Posts Tagged ‘Shinzo Abe’

WSJ: Time to Assesses the Trump Presidency — U.S. is being isolated

July 19, 2018

This Is the Art of the Deal?

Trump tweeted, ‘Big results will come!’ Putin already has the results he wanted.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, July 16.
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, July 16. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES



The controversy overflowing the banks of the press conference between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is a moment to step back and assess the nonstop maelstrom called the Trump presidency.

Mr. Trump’s famous modus operandi is the art of the deal. Keep everyone guessing and off balance. Decision first, details later. Drive events, stay on offense, force everyone to react. In this, Mr. Trump has succeeded.

No one—from the individuals who work daily in the White House to friends and enemies in foreign capitals—knows what he may do next. A high-ranking official from an Asian ally who visited the Journal’s offices recently was asked if his government has a clear idea of what Mr. Trump wants them to do on trade. “No,” he said, “we do not.”

The whole world is back on its heels, which is where, according to theory, the art-of-the-deal master wants them.

There is another pop culture phrase nearly everyone knows: “Show me the money!” It means there comes a time when the man offering deals has to stop talking and start producing results.

Mr. Trump has three major foreign-policy initiatives going: North Korea, trade and Russia. So far, none have produced a deal or anything close. Instead, we get Mr. Trump’s repeated, Jerry Maguire-like assurances that something big is in the works.

Mr. Trump said shortly after his sit-down with Kim Jong Un, “The North Korean nuclear threat is over.” Then this Tuesday, Mr. Trump said there is “no time limit” on the negotiations. That deal sits at square one, the same tough starting point other presidents faced. Meanwhile, Mr. Kim’s scientists will spend every day improving his missiles’ survival and accuracy.

On trade, we don’t have a deal of any sort equal to the massive roll of the dice taken by pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, upending the North American Free Trade Agreement, and imposing tariffs on all the U.S.’s major trading partners.

The only deals getting done are among our trading partners, with the U.S. excluded. Japan this week signed a huge free-trade deal with the European Union. Europe is finishing similar trade deals with Canada and Mexico.

When U.S. allies, from Tokyo to London, become actively confused and doubtful about their lead partner’s commitments, they start looking for alternative arrangements of convenience. Two weeks ago, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced he will go to China and hopes for a reciprocal visit to Tokyo by Chinese President-for-life Xi Jinping. Germany last week signed significant trade deals during a meeting in Berlin between Angela Merkel and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang. Slowly, the U.S. is being isolated.

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On Tuesday at the White House, addressing the Putin controversy, Mr. Trump said his meeting with the Russian “was really strong.” He added, “They were willing to do things that frankly I didn’t think they would be willing to do.” Like what? Given the barrage of criticism this week, if anything resembling real progress had been accomplished in Helsinki, the White House would have made it public by now.

The only voice addressing the substance of the Putin meeting remains that of Mr. Trump, who in a tweet Wednesday promised, “Big results will come!” Mr. Putin got the results he wanted on Monday in Finland. The man with the Cheshire cat smile will be moving on now.

Mr. Trump’s supporters say he deserves more time to negotiate wins on these big foreign-policy bets. It’s not going to get better.

Boarding his plane for the meetings in Europe, Mr. Trump said, “Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all.” That confident insouciance can be endearing, but we are seeing the limits to Mr. Trump’s art of the deal. Past some point of complexity, such as the global supply chain or North Korea’s nuclear program, decision first and strategy later (“We’ll see what happens”) degrades into deadlock. Or what may be worse, happy talk, which in time erodes credibility.

When Mr. Trump entered office amid a generalized panic among political elites, the first thing some of us noticed was that he was filling his government with first-rate people. To revive the economy, they included economic advisers Gary Cohn and Kevin Hassett, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. On taxes, Paul Ryan and Kevin Brady provided a detailed template. The economy raced to full employment. The stock market boomed.

On the Supreme Court, the most astute minds in the conservative legal movement gave Mr. Trump a list of stellar options. He picked Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. More wins.

Mr. Trump has said that in Mike Pompeo, Jim Mattis and John Bolton he has the foreign-policy team he always wanted. He also said he wanted to do one-on-ones with Messrs. Xi, Kim and Putin. He has done that. The moment has arrived to start listening less to America’s adversaries and more to his own good people. That, in his first year, was the art of the win.


Write to Daniel Henninger at

Appeared in the July 19, 2018, print edition.


Japan stands beside Europe on free trade

July 18, 2018

The performance of the president of the United States in Europe over the past week left Europeans dumbfounded, shaken and at least on trade, rightfully anxious about the future. Donald Trump has once again threatened Europeans with tariffs in the one sector that hurts (Germans especially) the most — the automotive industry. Since his election, America’s new protectionism certainly makes Europeans feel isolated on issues of trade and the defense of liberal values.

Yet what Europeans often forget is that this is not the case. Europe is not the last man standing. Japan, Australia, India and Canada are all still very much part of our community of shared values.

