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Abe faces Trump's uneasy summit in North Korea in the midst of a collapse in Japan

After making a tough stand on North Korea, Abe got stuck in the back foot when Trump announced he was open for a summit with leader Kim Jong Un.

Tokyo's previous warnings not to trust Pyongyang have been withdrawn as both Washington and Seoul launched forward with commitment. Abe now seeks a summit with Kim for himself, instead of staying out of the rapidly changing political situation in North Asia.

While Abe had cultivated close ties with Trump, becoming the first foreign leader to meet with him after his election, he has also faced disputes with the American leader over trade.

"It is a sign of the close and continuous relationship that was granted a meeting with little notice," said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Australia.

"But the brightness also comes from there, given Trump's tendency to apply leverage freely between economic and security issues."

  Photo taken from a Kyodo News helicopter on April 14, 2018 shows some 30,000 people gathered in front of the Diet building to seek the resignation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the wake of a series of recent scandals.

Protests and polls

Tens of thousands protested on Saturday before the Japanese parliament in Tokyo, accusing Abe of being a liar and demanding his resignation due to a corruption scandal that has affected his term as prime minister for months.

Abe has been forced to deny intervention in the sale of land to guarantee preferential treatment for schools close to him and his wife.
The prime minister's approval rating fell 5.4% to 37%, according to a recent Kyodo News poll, the second lowest since his election in 2012.
Although there is little political challenge for the ruling Liberal Party Democrático de Abe (LDP)), its control over power may be diminishing, as the survey showed that less than a fifth of respondents, or 18.3%, backed it to continue as a leader when the party holds internal elections in September, the first time that support for Abe fell below 20%
  A protester holds a banner during a demonstration against the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, on April 14, 2018.

While the protests this weekend did not reach the size of the At meetings in 2015 in protest of Abe's pressure to expand the army, the combination of pressure within the PLD and the public has doubts about whether Abe can stand.

Junichiro Koizumi, a former PDL prime minister, said this week that Abe could resign as leader in a matter of months.

"Abe seems unable to get rid of the scandals," Graham said, although he noted "There was a time when serving Japanese Prime Ministers would be lucky to record more than 20% popularity."

"But it is the most difficult period he has faced since he returned to the post of prime minister, without a doubt," he said.

Trade Agreement

Duncan Innes-Ker, Asia regional director in the Intelligence Unit of The Economist, said there was no doubt that Abe had been hurt by the current scandal.

"In this context, Abe urgently needs a victory," he said.

The Japanese leader could expect victory in Mar-a-Lago, where, according to a White House statement, Trump and Abe "will explore ways to expand fair and reciprocal trade and investment ties between the United States. " States and Japan. "

Innes-Ker said that Trump" could potentially offer concessions on the steel and aluminum issue or could point to the United States' intention to join the (Trans-Pacific Partnership). "

While "both would be seen as a triumph for Abe," he cautioned that they would not come without concessions from Tokyo.

Although Trump did surprise the observers by indicating last week that he might be willing to join the TPP – a trade agreement negotiated by Obama who once criticized – the White House will probably push Tokyo to sign a bilateral agreement less with Abe's.

Security concerns

Since his return to the presidency in 2012 Abe has made safety a key element of his appeal, and his tough response to North Korea's missile tests last year was a key part of his election campaign during the early elections. Last year.

The eventual sweeping victory in that election seemed to clear the way for Abe to press for an old goal of his, changing the country's constitution after World War II to allow the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), Japan's army, develop offensive capabilities.
While the constitution has barely hindered the increase in Japanese military spending in recent months, some conservatives feel that if the law is not amended, it could be left exposed to the SDF.

Abe's hawkish stance seems to have failed, however, with Seoul and Washington pursuing the commitment to Pyongyang.

"In North Korea, Japan now seems to be the most isolated of the allies, it has even tried to reopen independent contacts with Pyongyang, and is currently conducting a fence-repair diplomacy with China," Graham said.

"But Abe has made the decision to double in the US Alliance and can not be expected to reverse the course now."

A big concern in Tokyo is that a future agreement with North Korea could result in the retention of Pyongyang missiles that can point to Japan.

Speaking in parliament last week, Abe said an agreement to abolish North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities (ICBM) "has no meaning for Japan."

He said he would ask Trump to pressure North Korea to "also abandon the short and medium-range missiles that put Japan within range."

However, speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, Trump's election to the new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said that while the United States would continue to defend Japan, the goal of the Trump-Kim summit it was "addressing the nuclear threat to the United States."

"Even South Korea is struggling to get its voice heard as the momentum of denuclearization increasingly becomes a discussion between the US, China and the United States. North Korea, "said Innes-Ker.

"It is not clear if any party is leaving Japan aside as a conscious move, but they are certainly not getting close to including it, and as a result, their priorities could be removed from the list"

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