Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe heads to the US on Tuesday, hoping his carefully cultivated relations with "golf buddy" Donald Trump will help keep Japan in the loop and out of danger amid a flurry of diplomacy on North Korea.
During talks at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the two allies are expected to stress the need to maintain "maximum pressure" on Pyongyang, as well as thrash out bilateral trade frictions.
The two golf-mad leaders traded fist-bumps on the course and tucked into burgers and ketchup at a golf club outside Tokyo during Trump's visit in November, where the pair got on so well it sparked headlines of a "bromance".
Buttering up Trump "did Abe's image some good domestically for a while... but such efforts have not produced enough results if you look at things objectively," said professor Mieko Nakabayashi, an expert in US-Japan relations at Tokyo's Waseda University and former lawmaker.
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un has summits scheduled with South Korea and the United States and has already met Chinese President Xi Jinping, leaving Japan conspicuously on the sidelines, with reported overtures from Tokyo towards Pyongyang going unanswered.
Yet it is over Japan that North Korean missiles have been flying and threats to sink the island nation "into the sea" have kept people on edge.
"For Abe, it is important to show that his strategy of sticking to Trump is producing results. In terms of process, he is out of the loop, it's very destabilising for Japan," said a diplomatic source on condition of anonymity.
"But the machine is starting up again," added the diplomat.
However, Asuka Matsumoto, visiting scholar at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, noted that Trump even mentioned the topic in his State of the Union address.
"American threat perception has recently changed since a white American university student, Otto Warmbier, was arrested and severely treated in North Korea, and eventually passed away," she told AFP.
"It's not a charm offensive but a charm defensive," Matsumoto told AFP.
In addition to North Korea, talks will also touch on trade -- another area where Abe's lobbying of Trump appears to have yielded little.
Setting the tone for the trade element of the trip, Trump tweeted Friday that Japan "has hit us hard on trade for years".
As he flies to the US, Abe leaves behind him a host of domestic scandals that have chipped away at his normally high approval ratings. He is embroiled in twin cronyism scandals, with accusations he used his influence to get a veterinary school opened for a close friend dominating headlines in the country.
Trump too is battling on multiple domestic fronts and the US-led air strikes in Syria threaten to overshadow Abe's visit.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)