Has a muddle over mixed marriage marred the UK’s relationship with Asia?

The most popular news website in the UK, operated by the BBC, carried a rather strange story relating to Japan which became its most read article on one day this week.

The story was based on something the newly appointed British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said about his wife Lucia during his first official visit to China.

According to the BBC, Mr Hunt was at a meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, when he said, in English: “My wife is Japanese – my wife is Chinese. Sorry, that’s a terrible mistake to make.”

“My wife is Japanese – my wife is Chinese. Sorry, that’s a terrible mistake to make” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt

Impressive skill

In trying to explain the muddle, Mr Hunt said that he and Mr Yi spoke in Japanese during the state banquet.

As a learner of Japanese for many years, that information impressed me. I know that is not easy to keep up one’s language skills. It takes constant practice. Mr Hunt has a busy job in politics and is the father to two young children.

According to the profile he wrote for his parliamentary profile, he spent two years in Japan in the 1990s and his main purpose was to learn the language. “I struggled every day to master the writing system – you need to learn 3,000 characters to read a Japanese newspaper. It’s definitely a comparable challenge to getting elected,” he wrote in 2005.

To pass the highest level of the Japanese language certificate, candidates need to know around 2,000 kanji (Chinese characters). This is a very rare achievement among foreigners. I know some kanji but I quickly forget them, which is why I always say the hardest aspect of learning Japanese is memorising Chinese.

This is because much of the Japanese written language is based on an old form of Chinese – although there are profound differences between contemporary written Japanese and the writing system which the Chinese now use. Furthermore, the spoken languages have almost nothing in common – so it’s interesting to hear that Mr Li from China can speak Japanese, too.

Was it a bad mistake?

Returning to Mr Hunt’s remarks about his wife, the BBC’s story, written by Helier Cheung, asks why it was such a “bad mistake” to muddle Japan and China in this context.

Ms Cheung claims that China and Japan have “had a particularly bitter relationship for decades. They fought each other in two Sino-Japanese wars, and are also in a dispute over territory in the East China Sea.”

She goes on to claim that “among China’s older generation, there are plenty of people who are reluctant to buy Japanese products or go to Japan on holiday – because they accuse Japan of playing down its wartime atrocities.”

Outdated picture

This seems a rather outdated and negative interpretation of the situation. There are a record number of Chinese tourists in Japan at the moment and the political and diplomatic relationship between the countries is in the best state it has been for years.

The Chinese premier Li Keqiang met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo earlier this year, and Mr Abe is expected to go to Beijing in the autumn. The Chinese president Xi Jinping may well go to Japan next year.

The Financial Times also covered Mr Hunt’s visit to China, focussing on the business and trade implications.

The FT’s Tom Mitchell did not write much about Mr Hunt’s wife but noted in his article that “painful memories of Japan’s occupation of China in the 1930s and 1940s are kept alive by government propaganda and nationalist activists.”

Although the Chinese state-media can be belligerent in its rhetoric towards Japan, the Japanese rarely stoke the resentment in return. For the sake of Britain’s international reputation in Asia, a Foreign Secretary who is friendly towards both China and Japan is the best person to represent the UK.

North Korea still sees Japan as Enemy Number One

People in Japan, who are struggling through an intense heat wave, may take some relief from the fact that North Korea has not fired any missiles in their direction recently.

However, Japan is still being targeted by North Korea’s propaganda.

The Associated Press bureau in Pyongyang reports that state-run media is continuing with its “vitriolic” criticism of Japan.

Apparently it still blasts the Japanese for insisting that independent inspectors must verify the North’s claims of dismantling its missile launch sites and nuclear facilities.

The US-based monitoring group 38 North says that North Korea appears to have begun dismantling part of a rocket launch site in Sohae.

As usual, though, no outside inspectors have visited the location. Nor were any inspectors allowed to see another military site which was blown up before Mr Trump met the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June.

Change of tone

The hostility shown towards Japan contrasts with North Korea’s new, softer tone towards the US and South Korea.

This week, I attended a meeting with the South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha claimed that the change of approach is very significant.

“We see this is a sign that the path is set for negotiations to proceed,” she told a briefing at the Chatham House think tank in London.

