance Minister Taro Aso are embroiled in a cronyism scandal

HONG KONG (AFP) – Tokyo led losses across most Asian markets Monday as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s political future hangs in the balance over a cronyism scandal, while traders await a crucial US Federal Reserve meeting.After fluctuating last week on worries about a possible global trade war and Donald Trump’s removal of moderate voices in his Cabinet, regional equities are struggling to maintain a run of gains.

Investors are also keeping an eye on Washington after another outburst by Trump against a probe by special counsel Robert Mueller into claims of Russian meddling and collusion with the tycoon’s campaign in the 2016 presidential election.

There are worries in some quarters Trump is planning to fire Mueller. Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader warned if he did then “all heck could break loose on markets”.

In Japan, the Nikkei ended the morning session 0.9 percent lower as Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso are embroiled a scandal over the cut-price sale of government land to a supporter of the prime minister to open an elementary school.

The finance ministry has admitted to altering documents related to the deal.

A weekend poll by the Asahi Shimbun daily found public support nosediving 13 percentage points from a month ago to 31 percent, the lowest since Abe took power in December 2012.

Abe denies any wrongdoing.

– ‘Struggling’ –

Among other markets Shanghai was marginally lower, with investors seemingly unmoved by news that reformer and US-educated Yi Gang was the only nominee to take over as governor of the People’s Bank of China.

Yi recently said the central bank would work to push through reforms that will bring about “equal treatment for domestic and foreign investors”.

Hong Kong was up 0.3 percent but CK Hutchison Holdings was down more than one percent after the city’s richest person and investment “Superman” Li Ka-shing said Friday he would step down as chairman.

CK Asset Holdings fell 2.7 percent.

Elsewhere Sydney added 0.3 percent, but Singapore fell 0.1 percent, Seoul dropped 0.3 percent and Manila lost 0.7 percent. There were also losses in Jakarta and Wellington.

The key event this week is the Fed’s next policy meeting, which will be the first for new boss Jerome Powell. The bank is expected to lift interest rates again but Powell’s remarks will be closely followed for clues about future increases with some predicting another three this year in light of an improving economy.

“Markets are struggling to stay positive given the torrents of potential headwinds. Whether it’s the White House revolving door, an escalation of a global trade war or Japan’s brewing political scandal, markets are grappling to find an equilibrium,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at OANDA.

“But when you toss in the prospect of a more hawkish Fed, it’s not surprising risk sentiment continues to trade poorly.”

– Key figures around 0300 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.9 percent at 21483.22 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.3 percent at 31,584,05

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2268 from $1.2286 at 2100 GMT on Friday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3930 from $1.3936

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 105.80 yen from 105.97 yen

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 33 cents at $62.01 per barrel

Oil – Brent North Sea: DOWN 32 cents at $65.89 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.3 percent at 24,946.51 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 7,164.14 (close)

Japan’s Finance Ministry admits to altering documents — references to PM Abe and wife were deleted — documents were falsified

March 12, 2018

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks with Finance Minister Taro Aso on Thursday at an Upper House budget committee. KYODO

KYODO

The Finance Ministry admitted Monday to having altered documents over a discounted state land sale at the center of cronyism allegations against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with references to both Abe and his wife, who was involved in a school project at the site, being deleted, ruling party lawmakers said.

The ministry’s admission made to lawmakers could increase calls for the head of Finance Minister Taro Aso, a key Abe ally — as well for the prime minister himself to step down to take responsibility over the matter.

The party lawmakers said 14 of the original documents were rewritten by the ministry after the revelation of the scandal in February last year. Several lawmakers who were also mentioned in the original documents — former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma, LDP veteran Yoshitada Konoike, former Upper House lawmaker Issei Kitagawa and the late Kunio Hatoyama, former internal affairs minister — were also deleted. The lawmakers’ secretaries had been speaking with the Finance Ministry about the Moritomo land deal. It was unclear who had asked for their names to be removed.

