South Korea’s Leader Will Be Odd Man Out in Meeting With Trump and Shinzo Abe

During his presidential campaign, Mr. Moon promised to seek dialogue with North Korea, insisting that sanctions alone would not persuade it to give up its nuclear missile program.

But as North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests have accelerated since his election in May, Mr. Moon has aligned himself closely with the tough line espoused by Mr. Trump and Mr. Abe, while continuing to oppose their openness to a military option. When the three leaders met on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit conference in Germany in July, they agreed to cooperate in enhancing their defense capabilities against the North Korean threat.

Such an agreement between South Korea and Japan was highly unusual. South Koreans have been wary of giving Japan, its former colonial master, any reason to rearm its postwar pacifist military. The leadership in the South also does not want the country dragged into a struggle for regional hegemony between American-backed Japan and China, which is angry at Mr. Moon’s deployment of an American-made antimissile system on South Korean soil.

“Although there is not much common ground between Moon and Abe, the gravity of the North Korean nuclear crisis has brought them together in an uncomfortable partnership,” said Yun Duk-min, a former chancellor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy who now teaches at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.

Some South Koreans suspect Mr. Abe of using the growing threat from the North to push his nationalist agenda at home. They also wonder whether Mr. Abe has been encouraging the Trump administration’s increasingly combative stance toward North Korea, making the situation even more volatile.

“More dialogue with North Korea would be a dead end,” Mr. Abe said in an Op-Ed published in The New York Times on Sunday. “I firmly support the United States position that all options are on the table.”

Photo

Officials at the military airport in Seongnam as Mr. Moon departed for the United States on Monday.

Credit
Yoon Dong-Jin/Yonhap, via Associated Press

Tough talk aside, Japan also fears military action on the Korean Peninsula, which could lead to a regionwide nuclear war, analysts said. By agreeing with Washington to put all options on the table, Mr. Abe is playing the role of reliable United States ally, while hoping to encourage China to moderate the North’s behavior, they said. But domestic…

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