Japan pleads with Britain to avoid a “no deal” Brexit

Japan’s prime minister and representatives from its biggest companies have been unusually vocal on the topic of British politics this week.

They are worried that a so called “no deal” Brexit could severely disrupt the business of Japanese companies based in the UK, especially car manufacturers.

More than one thousand Japanese companies operate in Britain and provide more than 140,000 jobs. Japan is the second largest investor in the UK, after the United States.

Abe meets May

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met his British counterpart Theresa May at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires at the weekend, he pressed her to avoid no deal, as well as to ensure transparency, predictability and legal stability in the Brexit process.

Mrs May assured him that her plan was a good deal for business, including Japanese companies, who she said would be able trade well with the European Union.

Political problems

ITV’s political editor Robert Peston wrote about the meeting in his blog. He said: “When the Japanese PM publicly calls on May for “support to avoid no deal” – as he did in Argentina – because of the damage trade friction at the border would do to important Japanese companies with big factories in the UK, it is very hard for the PM to plausibly argue that she would simply let chaotic events drive the UK to the cliff edge of an un-negotiated withdrawal from the EU.”

However, when Mrs May came back to London she was reminded of the enormous political difficulties in implementing her plan. The government was defeated in several votes in the House of Commons on Tuesday and it is unlikely that MPs will back the prime minister’s proposals next week.

Toyota’s view

The car maker Toyota usually avoids politics but it sent its representative

Tony Walker to the House of Commons this week. He told a business committee that a no deal would be “very, very challenging” and would have a big impact on Toyota’s factory at Burnaston in Derbyshire.

Toyota exports the majority of the cars it makes there to mainland Europe. It relies on parts imported into Britain through the Channel Tunnel from France.

However, Mr Walker said Toyota is a “pragmatic” company and he was careful not to say that the British factory would close as a result of Brexit.

Soon after the result of the referendum was announced in 2016, the Financial Times predicted a 75% chance that Toyota and Honda would cease manufacturing in the UK if the Brexit leads the EU to impose an import levy on cars manufactured in Britain.

Nissan

The Times newspaper also reported that Nissan, which employs 7,000 people in the North East of England, is under pressure from its partner Renault to move some operations to France. That was before the arrest of the Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn in Tokyo last month. He still hasn’t been charged with any crime.

Takeda’s deal

Despite all the worries about Brexit, Japanese companies are still active in the UK and Ireland. This week, Takeda Pharmaceutical won shareholder approval for a £46bn ($59bn) takeover of UK-listed drugmaker Shire.

If it goes through this will be Japan’s largest ever corporate acquisition and the takeover is part of Takeda’s strategy to become a global pharmaceutical company.

 

Where is the Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn?

The huge story in Japan this month is the arrest of the former Nissan CEO and chairman Carlos Ghosn. But where is now? Why hasn’t he be photographed or filmed? And has he actually been charged with a crime?

Piecing together the news coverage makes it fairly easy to answer the first question about Mr Ghosn’s whereabouts.

According to Reuters, he is inside the Tokyo Detention House in Katsushika Ward. TV reporters have set up positions outside the building to do “pieces to camera” from there.

Reuters says: “The detention center, a tower-like structure in eastern Tokyo, is where the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which carried out the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways, was executed by hanging this year.”

The death row part of the facility is separate to the one for people being investigated for crimes. But it does add another lurid detail to the sudden and dramatic change in circumstances, since Mr Ghosn flew into Tokyo on September 19th.

Asahi Television must have received a tip that something was happening at the airport. Somehow, it managed to obtain film of men in suits marching up the staircase into Mr Ghosn’s private jet. They quickly pulled down the shutters to prevent people seeing what was going on inside.

AFP agency suggests that Mr Ghosn spent several hours inside the plane with prosecutors – initially on a voluntary basis – and was later arrested.

AFP also says that at around 5pm, investigators raided Nissan’s plush Yokohama headquarters and another team stormed his luxurious apartment, in the affluent Tokyo neighbourhood of Motoazabu. By 5:30 pm, word was out and hoards of camera crews swarmed around the building.

So far as I can tell, the reason that nobody’s managed to get any film or pictures of Mr Ghosn since his arrest is that he’s only been in his cell in the detention centre and the press can’t find a way into the building. This, of course, has prevented him from taking the opportunity to answer the claims of his accusers.

