National / Politics

North Korea alleges 'nuclear weaponization' by Japan as Trump-Kim summit draws near

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

In the latest jab at perennial foe Japan, Pyongyang has blasted Tokyo over its alleged “nuclear weaponization” just days ahead of a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.

In a commentary published Saturday in the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling party criticized what it claimed were “voices for the revision of the constitution and increased military spending and nuclear weaponization” from within the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The commentary said that under Abe, Japan “can go nuclear anytime after giving up ‘three non-nuclear principles.’ ” Consequently, it claimed, “peace in the Asia-Pacific region will be exposed to a great danger.”

Japan, the only country to have endured a nuclear attack, has long maintained that it adheres to its three nonnuclear principles of not possessing, not producing and not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons. However, the government admitted in 2010 that previous administrations had lied to the public for decades about atomic weapons, after a government-appointed panel confirmed the existence of secret Cold War-era agreements allowing the U.S. to bring them into the country.

The Rodong Sinmun commentary said that if Japan ditches its three nonnuclear principles, there would be “unimaginable” and “catastrophic consequences.”

“All the countries that truly want global peace and security should keep close watch over Japan’s nuclear weaponization.”

Japan has ramped up military spending and the acquisition of sophisticated weapons in recent years, spending around 1 percent of its gross domestic product on the Self-Defense Forces — which, given the size of its economy, makes it one of the world’s biggest military spenders.

Still, it was unclear what spurred the commentary, though in recent years some lawmakers, including Shigeru Ishiba, former secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, have said that Japan should at least discuss rethinking its stance on nuclear weapons.

Experts say Japan, with its civilian nuclear program, fissile materials and existing weaponization technology, could probably develop a small arsenal of nuclear devices within a year if there was motivation to do so.

There is currently little public or political appetite for such a move, but some experts have warned that sentiment could shift if the U.S. under Trump pulls back from the region, especially as it comes to grips with a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Trump is due to meet Kim for their second summit Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the North’s denuclearization, and White House talk of a possible deal that eliminates the threat to the U.S. first — part of Trump’s “America First” policy — has left exposed Asian allies concerned about Washington’s commitment to the region.