The minister also claimed that a “future partnership” between North and South Korea could turn the peninsula into “a bridge” between different regions of Asia, bringing many advantages.

She claimed that the “political context has changed” since the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore last month.

Minister Kyung-wha described the North Koreans as “very tough, smart negotiators” but emphasised that peace with the South presents a valuable economic opportunity for the North.

She said the South Korea and the United States have jointly agreed to suspend military exercises but stressed that the withdrawal of American forces from South Korea is not under discussion in negotiations with the North.

Common Goal

Asked about Japan, she said: “I am in frequent contact with Taro Kono, my Japanese counterpart. There are frequent trilateral meetings with the Chinese, too, up to the Prime Ministerial level and this frequent communication assures us that we move in the same direction.

“The message may be different but I think the ultimate commitment to our goal is one that we all very clearly share.”

And in another sign that the relationship between South Korea and Japan is in a good state, the South Korean government has donated 100 million yen to Japan in response to recent natural disasters.

The EU and Japan claim to “light up the darkness”



Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says that Japan and the European Union are “leading the world as the champions of free trade at a time when protectionism has spread.”
He was speaking in Tokyo after signing a sweeping free trade deal with the EU.

The BBC says companies from the EU, the world’s biggest free-trade zone, currently export more than $100bn in goods and services to Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, every year.

Most of the media reports have contrasted the deal with the protectionist approach of President Donald Trump, who is pursuing an “America First” policy.

This approach is seen as stoking up a trade war with China and has also led to tariffs on imports from US allies, including Japan and the EU.

Tusk talking

There was particularly good analysis of the deal in the Guardian newspaper, written by its Brussels correspondent Daniel Boffey. It includes a long and revealing quote from the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.

Mr Tusk said: “Politically, it’s a light in the increasing darkness of international politics. We are sending a clear message that you can count on us. We are predictable – both Japan and [the] EU – predictable and responsible and will come to the defence of a world order based on rules, freedom and transparency and common sense. And this political dimension is even more visible today, tomorrow, than two months ago and I am absolutely sure you know what I mean.”

“It’s a light in the increasing darkness of international politics” EU Council President Donald Tusk
He continued: “Let me say that today is a good day not only for all the Japanese and Europeans but for all reasonable people of this world who believe in mutual respect and cooperation …We are putting in place the largest bilateral trade deal ever. This is an act of enormous strategic importance for the rules-based international order, at a time when some are questioning this order.”

Asked how he would respond to concerns that free trade could threaten jobs, Tusk responded: “Political uncertainty, tariff wars, excessive rhetoric, unpredictability, irresponsibility; they are a real risks for our businesses, not trade agreements.”


The Japanese government is presenting the free trade deal with Europe as a successful outcome of Prime Minister Abe’s “Abenomics” policies.

They are designed to stimulate the economy by promoting Japanese businesses and brands internationally.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry says it expects “even higher growth and economic returns moving forward due to the Abenomics policy, promoting free, fair and open trade through agreements like the EPA and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP 11).”

That is a reference to the ambitious multilateral TPP trade deal initiated by Mr Abe. It previously had the backing of President Obama but President Trump withdraw America from the negotiations soon after taking office.

Mr Abe is now trying to revive the arrangement without the involvement of the United States but has left the door open for America to join, if it wishes to do so.

SoftBank has China and the US singing its tune






Billionaire Masayoshi Son has pulled off another clever deal involving Japan, China and the United States.

Mr Son, the founder and CEO of SoftBank, has announced that his company will buy $2 billion worth of stock in the internet portal Yahoo Japan.

Unlike in Europe and the US, where Yahoo has long been out of fashion, Yahoo Japan is still the main site through which Japanese people access the internet, including news and social media. Bloomberg says Yahoo Japan is a “cash cow” that reliably generates $2 billion of pre-tax earnings per year.

Grand ambition

Mr Son is an ambitious investor who has spent a vast fortune buying stakes in tech companies.

Reuters points out that this deal with Yahoo Japan is funded by money from the Chinese internet giant Alibaba, channelled through an investment fund which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Mr Son is adept at keeping a foot in both the Chinese and American camps, despite the rivalry between the countries which recently led to an all-out trade war over tech.