By Harry Nedelcu
Japan Times


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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with European Council President Donald Tusk as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker looks on after the signing of a Japan-EU trade deal in Tokyo on Tuesday. | AFP-JIJI

How we strengthen this community, will depend on the way Europeans will capitalize on the visit of Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk to Tokyo this week. This visit can take two different paths. One is the path of diplomatic niceties, signing agreements, and smiling and posing for pictures. Following the storm caused by Trump in Brussels and London, that was a welcome respite, to be sure. The other path goes far beyond and can turn our relationship into something much more enduring and ambitious.

This means not just finalizing the trade agreement and strategic partnership, but seizing the moment and using it as a springboard for setting together global standards on a number of issues — such as trade, climate change, security policy, rule-of-law, cyber and data flows as well as data protection.

At the same time, many Europeans, who seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that destiny shall be set by China, need to ask the question — why not also by cooperation with like-minded countries like Japan?

Many in Europe look at Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative (BRI) both as an opportunity but also as a Trojan horse. Europeans are not sure how to handle it. On one hand they welcome Chinese investments. On the other, they realize that with these investments, China is pursuing a meticulous strategic goal, acquiring key infrastructure and technological know-how. China’s investments in Europe has increased exponentially — 10 times from 2008 to 2015 and another 70 percent the year after.

Over the past year, many have awoken to the dangers that Chinese foreign direct investment carries and the European Union is working toward a framework for investment screening at the union level. Albeit far behind what other Group of Seven countries already have in place, this is an important step forward.

Europeans are also starting to learn their lessons from Gazprom, where through Russia’s pipelines, it’s not just gas flowing through to Europe but also Russian influence.

The same is becoming true of Chinese influence. With the promise of investment comes Chinese influence and we see it manifesting itself in the shifting foreign policy of countries like Hungary, Croatia and Greece on issues of human rights and the South China Sea. Nonetheless, just as in the Gazprom case, Europe does have alternatives to the BRI. The Chinese initiative is one but not the only option toward opening up to Asia.

The Indo-Pacific corridor is one alternative to the BRI and here Europe has a lot to contribute. The concept is based on norms of freedom of navigation, free trade, stability and the rule of law. With an international order ever more increasingly violated by Russia in Ukraine and China in the South China Sea, Europeans have a vested interest in ensuring this order is respected, especially through one of the world’s most important commercial arteries. With their naval capabilities, France and the United Kingdom are in a unique position to spearhead Europe’s contribution to upholding freedom of navigation, peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

At the same time, Japan, with some of the most open data-flow systems in the world, is also best placed to establish together with Europe a state-of-the-art digital economy that could serve as a model for the rest of the world. With much of the global trade happening online in our current century, should data flow freely from one side to the other, both Europe and Japan would gain significantly.

Ultimately, it is in Europe’s interest to upgrade its relationship with Japan and vice-versa and the current Japan-EU summit is a unique opportunity. If EU and Japanese leaders seize it, this could be an important turnaround both for the way Europeans see trade with Asia and for liberal democracy at large.

Harry Nedelcu is policy adviser at Rasmussen Global, a Copenhagen- and Brussels-based consultancy and advisory firm founded in 2014 by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former prime minister of Denmark and former secretary-general of NATO.

EU, Japan to sign massive trade deal as US puts up barriers

July 17, 2018

The European Union’s top officials arrive in Japan Tuesday to sign the single market’s biggest trade deal ever and present a united front as Washington upends the international trade order.

EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker land in Japan after talks in Beijing, where they urged global trade cooperation and warned against trade wars.

“It is the common duty of Europe and China, but also America and Russia, not to destroy (the global trade order) but to improve it, not to start trade wars which turned into hot conflicts so often in our history,” Tusk said Monday in Beijing.

“There is still time to prevent conflict and chaos.”

The “landmark” EU-Japan deal creates a massive economic zone and stands in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s “America First” protectionism.

© AFP/File | European Council President Donald Tusk and other top EU officials are to sign a massive trade deal with Japan

The deal, agreed last December, is “the biggest ever negotiated by the European Union,” according to Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas.

“This agreement will create an open trade zone covering nearly a third of the world’s GDP,” he said.

The EU — the world’s biggest single market with 28 countries and 500 million people — is trying to boost alliances in the face of Trump’s protectionist administration.

The EU-Japan deal will send a “strong signal to the world” against US protectionism, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said recently.

Trump’s administration has angered traditional allies like the EU and Japan by imposing trade tariffs, while rattling international markets by threatening a trade war with China.

On Sunday, the US president fuelled rising rancour by labelling the EU, along with Russia and China, “a foe” of the United States, and repeating his assertion that the EU has “really taken advantage of us on trade.”

The EU officials and Japan will also look to present a united front against US tariffs on steel and aluminium, which Tokyo has called “deplorable.”

Under the trade agreement, the EU will open its market to Japan’s auto industry, with Tokyo in return scrapping barriers to EU farming products, especially dairy.

The EU is seeking access to one of the world’s richest markets, while Japan hopes to jump-start an economy that has struggled to find solid growth.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been scheduled to sign the deal in Brussels last week, but cancelled his trip after devastating floods that killed more than 220 people.



