Japan’s multilateral blues

Yesterday I wrote about rising concerns that Japan will be criticized regarding the cheap yen at the G7 meeting this weekend in Germany; Japan, however, may also be running into trouble at the six-party talks due to restart this week in Beijing.

This article in the FT hints at growing signs that Washington is increasingly open to an agreement with the DPRK, including normalization, this following reports of positive exchanges between US and North Korean envoys in preparatory meetings in Berlin.

I remain incredulous that the talks will result in a denuclearized North Korea — and this article confirms my incredulity, as it only touches on the nuclear issue.

If I was sitting in the Kantei now, I would be worried. You have a Bush administration desperate for a victory, on any front, that can help cement the president’s legacy. You have signs of irritation on Washington’s part with critical comments from Japan’s foreign and defense ministers, and the festering sore in bilateral relations that is the Okinawa bases issue. Ultimately, you have an administration that’s thinking about bigger things than Japan’s comfort.

Yes, if I was Prime Minister Abe, my concerns would be shifting to the “abandonment” side of Glenn Snyder’s abandonment – entrapment axis, because any agreement that fails to guarantee a denuclearized Korean peninsula — or secure greater conclusiveness on the abductee issue — is a defeat for Japan. I expect that a Bush administration that seems desperate for an agreement is not going to let a handful of abductees from the 70s and 80s stand in the way.

So for all Abe’s groundwork in Asia, his fate may be sealed by his cabinet’s snubs on the US. I doubt, after all, that Seoul and Beijing are going to push to toughen any agreement from the six-party talks to satisfy Japan. As such, the distinct chill that has settled in between Tokyo and Washington could have significant consequences in the resolution of the North Korean crisis, to Japan’s detriment.

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