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North Korea and the ‘Japan Card’

J T Brown
- So what will be the endgame?

Regarding what to do about North Korea, the New York Times’ William Safire recently posed the question of whether or not China wanted "to see Japan…become a nuclear power?"*1 Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post takes it one step further and flatly states "We should go to the Chinese and tell them plainly that if they do not join us in squeezing North Korea, we will endorse…..sympathetically regard any request by Japan to acquire American nuclear missiles as an immediate and interim deterrent. If our nightmare is a nuclear North Korea, China's is a nuclear Japan."*2
Well now. Bluffing the Japan card, that would be one thing. But if we so much as broach the subject, we have to be ready to answer that very same question of Mr. Safire: do we really want to see Japan become a nuclear power?

Since North Korea has mounted a rather shrill campaign of brinksmanship with the U.S.(ie. candidly admitting to its breakout from the 1994 Agreed Framework, withdrawal from the Non-proliferation Treaty, threatening to renounce the Korea War armistice), the Bush administration's actual response, as of late, has been alternatively to offer carrots, or simply to try and ignore all the fulminations, hoping the problem will just go away. To wit, both the President Bush and the Secretary of State Powell have promised that the US will not invade North Korea, the resumption of food shipments has been announced, and a renewed willingness to hold bilateral talks has been extended; Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "Of course we're going to have direct talks with North Korea. There's no question about it.".

It remains to be seen, however, if this accomodating tone will be enough to quell the North's flailings. No sooner was the food aid resumption announced by Secretary Powell, who was visiting South Korea to attend the swearing in of President Noh Moon Hyun, North Korea both fired a short-range missile in the direction of Japan and reactivated a nuclear reactor at its Yongbyon complex.
What exactly are the North’s intentions? Nobody on the outside knows with certainty the precise goals of Kim Jong Il, Defense Minister Kim Il Ch'ol, and whomever else might be formulating strategy inside North Korea. But somewhere along the line, the North apparently decided to take advantage of the world’s alarm over it’s resumption of its nuclear weapons program, and embarked on a two-pronged strategy to finagle aid out of the world's two richest countries.

I say "two-pronged", because what is often now forgotten is that just two weeks before touching off this crisis with the U.S. last October, the North’s leader Kim Jong Il hosted a surprise summit with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Both sides were hoping to improve ties, with North Korea ultimately trying to improve its position in asking for aid. But it was during this get-together that Kim abruptly ended decades of bold-faced denials about his state’s program of kidknapping and spiriting away Japanese citizens to use as live resources for espionage. He not only admitted it, the North then even allowed those kidnap victims that were not deceased (the majority were said to have died, under dubious circumstances) to make a short return visit to Japan for the first time since their kidnappings.(On a side note, those surviving five have remained in Japan, to the chagrin of North Korea.)

The timing of these two events, and all this sudden candor, makes it appear as though we may be looking at a coordinated strategy. A woefully miscalculated strategy, which plunged North Korea into two separate international crises, vis-a-vis the very nations it set out to milk. For Japan has also cut off aid to North Korea. And the Japanese media and populace have been indulging in non-stop seething over the story of the kidnap victims' plight over the last thirty years.

So what will be the endgame? Because the North has been trying to exploit what it perceives as a window of opportunity in the leadup to a war with Iraq, it's hard to imagine that they see any disincentive to not continue and try and extort as much as possible, perhaps even after a war with Iraq is underway.

Comes now the issue raised by Messrs. Safire and Krauthammer. Has the time come for Japan to go nuclear? Is it in the West’s interests to encourage it? As both a resident and a seventeen-year observer of Japan, I firmly think not.

These recent events have already strengthened the hands of those who have long favored remilitarization here in Japan. Making a pronouncement that was considered unthinkable just a few years ago, the Japanese Defense Minister has come out and said that Japan would launch a military strike against North Korea if it thought the latter was preparing for an attack on Japan. Ordinarily, the impulse to make such a statement might be countenanced. But that revulsion to a remilitarized Japan which Mr. Krauthammer invokes, applies to all of Japan’s neighbors throughout Asia. They still remember all too clearly the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, with all its annexations, its forced labor, and its vivisections. Indeed, that the Korean Peninsula is divided and North Korea exists at all, is the aftermath of perhaps the most brutal, most thorough of all of Japan’s colonizations. And to this day, Japan has yet to atone for or admit to what it did as a nation to what it considered inferior peoples of neighboring lands.