The ministry will consider disciplining officials involved in the land sale, both at the ministry’s headquarters in Tokyo and its Kinki bureau, which covers the Osaka region, the sources said.

The original documents quoted Moritomo Gakuen, operator of an elementary school planned to be built at the site in Osaka, as saying Akie had recommended the school project “move forward because it is a good plot of land.” They also said she inspected Moritomo and gave a speech there in April 2014.

An online article attached to the original version, which said Akie was “moved to tears by the school’s education policy” when she visited the nationalist school operator, was also erased in the papers later disclosed to Diet members.

Akie was initially named honorary principal of the elementary school, but gave up the post after a scandal involving the controversial state land deal came to light in February last year. Opposition parties claim the Finance Ministry drastically reduced the land price, taking into consideration Akie’s role in the project.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he sees no need for Aso to resign, telling a news conference that the finance minister “should lead the ministry’s thorough investigation to get to the bottom of” the scandal.

The top spokesman pledged that the government will “deal seriously with” the issue. The scandal over the heavily discounted land sale contributed to a decline in his support rate last year before the doctoring allegations reignited the issue this month.

Senior members of opposition parties lined up Monday to call for Abe — and even the entire Cabinet — to resign over the admission.

“Even if Aso resigns to take the blame, that won’t be enough for the public. The Abe Cabinet should resign en masse,” a member of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) said.

“This issue won’t end until Abe and Aso take responsibility,” a leading member of the smaller opposition Kibo no To (Party of Hope) said.

Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary-general of the CDP, hinted that the party would seek punishments for those responsible at the highest levels.

“It won’t be over just by getting bureaucrats to take the blame,” Fukuyama said.

In addition to stoking opposition parties’ accusations of a cover-up by the Abe administration, the ministry’s admission could also strengthen calls even within the ruling coalition for Abe and Aso to be held to account.

The latest twist in the scandal saw the former head of the ministry’s Financial Bureau, who had come under fire for allegedly making false remarks about the sale to the Diet last year, resign on Friday from his subsequent job as head of the National Tax Agency.

According to the sources, the records in question include a memo attached to documents describing the deal reached in June 2016 to sell the land to Moritomo Gakuen.

The original document described the transaction between the ministry and the school operator as “exceptional,” but this word was missing in the version made available to Diet members during debate about the scandal last year.

The sources said the ministry has not yet determined all the details about when or why the alterations were made and who was involved, and will continue its internal investigation.

Osaka prosecutors are investigating officials from the ministry’s Kinki bureau on suspicion that they oversaw the discarding of land sale negotiation records that should have been retained.

Prosecutors are apparently looking into when and why the documents were falsified.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/03/12/national/politics-diplomacy/finance-ministry-admits-to-altering-moritomo-documents-says-references-to-abe-and-wife-were-deleted/#.WqYue-jwaUk

Japan’s Abe to visit U.S. in April to discuss North Korea with Trump

March 10, 2018

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump to Tokyo in November. Abe said Friday that he and Trump agreed to meet in the United States next month. | POOL / VIA KYODO

BY  AND 

STAFF WRITERS
Japan Times
MAR 9, 2018

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday that he and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to meet in the United States next month, following Washington’s announcement that Trump is ready to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the first time ever.

During a 30-minute teleconference with Trump, Abe said they agreed to hold the summit in April to discuss North Korea and the long-unresolved issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s — one of the top priorities of the Abe administration.

Tokyo welcomed Pyongyang’s stated commitment to denuclearization as a victory for the two allies’ “maximum pressure” campaign and stressed that they will, as always, remain “100 percent together.”

Japan played it cool on the surface but may have been secretly dismayed at the thought of being left behind as Washington and Pyongyang fast approached what appeared to be a diplomatic breakthrough, experts said.

They said the burgeoning momentum for dialogue between the two longtime adversaries will likely put Japan in a tough spot, potentially leaving it exploring the option of ditching its hard-line policy against the North to prioritize harmony with its most important ally, the U.S.

