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Tabloids sharpen claws for North Korea’s ‘X-Day’

by Mark Schreiber

“Japan … has a very shallow depth for defense. No place can be safe from our rocket pounding.” — Kim Jong Son, writing in North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun (April 10)

“The American military has a plan to assassinate Kim Jong Un.” — Front-page headline in Yukan Fuji (April 7)

Three months before the present crisis on the Korean peninsula, Shukan Jitsuwa (Jan. 24) ran an uncharacteristically astute article predicting that in addition to potential for armed conflict with China over the disputed Senkaku Islands, North Korea, under its inexperienced young leader Kim Jong Un, posed a serious threat to Japan.

Although Japan’s Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces are qualitatively superior to their North Korean counterparts, a source in the Defense Ministry warned that the latter’s missiles, even if armed with conventional warheads, could wreak havoc on Japanese cities. “Such a scenario might be followed by landings by North Korean special forces in Kyushu or (a coast) on the Sea of Japan,” said the source.

“Considering the growing potential threat from neighbors, we are approaching a situation where we can’t defend the country,” he continued. “Under these circumstances, it’s clear that we need to establish a kokubo-gun (military for the defense of the nation) and supplement the defense budget to procure high-tech weaponry.”

Now in mid-April, articles about North Korea in the tabloids have increased exponentially and their tone has become increasingly shrill.

For instance, Shukan Bunshun (April 11) warned that — with shades of Thermopylae — only 300 warriors from North Korea might bring Japan to its knees.

A hypothetical attack, to be launched simultaneously with an assault against South Korea, might involve car bombs and VX toxic nerve gas aimed at the American air base in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture; laying of underwater mines outside Yokosuka Navy Base, home to the U.S. 7th Fleet; and plastic explosives targeting the infrastructure at U.S. naval facilities in Sasebo and Yokosuka.

In addition, teams of North Korean special forces saboteurs might also mount attacks on South Korean targets in Japan, such as civilian airliners and merchant vessels, along with guerrilla attacks at nuclear reactors, petroleum storage facilities, department stores and on rail transport and urban subway networks, aimed at turning Japanese public sentiment against the United States.

Finally, in an attempt to “decapitate” the political leadership, the forces would target key American and Japanese individuals for assassination.

Japan, the magazine also claims, has already worked out an emergency plan to evacuate its nationals from South Korea should war break out. Drills have actually been conducted on a plan that calls for such an evacuation to be carried out within four days, with helicopters and aircraft departing from Seoul airport for three hours a day, to evacuate Japanese civilians to the islands of Oki and Tsushima, as well as the cities of Sasebo and Fukuoka.

In its April 7 edition, the Yukan Fuji claimed that the U.S. military, taking a cue from its success in eliminating Osama bin Laden, may use a surgical bombing raid to take out North Korea’s leader, perhaps with F15E fighters dropping “bunker-buster” bombs capable of penetrating concrete-reinforced shelters.

But Byon Jin Il, editor of the Korea Report, counters that notion, saying North Korea is particularly well dug in.

“Pyongyang’s subway is said to be the world’s deepest, built to ward off nuclear attacks by U.S. or South Korean forces,” Byon is quoted as saying. “The tunnels snake around under the city like a maze, making it extremely difficult to pinpoint Kim Jong Un’s location.”

But perhaps the biggest impediment to targeting its leadership is the regime’s total stranglehold on information, as evidenced by its having concealed the death of party secretary Kim Jong Il in December 2011 and the country’s third nuclear test in February of this year.

Shukan Bunshun (Apr. 18) quotes a U.S.-based journalist as saying the U.S. has secretly informed the Abe government that if the North Koreans launch a missile, it will react with a “preemptive attack.”

“The THAAD or Patriot antimissile systems are not 100 percent perfect, but U.S. spy satellites have the capability to detect and calculate missiles’ trajectories at the time they are launched,” the source said. “In other words, should it be clearly determined that the missiles are aimed at, say, Hawaii or Guam, I suppose the U.S. will launch a preemptive attack.”

“Japan’s media has been issuing optimistic reports, to the effect that North Korean provocations are just part of efforts by Kim Jong Un to wrest control of the north’s military,” remarks veteran Sankei Shimbun journalist Yoshihisa Komori. “But we cannot forget that they made good on their vows to develop nuclear weapons and missiles. The U.S. government feels the north’s rhetoric this time is different from the past, and has upped its alert.”

Should the oft-mentioned “X-Day” — the indeterminate date when something that’s expected to happen finally comes to pass — come and go without outbreak of full-scale war, the tabloids are already gearing up for coverage of the next scary crisis — the avian influenza outbreak in China and its implications for Japan.