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Compared to “shocks” in 1971-72 and 1987-89, when US policy shifted abruptly toward first China and then the Soviet Union, the shock of 2018 from the US shift toward North Korea is proving even more unsettling. It is seen as leaving Japan at greater risk, more seriously putting the alliance in jeopardy, and raising more profound alarm about the geopolitical logic behind the move. In the earlier shocks Japan soon fell in line and found reassurance, despite flailing about for a time in search of more diplomatic autonomy. The response to the new shock is still uncertain. Prime Minister Abe has tried, to no avail, aligning himself as the foreign leader with the closest ties to President Donald Trump. He has sought to open his own diplomatic track to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but Kim’s stonewalling on the abductee issue so critical to Abe has torpedoed that effort. Abe seems to be hedging his bets by pursuing better relations with Xi Jinping including back-and-forth summits in 2018 and 2019, while continuing to pursue Vladimir Putin in spite of the hardening Russian position on the territorial issue, which is also Abe’s fervent interest. Abe and his supporters are reluctant to acknowledge the depth of the problem, insisting that North Korea will have to make a deal in order to get access to funds in lieu of reparations. Progressive media have called for a major adjustment in foreign policy to rely less on the United States, while accepting the prospect of a new framework for Northeast Asia. The debate inside Japan kept intensifying through June, which merits our closest attention.   

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