Abe said he “thinks highly of Pyongyang’s shifting ground” signified by its articulate pledge for denuclearization, and attributed its overtures to ever-intensifying sanctions imposed by the global community.

While hailing Pyongyang’s apparent shift in attitude, Abe said he also agreed with Trump that the two allies will at the moment stick to its “maximum pressure” tactics to ensure the regime, notorious for broken promises, won’t renege again.

Japan has long insisted that Tokyo and Washington are firmly of the opinion that “dialogue for the sake of dialogue” is meaningless and that the opening of formal talks with the regime must be conditional on Pyongyang taking tangible steps toward the “complete, verifiable and irreversible” dismantlement of its nuclear programs.

Asked if the North’s proclaimed commitment to denuclearization suggests the reclusive country is moving toward that goal, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed guarded optimism that it is.

“I think they are headed toward that direction,” Suga said.

A high-ranking Japanese official, however, said while Japan welcomes the prospect of a Trump-Kim meeting, “a bar we set for dialogue with the North has not been lowered,” emphasizing Tokyo will continue to “keep a close watch” on whether Pyongyang will actually walk the walk. Repeating Abe’s assertion, he said, “We will press ahead with sanctions” against the regime.

But some experts believe that Japan is unlikely to uphold its hard-line approach toward Pyongyang at the risk of marring its watertight alliance with the U.S.

Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, said that by making overtures toward Seoul and Washington in recent weeks and days, Pyongyang is likely trying to harm their trilateral alliance with Japan.

Under such a circumstance, Abe would “prioritize the Japan-U.S. ties and his personal relationship with Trump” over the maximum-pressure policy, he said.

“I don’t think Japan will go hard-line enough to undermine its relations with the U.S. Doing so would mean (Japan) is exactly falling for the North’s strategy.”

Mintaro Oba, a former State Department diplomat specializing in North Korea, agrees.

“Prime Minister Abe has shown repeatedly that he is a deft operator when it comes to keeping Japan in Washington’s good graces. He may not be thrilled by this development, but he is going to make every effort to be on the same page as the United States,” he said.

As Van Jackson, a North Korea expert and former policy adviser in the U.S. office of the secretary of defense, put it simply: “Abe must be pissed. I would be if I were him.”

While arguing against an easy lifting of sanctions on Pyongyang as a result of the Trump-Kim meeting, Ryo Sahashi, an associate professor of international politics at Kanagawa University, stressed Japan has a good reason to keep up strong bilateral relations with Washington.

The worst scenario for Japan, he said, is to be forced into an independent negotiation with North Korea, where Pyongyang would likely take advantage of Tokyo over the abduction issue.

Meanwhile, questions remain over what Pyongyang means by denuclearization.

The regime has long taken the word to mean ridding the whole Korean Peninsula — rather than just Pyongyang — of nuclear weapons, a scenario that would necessitate the withdrawal of U.S. troops stationed on South Korean soil.

A senior Japanese official said he is “not sure” about the logic behind Pyongyang’s latest vows for denuclearization, but stressed “our stance is the regime has to denuclearize itself.”

Staff writer Jesse Johnson contributed to this report

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/03/09/national/politics-diplomacy/abe-visit-u-s-april-discuss-north-korea-trump/#.WqOd6OjwaUk

Japan eyes aircraft carriers to counter North Korea, China

January 2, 2018

Concerns over N. Korea’s unpredictable regime and China’s expansionist policies have forced Japan to seek reinterpretation of parts of the constitution that ban the nation from having an offensive military capability.

Members of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force attend a ceremony for the Izumo helicopter carrier in Yokohama (Reuters/T. Hanai)

The Japanese government is considering upgrading the largest ships in the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s fleet to enable it to operate a new generation of fighter aircraft, although there are concerns at home that transforming two Izumo class warships — presently designated as helicopter destroyers — into aircraft carriers will contravene the constitutional clause on Japan not possessing offensive military capabilities.

China has expressed similar reservations, although for “historical” reasons rather than fears over Japan’s constitution. Beijing was quick to warn Tokyo to “act prudently” in the purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning fighters, the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the stealth fighter, and carrying out upgrades to the Izumo and the Kaga, the only two helicopter destroyers in the Japanese navy.

