Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly says he’ll ask the US for cooperation in dealing with North Korea when he meets with President Donald Trump this month.

Abe’s avowed stance follows a report in the Asahi Shimbun late last week that Japan and the US may “no longer be in lockstep” when it comes to dealing with Pyongyang.

Abe and Trump have announced that they will meet for two days beginning on April 18, before Trump’s planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in May.

Asahi said in its analysis that if Trump raises the issue of a free-trade agreement between Japan and the US, Abe might find himself in a position where he has to make concessions.

The Japanese newspaper also quoted an unnamed US official as indicating that the dynamics of the Japan-US relationship have changed, and that the era of managing bilateral relations based solely on the personal relationship between two leaders such as Trump and Abe is at an end.

US president Ronald Reagan and Japanese prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, for example, were said to have honed a personal “Ron-Yasu” relationship in the 1980s. Abe had been credited with building a similar personal relationship in February 2017 when he met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago soon after the US president’s inauguration.

But Asahi noted that Trump had recently become more critical of Japan because of America’s trade deficit with it. Japan also hasn’t been exempted from the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump is imposing on various countries – including China.

Abduction issue

Abe says he will also raise the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea from Japanese coastal areas between 1977 and 1983. The victims were kidnapped for a variety of purposes, including teaching Japanese to North Korean intelligence agents. Japan says 17 of its citizens were abducted. North Korea admits to abducting 13.

“I am planning to visit Mar-a-Lago in Florida and hold Japan-US summit talks for two days over matters of mutual interest, including the issue of North Korea,” the Japan Times reported Abe telling a meeting of senior Japanese government leaders on Friday. “I will request in person that President Trump raise the abduction issue, which is the most important question, during the upcoming US-North Korean summit.”

The White House, for its part, disclosed few details about the upcoming meeting.

It didn’t mention the abduction issue and only said that Abe and Trump would meet at the president’s Florida estate to “discuss the international campaign to maintain maximum pressure on North Korea.” It added that the two leaders would also “explore ways to expand fair and reciprocal trade and investment ties between the United States and Japan.”

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