So far, Mr Ghosn has been denounced by his company but he has not been charged. This is due to a strange fact about Japanese law of which I was previously unaware. The Japan Times says that: “Japanese law permits the detention of suspects for up to 23 days before they are charged.”

This is a contrast to the situation in the UK, whereby the police can hold a person for up to 24 hours before they have to charge them with a crime or release them – although there are some exceptions for cases involving murder and terrorism.

It suggests that the legal system in Japan seems to press arrested people into confessing to crimes before there is any action in a courtroom. In this context, I am sceptical about reports on NHK that Mr Ghosn has “denied the charges against him” as it seems there are no charges to deny – yet.

Mr Ghosn will need a good lawyer to explain to him what is happening. The Asahi Shimbun claims that Motonari Otsuru, a former public prosecutor, has been hired to defend him.

Mr Otsuru will soon have the arduous task of becoming the public representative of his client before the press. And there are hundreds of journalists in Tokyo and around the world who are keen to hear what Mr Ghosn has to say.

Luxury homes, lavish dinners and Carlos Ghosn’s shocking arrest

I was shocked when I heard that the boss of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, had been arrested this week. The company says he’s being investigated for “numerous significant acts of misconduct.”

I have interviewed Mr Ghosn several times for the BBC but of course, I did not have any reason to ask him questions about his salary or his spending habits.

Luxury lifestyle

According to NHK, Mr Ghosn used company money to buy luxury homes in Rio de Janeiro, Beirut, Paris and Amsterdam. NHK says they cost tens of millions of dollars and there was no legitimate business reason for him to buy them.

NHK also says that Mr Ghosn used hundreds of thousands of dollars for family trips and dining. When he was arrested on Monday, it was on suspicion of under-reporting his income by about 44 million dollars over a five year period.

The Managing Director of Intelligence Automotive Asia, Ashvin Chotai, expressed his shock on the BBC.

“If these allegations are true, there are appears to be a serious breach of Japanese financial laws. We are not talking about tax fraud,” said Mr Chotai.

“I have to say though, this is not the first time that a CEO of a Japanese company has been brought up on such a charge and in previous cases there haven’t been arrests. But there is more media and public interest in this case because Carlos Ghosn is a foreigner and a very high profile CEO,” Mr Chotai told the BBC.

Coup rumours

There is a rumour that the actions again Mr Ghosn might be a coup by company insiders who were resentful of his big salary.

The Financial Times notes that in 2010 Mr Ghosn became the highest paying executive in a country where reminumeration tends to be much lower than global stands.

My Ghosn’s supporters could of course praise his special talents and insights – and the way he was able to turn the company around in the late Nineties.

He was also deeply involved in the running of the other companies in the automotive group, Renault and Mitsubishi.

Resentment lingers

Nevertheless, hard-working Japanese executives are often suspicious of rich foreigners working in their industries.

Does the money they receive really make them better at their job? Wouldn’t they understand the company better if they rose through the ranks, like ordinary Japanese managers?

Ashvin Chotai says: “It’s very different to imagine Nissan without Carlos Ghosn. I expect will see a new era going forward. From now on, it will probably be run more along the lines of other Japanese companies, such as Toyota.”

Japan would make the perfect ally if Trump wants to raise the stakes with China

Asia’s leaders, including Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, are still trying to work out how best to respond to the disruptive, America-first policies of President Donald Trump. The November Midterm elections in the United States did not provide any solutions to their dilemma. Indeed, the outcome of the polls suggest that Mr Trump is almost certain to run for re-election as president in 2020. The Japanese must therefore continue to try to maintain an alliance with Mr Trump, difficult though that will be.

The elections allow Mr Trump to continue as America’s leader, with considerable support from his Republican party, which retains control of the Senate, even though a swing to the Democrats has enabled his opponents to take control of the House. Yet when it comes to trade policy, Mr Trump enjoys considerable executive power which he can wield autonomously. That is especially significant when it comes to China.

Tariffs on China

Mr Trump has imposed tariffs of about $250 billion on Chinese imports into the United States and has threatened to increase that figure dramatically.

China is not backing down and nor is Mr Trump. His hawkish attitude delights the conservative wing of the Republican party but there is also backing for his approach among many Democrats.