Asian plan

So what will Mr Son do with Yahoo Japan? I expect he will try to integrate it into a network of businesses which are broadly based on “the internet of things”.

An important aspect of his investment strategy is to make the most of economic growth in Asia. So I wasn’t surprised to read on Bloomberg that SoftBank will try to use its investment in Yahoo to target vibrant markets such as India.

New competition

Over the past five years, SoftBank has completed $89 billion of deals. The Economist says this makes the SoftBank Vision Fund, which is managed out of London, the most important investor in the world.

The Financial Times recently published an article which said that the Chinese have been watching Softbank’s strategy and have set up a rival, modelled on its business. The FT says that a state-owned company called China Merchants Group has been enlisted to buy up technology, especially Chinese tech start-ups. The FT says the China New Era Technology Fund will be launched in direct competition with SoftBank’s $100bn Vision Fund.

But I wonder – is it really is a rival to SoftBank? Given Mr Son’s careful diplomacy with the Chinese government and his ties to the business establishment, isn’t it possible that he would quietly support a project that has many of the same goals as SoftBank?

Perhaps he would also be a good person to advise on how to prevent the trade war escalating and damaging the economic and business interests of America, China and Japan.


Hanging the terror cult highlights Japan’s unusual view of justice

Most people in Japan appear to agree with the death penalty, especially in the case of shocking crimes.

Yet this position leaves Japan at odds with the approach of most developed countries. It also associates Japan with places where the death penalty is used frequently, including China, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan.

Cult executed

This week, Japan’s Ministry of Justice announced that the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) sect Shoko Asahara (real name Chizuo Matsumoto), 63, and six of his closest associates were executed by hanging in Tokyo.

The cult was infamous for its sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo Metro system in 1995, which killed 13 people and injured thousands more. The incidents profoundly shocked Japan, which has a very low crime rate.

In this particular case – Japan’s most notorious terrorist attack – there seems to have been little dismay among the general public that the cult members were put to death in prison.

Strong opinions

Some time ago, the Japan Times ran an article about the death penalty which said that a government survey taken in 2014 suggested that 80 percent of people favour capital punishment. I have often challenged the value of such surveys in the Japanese media but I know that is rare to find people who are strongly opposed to the death penalty.

Yet, outside Japan one can hear voices of concern. Immediately after the recent hangings, the German government’s human rights envoy, Baerbel Kofler, called the poison gas attack on the Tokyo’s subway a “terrible deed.”

But he but also said that ” despite the seriousness of this crime the German government stands by its principled rejection of the death penalty as an inhumane and cruel form of punishment that should be abolished worldwide.”

Germany, because of its terrible history under Adolf Hitler, is particularly strong on condemning state killing of any form. However, the death penalty is banned throughout Europe, with the exception of Belarus.

The Daily Telegraph explains that Japan is one of only 53 countries worldwide which still employs the punishment.
It quotes some disturbing information from Amnesty International about the situation in Asia. “China remained the world’s top executioner but the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret.”

Amnesty says that leaving China aside, 23 countries carried out at least 993 executions last year (down on the 1,032 that took place in 2016, and the 1,634 that occurred in 2015).

Nevertheless, Japanese Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa has said that capital punishment is “unavoidable” for heinous crimes. Speaking at press conference following the executions, she said that she ordered them only after “careful consideration.”

Experimental genius Ryuichi Sakamoto draws us into his musical orbit

There have been some major concerts in London this week.

Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters played two nights at the London Stadium and Taylor Swift brought her Reputation tour to Wembley.

But the hottest tickets in town were for two shows by a 66-year-old Japanese pianist who has devoted the past twenty years of his career to challenging, experimental works.

Sell out success

I was fortunate enough to attend both the sell-out gigs by Ryuichi Sakamoto and my admiration for him has increased thanks to his remarkably bold performances.

Sakamoto is a legendary figure in Japan, thanks to his pioneering work with the techno band Yellow Magic Orchestra in the 1970s and 1980s. He went on to write beautiful, stirring soundtracks to a number of successful films, including the Last Emperor.

He still makes soundtracks, although they are usually quite dissonant, such as his 2015 score for the French horror TV series, the Revenant.

En vogue, in mode

Sakamoto performed in London as part of a festival he curated called Mode, which presented a range of emerging and established experimental artists from Japan to perform with like-minded musicians from Europe, South America and the US. The highlight was a big show at the Barbican which featured a collaboration between Sakamoto and Alva Noto, a musician from Germany originally known as Carsten Nicolai. Sakamoto played a grand piano while his friend provided various electronic sound effects and created beats from synthesizers and drum machines.

For the first part of the concert, Sakamoto rarely touched the piano’s keyboard. Instead, he stood beside the instrument, dropping coins onto its strings or plucking them with a pair of chopsticks. At one point, he crumpled up a paper bag up for a few minutes while the audience sat mesmerised by the sound amplified through a huge speaker system, accompanied by some thrilling computer-generated visuals.

Towards the end of the show, Sakamoto did play a few chords on the piano and steered us towards melody. But there was no performance of any of the tunes he made famous with YMO or through his films.

Is it music?

The second Sakamoto show was even more experimental. It was held at an abandoned factory in East London and the opening acts were two British bands with a taste for noisy abstraction. Sakamoto collaborated on stage with David Toop, a person who says he “doesn’t like music” any more but prefers the “silence and the space between notes.”

Mr Toop also plays the paper bag and at one point the pair were loudly scrunching together. Toop also uses all kinds of other tools and instruments which produce fascinating, impressionistic sounds. To accompany him, Sakamoto spent most of the time toying with the insides of his piano and almost never touched its keys – although this time he also used a small toy piano and a red electric guitar, with which he produced some astonishing noises.

A new generation listens

It was striking to watch the audience for these shows – particularly the tiny gig in the warehouse. Many of them were young and can’t have been aware of Sakamoto’s music or reputation until fairly recently. There were a number of Japanese fans but also people from China, Taiwan and South Korea. I made friends with a visitor from Seattle who had come to London just for the festival. It was a hip, international crowd and I think everyone felt pleased to be part of something special.

What really struck me, particularly about the Barbican show, was that Ryuichi Sakamoto’s approach to music has coincided with a more mainstream appreciation of art which draws on modern classical, techno and soundtracks. This has helped fuel a rise in interest in composers such as Jon Hopkins, Nils Frahm and Max Richter.

Sakamoto’s Mode festival continues with a few more interesting events in London running until mid-July but he is not scheduled to play live again. However, if you’d like to share your enthusiasm for Japanese music, do message me or post your comments below.


Japan’s tidy fans impress at World Cup

Japan has the best football fans at the World Cup, according to a report in the British tabloid newspaper, the Sun.

It says that the Japanese football supporters stayed behind to clean up the stadium in Russia following their team’s win against Colombia.

Apparently, the well-organised supporters took bin bags to the game with them, just as Japanese fans did when their team played in the 2014 World Cup.

The Sun, which is a paper obsessed with football, reports their behaviour with admiration and surprise.
Another website, News.com.au claims “this incredible gesture from Japanese fans has embarrassed every other supporter base at the Russia 2018 World Cup.”

Tidy team-work

I am not particularly surprised by this group clean-up. Nor do I think for a moment it was designed to embarrass or shame the fans of any other nation. It’s simply part of the Japanese mindset.

School children in Japan learn to clean the classrooms and playgrounds from a young age. Adults often judge others on the basis of their cleanliness. People say that a person who follows complicated rules on recycling is a “good neighbour”.

I have observed that the Japanese are particularly strong in two related areas – teamwork and problem solving. Group cleaning, whether at a football match, or at a school or an apartment block, is a reflection of those qualities. The Japanese also like to leave a good impression abroad and this is partly motivated by their desire to create a good basis for trade. In business, their primary goal is to gain influence and wealth through trade – and thus bring security and prosperity to their homeland.

Good example

Well-managed businesses play an important role in formulating ideas and guiding the behaviour of staff and wider society. Big companies have grand ambitions. For example, Itochu, one of Japan’s largest trading houses, has a mission statement which commits it to the Global Good and pledges to maintain “the Itochu values – Vision, Integrity, Diversity, Passion and Challenge – which have not changed since we were founded over 150 years ago.”

The personality traits of the Japanese are distinctive and intriguing. They leave a strong impression everywhere they go – just as they have in Russia. I am pleased that the Japanese national team won a victory in their opening game. But I am also pleased that their supporters showed in a simple way their nation’s strong sense of group responsibility – so much so that even the tabloid newspapers sing their praises.

Cleaning up the litter in a football stadium won’t serve the world’s problems. But it does show the Japanese are energetic, well prepared and ready to get their hands dirty.

Why does PM Abe remain so patient with President Trump?

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears closer to Donald Trump than any other foreign leader. He could even be regarded as having an “America First” policy, with the goal of convincing Mr Trump to act in the best interests of America’s ally Japan.

Yet it is a far from easy relationship. For the past week, Mr Abe has been a constant voice in Donald Trump’s ear. First, he went to Washington for talks about trade and North Korea at the White House. Then, Mr Abe attended a difficult G7 meeting in Canada, at which Mr Trump clashed with other members of the group.

Patience under pressure

The G7 leaders tried to show Mr Trump the value of collaboration on trade, apparently to no avail. A photograph of the meeting shows Mr Abe looking frustrated at a confrontation between President Trump and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Almost as soon as he returned from Canada, Mr Abe was back on the telephone to Mr Trump ahead of the Singapore summit with Kim Jong-Un of North Korea. Mr Abe said that he hopes the summit will be a major step toward peace and stability in Asia and reminded reporters that Japan, the United States and South Korea share a similar foreign policy in response to the threat from North Korea.

The China factor

Journalists from Reuters helped to put the Abe-Trump relationship into context. “In dozens of conversations, Mr Abe has counselled President Trump to avoid making concessions to North Korea that could upset East Asia’s balance of power – including a military retreat from South Korea that would leave Tokyo alone on the front lines against China’s growing power.”

Mr Abe finds common ground with Mr Trump on the challenges arising from China and North Korea. Nevertheless, they fundamentally disagree about their basic approach to trade. Mr Abe favours multilateral, international agreements but these are anathemas to the protectionist tendencies of Mr Trump.

Intense debate

Mr Abe said after the G7 meeting in Canada that there had been moments of “intense debate” during the discussion on trade and suggested that “anxiety and dissatisfaction with globalisation” sometimes leads to protectionism. “But we must not turn back the clock,” he added. “For measures that restrict trade will not be in the interests of any country.”

“Measures that restrict trade will not be in the interests of any country”-

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe

Mr Abe has lobbied President Trump for an exemption on steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by America – so far, to no avail. Like other leaders, Mr Abe must wonder if he can trust Mr Trump to hold to international agreements.

Still talking

Yet a quote from the Financial Times by the former leader of the Conservative party in Canada, Rona Ambrose, indicates why Mr Abe still values his talks with Mr Trump. “There is is nothing more important than leaders looking each other eye to eye,” she said. “Minds are changed and opinions are swayed.”


Tourism is good for the economy but is it messing up Japan’s beauty?





Japan has become the fastest growing tourist destination in the world.  While much of the media praises its success, there are also articles pointing out the problems.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation estimates that 28.7 million overseas travellers stayed in Japan in 2017, a rise of 334 per cent since 2010. The Daily Telegraph notes that this makes Japan the 12th most visited country on the planet.  

These impressive numbers were not achieved by accident. The Japanese government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made tourism a top priority as part of its Abenomics policy to revive the economy.

Asian arrivals

The influx of Chinese tourists is particularly striking. Last time I walked through Shinsaibashi (心斎橋) in the centre of Osaka, I seemed to hear more people speaking Chinese than Japanese. Most Chinese visitors to Japan say they are charmed by the hospitality of their polite hosts and this is good for relations between the two countries.

In fact, people from most of Asia may now enter Japan without a visa, including visitors from China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Tourism pollution

However, as the media points out, there are challenges associated with the increased tourism. The Telegraph says that some residents of Kyoto complain the city is so overrun they can’t use local buses or get a reservation for their favourite restaurants. The paper says that the city’s refined atmosphere known as miyabi is under threat by kankō kōgai or “tourism pollution.”

When tourists come to Japan, they want to see peaceful tea houses in ancient zen gardens. Instead, they often find swarms of tourists taking pictures of each other outside famous attractions. This can be frustrating both for them and for the local residents. In an effort to address the problem, the Japanese government will, from next year, charge overseas visitors a ¥1,000 exit tax and use the funds to boost tourist infrastructure.

Neighbour’s admiration

Japan’s approach to tourism has been praised by other countries. The Joong Ang Daily says South Korea can learn from its neighbour’s success. Last year, Japan had double the number of tourists of Korea.

The Joong Ang admires the way the Japanese government has helped regions across the country promote their local histories, products and attractions. It says by not transforming every town and city into a generic metropolis, the government has welcomed overseas tourists to destinations beyond Tokyo.

This is a big contrast to Korea, where 78 percent of foreign visitors only visit Seoul and 20 percent restrict their travels to Jeju Island.

I hope that next time I go to South Korea, I will be able to learn more about the country by heading out into the countryside and visiting small towns. My friends assure me that there is much hidden beauty in South Korea, just as there is in Japan.

The Trump-Kim summit carries many risks for Japan

In the classic British children’s story Alice Through The Looking Glass, the Red Queen tells Alice: “Sometimes I believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

I was reminded of those words when I met a South Korean diplomat recently who told me: “We would like to see the promise of peace emerging from something seemingly impossible.”

He was talking of the much anticipated summit between America’s President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un.

A year ago, it would have seemed impossible to imagine such an event taking place. Then, after Mr Trump said he would cancel the summit, it would have been impossible to still expect it go ahead in Singapore in June. Now there are signs that it will indeed happen.

Trust issues

Diplomats thrive on a calm optimism; it is their job to keep hope alive. They can take inspiration from history, which shows us that during most seemingly intractable disputes, the promise of a resolution looks far off when the peace talks start. Nevertheless, conflicts are sometimes resolved in unexpected ways. So in diplomatic circles across Asia, one can still hear prayers of hope being muttered that a sustainable peace on the Korean peninsula can finally be achieved.

Japan’s support

The Japanese government is backing the idea of talks between Mr Trump and Mr Kim. It is not particularly enthusiastic about the summit in Singapore but will do nothing to prevent it. Japan’s Ambassador to London, Koji Tsuruoka, wishes the meeting success but says that holding the summit is not, in itself, a goal. “The goal that the world is expecting is complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea,” he said.

“We’ve always been consistent in asking North Korea to comply with all the United Nations security council resolutions, which were unanimously adopted and represent the will of the people of the world. What we are now looking for is action which will bring us towards peace and stability,” said Ambassador Tsuruoka.

“We are looking for is action which will bring us towards peace and stability” Ambassador Koji Tsuruoka

Reading Trump

Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been in regular touch with Mr Trump but cannot completely trust his ally. His concern is that Donald Trump could become so focussed on his America First agenda that he will compromise on protection of its allies in Asia.

If the meeting goes ahead, Kim Jong-Un is likely to say that any offer to scale back his nuclear programme should be balanced by a reduction of the American military presence in South Korea and Japan. Would Mr Trump offer concessions on that point if he felt he could extract a deal which would protect US cities from missile attacks?

Tokyo under threat

In Japan, Mr Kim remains a sinister figure who has threatened to obliterate Tokyo. Mr Abe has called the prospect of a nuclear-capable North Korea “absolutely unacceptable” and has said that the security situation is the severest since the Second World War.

Japan has the bitter memory of having been the only country to have suffered devastating atomic attacks. To put things in perspective, the Hiroshima bomb was 15 kilotons. Last year, the size of North Korea’s nuclear test was more than ten times that at 160 kilotons. With the prevention of another catastrophe uppermost in his mind, Shinzo Abe has ordered a review of Japan’s defence capabilities and advocates constitutional reform to strengthen the military’s role.

A clear agenda

Mr Abe also wants Mr Trump to use America’s enormous military advantage to press North Korea into line and he wants clarity on what a peace deal and denuclearisation actually mean in a Korean context.

For the talks to succeed, they require carefully preparation, which is why a delay would be no bad thing from Japan’s perspective. As things stand, a lack of trust all round puts the summit in the high risk category. But for those with sufficient faith, nothing is impossible.