On Thursday, President Donald Trump accepted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s invitation to meet, setting in motion a potentially historic diplomatic engagement on the subject of its missile program.
Though the exact time and location of the meeting has yet to be announced, the news appears to have taken Japan by surprise.
The Japanese government received no warning of Trump’s decision, according to The New York Times. Trump is believed to have immediately accepted the invitation after South Korean officials briefed him at the White House. They, too, were reportedly bewildered by his quick response.
After accepting the offer, Trump called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and reassured him that the US would continue to exert maximum pressure on North Korea — a talking point that White House officials touted heavily on Friday in the hours after South Korean leaders announced the Kim Jong-Un invite in front of the White House.
Officials say that during Trump’s call with Abe the Japanese prime minister requested a meeting with the US president. Abe told reporters afterward that the US and Japan would be “together 100%” and that he would meet Trump in April.
But the statement did not appear to ease worries for some officials in Japan.
One unidentified ruling-party lawmaker speculated that North Korea could end up taking advantage of the detente: “Time is in North Korea’s favor,” he told Reuters.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono is already scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington on March 16 to get clarity on US demands for North Korea’s denuclearization, according to Japanese public broadcasting company NHK. Prior to his US trip, Kono will also be briefed by South Korean officials on the recent South-North Korean talks.
Japan’s apparent trepidation amid these latest developments is not occurring in a vacuum. The nation is no stranger to the threats posed by North Korea’s missile tests, and it has felt the brunt of the regime’s provocations.