“I think the outcome of the Midterm elections strengthens Trump’s hand on China,” Professor Linda Yueh from Oxford University told me. “He may well press a bit harder and he could gain some bipartisan support. He’s considering truly massive tariffs in China next year. But will he do that at a time when growth in the US economy is slowing?”

Japan’s dilemma

For Japan, the US-China trade war creates a dilemma. Japanese businesses dislike the disruption it causes to their manufacturing processes. There is also resentment that the US maintains tariffs on Japanese steel exports to the United States, despite Mr Abe’s request to Mr Trump lift them.

These tensions come at a challenging time. The economy shrank in the third quarter of 2018 by an annualised rate of 1.2%. A Reuters poll of economists in Tokyo suggests they see the US-China trade war as the greatest threat to the Japanese economy next year.

The conservative perspective

Despite the risk, conservatives in Japan relish Mr Trump’s challenge to China’s enormous economic power and its increasing political influence. Mr Trump accused the Chinese of interfering in the election process in the United States by pressing voters to back his opponents.

“China was watching the race closely,” Professor Yueh told me. “The Chinese were putting pressure on them to stop the trade war, saying that there would be no winners,” said the professor.

One danger for Japan is that emboldened in his fight with China, Mr Trump becomes increasingly protectionist. The President has ordered an audit of all the countries which have a trade surplus with America, including Japan. “He believes that having a trade surplus means you’re not playing by the rules,” says Professor Yueh.

Free trade principle

Yet there is another option. Instead of allowing a narrow America-first approach to prevail, Mr Trump could recommit the Republican Party to its principle of free trade. In doing so he could reverse his decision to exclude the United States from the TPP international trade agreement, which is strongly supported by Japan. This would act as a counterbalance to Chinese influence.

Shinzo Abe can still claim TPP as a major political achievement, even if America remains outside it for the time being. When the partnership comes into force at the end of this year it will mark a rare victory for global trade liberalisation, with Japan very much as the driving force.

Am I too optimistic? Well, the Economist is upbeat, too!


This week, I was asked whether I’m too optimistic about Japan.

Podcast host Ziv Nakajima Magen has been reading through my recent blog posts on Japan Story and noticed that they are often upbeat.

Quite reasonably, he asked me: “Where do you get this optimism? Is it 100% authentic, or are you maybe just playing devil’s advocate a little bit to the sensationalist, over-dramatic tendency of international media, as far as it comes to Japan and some of the issues it faces?”

I told Ziv that I sometimes feel it’s my duty to highlight the positive aspects of Japan as the media, quite understandably, tends to concentrate on the bad news. But I also said that as a journalist, I try to keep an open mind. I reminded him that I’m entirely independent – I’m not paid by anyone in Japan to sing the country’s praises in a blog.

Sunrise in Tokyo

Apparently, I’m not alone in keeping an eye out for the good news.

This week, I read a very optimistic analysis of Japan in the Economist magazine. It was in the Finance and Economics section under the byline Buttonwood, which suggests it was written by Philip Coggan. The headline was “Sunrise in Tokyo.”

The piece praised Japan’s “healthy” economy and was positive in its view of the Abenomics programme of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

It said: “Deflation has ended. Nominal GDP has been growing steadily. And the job market is buoyant. Unemployment has fallen to 2.3%. The ratio of vacancies on job seekers is the highest since the early 1970s.”

Womenomics

It also looked at the policy of Womenomics, designed to bring more women into positions of senior responsibility. That usually provokes a sceptical response in the international press.

For example, the New York Times magazine recently asked “Why does Japan make it so hard for working women to succeed?” The author of that piece, Brook Larmer, said Japan “has remained stubbornly regressive”. He wrote: “Japanese women, to a degree that is striking even by the lamentable standards of the United States and much of the rest of the world, have been kept on the margins of business and politics.”

Yet the Economist article states that: “More women than ever are in the workforce. The female participation rate is higher than in America and above average for the OECD.”

Rising productivity

Japan is often said to have an inefficient working culture. For example, Reuters said this week that it has “the lowest productivity among Group of Seven countries.”

The article in the Economist does not challenge that claim directly but it counters that: “Output per hour has recently grown faster in Japan than in other G7 country, according to the Conference board, a research group.”

Challenges remain

The Economist does not ignore the challenges facing Japan, such as its shortage of labour and its ageing population. But it says that companies are responding to these issues by expanding into foreign markets and improving their productivity.