EU takes anti-Trump trade show to China and Japan

July 14, 2018

The European Union’s top officials will meet the leaders of China and Japan next week to boost ties in the face of fears that US President Donald Trump will spark an all-out global trade war.

The trip by EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker includes the signing of a free trade deal with Japan, which was moved from Brussels last week because Japanese premier Shinzo Abe was dealing with deadly floods at home.

© POOL/AFP | EU Council President Donald Tusk (R) and Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker (L) will have plenty of Trump-related grievances to discuss in Asia

Their Asian tour comes as the EU — which, with 28 countries and 500 million people is the world’s biggest single market — tries to forge alliances in the face of the protectionism of Trump’s “America First” administration.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the “landmark” Japan deal was “the biggest ever negotiated by the European Union”.

“This agreement will create an open trade zone covering nearly a third of the world’s GDP,” Schinas added.

In China on Monday, the two leaders will meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang to discuss their shared tensions with Washington, having both recently announced new tariffs on US goods in retaliation for measures imposed by Trump.

They are expected to reaffirm their support for the rules-based international order, including the World Trade Organization , which faces unprecedented criticism from Trump’s administration.

The leaders will also discuss climate change — another area on which the EU is in disagreement with Trump after he pulled out of the Paris climate deal — and nuclear issues in North Korea and Iran, Schinas said.

– ‘Signal to the world’ –

But the EU and China will have to smooth over existing differences over Beijing’s own restrictive market practices including the “dumping” of cheap Chinese imports, especially steel.

Some of those concerns are shared by Washington.

The EU recently pushed through measures targeting China that were intended to offset the consequences of granting China so-called market economy status at the WTO, which will make it more difficult to prove and punish illegal trade practices by Beijing.

In Tokyo, talks will also focus on presenting a united front against the United States over its tariffs, with the Japanese government having slammed them as “extremely deplorable”.

The EU-Japan deal was hailed recently as a “strong signal to the world” against US protectionism by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who is travelling with Juncker and Tusk to Asia.

Abe was originally due to come to Brussels to sign the deal last week, but he called off the trip after flooding and landslides in Japan that killed more than 200 people.

Tusk had said that after the “tragic circumstances” they would move the summit to Tokyo.

Schinas confirmed that Juncker would stick to his “very demanding agenda” and go on the trip to China and Japan, despite suffering from a painful medical condition that made him stumble repeatedly at a NATO summit in Brussels this week.

The EU spokesman denied “insulting” suggestions that Juncker was drunk.


Japan’s Abe praises Pompeo after Pyongyang’s ‘gangster-like’ accusation

July 8, 2018

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe praised on Sunday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s conduct at denuclearization talks with North Korean officials who accused America’s top diplomat of making “gangster-like” demands.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) at Abe’s official residence in Tokyo on July 8, 2018. Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool via Reuters

“I would like to pay my tribute to the strong leadership you have demonstrated in negotiating with North Korea,” Abe said when he met Pompeo at his residence in Tokyo. “This really shows the unwavering bond of the Japan-U.S. alliance.”

North Korea’s accusation that Pompeo had made “gangster-like” demands, which came after two days of talks that began in Pyongyang on Friday, contradicted Pompeo’s comments on Saturday that he had made progress on “almost all of the central issues”.

A statement from a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said: “The high-level talks this time brought us in a dangerous situation where we may be shaken in our unshakable will for denuclearization, rather than consolidating trust between the DPRK and the U.S.”

The statement, which referred to the North’s formal name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), was carried by the official KCNA news agency on Saturday.

Pompeo reassured Abe he had raised during his two days in North Korea the issue of Japanese people abducted by North Korean agents to train its spies.

“The settlement of the outstanding issues of concern surrounding North Korea, including the nuclear, missile and abduction issues, will be extremely important for Japan and also extremely important for peace and stability in the world,” Pompeo told Abe.

In addition to demanding that North Korea agree to the complete, verifiable and irreversible abandonment of its nuclear weapons and missile programs, Abe has made the return of any abductees still in North Korea or a full disclosure of their fates a condition for providing any major economic assistance.

Pompeo talked earlier with Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono. He did not reply when a reporter asked him at the start of that breakfast meeting to respond to North Korea’s statement.

Pompeo said before heading to North Korea he was seeking to “fill in” details on North Korea’s commitments and maintain the momentum towards implementing the agreement from the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last month, according to a pool report.

Kim made a broad commitment at the Singapore summit to “work toward denuclearization”, but did not give details on how or when he would dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program. Trump pledged a halt to large-scale military drills with South Korea during denuclearization talks with North Korea.

Pompeo wanted to agree on at least an initial list of nuclear sites and an inventory that could be checked against the available intelligence, U.S. intelligence officials told Reuters earlier.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said on Twitter there was a danger military action could be called for because Trump might now claim he had tried diplomacy but was betrayed by Kim.

“But a rushed summit and demands that NK denuclearize in short order or else is not a serious test of diplomacy,” Haass tweeted.

Pompeo will hold three-way talks with Kono and South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-Wha in Japan later on Sunday.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Nobuhiro Kubo; Writing by Tim Kelly; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Paul Tait)


North Korea needs cash. Japan has it. Can a deal be made?

July 2, 2018

Japan wants to end troubles with North Korea

By Jesse Johnson

Seemingly isolated amid the high-stakes rapprochement between ally the United States and longtime enemy North Korea, Japan now finds itself in a precarious position as the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gropes for a new role in any grand bargain to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons.

But after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, South Korean leader Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump, could Tokyo’s own detente with Pyongyang — and everything that would entail — be closer than it has been in more than 15 years? And if that is the case, what would that mean?

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Possibly as much $10 billion, or more than a third of the North’s estimated gross domestic product in 2013, the most recent figure available according to the CIA World Factbook.

For North Korea, some experts say Japan represents a potential cash cow and could play a key role in a claimed shift by Kim from a focus on nuclear weapons to his country’s tattered economy.

For Tokyo, with its long historical links to the Korean Peninsula, its nuclear-armed neighbor represents more than a mere security concern — despite its arsenal of shorter-range missiles capable of striking much of Japan. Rather, the normalization of ties with the North is seen as one of the final pieces in a puzzle Japan is still trying to solve more than 70 years after its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula ended with its defeat in World War II.

“Japan’s prime motivation for normalization is a genuine desire to settle this last great unresolved issue,” said Christopher Hughes, a Japanese studies professor at the University of Warwick in England. “Despite … past suspicions of Japan’s engagement of the North as some sort of divide and rule on the Korean Peninsula, Japan is serious about trying to deal with its colonial past and do what it can do to moderate North Korean behavior.”

Now, in the wake of the June 12 historic summit between Kim and Trump, the process of Japan beginning to solve that long-festering quandary could be moving forward.

While the U.S. has pledged to guarantee the security of the Kim regime, Trump has touted Tokyo as an important player in the nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang, noting pointedly during a June 1 meeting at the White House with Kim’s right-hand man that he envisioned a large role for Japan in providing economic aid to help build up the North’s stagnant economy. The U.S. ambassador to Japan, William Hagerty, has also played up Tokyo’s position, saying just after the Kim-Trump summit that its role in aiding the North’s economic development would be “significant.”

Abe has in recent weeks worked to craft Japan’s own path ahead and reconcile his outspoken support for Trump’s hard-line “maximum pressure” policy as the U.S. president softens his tone in hopes of reaching a deal.

The Japanese leader has repeatedly voiced hopes of holding direct talks with the North, though caveats abound. He has stressed that the issue of the North’s missile and nuclear programs must be resolved, but — perhaps more importantly — has also first demanded that Kim reveal the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea to train its spies decades ago.

For his part, Kim, too, appears interested in talks with Abe, telling South Korea’s Moon in late April that he is ready to hold a dialogue with Japan at “any time.”

However, Abe has said time after time that Japan will hold back any economic incentives until all of its concerns — the nuclear, missile and abduction issues — are resolved.

“In the end, I myself need to meet Chairman Kim face to face and have a summit talk,” Abe told a session of the Diet’s Upper House on June 18.

One possibility for improving ties is for Abe to look to his past, specifically the 2002 Pyongyang Declaration, which he himself had a hand in crafting when he was a deputy and later chief Cabinet secretary under then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

“A good starting point would be to return to and build on the 2002 Pyongyang Declaration, which included a Japanese apology for colonialism and a promise of ‘economic assistance,’ but not of “reparations,’ ” said Tessa Morris-Suzuki, a professor of Japanese and Korean history at Australian National University in Canberra.

The declaration, signed by Koizumi and the North’s leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, at a landmark meeting in Pyongyang laid the groundwork for settling the abductee issue and normalizing relations. In it, Pyongyang pledged to take “appropriate measures” to rectify the “regrettable incidents” — a euphemism for the abductions. Both leaders also agreed to work toward “the settlement” of the “unfortunate past between them,” which the document said “would greatly contribute to the peace and stability of the region.”

In terms of economic assistance, the declaration served up some surprisingly detailed possibilities for doling out aid to the North.

It included options such as “grant aids, long-term loans with low interest rates and such assistance as humanitarian assistance through international organizations, over a period of time deemed appropriate by both sides,” as well as “other loans and credits by such financial institutions as the Japan Bank for International Co-operation with a view to supporting private economic activities.” This type of aid, it said, “would be consistent with the spirit” of the declaration.

Full-blown normalization between Japan and North Korea would ultimately be comparable to the 1965 agreement between Seoul and Tokyo to re-establish diplomatic ties. That deal saw Seoul receive some $800 million in “economic assistance.” By some projections this could deliver a compensation package to the North today of anywhere between $5 billion and $10 billion — a sizable amount for the relatively weak North Korean economy.

Ultimately, Koizumi was unable to proceed on the normalization issue after talks were hampered by the flaring of tensions over the abductions and the deterioration in security ties around the Korean Peninsula.

Now, 16 years since the ink dried on the Pyongyang Declaration, plenty of obstacles — many old, but some new — remain if a similar deal is to be reached.