Japan helicopter carrier Izumo (picture-alliance/Kyodo)The government insists the constitution does not specifically ban Japan from having aircraft carriers

Commenting on the reports, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that enhancing the capabilities of Izumo-class ships would inevitably attract the attention of Japan’s neighbors for “historical reasons” — a clear nod at the nation’s use of aircraft carriers to carry out the attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and subsequent operations during World War II.

No aircraft carrier ban

Analysts point out that the Japanese government insists that the constitution does not specifically ban Japan from having aircraft carriers and that they should be considered defensive weapons rather than power-projection platforms.

Read more: Japan’s new drive to rewrite constitution amid North Korea threat

“Even though these ships already look very much like aircraft carriers, they are officially classified as helicopter destroyers, but the changing security environment in the Asia-Pacific region means that Tokyo believes it now needs a full flat-top capable of handling stealth fighters,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University.

“That is a major development that follows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s doctrine of easing the restraints that have been put on the Japanese military since the end of the war,” he told DW.

The Japanese military believes it faces two primary threats. The most immediate is North Korea, which is becoming increasingly belligerent and unpredictable, even though it is under strong international sanctions. Those sanctions have so far not stopped the regime from developing increasingly capable long-range ballistic missiles and a growing stockpile of nuclear warheads.

The other threat is a China that is apparently bent on expanding areas of the Asia-Pacific region that it controls. Beijing has already effectively seized reefs and atolls in the South China Sea that are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei, while it has also stepped up aggressive military patrolling close to Taiwan.

Read more: Shinzo Abe’s victory: A mandate to amend Japanese constitution?

Fears over Senkaku islands

Tokyo’s biggest concern is related to the Sino-Japanese tensions over Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea, a group of uninhabited islets which lie half-way between Japan and China. They are administered by Tokyo but are claimed by Beijing.

Effectively undefended, Tokyo fears that Chinese troops could very quickly occupy and militarize the islands. Consequently, Japan is developing new defensive capabilities that would be used to retake the islands, with the upgraded Izumo-class ships a key part of that as F-35s would be able to provide close-in support over the territory.

Read more: Japan protests after spotting Chinese ships near disputed islets

Of the two, Kingston believes that North Korea is presently at the forefront of Tokyo’s thinking when it comes to the Izumo warships.

“Japan is clearly very anxious about the threat posed by North Korea, which fired 20 missiles in 2017,” he said. “The feeling is that Japan needs to beef up its anti-missile defenses at home, as well as have the ability to strike at targets in North Korea if there is a direct threat to Japan.

“And the argument is that an aircraft carrier that would be tasked with carrying out a pre-emptive attack on targets inside North Korea, would be acting defensively because it would be protecting Japan,” he said.

Kingston dismisses China’s objections to Japan deploying aircraft carriers.

“Japan will say — quite rightly — that it lives in a dangerous neighborhood, that it cannot continue to bury its head in the sand of unilateral pacifism and that it exists in a very different threat environment than it did in the 20th century,” he said.

Read more: Japan approves record draft defense budget amid North Korea threat

‘China cannot complain’

“China cannot complain; it is developing its own aircraft carrier capabilities and its military budget has seen double-digit growth rates for the last 20 years or so and presently stands at about three times that of Japan,” Kingston pointed out.

Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University, believes that the Japanese government will do everything in its power to portray any enhancement in the ships’ capabilities as defensive in nature.

“The question of ‘projection of power’ is largely a matter of semantics at this point, but the fact is that if they go ahead then the vessels will be able to launch fighter aircraft,” said Nagy, who is also a fellow of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. “So they are walking a very fine line between defensive and offensive power.”