The Economist loves to hand out advice, telling governments and business leaders what to do. Yet on this occasion, it is quite restrained, apart from its implied praise for Abenomics. The piece suggests that Japan is quietly solving its problems by itself.

So, my optimistic view of Japan is not quite as esoteric as it sometimes seems. Others see it as a land of opportunity, too.[:]

Growing Chinese power is changing Japan’s strategy in Asia

One article I read this week profoundly challenged my thinking about the relationship between China and Japan.

It claimed that: “The idea that Beijing suddenly warmed up to closer relations with Japan as a result of China’s weakening economy and a trade dispute with the U.S. is arrant nonsense.”

The piece was written by Dr Michael Ivanovich and published on CNBC to tie in with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to China last week. It suggests most of the media has misunderstood the background to the visit.

The mainstream view, expressed on outlets such as the BBC, is that “trade tensions with Washington have driven Japan and China into an unlikely friendship.”

But Dr Ivanovich says that China’s economy is not weak and that “China does not need Japan for the steady growth of its huge and rapidly expanding domestic market.”

“China does not need Japan” Dr Michael Ivanovich

Who needs who?

He also claims that it is “ridiculous to think that China needs Japan as an ally in its trade dispute with the U.S.” He says it is far more likely that Japan needs China to keep its economy on track.

In his clever and provocative piece, Dr Armstrong says Shinzo Abe’s friendly policy towards China has turned him into “a supplicant for contact and attention with an aloof, hostile and indifferent Chinese leadership.”

Mr Abe is also chided for being too friendly to China by the Japanese daily newspaper, the Mainichi. It says Japan could be forced to accept the position of being a “peripheral country next to the great nation of China.”

Belt and Road

Nevertheless, the Mainichi – along with many other media outlets – sees value for Japan in cooperating with China in the economic sphere.

It says that in June last year, Prime Minister Abe announced that Japan would support China on some parts of the One Belt One Road initiative, promoted by China as a means of developing global trade.

Another person who believes that BRI is a pragmatic way for Japan to engage China is Shiro Armstrong, who has presented a very good piece of analysis on East Asia Forum which has been picked up by many outlets.

He writes: “As Chinese policymakers search for ways to better deploy the country’s vast sums of capital abroad, Japan has experience of doing just that dating back to the 1970s – including of geopolitical pushback.

“Understanding that the Belt and Road is here to stay, Japanese engagement can shape the massive investments and get more business for its companies. It’s also a part of a broader hedge against an increasingly uncertain Japan–US relationship.”

Tensions with Trump

The tensions in the US relationship with Japan were analysed in This Week In Asia published by the South China Morning Post. It says pressure from the US has forced Japan to start talks aimed at narrowing its trade gap with America. It had a $69 billion surplus last year.

The thoughtful article by Crystal Tai quotes Yves Tiberghien, director emeritus of the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia. He suggests that Donald Trump has taken an old trade war to a bigger level.

“But there’s something more toxic about this round,” says Mr Tiberghien. “The current approach by the US is actually one that abuses, bullies and threatens, which affects trust and confidence. It could affect the global trading system, it may not even help the US in the end.”

 

Abe’s summit with Xi marks a new chapter in their relationship

Mr Abe can expect to be treated with the greatest of respect as he enters the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in the company of President Xi Jinping this week. The leaders are celebrating their first full-scale summit since 2011.

Remarkably, the stage is now set for President Xi to make his first official visit to Tokyo next year, including a meeting with Japan’s Emperor.

Five years ago, it would have been almost inconceivable that Mr Abe would be warmly welcomed in China. At that time, China’s state media portrayed Mr Abe as a revisionist, who had make light of Japan’s invasion and occupation of China and other Asian countries in the mid-20th Century. The Chinese were scathing of his version of history and his nationalist politics. They also derided him for presiding over a stagnant economy, while theirs was booming.

Money matters

Economics play a crucial role in the Sino-Japanese relationship. Mr Abe is accompanied on his trip to China by representatives of hundreds of Japanese companies, which would appreciate a share of the vast resources which China offers its partners, especially those countries which lie in the path of its ambitious Belt and Road initiative.

