N. Korea & Trade: U.S.-Japan Relations
in Trump Era
Yabunaka, Veteran Diplomat & Negotiator
• Yabunaka was invited by the Japan America Society of Chicago for a special lecture entitled: “Japan-U.S. Relations under the Trump Administration: North Korea, Trade” held at Kirkland & Ellis LLC.
• Yabunaka began his 40-year career with Japan’s Ministry
of Foreign Affairs in 1969. Dedicating himself as a diplomatic negotiator
throughout his career, he was engaged in many trade negotiations including
the U.S.-Japan trade negotiations and the Uruguay Round world trade talks
during the 1980s and 1990s, as well as the Kennedy Round (1960s) and Tokyo
Round (1970s) talks.
About the U.S.-Japan Relations
• According to Yabunaka, alliance and free trade, the pillars of the framework for international prosperity in the post-World War II era, are undergoing seismic changes today.
• Yabunaka said U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial behaviors at the NATO summit in July indicates that the alliance is at risk, demonstrating “division” among the U.S. and the other NATO members. This also has significant implications for Japan and Asia; the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty remains as the key to Japan’s security, and the fate of that security now depends on what happens to Trump.
• It is also apparent that the “G7 era” (the era of fair
trade as the principle of multilateral relationship) is over, as the most
recent G7 summit in Canada has revealed a conflict between Trump and Canada’s
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
• The U.S.-Japan relations currently remain in good terms
as President Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have a friendly relationship.
Personal ties are important for Trump, and Abe has established personal
ties with Trump where he wouldn’t say anything that contradicts Trump.
About North Korea
• The U.S.-North Korea summit on June 12 in Singapore
was an unprecedented event, a historic step forward that had been unthinkable
for us a year ago.
• The U.S. and North Korea have reportedly agreed on: (1) establishing new U.S.-North Korea relationship; (2) building lasting peace; (3) denuclearization; and (4) recovery of U.S. POW/MIA remains during the Korean War.
• Regarding denuclearization, the agreement states that
Kim reaffirmed “his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization
of the Korean Peninsula.” This indicates what Kim’s intentions are – there
is the underlying issue of the U.S. forces in South Korea, part of the
Korean Peninsula. Yabunaka pointed out the fact that the agreement is
not Kim’s promise of total denuclearization in his country, but a mere
statement of future “effort” toward that goal.
• Yabunaka thinks that Japan should play a direct role toward North Korea’s denuclearization specifically because, unlike the United States, Japan is within the range of nuclear attack from North Korea. Japan also has the unsolved issue of Japanese abductees in North Korea – the country has announced that eight of the Japanese abductees, taken to North Korea during the 1970s and 1980s, had passed away while five are still alive (the Japanese government has determined the remains of Megumi Yokota, one of the abductees, that had been returned to Japan, are not actually hers).
• All the past six-party talks involving North Korea have failed. Yabunaka suggested the level of the responsible negotiators be upgraded, while stressing that Japan should tell Trump unequivocally that a “limited” denuclearization of North Korea (abandonment of the long-range nuclear ballistic missile development program) is not acceptable.
• Drastic reduction of the U.S. trade deficit is one of the top priorities of President Trump, and the force of trade protectionism is growing, threatening free trade practice. The recent U.S. policy of additional tariffs is against the principles of the World Trade Organization (“WTO”), and Japan can argue the U.S. move through filing complaints with the WTO.
• While the Japanese businesses haven’t been hit directly yet, Yabunaka suggests Japan speak up against the U.S. tariffs, as the Trump administration is reportedly considering yet more tariffs on automobile imports.
• Yabunaka predicted trade war will occur with the probability
of more than 40%.
• Yabunaka has been vocal about his belief in Vice President Mike Pence as a “great asset” for Japan. According to Yabunaka, Pence, a former Indiana governor, is clearly aware of the benefit Japanese businesses bring to the state of Indiana and understands the significance of maintaining a good trade relationship between the U.S. and Japan.
• In contrast, President Trump’s view of trade between
the two countries hasn’t changed since the 1980s, when U.S.-Japan trade
frictions were at their peak, according to Yabunaka.
• Overall, Yabunaka remains optimistic about the U.S.-Japan trade relations. However, in view of the worsening relationships between the U.S., China, and the EU, he believes that Japan must be ready to speak up.
• In addition to getting along with the U.S., Yabunaka said Japan should formulate its own policies with the possibility of having to protect itself. The three policies he suggests are:
• Japan should play a role of a mediator in Asia. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces have national defense power that is ranked seventh or eighth in the world. Japan also has obtained trust of the other Asian nations throughout the past 70 years (ASEAN member nations today view Japan as the most trustworthy country). The best scenario for them is that Japan and China join forces against the backdrop of trade controversies in the area, China’s maritime aggression in the South China Sea, etc.
• Japan should be the builder of peace in Asia, leading the peace-building effort by implementing peace diplomacy.
• Japan should cooperate with China. Many Japanese have a persistent feeling that China is untrustworthy, but interestingly, a lot of Japanese negotiators engaging in the China-Japan talks are adhering strongly to the notion of a friendly China-Japan relationship.
• The 2008 negotiations on the East China Sea oilfield
development project, in which Yabunaka took part, did not result in a
treaty, but the project has been agreed upon to be carried out under the
cooperation of the two countries.
• In conclusion, Yabunaka said it is his belief that
Japan should carry the Security Treaty with the U.S. on the one hand and
promote ties with China, South Korea and other Asian nations on the other,
including involvement in the North Korean issues.
Mitoji Yabunaka, former Consul-General in Chicago and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan