Country Reports

Not only was Abe battered by a domestic scandal, his foreign policy was rocked by diplomacy, history, and trade shocks. The North Korean presence at the Winter Olympics saw Japanese media warning about Seoul turning soft and breaking away from the “maximum pressure” approach of Tokyo and Washington, which was reinforced by warnings in early March about North-South plans for a summit, only to be undercut by Trump’s decision to meet with Kim Jong-un. In place of a struggle focused on Seoul, suddenly trilateral relations were in jeopardy—even more so due to Trump’s threats directed at Japan-US trade apart from Korean matters. Moon Jae-in’s history speech on March 1 aggravated concerns about the “history card,” seen as a blow to bilateral relations in general. There was no saving grace for Japanese diplomacy—Abe was overshadowed at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, deteriorating Sino-US and Russo-US relations and media images of the two major powers Abe was courting cast a shadow, and the close Abe-Trump bond appeared less as a reliable relationship than as something that would need tending in a rushed April visit by Abe.

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