Those trade routes take a western path, from China to Europe, while Japan lies to China’s South East. Logistically, though, Japan could support Belt and Road if it wished to do so; although so far, its involvement is limited, especially at a governmental level. Mr Abe rightly questions whether the plan is genuinely designed to deliver international benefits, or if it is primarily aimed at serving China’s national interest.

The new normal

Mr Abe has spoken of the relationship between China and Japan returning to normal. That means that Japanese companies often try to overlook the political and ideological differences between Japan and China, which are profound. In the past three years, under President Xi, China has placed special emphasis on the need for businesses to consult with the Communist party at every stage of the decision-making process.

Official figures this week suggest that China’s economy is still growing at a striking pace – six and a half percent, although most economists warn the official data nearly always falls in line with government targets.

The Trump factor

Nevertheless, the trade war between China and the United States is causing disruption. It is also having a knock-on impact on Japan, which has been hit by tariffs on some of its exports to America. China is therefore encouraging Japan to consider where its allegiances lie.

Although China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second largest economy, it remains clumsy in its diplomacy, with few friends or allies. It has recently risked further censure through an intolerance of democracy and international law. That should make Mr Abe wary of publicly supporting Sino-centric schemes – especially if the Chinese seek to present him as a subordinate.

Different visions

Mr Abe has said that the key goals of his premiership are to revive Japan’s economy, to nurture its national pride and to restore its global reputation. China has a different dream, in which it plays a globally centrally role, with its ruling Communist party controlling its destiny. Given these two contrasting visions, ideological clashes are inevitable.

Yet the Beijing summit has serves as a reminder that China and Japan can also respect each other as equals with common interests. They have much to offer the rest of the world when they collaborate, not compete.

Softbank is tainted by Saudi Arabia’s notorious image


The disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist in Turkey, amid strong indications that he may have been murdered, has created a crisis for one of Japan’s richest and most successful businessmen.

Masayoshi Son, the founder of Softbank, is trusted with looking after the vast fortune of the Saudi Arabian government.

CNN reports that Saudi Arabia has pumped $45 billion into the SoftBank Vision Fund, which in turn has invested billions of dollars into tech startups around the world.

For example, last year Softbank invested $4.4 billion in WeWork, which has provided many co-working spaces in cities around the world, including China and Japan.

Murder investigation

However, the image of Saudi Arabia has been severely tarnished by the disappearance of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who writes a column for the Washington Post, which is often critical of the Saudi authorities.

“What we’re talking about here is a reporter who was allegedly murdered and dismembered in an embassy so this cannot be allowed to stand – it’s so egregious,” the independent technology analyst Stephanie Hare told the BBC.

She said that Saudi Arabia put a further 45 billion into Softbank’s Vision Fund last week. “The Saudis know that oil is not going to be a cash cow for ever so they are investing in tech and buying companies through Softbank,” explained Ms Hare. “But everyone know about the poor record Saudi Arabia has on human rights.”

There is no official statement on the situation on Softbank’s website but the big question is whether the partnership with Saudi Arabia has become too toxic to continue.

Davos in the desert

One way to judge how foreign companies view the situation is to watch if they attend a big investment conference in Saudi Arabia next week, dubbed by the media as Davos In the Desert.

CNN reports that the Japanese company Nikkei has withdrawn as a media partner for the event.

JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and the heads of America’s top investment firms Blackrock and Blackstone are among the leading figures who have decided to stay away. But there has been no announcement from Softbank yet.

Political element

One of the goals of Softbank and other Japanese companies which do business internationally is to steer clear of politics as far as possible.

That is also why the Japanese government rarely initiates sanctions, with the notable exception of its tough stand on North Korea.

However, in this instance it will be difficult for Japan and Softbank to ignore the international outcry over Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance and the major implications for all those organisations which do business with the Saudi government.

Mr Trump has pushed Japan down an unwelcome road

Donald Trump has forced Japan into making a huge concession in terms of its trade relationship with the United States, according to the Financial Times.

The newspaper says that Japan has agreed to hold bilateral talks with America on trade. That’s significant – because up to now Japan has had a policy of negotiating as part of an international multilateral group.

In many ways, a bilateral – country-to-country – negotiation makes Japan’s position weaker.

So why has the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a supporter of multilateral negotiations, capitulated on this point?

Too big to battle

America is Japan’s largest trade partner. It is a crucial market for Japanese companies like Sony (owner of Colombia), Toyota and Softbank.

