LONDON – Japan opposes any withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula in exchange for North Korea’s denuclearization, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an interview with the Financial Times published Monday.
“It is my understanding that there is no such idea in the minds of the U.S. side nor in the mind of President (Donald) Trump,” the British newspaper quoted Abe as saying.
He made the comments as Washington and Pyongyang are considering a second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, following their historic meeting in June.
Slightly less than 30,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a significant portion of the country’s military presence in Asia. If the contingent were to be downsized, it would put a large burden on the 47,000 U.S. troops currently in Japan as well as Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.
On track to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister after winning his Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership election last month, Abe is looking to use his final three years to achieve his long-sought goal of amending the pacifist Constitution to clarify the legality of the SDF.
The 64-year-old said in the interview that he was aware of the political risks of initiating the public referendum that would be necessary for constitutional reform.
“I am aware of the British example, I am aware of the Italian example,” he said, referring to votes in the two countries that led to the resignations of British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Cameron had said he would remain as prime minister and implement the result of the referendum on membership of the European Union in June 2016, but he resigned the day after the United Kingdom voted to leave. Renzi quit in December 2016 after the Italian public rejected his constitutional reform plans in a national referendum.
“Of course, there are several risks in politics,” Abe said.
On the subject of trade, Abe said Japan is not asking the United States for reciprocal tariff reductions in recently started negotiations on a bilateral deal.
“I don’t feel there are excessive tariffs in so many sectors when it comes to trade between Japan and the United States,” he said.
Trump is seeking to reduce his country’s trade deficit with Japan but has promised to shelve his threat of additional automobile tariffs while the negotiations continue.
Abe also stressed that Trump assured him Washington would not push for greater access for agricultural products than Japan has given in other trade deals.
In the same interview, Abe also said Japan would welcome Britain “with open arms” into a Trans-Pacific trade pact.
Abe, one of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s closest international allies, also said he hopes both sides in Britain’s deadlocked Brexit negotiations will be able to reach a compromise to avoid a disorderly Brexit.
British Trade Minister Liam Fox said in July he would consult the public about a possible bid to join the Pacific trade group, which includes Canada, Australia and Mexico, once Britain leaves the EU.
May’s government has touted the freedom to strike new trade deals outside the EU as one of the main economic benefits of Brexit, but its ability to do so could yet depend on the outcome of negotiations in Brussels.
Both sides are hoping to agree on a deal by November, but the stalled negotiations have left some investors worried that Britain could end up leaving the bloc without a deal — an outcome that many say will damage the British economy.
“I hope that both sides can contribute their wisdom and at least avoid a so-called disorderly Brexit,” Abe told the newspaper.
Japanese firms have spent more than £40 billion (almost $52.5 billion) in Britain, encouraged by successive governments since Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s promised them a business-friendly base from which to trade across the continent.
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