This story is published for POLITICO as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. at scmp.com on June 4, 2018.
Since the last time US President Donald Trump visited Japan to speak with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the once-critical link between the two countries seems to have weakened for the round of golf that the two leaders had during Trump's trip.
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Abe – an enthusiast instead of a skilled golfer – threw a shot at a bunker, although he managed to hit his ball with a problem.
However, as he was trying to get out, he lost his footing and fell backwards onto the sand, his indignity trapped with the long lenses of television cameras on suspended helicopters.
Trump, oblivious to Abe's plight, continued down the street with only his ball in mind.
Seven months later, the American leader continues to make progress in his dealings with North Korea and leaving behind Abe and Japan unnoticed.
And Trump is not paying attention to Japan's main concerns: security and the return of Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korea – is causing concern in Tokyo.
Japan is disappointed that it has been left out of discussions on issues in which it believes it has participation and, on more than one occasion, has been stunned after learning about US policies through Twitter or the media reports.
Abe will travel to Washington before Trump leaves for his summit in Singapore with Kim Jong Un. He is expected to urge the US president to ensure that Pyongyang is committed to scrapping missiles capable of striking Japan, destroying stocks of chemical and biological weapons and providing details about missing Japanese, in addition to its pledge to abolish nuclear weapons and missiles. long-range. 19659009] The fear of Japan is that Trump will leave with a more flexible agreement on nuclear weapons and will ignore other issues only to be able to reach some kind of agreement.
The officials have not said it publicly, but the sensation in some sectors is that Trump would prefer to have an imperfect treatment and the possibility of a Nobel Peace Prize than the failed talks.
"It is clear that in recent months, the US has significantly changed its tone," said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo.
"Abe defends the 'maximum pressure' on North Korea and the announcement … that Trump had agreed to a summit with Kim must have been a private one"
On Friday, Trump said that he no longer wants to use the term "maximum pressure" because the United States and North Korea are now "getting along".
That led to the Defense of Japan Minister Itsunori Onodera softened a speech on Saturday at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and the "pressure" was removed from a joint statement on North Korea with its South Korean and American counterparts.
Onodera indicated that Japan has made minor adjustments to its policy, telling journalists: "Pressure and dialogue go hand in hand."
Even after the conciliatory gestures and active diplomacy of North Korea since the beginning of the year, Japan warned against Pyongyang's "smile diplomacy," through which Tokyo says it aims to weaken economic sanctions international against him.
Abe said at a joint press conference with Trump on April 18 in Palm Beach, Florida, that they "completely" agreed to maintain maximum pressure in Pyongyang, more than a month after the US president. UU decided to hold a summit with Kim.
When Abe visited Trump Tower in New York in November 2016, he explained the need to put pressure on North Korea, as the then president – The voters had no policy regarding the nuclear threat from Pyongyang, said a nearby source the matter to Kyodo News.
"Abe has taken pride in himself, believing he has managed to pressure President Trump to maximize pressure on North Korea." He said.
But the situation has changed drastically in recent months. With Kim talking to President Xi Jinping, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and soon Trump, Abe seems increasingly marginalized.
Additional Kyodo reports.