May 08, 2019 13:44
U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke on the phone Monday night about North Korea's short-range missile launch over the weekend. The White House said Trump and Abe "reaffirmed U.S.-Japan unity" in pursuing final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea. They had been scheduled to speak on Tuesday, but was pushed forward to Monday, according to Japanese media reports. In contrast, Trump waited till Tuesday to speak with President Moon Jae-in even though South Korea is presumably in greater danger from North Korean short-range missiles. Cheong Wa Dae said the delay was due to "time required to analyze" the North's weapons test. But the fact that Trump spoke with Abe before Moon strongly suggests that something is wrong with the Seoul-Washington alliance.
This is not the first time that the U.S. has consulted with Japan before South Korea about matters directly concerning the Korean Peninsula. Japan's foreign minister told the Diet in March that Tokyo and Washington "already shared" the view that U.S.-North Korea talks in Hanoi would not progress. In contrast, Cheong Wa Dae issued a statement only a day before the Hanoi summit collapsed that was brimful of hope for success and even reshuffled security officials at the presidential office to accommodate an expected increase in cross-border economic cooperation. Cheong Wa Dae announced hopes of "full-fledged inter-Korean dialogue" half an hour before the failed summit began. That could mean the U.S. deliberately kept South Korea in the dark about its own expectations, or that Seoul was simply unwilling to listen to a realistic assessment.
Abe is also sidelining Seoul as he pointedly failed to discuss the North Korean issue and only engages with the U.S.
Trump and Abe met in Washington late last month and Trump is going to make a reciprocal visit to Japan this month. But it remains unclear if the U.S. leader will even stop over in Seoul, although Moon asked him to visit when they met in Washington in mid-April. Phone calls between leaders and the number of their mutual visits are the result of careful diplomatic decisions and a key barometer of their relations. Moon claims to be in the driver's seat in tackling key issues facing the Korean Peninsula, but in fact it is Trump and Abe as well as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who are running the entire show.
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