In North Korea, Kim Jong Un, the third ruler in the Kim regime family dynasty, is firmly in the driver’s seat, and Abe, now the prime minister, maintains a tenuous grip on office.

Kim now boasts an arsenal that includes nuclear-tipped missiles believed capable of striking most of the continental United States, to say nothing of Japan. Abe, meanwhile, has seen much of his political clout sapped by a series of corruption scandals, and now finds himself on the outs with Trump, who is preparing to slap tariffs on Japan and switch gears on North Korea.

The question is, could Abe deliver a monumental about-face on relations with Pyongyang?

“I think that Abe is in a weak position to engage effectively with North Korea,” said Morris-Suzuki. “Recent developments have left him somewhat on the sidelines, and both his long-standing stance on North Korea and his nationalist approach to history issues … will make it difficult for him to find a comfortable way of engaging with North Korean negotiators.”

Others say any move would come only if Abe can moderate the demands of his own party to find a resolution that may not go as far as some in his ruling Liberal Democratic Party might hope.

“The North may have more information to provide Japan on the fate of abductees and may be willing to admit further culpability of the regime, but it simply will not be able or willing to go beyond accounting for the fate of the known abductees as some Japanese conservatives would like,” said Hughes of the University of Warwick.

“So some political courage will be necessary by Abe to be prepared to extract some more information and contrition from North Korea, but also to draw a line under this,” he added.

Still, said Hughes, Abe “might be able to do this given his credentials as a hard-liner a la Nixon normalizing ties with China.”

Ironically, if Japan and North Korea can reach a deal on the abduction issue, then the rest of the normalization should not be that complicated, since the Pyongyang Declaration lays out a template for the process, Hughes said.

Reaching out to Pyongyang would not be the first time that a leader has looked to foreign affairs as a distraction amid declining support numbers. A breakthrough on North Korea would give Abe an unexpected diplomatic prize ahead of a crucial LDP presidential election to be held around Sept. 20. A win in that poll would cement his legacy and put him on a path to being Japan’s longest-serving prime minister ever.

But one of the biggest questions is Kim’s seriousness about trading his nuclear weapons for economic and diplomatic incentives needed for his country to achieve prosperity.

In an April speech at a ruling Workers’ Party plenum, months after successfully testing long-range missiles and conducting his country’s most powerful atomic blast, Kim declared victory on the nuclear front — a step that has allowed him to justify his shift from the nuclear issue to the economy.

This has led some, including South Korea’s Moon, to claim that Kim wants to be seen as the North Korean equivalent of Deng Xiaoping, the leader who oversaw the economic liberalization of China.

Regardless of the veracity of this claim, experts say the young North Korean leader almost certainly is working to finagle his way out of crushing U.N. and unilateral sanctions — measures strongly supported by Tokyo — and may see Japan as a golden opportunity.

“I have long thought that Kim would sense that if he ever got into real trouble, he always could reach out to a soft South Korea and a rich Japan, and this is what he now seems to be doing,” William Brown, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and former analyst with the U.S. State Department and CIA, said in an interview.

Brown said that the North’s economy is in “huge trouble,” and that it remains “desperate for foreign exchange.” With Japan, he said, there are several ways to acquire it, including via the normalization route.

Pyongyang, he added, also may have eyes on Tokyo as a possible strategic hedge.

“Much is made in Western circles of North Korea’s economic dependence on China amid questions of whether and how much leverage this gives Beijing. In an end game, however, Pyongyang may think it has other cards to play,” Brown wrote in a 2016 report on North Korean-Japan economic ties. “One important card long held by the North Koreans, and perhaps a trump card, is the relatively easy ways that Pyongyang could repair or at least improve relations with Japan, and from that gain great economic benefit.”

As a result of settling the abduction issue and moving toward normalization of diplomatic relations, the North could reap benefits in economic assistance, trade, travel and tourism earnings, and Japanese direct investment.

“Taken in sum, they would resolve, temporarily, most of Pyongyang’s current economic difficulties,” Brown wrote. “If combined with economic reforms along the lines pursued by Seoul when it made similar accommodations with Tokyo … North Korea could jump onto a growth track to enable it to start catching up economically with its South Korean rival, presumably high on the list of Kim Jong Un’s wish list.”

Bank of Japan survey shows corporate sentiment worsening

July 2, 2018

A central bank survey released Monday showed Japan’s corporate outlook has worsened from three months ago, highlighting risks to this export-reliant economy from trade tensions.

The Bank of Japan’s “tankan” survey measuring confidence among large-scale manufacturers was at 21 points, down 3 from the March survey, which was the first decline in two years.

The manufacturers surveyed include automakers and electronics companies that are the mainstay of Japan’s economy.

The Tankan, long seen as an important indicator of economic health, looks at the difference between companies surveyed that have a “favorable” outlook and those with an “unfavorable” outlook. (AP)

Exports are vital to Japan’s economy and trade friction over President Donald Trump’s tariffs as well as other nations’ reactions to the changes in U.S. policy, including China and Europe, could impact many industries.