Japanese people have strong affection for American brands like Starbucks, McDonalds and Disneyland. So for Japan, talking to America directly makes sense, rather than as part of a group which includes other countries with different relationships with the United States.

Trump’s preference

Donald Trump much prefers bilateral deals and negotiations. It’s been his preference since he worked in business before he became president. It is clear that it makes it easier for him to press his American First agenda if the talks are bilateral rather than multilateral.

The Financial Times says the goal for Mr Trump’s is to “remake the world’s trading system”. The paper implies that countries which have “buckled under pressure” to the United States – like Japan – are likely to escape sanctions on their imports into the US.

Alan Beattie, the FT’s reporter, wrote: “Tokyo therefore finds itself pushed down the bilateral route.”

What is bilateral?

Japan has a much valued free trade deal with the European Union.

It’s often referred to as a bilateral arrangement although that is a slightly strange term to use about a deal with the European Union, which is a trading block made up of 28 members.

Negotiating with it, or them, is not easy – as Britain has learned from its extremely complex Brexit process to leave the EU.

China factor

Japan’s trade deal with the US comes in the context of a huge and escalating trade war between the US and China. Japan has already been caught in the crossfire, suffering heavy tariffs on its iron and steel exports to the US, with negative implications for its automotive industry.

Alan Beattie says Japan wants to “usher Washington down a more collaborative road” which I think neatly sums its up Japan’s diplomatic approach.

Why would it wish to fight with its ally over trade if there’s a chance of a better arrangement which suits both countries?

Unlike Japan, which is a fundamentally very pragmatic country, China appears to be in no such mood for collaboration or compromise.

The ideology which drives the Chinese government is inherently hostile to that of Donald Trump’s America First agenda. And Mr Trump’s advisors are taking a tough approach to China which is causing trouble to both sides.

Japan’s goal is to keep as friendly as possible in terms of business and diplomacy with both America and China. That’s an enormous challenge given Mr Trump’s disruptive approach, the rapid economic growth of China and the ideological divide between the nations. It leaves no simple choices for Japan’s hard-pressed diplomats.

It’s wrong to sideline Japan in the North Korean talks

Why isn’t the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the centre of the discussions aimed at reaching a peaceful solution on the Korean peninsula?

The New York Times says that Mr Abe is being sidelined. It quotes Terry Ito, a commentator on Nippon Television, from Tokyo, that “the possibility of the US thinking about Japan is zero.”

Mr Abe will encourage President Trump to bring Japan to mind when they meet at the United Nations this week.

Skilled diplomat

Mr Abe is one of the most skilled diplomats in Asia and a person who has spent much of his political career considering the North Korean crisis. He can be expected to keep a cool head during complex discussions and to ensure the most important issues are addressed.

But I think there are two reasons why his presence might not be welcomed at the peace talks, particularly if the North Koreans themselves are taking part.

The first is that an issue which is crucially important to Mr Abe, the return of Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, is not so important to other countries such as the United States and South Korea.

Prime Minister Abe believes the abduction issue must be resolved as part of the peace process. He has offered to meet the North Koreans directly to discuss it but they have refused.

Nevertheless, there are signs negotiations are taking place behind the scenes. The Washington Post reported a secret meeting between Japanese and North Korean officials in Vietnam in July.

Tough questions

The second reason Mr Abe might not be welcomed is that he has some very tough questions aimed at ensuring the North Koreans don’t renege on their promises, as they often do.

His goal remains exactly the same as he outlined in September 2017.

“We must make North Korea abandon all nuclear and ballistic missile use in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner. If North Korea does not accept that, then I am convinced there is no way forward other than to continue maximum pressure on it using every possible means,” Mr Abe said in his election victory speech.

Prime Minister Abe demands proof that North Korea is ready to change from a path of aggression to one of peace. He wants more than rhetoric and photo-opportunities.

Angry response

This stirs anger in North Korea. Its official propaganda outlet, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper recently wrote: “Japan has been left alone in the region, as a country of pigmy politicians ­engaged in an abnormal view on things and phenomena, anachronistic thought and stupid and unbecoming conduct.”

The North Koreans appear to be lashing out at the Japanese because they are trying to prevent them from making empty promises. That should be a signal to the other participants in the negotiations that Japan has a crucial role to play.