Our real fast-track priority
The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
As the first anniversary event of the Panmunjom Declaration was being wrapped up on April 27, U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were heading to the Trump National Golf Club near Washington. It was their fourth golf outing. This much was released to the media.
What Japan was eyeing was what followed. The two leaders did not have an interpreter in their golf cart. They had their own conversation. It took 270 minutes. No one knows what they talked about. But a Japanese government source claimed that all kinds of things were shared between the two — which would shake the world if leaked. The Trump-Abe golf cart ride symbolizes the solidity of the U.S.-Japan alliance.
The closest honeymoon period between the United States and Japan was when Ronald Reagan and Yasuhiro Nakasone were in power in the 1980s. Their’s was called the “Ron-Yasu” friendship. They met frequently — 12 times in five years. But Trump and Abe have already surpassed that. Including a summit next month, they will have met 12 times in two years and seven months, faster than in the Ron-Yasu era.
It is the first in 65 years that the leaders of the United States and Japan have met for three months in a row, from April to June. It seems that Abe is desperate and doesn’t mind being mocked as “Trump’s poodle.” Frequent meetings are not necessarily a good thing. But it is a lesson of diplomacy that the more you meet, the deeper you understand each other.
Watching in Washington, I had complicated feelings. On a two-day visit to Washington, President Moon Jae-in had a two-minute one-on-one conversation with Trump compared to Abe’s 270 minutes. That made me sigh. I also got interested in the story that Trump presented a Tiffany golf putter to Abe with his name engraved on it. Perhaps some of these are superficial matters. The essence is whether Korea-Japan and Korea-U.S.-Japan relations are good.
Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping reinforced their cooperation through talks. After North Korea secured allies quickly, the battle front expanded. Japan earned three gifts from Trump — maintaining sanctions, cooperation to resolve the abduction issue and support for a North Korea-Japan summit. Thanks to Japan’s practical — and clever — diplomacy, the alliance has deepened.
Kim advised South Korea not to act as an “officious mediator.” Yet President Moon told Kim, “We need to wait for those who come slowly.” Korea is playing a flute on an isolated island. While the National Assembly is embroiled in a heated battle over sensitive bills, the government is relaxed on the diplomatic front.
Sheila Smith, an expert on Japan at the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States, pointed out the need for South Korea and Japan to cooperate in her recent book “Japan Rearmed: The Politics of Military Power.” She wrote that the biggest challenge for Japan in the future is not China’s One Belt, One Road initiative nor North Korea’s nuclear program, but the America First policy of the United States. Though Japan is begging Trump to maintain the alliance, prioritizing U.S. interests will continue even after Trump, she claims.
To prevent it, Seoul and Tokyo need to work together. The same goes for the North Korean issue. It is only a matter of time that Pyongyang will start negotiations with Tokyo. Seoul-Tokyo cooperation is a must, not an option.
What good is it to talk about this? In the end, it is up to the president’s will and his sense of crisis. What is the most urgent issue to “fast track” at the moment? Is it an extra law enforcement agency? I think it is a diplomatic fast track.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 1, Page 30