The Tankan, long seen as an important indicator of economic health, looks at the difference between companies surveyed that have a “favorable” outlook and those with an “unfavorable” outlook. The results show optimists outnumber pessimists but that difference is shrinking.

The tankan showed that big non-manufacturing companies, a group that includes the service sector, reported slightly better sentiment, at 24, up from 23.

That suggests domestic demand remains robust, said Chang Wei Liang, analyst at Mizuho Bank in Singapore.

The world’s third-largest economy has picked up steam in recent years under Prime Minister’s Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” deflation-fighting stimulus program, which has kept credit cheap and tried to push prices higher to compel businesses and consumers to spend more.

Although Trump’s tariff policies have yet to directly dent the economy, worries are simmering that they could set off a global slowdown and deaden Japan’s exports, a key force for economic growth here.

Japan’s longest streak of economic expansion in about three decades, or the so-called “bubble” economy of the 1980s, ended in the first quarter of this year, marking the first pullback in two years, according to government data.

But many are expecting the economy to have rebounded in the second quarter.


The Associated Press

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Asia economies discuss trade pact amid rising protectionism

July 1, 2018

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday called for an early conclusion of a regional trade pact that ensures free and rules-based commerce in the face of an increasingly protectionist United states under President Donald Trump.

At a meeting of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, which is co-chaired by Japan and Singapore, trade ministers and officials from 16 countries renewed their commitment to speed up negotiations on outstanding issues by the end of the year.

Japan seeks to take leadership in shaping the pact as an alternative to a Pacific Rim free-trade grouping that Trump abandoned early this year.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) meeting in Tokyo Sunday, July 1, 2018. Trade ministers from 16 Asian countries are meeting in Tokyo on a regional trade pact, highlighting efforts to ensure free and rules-based commerce in the face of an increasingly protectionist United States under President Donald Trump. Kyodo News via AP Sadayuki Goto

At a joint news conference after the talks, Japanese Trade Minister Horoshige Seko and his Singaporean counterpart, Chang Chun Sing, said the 16 participants agreed to reach a basic conclusion at a year-end Singapore meeting. They noted that the participants see it as a chance to show Asia’s commitment to defend free trade.

In a joint statement, the ministers said achieving a pact is important especially “in view of the current global trade environment, which faces serious risks from unilateral trade actions and reactions, as well as their debilitating implications on the multilateral trading system.” They also pledged to seek breakthroughs in politically challenging areas.

Earlier Sunday in his opening remarks, Abe said a pact among the countries that together make up half the global population has an enormous growth potential.

“As we are faced with concerns of the rise of protectionism in the world, all of us in Asia must unite, and our future depends on whether we can keep hoisting our flagship principle of free and fair trade,” Abe told the meeting in Tokyo. “Let us be as one and achieve a free, fair and rules-based market in this region.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, joins hands with trade ministers from Asian countries for a group photo during the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership meeting in Tokyo on Sunday, July 1. (Kyodo News via AP)

Trump, who says he prefers bilateral deals, has pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving the remaining 11 countries from Chile to New Zealand to work on a revamped version of that pact.

Trump has imposed high tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and has threatened to add automobiles to reduce America’s trade deficit. He has singled out China’s products, prompting fears of a trade war.

Japan, already hit by increased U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs, has told the World Trade Organization it may retaliate against U.S. goods totaling about 50 billion yen ($450 million). Japan’s government on Friday warned the U.S. Department of Commerce that a higher U.S. tariff on auto imports could backfire, jeopardizing hundreds of thousands of American jobs created by Japanese automobile industry-related companies, raising prices for U.S. consumers and causing a disaster for the U.S and global economy.

Trump’s moves have resonated in Asia, where many countries have prospered thanks to free trade and the expansion of global supply chains.

Japan hopes to conclude the RCEP pact by the end of this year. Members of the initiative, launched in 2013, however still struggle with issues including tariffs, trade in services and investment rules, as well as protection for intellectual property rights. Japan is also cautious about China’s influence. China, which is not part of the TPP, plays a key role in RCEP.

RCEP also includes Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Korea.

The Associated Press

Get ready for Erdogan unplugged — Putin Loving Life — Immigrants Suffering

June 25, 2018

Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the president of the United States.

Modeled on the President’s Daily Briefing, or PDB, which the director of national intelligence prepares for the president almost daily, my Presidential Weekly Briefing focuses on the topics and issues President Trump needs to know to make informed decisions.