And that ambiguity is “going to create further tensions in the region, most notably with China,” Nagy told DW.

http://www.dw.com/en/japan-eyes-aircraft-carriers-to-counter-north-korea-china/a-41990036

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2018 finds Japan walking tightrope with Pyongyang, Seoul, Beijing — and Trump

January 2, 2018

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Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and suit

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House in Washington last Feb. 10. | BLOOMBERG

BY 

STAFF WRITER
The Japan Times

JAN 2, 2018

Last month the kanji kita (north) was selected as the character best symbolizing the social issues of 2017 in Japan, as North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapon threats were a constant challenge to the nation’s security and diplomacy throughout the year.

Experts interviewed by The Japan Times agreed that this year as well, the biggest national concern will be the North Korean threat.

Pyongyang looks ready to defy international pressure and keep test-firing ballistic missiles and pursuing its nuclear arms quest in 2018.

Meanwhile Japan’s bilateral relations with the United States, South Korea and China will be heavily influenced by all the diplomatic maneuvering over North Korea.

How Tokyo walks the diplomatic tightrope between these nations and the nuclear crisis will be high on the agenda of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the experts said.

“There’s no doubt North Korea will remain the biggest concern for both Japan and the United States,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a senior fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA).

Kotani said the main challenge Abe faced in early 2017 was “maintaining” the Japan-U.S. alliance by securing a “good” relationship with the “unpredictable” President Donald Trump.

In fact, for Abe, maintaining the powerful military alliance with the U.S. is priority one for coping with the North Korean threat.

During Trump’s first visit to Japan as president in November, Abe gave him the red carpet treatment in a bid to build closer relations.

Abe even pledged to further boost Japan’s defense budget by reaffirming purchases of costly U.S. weapons, including anti-ballistic missile defense systems and F-35 stealth fighters.

As a first step, Abe’s Cabinet last month approved a record-high draft defense budget of ¥5.19 trillion for fiscal 2018.

In the budget, ¥700 million will be allocated for the preliminary process of buying and deploying the anti-ballistic missile Aegis Ashore system.

Anti-ballistic missile defense systems offered to Japan include Aegis Ashore

Ken Jimbo, an associate professor at Keio University and a noted security expert, argued that slapping tough economic sanctions on North Korea and building up robust defense capabilities are both essential elements in the diplomatic game to press Pyongyang to shelve its missile and nuclear weapons programs.

“Abe has said seeking dialogue for dialogue’s sake is useless. We must create a situation whereby Pyongyang is convinced that what it is doing will only bring it a negative impact,” Jimbo said.

Aegis Ashore, a land-based version of the Aegis combat system developed for warships, consists of radars, computers and interceptor missiles.

Japan plans to deploy two Aegis Ashore batteries by 2023 at the earliest. They will be added to Japan’s current two-layer ballistic missile defense system that includes the sea-based Aegis system on destroyers and the land-based Patriot interceptor batteries of the Ground Self-Defense Force.

However, Abe’s quest to build a powerful Japan-U.S. military alliance and bolster the Self-Defense Forces will carry risks and costs.

His fellow Liberal Democratic Party members have even proposed that Japan acquire the capability to directly strike North Korean missile bases.

The Defense Ministry is meanwhile reportedly considering remodeling the Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Izumo into a full-fledged aircraft carrier with U.S.-made F-35B fighters.

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Izumo

All of the plans to beef up the military may foreclose on Japan’s postwar reputation as a pacifist state.

Throughout the postwar decades, Japan maintained an exclusively defensive posture and pledged not to own any weapons designed to strike territories far from Japan.

“If … the Izumo is changed to enable landings and takeoffs of F-35Bs, the vessel can be used to refuel U.S. stealth fighters anywhere in the world at any time,” the liberal Asahi Shimbun warned in an editorial Dec. 28.

“We feel compelled to sound the alarm about the intentions of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, which seems bent on gradually enhancing and upgrading Japan’s military capabilities by using the security threats posed by China and North Korea as pretexts,” the Asahi argued.

Abe reportedly plans this year to revise the National Defense Program Guidelines, which set Japan’s basic defense policy and the number and kinds of major weapons the country plans to acquire over the next 10 years.

