LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Watching the escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States closely is Japan. The president had this to say earlier this week.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think Japan is very happy with the job we're doing. I think they're very impressed with the job that we're doing. And let's see how it turns out.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We're going to hear from someone in Tokyo, Japan, right now, that country's former ambassador to Washington, Ichiro Fujisaki. Welcome, sir, to the program.
ICHIRO FUJISAKI: Thank you very much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So are the Japanese feeling reassured by President Trump's rhetoric? Japan, after all, is the only country in the world that has suffered a nuclear attack.
FUJISAKI: Yes. We are very concerned about North Korean missiles and nuclear tests because it's coming very close to us so many times. And compared to, for example, 15, 20 years ago, we are rather reassured because U.S. is getting more serious about this. I think this is because of the extension of the missiles' range. It's coming nearer to the United States. And I think Mr. Trump's statement is good to make it clear to defend allies. So I think Japan and Republic of Korea are rest assured for that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has forged a close relationship with President Trump. He visited him even before the inauguration and then again at Mar-a-Lago. Is this close relationship a political liability or help for Prime Minister Abe?
FUJISAKI: I think it's a great help for him because Japan's defense is totally dependent on United States, and we need U.S. deterrence. So in a time of crisis, if the U.S. president is reassuring Japan, I think this is very important. However, having said that, I think my personal feeling is that it's very important to say it once but doesn't have to be repeated so many times.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What exactly - the president's rhetoric?
FUJISAKI: Yes. I think it could be said by some officials of the government. And I think the tone of also served rather important. It doesn't have to come down to rhetoric of North Korea, as well.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm curious how this is playing out for domestic politics. Prime Minister Abe has wanted to strengthen Japan's defense posture. There was even talk of amending your pacifist constitution written after World War II. Is this crisis making that a more popular position?
FUJISAKI: I don't think this is happening right away. The prime minister has said that it's not an actual calendar now. And he's not trying to push the envelope too much because the - his party has lost very badly in Tokyo election. And he thinks humility is very important. So he's not trying to push his agenda.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think North Korea wants out of this?
FUJISAKI: I think North Korea is trying to establish its own deterrence by really having missiles and nuclear bombs. And they're not trying to attack the United States. But they think that they could be attacked by any other country, so they would like to have deterrence. So they will not easily give it up. We really have to have the pressure from China. And we have to really try to incorporate Japan, United States, as well.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How much focus is there, though, on this issue inside Japan?
FUJISAKI: Very much, very much, every day. Of course, we have been under this for so many years. So it's not new but still. The way they're coming seems more serious than us - than before so. No, the Japanese people are very much concerned. Yes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ichiro Fujisaki served as Japan's ambassador to Washington from 2008 to 2012. He joined us via Skype. Thank you very much for joining us.
FUJISAKI: Thank you very much, Lulu-san.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA'S "BALABARISTAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.