Learning from Abe

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Learning from Abe

South Korea remains isolated as the United States and Japan enjoy a honeymoon in relations. Following a round of golf with U.S. President Donald Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had a summit in Tokyo with him to discuss Korean Peninsula issues, including the denuclearization of North Korea. In an interview after the summit, Abe said they spent time coordinating their policies on the recalcitrant state. “We have reached a complete agreement on the issue,” he stressed. Abe even demonstrated a determination to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to address the thorny issue of Japanese abductees.

Their latest summit suggests that Abe has emerged as a mediator in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue — turning South Korea into an outsider. President Moon Jae-in is increasingly excluded on the critical issue. Trump has not yet responded to South Korea’s request for his visit to Seoul after the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28 and 29. Japan made it official that it will not hold a summit with Moon on the sidelines of the G-20 summit. Chinese President Xi Jinping has also canceled a trip to South Korea.

The Moon administration needs to pay heed to the way Japan treated Trump in the lead-up to the summit. Abe played golf with him, watched a sumo match with Trump and ate a gourmet dinner with him. Some pundits even criticized him for being overly hospitable. But Abe needn’t worry: he only builds his personal friendship with Trump to pursue Japan’s national interests in northeast Asia.

The Sino-U.S. trade war looks like two trains on a collision course. Abe wants to minimize the fallout. Abe has heartily joined in the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Strategy aimed at keeping China’s rise at bay. Nevertheless, he had a summit with Xi in Beijing last year to discuss bilateral economic cooperation and North Korea.

South Korea must learn lessons from Abe’s smooth moves. Despite the urgent need to break the deadlock in the denuclearization talks and minimize blowback from the Sino-U.S. trade war, the Moon administration is doing little. In his April 11 summit with Trump in Washington, Moon only had a two-minute one-on-one meeting. He has failed to deal with diplomatic conflicts with Tokyo.

Northeast Asia is facing a crisis unseen since the 1950-53 Korean War. If we do not effectively cope with the Sino-U.S. trade war and the North Korean nuclear threat, we will suffer. The time has come for Moon to build a close relationship with Abe and Trump.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 28, Page 34
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