Long serving Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is currently embroiled in a cronyism scandal involving selling government land to the Moritomo Gakuen school for a price discounted well below market value. Making matters worse, the Prime Minister’s wife Akie Abe was the honorary principal of the school who has subsequently resigned since the scandal became public. The scandal has been brewing for over a year now and while Shinzō Abe said he would resign if implicated in the scandal, he is thus far clinging on to power.
Today, the Japanese press have reported that Abe has reached out to South Korea in an attempt to persuade President Moon Jae-in’s administration to set up a meeting between Abe and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. While the wider world would welcome de-escalation in tensions between Tokyo and Pyongyang, Abe’s request is not all it seems.
Throughout the recent process of Korean detente and the subsequent announcement of a forthcoming meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, Japanese officials have grumbled at their lack of consultation on the matters. As a former imperial coloniser of Korea, it is somewhat odd that Japan is demanding a hands-on approach to inter-Korean reconciliation, especially since Japan’s close US ally seems to be on board and would clearly represent Japan’s interests during future peace summits involving the DPRK.
North Korea continues to view Japan with suspicion and in recent years, some of the DPRK’s missile tests have seen rockets flying over Japanese territory. At the same time, Pyongyang has always insisted that its nuclear deterrent is designed to prevent US aggression, rather than as a means of threatening any Asian nation, including Japan. Now that Pyongyang has pledged to cease all weapons tests during the peace process with Seoul and Washington, the issue of missiles flying over Japan seems to be moot.
With all of this in mind, it becomes increasingly clear that Abe’s alleged desire to have a one-on-one meeting with Kim Jong-un is more of an attempt to preserve his domestic hold on power than it is an attempt to either compliment or outdo whatever progress the US President will make during his forthcoming meeting with Kim.
Given the geopolitical climate, it seems somewhat over the top for the Japanese Prime Minister to be seeking such a meeting at a time when the final date and location of the Trump-Kim summit has not even been set. Surely, further meetings between Kim Jong-un and other national leaders with traditionally anti-DPRK policies ought to wait until after the world sees just what Trump and Kim are able to accomplish during their meeting?
Abe has always cut a tough figure in Japanese politics and he is nothing if not a political survivor. If he is able to secure a personal meeting with Kim Jong-un, it could well be an objectively positive development for regional peace. Nevertheless, those in Japan will also be aware that it may well be the right thing, but for all the wrong reasons.