Japan has informed the US government that it has no plans to lift the sanctions it unilaterally imposes on North Korea, according to a media report in Tokyo, even if the summit in Hanoi between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un is perceived to have a positive outcome. The Mainichi newspaper reported that Japan has no intention of sending economic assistance or humanitarian aid to the North even if Trump agrees to relax some of the sanctions that the US has imposed on Pyongyang in response to its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes . When contacted by the South China Morning Post , an official at Japan’s foreign ministry would not confirm the report, but said Tokyo will “encourage the peace process between the US and North Korea”. “The last time that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke with President Trump, the discussions were on how to move the process forward and to resolve the issues of the North’s nuclear and missile programmes and the issue of the abduction of Japanese citizens ,” the official said. “We are working closely with the US, and Japan hopes for a successful outcome from the summit in Hanoi and for the peace and prosperity of the East Asia region.” What will happen to the Japanese abducted by North Korea in the 1970s? Japan has been a firm supporter of UN sanctions against Pyongyang , and has also introduced a number of its own over the last decade that were designed to put pressure on the regime. These include a ban on remittances to the North, except those of 100,000 yen (US$906) or less that can be shown to be for humanitarian purposes, and a ban on North Korean citizens entering Japan. North Korean ships are also forbidden in Japanese ports, as are ships flying the flags of other nations that have also docked in North Korea, while scientists and technicians who have contributed to the North’s nuclear and missile programmes are banned from entering Japan. “Japan is a very consistent foreign policy actor and does not rush into things, so [it] will monitor the summit in the weeks and months afterwards to get a fuller picture of the outcome,” said James Brown, an associate professor of international relations at the Tokyo campus of Temple University. “We know that Japan and the Abe administration are not particularly enthusiastic about the process of dialogue and I believe that the speech that Abe gave to the UN in 2017, in which he essentially stated that dialogue with the North had failed and that it was the time for action, is a more genuine reflection of his attitude towards Pyongyang.” Japan-South Korea ties: on the rocks over Pyongyang? A key concern for Tokyo is that the US might do a deal with Pyongyang that permits North Korea to keep its arsenal of short- and medium-range missiles that are able to hit targets in Japan, which also has the unique issue of its abducted nationals to resolve. “The abductions are central to Abe’s political image , they have always been a key issue that he has campaigned hard on and the missing Japanese are arguably his primary issue with North Korea, above the nuclear weapons and missiles,” Brown said. The Japanese government officially lists eight men and nine women whom it believes were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. Pyongyang has admitted to abducting 13 of the people on the list and issued an apology in 2002. Five were subsequently permitted to return to Japan, with the North claiming that the rest had either died in accidents or of natural causes, or had never entered the country . Tokyo has refused to accept this explanation and has retained its sanctions. Human rights groups in Japan suggest the real number of abductees may be closer to 100 . Abe’s insistence on winning the freedom of the missing Japanese has angered Pyongyang – which claimed to have carried out a search for them and found no trace – and, to a degree, this has isolated Tokyo from recent broader international efforts to engage with the North . US wants Japan and South Korea to tag team China. But history is in the way Jun Okumura, a political analyst with the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs, said that Abe is both unable – for political reasons – and personally unwilling to backtrack on the firm line that he has taken over the abductions. He also has the support of the Japanese public and it matters little if his country is an outlier on Pyongyang, according to Okumura. “Everyone with a voice [on] the North Korea issue is looking out for themselves and yes, Japan might be being left out, but I would have to ask if that is a bad thing,” he said. “No matter what Japan does, it will not lead to meaningful progress on North Korea.” The analyst said that he believes Abe has built up sufficient political capital with Trump to resist any pressure that Kim may try to exert for Japan to lift its unilateral sanctions. “Kim may want to try to make Tokyo lift those sanctions just to stick it to Japan, but I think Abe is in a sufficiently strong position to weather that pressure,” he said.