USA Foreign Policy First Look

With Trump in White House, Japan's Abe predicts tougher stance on North Korea

After meeting with US President Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that he expected the US stance toward North Korea to become tougher than before.

President Trump (2nd from r.) sits down to dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2nd from l.) at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on Friday. Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, is at left.
Susan Walsh/AP | Caption

After returning from a visit with President Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that he believes the United States will take a tougher stance on North Korea than before. 

"I believe that the stance of the United States towards North Korea will become much tougher, that is clear," Mr. Abe said on an NHK public broadcasting news program, as reported by Reuters. "I think there will be a number of different strategies on the table." 

The remarks came one day after North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile, a development that resulted in Abe and Mr. Trump quickly crafting responses in the crowded dining room of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in south Florida, a move that some critics argued made national security matters vulnerable to surveillance.

"North Korea's most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable," said Abe through a translator on Sunday in one of Mar-a-Lago's ballrooms, according to media reports. "President Trump and I myself completely share the view that we are going to promote further cooperation between the two nations. And also we are going to further reinforce our alliance."

In turn, Trump followed up Abe's statement by confirming that "the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent." 

Amid mounting tensions and concern over North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities, analysts say it remains unclear how the Trump administration will approach the threat, as Michael Holtz reported for The Christian Science Monitor last month: 

“North Korea has a wonderful habit of greeting US presidents with a bit of fireworks,” says Andrei Lankov, a history professor at Kookmin University in Seoul who grew up in the former Soviet Union and studied at a North Korean university. In 2009, North Korea welcomed the Obama administration with a long-range rocket launch followed by a nuclear test. But Professor Lankov says Trump could be a “game changer” because of his impulsiveness and mercurial approach to foreign policy.

"The option of a military operation hasn’t been taken seriously for decades," Lankov says. "Now it is being discussed with an intensity I cannot remember." ...

Trump, who has been a sharp critic of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, has provided few detailed policy proposals for how he plans to approach North Korea. The White House website says his administration will develop a “state-of-the-art missile defense system to protect against missile-based attacks from states like Iran and North Korea,” and his campaign's position paper talked of more "modern destroyers to counter the ballistic missile threat” from both countries. That would appear to indicate continued support for deploying an advanced American missile defense system in South Korea, despite Chinese and Russian objections.

Some observers have suggested that Trump's unorthodox leadership style may allow him to more effectively deal with North Korea's Kim Jong-un than past presidents have been able to.  

"I see the advent of Trump as an opportunity," Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean national security advisor who has participated in talks with North Korea, told the Los Angeles Times weeks before Trump's inauguration in January. "In dealing with unconventional leaders like Kim Jong Un, I think a leader like Trump, another unconventional leader, could help. I don't think a conventional approach works better." 

But others have questioned whether the differences between Trump and previous administrations will truly extend beyond rhetoric. 

"You get into office and you realize that we don't have a whole lot we can risk," David Kang, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California, told the Monitor in January. "I don't think Trump is going to be any different. His rhetoric may be different, but I don't think his policies will be."

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.