Earlier this month, leaders from across the globe — including those from Russia, Japan, China and the United Kingdom — met at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, to discuss world issues ranging from climate change to terrorism. With the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Accord and recent antics on the Korean Peninsula, the stage was set for this year’s meeting to be an interesting one.
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who had seven side meetings with leaders from different countries, was a very busy man. Top priorities on his list were discussions of the threat of North Korea to more positive topics like that bullet train deal in Singapore. Before we dive into the details, here’s what it all means.
What Abe’s meetings at the summit really mean…
Abe is preparing himself for a new era in Asian politics — one in which regional, not international, alliances will be the key to success. Despite Abe’s — and Trump’s — desires, North Korea was not part of the final G20 statement (although terrorism was).
Abe needs North Korea. Action against them will allow him to not only spearhead any political dialog but to also remove a threat to the neo-liberal order. The fact that every country he spoke to had North Korea at the top of its agenda is proof enough that until “the North Korean problem” is handled, he is going to have trouble sleeping at night.
Although Abe is not turning his back on the U.S., his actions certainly distance himself from the country. He recently made a deal with Europe, taking a stand against protectionism — a strong policy of Trump’s “America First” administration. In fact, the meeting with Trump made no mention of any economic agreement, but focused solely on North Korea.
Abe is now in a delicate balancing act. As the U.S. retreats from global affairs and a world leader vacuum begins, Japan must choose where it wishes to stand. The prime minister wishes to see Japan fully integrated into world affairs, but he cannot do so at the expense of American allies.
Abe and Trump have had an interesting, albeit it predictable, relationship. They both agreed that their main purpose was to condemn and act against North Korea. Abe emphasized the need for the U.S. government to continue spearheading its push for international action against North Korea.
He went on to state in what became known as the Trilateral Agreement — between South Korea, Japan and America — that decisive action should be one of the top priorities for the three nations. Beyond this, Trump also threw his hat into the ring regarding the warming of relations between China and Japan — a move which reflects his own back-and-forth stance on the Middle Kingdom.
Usually, when these two powers meet, it is a clash of words and rattling of sabres. However, this was a more somber and placated meeting — perhaps reflecting the overall cautious tone that this year’s G20 meeting carried with it (read: Trump and the Paris Agreements).
In recent months, the two sides have sought to reset their relations. President Xi Jinping even came out and said that Japan and China are mutually important neighbors, and that a strong relationship between them benefits Asia as a whole. Although tensions still remain between the two nations, it helps that China is one of the few nations holding up the North Korean regime.
Much like with China, Japan and Singapore were also celebrating a normalizing of diplomatic ties, but of course, they also had discussions on North Korea.
Next, they tackled the idea of accelerating plans to build a shinkansen (bullet train) line in Singapore, and that they should work together to realize an early draft of the TPP. This is an attempt to try and salvage the agreement — a bill which Japan is constantly trying to justify now that the principal signatory, the U.S., has pulled out of it. Although Singapore may not have the economic capital to rival the U.S. if the TPP came into force, it does represent a shift with Abe’s attempts to focus more economic value into Asia.
The meeting with Turkey had mostly good news. Abe commended Recep Erdogan, the president of Turkey, in overcoming a coup d’etat last year, and the passing of a referendum providing him with greater powers.
Abe stated that he wanted to deepen ties with Turkey and pointed out the growing desire of Japanese companies to invest in the country and build infrastructure projects. The two also agreed to cooperate on space exploration; presumably as an easier way for Turkey to participate in the prestigious — and expensive — scientific adventure, compared to starting its own space agency.
These two countries don’t have a great history, what with leftover grudges from the (then) Soviet Union occupying the Kuril Islands to the north of Hokkaido Prefecture in 1945.
However, a jointly-built research base on Sakhalin Island has led to some positive steps forward. My speculation? Russia gets the base on every other weekend, and Japan gets it during the weekdays. They then went on to discuss North Korea tensions in further detail.
South Korea meeting
Abe was quick to assert that he wanted to continue building their relationship. He stated that he hopes to see more regional exchanges between the two countries, with the outcome of healing public sentiment.
Bar the usual North Korea talk, Japan and India also spoke about entering into force a Japan-India nuclear cooperation act, as well as following through with two policies (“Indian and Pacific Strategy” and “Act East”), which seek to cement regional geopolitical relations between the two countries.
So, what’s next…
With Tokyo set to host the G20 meeting in 2019, we can start to speculate what might be at the top of the agenda. Action on North Korea wasn’t officially mentioned by the G20 this year, so Abe will likely want to make sure it’s at the top of the agenda in 2018 in Argentina, as well as the 2019 summit.
In addition to this, Japan is likely to want to continue its stance against protectionism. Providing that Abe is still around, he’ll want to keep on pushing for his plans to further integrate Japan into the world economy. The Olympics are just around the corner, and the next G20 meeting is Abe’s best chance to show the world his point of view.
The political allegiances of Japan are potentially coming into scrutiny and Abe is looking to the East — not to the West — to deal with rising troubles at home. The next G20 summit could be where the lines in the sand are finally drawn between Abe, and his old and new alliances.
What Japan-related topic should have been discussed at the meeting but wasn’t? 👇We want to hear your opinions in the comments.