Tokyo’s mood mixed over rocket launch

Some people voice anger, fear toward North Korea, others call official reaction to event overblown

by Mariko Kato and Natsuko Fukue

There was a mixture of anger and surprise on the streets of Tokyo on Monday over North Korea’s rocket launch.

“North Korea is acting like a scoundrel, threatening an unarmed man with a gun,” a 74-year-old retired man near JR Yurakucho Station in Chiyoda Ward said of Sunday’s launch, declining to give his name.

The hermit state’s ability to pose a missile threat also came as a shock for Yoko, a resident of Fukuoka Prefecture who gave only her first name.

“I thought North Korea only had skills to do military marches and only had old-fashioned military technology, but I was wrong,” she said.

For others unclear about what North Korea’s intent may have been, the official anger from the government appeared overdone.

“I don’t know why Japan can criticize North Korea so publicly and confidently when there’s no absolute proof that the rocket wasn’t just (carrying) a satellite,” said a 24-year old woman working in the financial industry who also asked not to be named.

But if it had been carrying a warhead, it would pose a dangerous threat to Japan, she said.

“It’s frightening because we can’t read the next steps of a country that would use enough money to feed its poor country for a year on missile experiments,” she said.

Meanwhile, voices on the street were sympathetic to the government’s false alarms Saturday.

“Because it was the first time they had tried to communicate on such a scale, of course errors were going to occur,” said a 51-year old male executive in the financial industry who lives in Chiba Prefecture.

It would be unreasonable to demand a cut in government spending on national security on the one hand while expecting an efficient response in such emergencies, he added.

A 23-year old male student from Shinagawa Ward agreed.

“It’s better to be too careful than to miss the rocket when it actually flew,” he said, noting Japan on its own has a hard time pressuring Pyongyang. Therefore “we need help from more powerful countries like the U.S.”

While collaborating with other countries, including China and Russia, to dissuade the North from launching a rocket may be crucial, some people think it may not be realistic.

“It would be hard for the Japanese government to tackle the issue with them” because they are not critical of North Korea’s rocket launch, said a 58-year-old engineer near Yurakucho Station, adding that European countries aren’t interested because the North has no plan to fire a rocket their way.

The financial industry executive said Japan couldn’t do much to prevent the rocket launch because of the Self-Defense Forces’ limitations.

One way to prevent another rocket from being fired over Japan may be to build up more intense defenses, the 74-year-old retiree said, but he thinks the public is too complacent regarding crisis-management.

However, Ishihara, 32, a day care nurse in Minato Ward who declined to give her first name, said that as a mother of a baby girl, she does not want Japan to be armed to the teeth, even against North Korea.

“There should be a way to solve the issue without using military force,” she said.

Order to stand down

KYODO Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada has terminated the interception order he issued to the Self-Defense Forces in connection with the North Korean rocket that flew safely over Japan on Sunday.

The SDF did not attempt an interception based on the order because neither the rocket nor any debris from it fell toward Japan or threatened the safety of the public or property, the ministry said.

The rocket took several minutes to fly over the Tohoku region after its first stage apparently fell harmlessly into the Sea of Japan about 280 km off the coast of Akita.

Hamada issued the order late last month to intercept the rocket or its debris in case it appeared to be falling toward Japanese territory.

Aegis destroyers equipped with antiballistic missile interceptors were deployed to the Sea of Japan and Patriot guided-missile batteries were deployed to Akita and Iwate prefectures and in and around Tokyo to be ready for an interception.

Obama goal backed

Kyodo News

Japan expressed strong support Monday for U.S. President Barack Obama’s ambitious vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

“The Japanese government has strongly sought nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, which was expressed in the speech by President Obama in Prague,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told a news conference.

“As the only nation to experience atomic bombings, Japan has sought nuclear powers’ efforts for disarmament,” he said.

“The Japanese government strongly hopes that President Obama’s call will foster momentum for nuclear disarmament on a global level that includes the participation of other nuclear-weapons states,” he said.

Japan aims to continue strengthening cooperation with the global community to achieve a nuclear-free world and the success of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review in 2010, Kawamura added.

In his speech Sunday in the Czech capital, Obama said the U.S., as the only nation to have used atomic weapons in war, will take the lead in seeking a world without such arms.