Whether and how drastically Abe will revise the guidelines will be the focus of hot political debate and intense public attention.

Abe is also facing diplomatic turbulence with South Korea, a key partner in coping with the North Korean threat.

Any damage to Seoul-Tokyo relations could make close cooperation in dealing with North Korea difficult and as a result benefit the hermit state.

Late last month an independent panel under the South Korean government released a report on the 2015 landmark deal between Seoul and Tokyo to settle diplomatic issues involving the “comfort women,” females who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels in the 1930s and ’40s.

The panel criticized the deal, saying it was clinched without much communication with the surviving former comfort women. South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared the agreement seriously flawed.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono responded in a statement that Tokyo “strongly demands” that Seoul stand by the deal.

The 2015 agreement clearly stated that all diplomatic issues involving the comfort women have been “finally and irreversibly” resolved.

If Seoul one-sidedly revokes the deal, bilateral relations “would be unmanageable,” Kono warned.

Meanwhile, a long-delayed summit involving Japan, China and South Korea is expected to take place in early 2018.

Whether Seoul can improve ties with Tokyo by the time of the envisioned event is likely to be another focus of diplomatic activity among the three countries this year.

Japan is facing difficult issues with China, a key ally and the main trade partner of North Korea.

China is probably the sole party capable of slapping severe economic sanctions that can critically damage the North Korean economy, the reason Tokyo and Washington have repeatedly urged Beijing to take decisive action to put more pressure on Pyongyang.

However, Sino-Japanese relations remain tense thanks to the territorial dispute over the Japan-held Senkakus Islands in the East China Sea.

Beijing has regularly sent coast guard ships in the area around the uninhabited islets, called Diaoyu in China, since Tokyo effectively nationalized some of them in 2012.

“Japan-China relations worsened about five years ago over the Senkaku Islands. Japan has always been available for talks, and China has just started to respond,” said Kotani of JIIA.

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Senkakus Islands

Kotani, however, fears Trump’s recent official decision to label China a strategic competitor may become a diplomatic obstacle for Tokyo to improve ties with Beijing.

In the U.S. National Security Strategy published in December, Trump expressed frustration over China’s increasing presence in the South China Sea, including its military expansion in the region.

“China has mounted a rapid military modernization campaign designed to limit U.S. access to the region and provide China a freer hand there,” the report said.

Kotani speculated that the U.S. strategy may prompt Japan to toughen its diplomatic attitude toward China.

“This year, Japan will be tested in reacting to the U.S. competition policy against China,” he said.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/01/02/national/politics-diplomacy/2018-finds-japan-walking-tightrope-pyongyang-seoul-beijing-trump/#.WktSNd-nGUk

Japan moves to host trilateral summit with South Korea and China in early April

December 31, 2017

KYODO

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Japan has proposed to China and South Korea that their long-delayed trilateral summit be held in Tokyo in early April, but Beijing is withholding its response, diplomatic sources said.

Since China is reluctant to hold such a summit before the National People’s Congress in March, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has conveyed its readiness to host a three-day visit to Japan by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in from April 4 or April 9, the sources said Friday.

Seoul said it will try to make the necessary arrangements, they said.

The trilateral summit was last held in November 2015. Japan is scheduled to host the next one, but it has been repeatedly postponed by territorial and historical disputes.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono is expected to visit China late next month at the earliest to arrange the summit date. The government hopes to have Abe visit China after the trilateral summit and invite Chinese President Xi Jinping to Japan by the end of 2018.

Government sources have said Abe may not attend the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February — despite an invitation from the Moon administration — because of Seoul’s dissatisfaction with the 2015 “comfort women” agreement. The accord was intended to permanently resolve the dispute over the girls and women forced into Japan’s military brothels before and during the war.