 Sam Vinograd

Here’s this week’s briefing:

Russia’s having a ball

With National Security Adviser John Bolton in Russia this week, we assess that the Russian government is having a ball — and it’s not just because they are hosting the World Cup.
Vladimir Putin is the hottest ticket in town this summer. Ahead of your own meeting with Putin in July, it is clear that a bilateral meeting between the two of you is not a unique matchup — he’s inviting everyone he can to play ball. He’s had a steady drumbeat of meetings with all of America’s friends, from France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel to Japan’s Shinzo Abe and India’s Narendra Modi. Even if he’s in the penalty box for hacking elections around the world, accusations of poisoning former Russian spies in the UK and supporting Assad, Putin’s roster is full of world leaders who are keen to meet, talk shop, and sign some real deals.
Our ally President Moon of South Korea just met Putin in Russia. This is the first time a South Korean President has made an official visit to Russia since 1999. This was a major move by Moon, likely aimed at maintaining momentum on the diplomatic denuclearization track (Putin’s a big supporter of diplomacy with North Korea). But Putin likely considers Moon’s visit to Russia another score for himself; with his Cold War-era, rose-colored glasses, he probably sees this visit as one more US ally moving closer to Russia.
He will use every opportunity at his disposal to meet, cajole, and strategize with other heads of state — bonus points when it’s with our allies. He’ll use US policy decisions on tariffs and Iran alongside economic and investment carrots to build up team Russia, which means an emptier bench for us.
As you prepare for your own bilateral with Putin, we want to flag that alongside this positive momentum externally, there is some domestic rain on Putin’s parade. Russian state pollsters have shown his favorability declining, with some figures putting his approval at 72%, down from 79% last month. Putin is expected to raise the retirement age soon from 63 to 65 for men and from 55 to 60 for women, which could be partially responsible for his declining popularity. But, it’s all relative — Putin doesn’t run a democracy, so dips in public approval are just a minor bump in the road. Don’t expect him to be swayed.

Erdogan: Oops, he did it again

Mr. President you may need to get ready for Recep Tayyip Erdogan unplugged. In Sunday’s election, the President of Turkey was elected to serve another term. But with expanded executive authority, we assess he will be more aggressive internally and in pursuing Turkey’s external agenda in places like Syria.
Turks went to the polls Sunday to cast their votes in snap presidential and parliamentary elections. President Erdogan purposefully called these elections a year early because he thought he had a good chance to beat out any opposition.
By no coincidence, before this snap election Erdogan backed a massive constitutional overhaul that gives the Turkish president more executive powers. A narrow majority of Turks endorsed it in a referendum, so Erdogan can now rule with more power.
For 15 years, first as prime minister and now as president, Erdogan has weakened democracy in Turkey by consistently consolidating power and curtailing democratic freedoms like a free press and judiciary system. Turkey is still under a state of emergency, which Erdogan put in place after the failed coup attempt in 2016.
The state of emergency has given Erdogan a carte blanche to head the cabinet and rule the country by decree with limited oversight, crowding out opposition voices under the guise of security, including by controlling the media. Pro-government companies own 90% of the news media. Turkey now has imprisoned the largest number of journalists in the world.
Fresh off a win, we should expect more Erdogan unplugged. The Erdogan executive presidency means no prime minister, and Erdogan could now legally issue decrees unencumbered and have more authority over the supposedly independent judiciary and civil service .

Immigration: It’s no walk in the park

Illegal immigrants’ lives, and their journeys to our southern border, are no walk through Central Park.
These immigrants are often fleeing unstable and unsafe conditions at home, and they encounter violence on their journey to our southern border. One independent study by Doctors Without Borders found that 68% of migrants treated had been the victim of violence during their transit through Mexico, and the US Fund for UNICEF reported that “thousands of children from Central America risk being kidnapped, trafficked, raped, or killed” on their journey away from gang violence and poverty in their home countries.
  • Mexico: Mexicans remain the largest origin group among illegal immigrants, but their overall percentage of the total number of illegal immigrants has been declining since 2007, when they accounted for 57% of the total. In 2016 they made up just about half . Various factors drive illegal immigration by Mexicans: poverty numbers in Mexico are estimated by the CIA at about 46% of the population, high crime rates are fueling drug and gang-related violence, and 2017 was the most murderous year on record. These are all drivers of illegal immigration.
Central American countries account for about 50% of illegal immigrants, including the Northern Triangle countries of HondurasEl Salvador, and Guatemala. Crime is so rampant there that the State Department has issued an advisory against traveling to any of these countries.
Your State Department issued a multiyear US Strategy for Central America which aims to enhance US security by addressing the real drivers of illegal immigration. Below is a snapshot of some of those economic and security drivers. We assess that addressing these underlying conditions in origin countries will be the real deterrent to illegal immigration.
  • Honduras: 30% of the population in Honduras lives in poverty, and the population is plagued by “alarming levels of crime and violence.” It is a prime transit point for the “smuggling of arms, drugs, and people” and governance structures are weak. With 55% of Hondurans living in cities, illegal immigrants from Honduras tend to come from urban centers which are gripped by gang violence. Gender-based violence against women is also a real issue, with one report indicating that it is the second-leading cause of death for women of reproductive age.
  • Guatemala: With the largest population in Central America — around 15 million people — Guatemala also faces high levels of violence. The State Department notes that Guatemalans are gripped by “endemic poverty, food insecurity, severe violence, citizen insecurity.” USAID estimates that one of every two children under the age of five are chronically malnourished and reports publicly that Guatemala is a transit country for human traffickers, drugs, and contraband. Homicide rates have remained above 34 per 100,000for the past decade.
  • El Salvador: El Salvador became the most violent country not at war in 2015. Gangs likeMS-13 are responsible for much of the violence. Today, El Salvador’s astronomical homicide rate is 11 times higher than that of the United States. The US State Department notes that “endemic crime, corruption, and impunity threaten El Salvador’s progress.”

