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Tillerson Makes U-Turn on North Korea Talks

SNA (Tokyo) — This Week in Japan is your source for news and information about politics and other happenings in this East Asian island country. This episode covers the Top Five stories of the second week of December 2017.

One. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proposed this week that talks should be conducted with North Korea unconditionally in order to facilitate communication and to begin the process of bringing the spiraling crisis under better control. It was reasonably clear from the beginning that Tillerson was representing his own opinion rather than that of President Donald Trump or, certainly, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Although Tillerson’s idea is an obvious and sensible step, he quickly made a u-turn and effectively withdrew his offer of negotiations. It can be surmised that Tillerson initially believed that he could defy the US President in his diplomatic initiative, but some pressure was brought to bear upon him that he couldn’t, in fact, resist.

Two. Anti-nuclear groups won perhaps their largest court battle so far when the Hiroshima High Court ruled that the Ikata nuclear power plant must not resume operations because the level of danger from a volcanic eruption is larger than the government believes. This court judgment directly contradicted both the Abe government’s stance as well as the assessment of the Nuclear Regulation Authority. It was a considerable victory for anti-nuclear groups, who were hoping to turn the tide against the nuclear power industry and its political allies.

Three. Just a week after sounding more confident about trying the rebuild the party, the leaders of the centrist opposition Democratic Party began sending out mixed and confusing signals. Party leader Kohei Otsuka even suggested that the party might be dissolved and a new outfit formed. There was also discussion of adopting a new name. In sum, the Democratic Party was sinking back into confusion, and the threat of more lawmakers and local politicians defecting, especially to the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, was increasing.

Four. US Marines at Futenma Air Base in Ginowan, Okinawa, had two separate incidents in which objects fell from helicopters onto nearby educational facilities for children. In the more serious case, a window dropped onto a schoolyard where children were playing, apparently causing one boy very minor injuries. Led by Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, the local communities again expressed their outrage against the island’s disproportionate burden of hosting US military forces in Japan, and the dangers that this subjects them to.

Five. Despite the fact that the supposedly liberal Taro Kono was serving as Foreign Minister, across the board there was very little that resembled diplomacy coming out of the Foreign Ministry. They leaked icy comments to the media about Rex Tillerson’s proposal to talk with North Korea, while offering no credible alternative. While other US allies spoke out about the violence created by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Tokyo was silent. On issue after issue, the only line coming out of the Foreign Ministry was the hard line, as if the meaning of diplomacy had been forgotten.

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