TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday he wants to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un even though he keeps testing missiles. At the same time, Abe gave a cold shoulder to South Korea amid tensions over wartime history.
In a policy speech opening the parliamentary session, Abe said he will take any chance to meet Kim.
“I’m determined to face Chairman Kim Jong Un, without attaching any preconditions,” Abe said, after changing his policy earlier this year. “Based on a level-headed analysis, I will act decisively so that I won’t miss any chance.”
Abe used to say he would meet Kim only when there is progress on denuclearization and the decades-old issue of Japanese citizens abducted to North Korea. But he changed his tune after other regional leaders, including those in China, South Korea and Russia, choose to meet Kim.
North Korea has resumed missile tests following the February collapse of its summit with the United States. The latest was a test-firing Wednesday of an underwater-launched missile, parts of which fell inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The U.S. talks resume Saturday in Stockholm.
“Regarding the current North Korea situation, we will do the utmost to protect the safety of the people as we will closely cooperate with the U.S. and the international community,” Abe said.
While maintaining its alliance with the U.S. as a “cornerstone” of diplomacy and security, Japan will also “join hands with countries that it shares fundamental values, such as Britain, France, Australia and India, to achieve free and open Indo-Pacific,” Abe said.
Unlike in the past, Abe did not mention South Korea in the context of cooperation on North Korean missile and nuclear threats.
He only repeated that South Korea must withdraw demands for Japanese wartime compensation beyond what was already paid under the peace treaty. “South Korea is an important neighbor. I urge (South Korea) to keep promises between countries under the international law,” he said.
Relations between the U.S. allies deteriorated rapidly since July over the issue of Korean laborers abused by Japanese companies during World War II, as well as Japan’s export controls for materials crucial for South Korean industries. It prompted Seoul to announce in late August it would terminate a bilateral military intelligence pact.
Abe said economy is also his policy priority. Japan will take a leadership to promote “free, fair and rule-based trade zones across the world,” he said.
At home, Abe is pushing harder to amend Japan’s war-renouncing constitution.
Abe and his right-wing supporters have long campaigned to revise the U.S.-drafted war-renouncing constitution, as they see it as a legacy of Japan's World War II defeat and humiliation during the U.S. occupation.
His constitution campaign, however, has struggled amid voter concern about the economy and social security. Hurdles to achieve his long-cherished goal are high _ two-thirds approval in both houses of the parliament to propose a revision before a national referendum. Abe’s party and supporters of a revision have two-thirds in the lower house, but lost the benchmark in the other chamber in the July election.
Abe’s current term ends in September 2021, unless his party revises its rule again to allow him to seek a fourth term.
Abe now proposes a revision to Article 9 by specifying Japan's Self-Defense Force as the country's legitimate military as a way to gain broader support. He says opposition lawmakers should at least join discussion of a change.
Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi