Growing military tension on the Korean Peninsula has posed another major diplomatic challenge for Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s Cabinet, and Japan needs to form a firm united front with the United States and South Korea to deal with Pyongyang’s provocations, critics said Wednesday.
Kan’s administration was quick to lash out at North Korea for shelling the South’s Yeonpyeong Island on Tuesday and threatened more sanctions against the North.
But Takashi Kawakami, a professor at Takushoku University, said it would be “dangerous” for Japan to act on its own.
“The government needs to view the situation calmly while taking all necessary measures . . . but it’s dangerous to talk about (unilateral) sanctions so lightly,” Kawakami said.
“We don’t know what North Korea is capable of doing, and it is possible that Japan would become a target if (the government) says something or takes action that rubs Pyongyang the wrong way.”
Critics agreed that the U.N. Security Council will likely address the attack.
Kawakami, a security expert, stressed that Japan should seek U.N. sanctions together with the U.S., South Korea and other nations.
“It is a critical situation with alerts being raised, and Japan needs to be very careful and attach great emphasis to U.N. sanctions,” he said.
“And at the same time . . . close cooperation with the U.S. and South Korea is needed now more than ever.”
According to South Korean media reports, the shelling continued intermittently for about two hours Tuesday afternoon. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told reporters Wednesday morning the government doesn’t think there will be any more shooting by Pyongyang for now.
“We have no information that Japan would be under attack,” Sengoku added.
But if tensions ever escalate into a war between the North and South, Tokyo would face daunting tasks, Kawakami said, citing the need to rescue a large number of Japanese from the South while also likely facing waves of refugees from the North.
North Korean refugees would likely end up in Japan because China would block its border to prevent entry and they would not be able to go to South Korea either, he said.
The key player to persuade the North not to take provocative actions, if there is one, is China. Beijing is North Korea’s biggest ally, and Pyongyang relies strongly on China for trade. China also has UNSC veto power as of the five permanent members.
But Masao Okonogi, a political science professor at Keio University, said he doesn’t believe China will take strong action against North Korea.
“I think China has flown into a rage inwardly, thinking it was deceived by North Korea,” Okonogi said.
“But it cannot pull the ladder out now . . . and I don’t know if China will clearly get into step with other countries to criticize North Korea.”
Okonogi also pointed out that Tuesday’s shelling was only one in a string of provocations by Pyongyang. The North most recently was blamed for sinking a South Korean warship in March, killing 46 sailors.
“Ever since the armistice, the North and South have been divided,” said Okonogi. “Just like the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, anything is possible except an all-out war.”
This is the first time Pyongyang has fired at civilian targets since the ceasefire that ended the Korean War in 1953.
Okonogi, an expert on North Korean issues, pointed out that the U.S. and South Korea have refused to negotiate with North Korea unless it takes a step toward denuclearization, and Pyongyang is trying to show it will take provocative action if they continue to ignore it.
The six-party talks between North and South Korea, the U.S., Japan, China, and Russia to end Pyongyang’s nuclear threat have long been stalled.
North Korea is in an unstable political situation, with leader Kim Jong Il’s health in question and the apparent planned succession of his youngest son, Kim Jong Un.
Critics say the North fired on the South with the intention of forcing the U.S. to the negotiating table.
“North Korea’s survival is at stake,” Okonogi said.
“First, Pyongyang decided to target South Korea to resume the North-South dialogue. And it believes that what will follow is the six-party talks and U.S.-North Korean talks.”
YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington departed Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Wednesday to participate in a joint drill with the Maritime Self-Defense Force off Okinawa.
The carrier will also participate in a four-day joint military drill with South Korea in the Yellow Sea from Sunday, a South Korean military official said Wednesday.
The carrier’s skipper, Capt. David Lausman, said at a news conference that the George Washington would head for the scheduled drill and declined comment on whether there was any relationship between the departure and North Korea’s shelling Tuesday of a South Korean island and nearby waters.
Sources close to the U.S. Navy said the carrier will take part in the joint exercise with the MSDF in early December. The flattop is scheduled to return to Yokosuka in mid- to late December, they said.
Sources involved in bilateral relations said earlier that Japan and the U.S. planned to hold a joint drill in December with a focus on defending islands in remote waters.
The plan was drawn up during the fiscal year that ended in March and is not a response to the September run-in between a Chinese trawler and Japan Coast Guard patrol boats near the Senkaku Islands, which Japan controls and Beijing claims, in the East China Sea, the sources said.