On Wednesday, after a South Korean government task force found flaws in the domestic process that led to the accord it signed with Japan, the Moon administration said it was unable to resolve the longtime dispute. The agreement was signed under Moon’s predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who was later impeached.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/12/30/national/politics-diplomacy/japan-eyes-early-april-trilateral-summit-south-korea-china/#.WkiOHd-nGUk

Japan to refuse renegotiations — The Japanese government hit back at South Korea’s report on the issue of comfort women — Japan-South Korea accord

December 30, 2017

The Yomiuri Shimbun

By Kiyota Higa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

The Japanese government hit back at South Korea’s report examining the Japan-South Korea accord on the issue of comfort women. Even if the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae In calls for Japan to renegotiate the accord based on the report in the future, Japan will never agree to such a request.

Commenting on the report, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who was on a visit to Oman, clearly expressed his disappointment Wednesday, saying: “It’s quite regrettable. We are working to move toward positive bilateral relations. However, if South Korea says it does not know what the former administration did, it will be difficult for us to do anything in the future.” Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, who was the foreign minister when the accord was signed, said, “The procedures for the Japan-South Korea accord were appropriate.”

When Japan and South Korea reached the agreement in 2015, Japan strongly insisted on clearly stipulating the “final and irreversible resolution of the comfort women issue” in the accord. This is because South Korea repeatedly brought up the issue in a unilateral manner in the past. Since 2015 was a milestone year that marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the political decision hoping to put an end to the issue of comfort women and establish future-oriented relations with South Korea.

However, over the past two years in South Korea, understanding of the bilateral accord has not spread. Rather, there have been forces working against it. In December last year, a South Korean civil group opposing the accord installed a statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women in front of the Japanese Consulate in the southern South Korean city of Busan. The Moon administration has announced such plans as establishing a national memorial day for comfort women and building a “comfort women” museum. The Japanese side is increasingly concerned about the possibility of South Korea scrapping the accord, encouraged by anti-Japan public opinion, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official.

Such developments in South Korea also cast a dark shadow over Japanese people’s view of South Korea. According to Cabinet Office surveys, the percentage of respondents who “do not feel affinity toward South Korea” significantly surpassed that of those who “do.” In addition, the number of Japanese people visiting South Korea has mostly declined since 2012.

The Japanese side will continue to ask for the South Korean government to steadily implement the accord. If the Moon administration shows a negative response, Japan will likely decline South Korea’s invitation for Abe to visit the country in line with the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February 2018. Japan also is considering taking countermeasures, such as having Yasumasa Nagamine, ambassador to South Korea, temporarily return to Japan.

However, amid the increasing threat of North Korea, if the rift between Japan and South Korea further deepens, it will be to North Korea’s advantage. In reality, Japan wants to avoid a crucial confrontation with South Korea, so it will carefully consider how to deal with the country.

http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0004151471

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Japan eyes broad accord on new security pact with Australia; Turnbull visit likely in January

December 25, 2017

KYODO

DEC 25, 2017

Japan and Australia are arranging for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to visit Japan in January, aiming to bolster their bilateral security cooperation by striking a broad agreement on a new pact, government sources said Monday.

The envisioned “visiting forces agreement” is aimed at facilitating joint drills amid the growing military threat from North Korea and China’s maritime assertiveness in the East and South China seas, according to the sources.

 Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and suit
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull hold bilateral talks in Manila on Nov. 13. | KYODO

The two governments hope an agreement in principle on the pact will be reached at a meeting between Turnbull and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, they said.

Japan views Australia, along with the United States and India, as a vital partner under Abe’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy designed to counter China’s rising activities in waters in the region.

The agreement would allow the two countries to bring military equipment and ammunition onto each other’s soil more easily when the Self-Defense Forces and the Australian military conduct exercises.

In January this year, Tokyo and Canberra signed a revised acquisition and cross-servicing agreement that enables the SDF and the Australian military to supply each other with ammunition.

Unlike the similar Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, the planned accord involving Australia does not presuppose a long-term stationing of the Australian military in Japan.

Japan also aims to reach a similar pact with Britain, with Tokyo and London planning to launch negotiations in the near future.

During the meeting, Abe and Turnbull are also expected to confirm their commitment to putting more pressure on North Korea in cooperation with the United States, the sources said.