Japan confronts risks of U.S. alliance based on dollars and deals, not values and principles

June 18, 2018

Eighteen months after Donald Trump became U.S. president and started shaking up global diplomacy, Japan is waking up to the risks of an alliance based on dollars and deals rather than shared values and security interests.

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing and suit

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks with a Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force officer as he inspects PAC-3 missile interceptors with Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Japan February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

For decades, U.S. and Japanese leaders have stressed that the two countries’ alliance was based on values such as democracy, freedom and the rule of law. One of Asia’s oldest security relationships, it placed Japan under a U.S. defense umbrella.

Trump’s summit last week with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un failed to address Japanese security concerns such as a missile program that Tokyo sees as a direct threat. Japan’s defense establishment was also taken aback by the U.S. president saying he would halt “expensive” military exercises with South Korea that have long been seen in Tokyo as a deterrent to North Korea’s threats.

“The alliance has changed from one based on shared values to a transactional alliance,” Katsuyuki Kawai, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker who advises Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on foreign affairs, told Reuters.

“That is the reality now,” he said, stressing that this was his personal view, not that of the government.

Kawai said he was most surprised by the fact Trump cited cost as the reason for halting the joint exercises, long considered by Washington as vital to deter Pyongyang’s threats.

“I think this summit will serve as a trigger for the Japanese people to begin to realize that it is risky to leave Japan’s destiny to another country,” he added.

Abe, who has spoken with Trump face-to-face or by telephone dozens of times including days before the U.S.-North Korea summit, has put a brave face on the president’s meeting with Kim, characterizing it as a first step toward denuclearization.

On Saturday, in an interview with a private TV broadcaster, Abe stressed that Kim had promised “complete denuclearization” and that the president had conveyed directly to the North Korean leader Abe’s insistence on the need to resolve the matter of Japanese citizens abducted decades ago by Pyongyang.

In 2002, North Korea admitted that its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s. Japan says 17 of its citizens were abducted, five of whom were repatriated.

North Korea has said eight are dead, while another four never entered the country.

Abe has vowed not to rest until all the abductees come home, and now hopes to meet Kim himself to tackle the issue, which he has made a pillar of his political career.

Some lawmakers close to Abe echoed the positive assessment.

“It was impossible for two countries that have been enemies for 70 years to resolve everything in a few hours on one day,” Koichi Hagiuda, a senior LDP lawmaker, told Reuters. “I think it was a major achievement to show the direction in several areas.”


Others agreed expectations in Tokyo for the summit had been too high. Washington originally insisted any agreement include a North Korean commitment to “complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization”, a position backed by Japan.

“The president was not very much interested in substance but in how he was seen in Singapore” said one Japanese government source, referring to the Trump-Kim talks.

Japan’s security concerns coincide with tension over trade between the world’s biggest and third-largest economies, boosting fears that Trump’s fondness for deal-making inclines him to link economic ties and defense.

That threatens to add pressure on Japan to buy more U.S. military equipment and perhaps to pay more to support the nearly 50,000 American troops in Japan, experts said, although Tokyo already shoulders the bulk of the cost of those troops.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence inspects PAC-3 missile interceptors with Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Japan February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

“That Mr. Trump mixes up economics and security with the mind-set of a real estate deal is a big cause for concern,” the Nikkei business newspaper said in a weekend analysis.

Trump, who made his fortune in real estate, has not only imposed tariffs on Japanese steel and aluminum exports and threatened to do the same on autos, but also withdrew from a multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact that Abe had promoted as a counterweight to China.

“Trade is more worrisome,” said the Japanese government source. “It’s getting worse … There is no reliable (U.S.) cabinet level person who can say ‘No’ to unreasonable proposals.

Abe surged to power in 2012 promising to bolster Japan’s defense capabilities. The LDP’s Kawai said the changing nature of the alliance made that even more imperative – although he added that Tokyo should at the same time deepen the alliance given its ultimate reliance on its bigger partner.

Japan’s defense spending has grown for the past six years, and an LDP policy paper last month proposed Japan adopt a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-style commitment to spending 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product on defense.

A report by U.S.-based risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence said worries about a weakened American commitment to its allies without significant steps by Pyongyang to denuclearize “would fuel discussions in both Seoul and Tokyo regarding the need for independent nuclear deterrents”.

The LDP’s Kawai, however, echoed others who say Japan, the only nation to suffer nuclear attacks, would not go that far.

“There is a nuclear allergy,” said the lawmaker, who hails from Hiroshima, where thousands were killed instantly by the Aug. 6, 1945 atomic bombing by U.S. forces on the city in the final days of World War Two. About 140,000 died by the end of that year because of the attack.

A second nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki City three days later and was followed by Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.

Additional reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo and Ami Miyazaki; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan