On Jan. 6, North Korea once again stunned the world with a test of what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb, ratcheting up tensions in northeast Asia.
Japan might not have a viable military deterrent, but this has not prevented its weekly magazines from firing salvos of non-nuclear brickbats.
The main question on everyone’s mind of course is, “What’s the possibility that Japan will be targeted by a North Korean nuclear missile?”
“North Korea has said, ‘We will not resort to use of nuclear weapons unless there’s a threat to our autonomy by a strategic hostile force.’ And in its most recent announcement Japan was not mentioned at all,” remarked Atsumori Ueda, a former analyst at the Defense Ministry, in an interview in Weekly Playboy (Feb. 1). He added, however, “It’s meaningless to take their statements at face value. The U.S. is an ally of Japan, and the presence of its armed forces in Japan might be viewed as ‘a strategic hostile force.’ So Japan’s being targeted can’t be ruled out.”
North Korea may not be the only source of concern, as Shukan Post (Jan 29) reports South Korea may also harbor ambitions to become a member of the nuclear club.
According to Yoshiaki Yano, a visiting instructor at Takushoku University, Park Chung-hee, father of the current president, had ordered secret nuclear weapons development for a period of some 10 years beginning from around 1970. South Korea finally halted its development under pressure from the United States.
“By 1982, it is believed to have developed plutonium extraction technology,” Yano says. “But following Park’s assassination (in 1979), South Korea became a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
“There’s no connection between happenings in the North and South Koreans who have been clamoring for nuclear weapons of their own,” observed Korea-watching journalist Katsumi Murotani. “South Korea began considering development of nuclear weapons long before there were any indications that the North was planning the same.”
This ambition, Murotani opines, stems from the mentality that in order to be regarded by others as a first-class nation, some South Koreans believe it’s necessary for their country to join the “nuclear club.”
Shukan Post cites an opinion survey conducted by a South Korean think tank in 2014 in which 69 percent of the participants replied that they would support the acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Naturally the notion that possession of nuclear weapons will earn the South the world’s respect is no more than “delusionary thinking” — of which North Korea is a prime example.
“South Korea didn’t receive intelligence from the U.S. of the impending nuclear test,” Murotani adds. “Nor was there a teleconference arranged between China’s Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun-hye. So the South is smarting from being snubbed by the superpowers.”
“South Korea’s development of nuclear weapons would bring it closer to war with the North,” commented military affairs journalist Osamu Eya. “Up to now, North Korea’s nuclear threat has served as a deterrent, and mainly to reduce its military gap with the South, so while dangerous, at least a balance is maintained.
“But if both sides were to possess nuclear armaments, the North would lose whatever advantage it had and the military balance between the two sides would crumble. The loss of the North’s nuclear deterrent would raise the chances of a spontaneous blowup.”
During Park’s visit to the United States in September 2014, accompanying top officials in her government met with their U.S. counterparts and raised the point that if North Korea’s nuclear capability were to grow, neighboring countries might be inclined to develop their own stable of nuclear weapons.
“Japan possesses large quantities of plutonium, and is seen as being able to have nuclear weapons at any time,” an unnamed journalist in South Korea is quoted as saying. “After the latest North Korean test, the Sina media portal in China remarked, ‘Japan has long had the ambition and the capability to develop nuclear weapons. What it has lacked is only a pretext for doing so. North Korea’s recent test offers Japan a great opportunity.’
“Here in South Korea, the notion has been growing that the ‘nuclear dominos’ in Northeast Asia may soon begin toppling, Japan included,” he continued. “That accounts for the view by South Koreans who favor our country’s acquiring nuclear armaments as quickly as possible.”
The unkindest cuts of all were issued by Shukan Gendai (Jan. 30), whose headline predicts, “Kim Jong Un will be killed at any moment.” Followed by the warning that, “If North Korea collapses, Japan won’t get off lightly.”
Just how young Kim will meet his demise was lacking in specifics. The article did point out, however, that Kim is said to be held in such contempt by the leadership of Pyongyang’s erstwhile ally, China, that high-ranking government cadres there have unceremoniously dubbed him with the pejorative San-pang, literally three-fat — or more colloquially, “Chubby the Third.”
“Should Kim Jong Un’s rule collapse, two things can be certain,” a source in the Chinese government is quoted as saying. “One is that even if the Kim family requests asylum in China, they’ll only be allowed to stay there for a short time, perhaps one month. The other is that North Korea’s new government, under a framework worked out by six countries, will be spearheaded by China.
“As long as China’s national interests are not threatened, we could care less if, today or tomorrow, ‘San-pang’ were to disappear for good.”