Statements such as that by the previous prime minister that "Japan is a divine nation", frightens these neighbors. As do remarks such as those by current Tokyo Metropolitan Governor and single-most often cited prospect for future Prime Minister, Shintaro Ishihara. For years this man has been making demagogic statements. The Rape of Nanking "is a story made up by the Chinese. It has tarnished the image of Japan, but it is a lie.", is just one. *3. His most famous and chilling xenophobic declaration came in an address to Japanese Self-Defense troops in the year 2000. He told the
army that in the event of another earthquake, such as the Great Kanto Earthquake which struck Tokyo in 1923, the army were to take steps to protect the Japanese people against rioting "sankokujin"(ethnic Chinese and Koreans) residing in Japan.*4

The word "sankokujin" is a racial slur that is the equivalent to the "N" word in American English. It hadn’t been part of the Japanese vernacular for fifty years. And what did notoriously happen during the earthquake of 1923 was that police and vigilantes took advantage of the breakdown in law and order and massacred an estimated 6,000 innocent ethnic Koreans under the exhortations of the then government authorities. Afterwards, Ishihara also falsely stated that ethnic minorities rioted in Los Angeles during the 1994 Northridge quake.

Equally troublesome, but far less discussed, is whether or not Japanese society is organizationally ready to have weapons of mass destruction on its hands. At first, this may seem to be an outrageous, bigoted proposition to pose. Afterall, the Japanese have made themselves the second richest nation on earth, are highly educated, and are generally considered to be one of the most stable, efficient societies in the world. But all is not as smooth as it appears from the outside. Yes, Japan still engineers and manufactures the best automobiles. And yes, the Japanese crime rate is lower than that of any existing, declared nuclear power. But there is a serious lack of accountability and sense of responsibility in Japanese society, that permeates it through and through. While this is a topic best handled in a separate essay -or book- to illustrate, just let me offer one example. An example that hits close to home.

The civilian operated nuclear power industry in Japan: it is a mess.
On September 30, 1999, the world’s third worst accident in the history of nuclear power, an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction, took place in the town of Tokaimura in Japan. Directed to do so by management in order to cut costs, workers in a fuel processing plant broke almost every commonly known rule of the industry. Poorly trained employees who didn’t even know that what they were doing was highly dangerous, mixed uranium oxide with nitric acid, while wearing t-shirts instead of proper protective clothing. They also did not have on their photosensitive badges which measure exposure to radioactivity. The mixing of materials –and this is incredible- was not done by using the proper mixing apparatus. It was done in ordinary steel buckets place on on the floor. Per management orders to improve productivity, seven times the correct amount of uranium was mixed in at once. When the chain reaction was set off, gas containing alpha, beta and gamma radiation was sprayed into the community raising radiation levels to 10,000 times the normal level. Plant managers and city officials did not initially alert the town to the unfolding disaster. They tried to cover it up. The fire burned for 20 hours, sending out radioactive plumes, and a fan was stupidly left running for 27 hours, unncessarily worsening the exposure to the community. The two workers mixing the fuel died from massive radiation. Officially, 69 people were contaminated. Nobody knows the long term effects. Over 300,000 people were within the area of radiation exposure.
But venality and disregard for for the public’s safety is rampant in this industry throughout Japan. For example…..
1995: the Monju fast-breeder reactor in western Japan was shut down after a massive eight-ton leak of molten sodium. Managers were caught doctoring the surveillance video to hide the extent of the damage.
1997: back in Tokaimura, a fire exposed 37 people to radiation. Then it was revealed that 2,000 drums of nuclear waste had been leaking for 30 years.
1999: The Tokyo Electric Power Company(TEPCO) nuclear power plant
at Tsuruga leaked 50 tons of radioactive water, at radiation 11,500 times the safety limit. TEPCO first attempted reporting to the public that radiation was only at 250 times safety levels. Management didn’t shut down the plant for 14 hours until after the leak was discovered.
2002: TEPCO was caught faking repair records at Tsuruga to avoid having to shut down reactors to make actual repairs. In fact, they were hiding and failing to repair over 50 cracks on the shroud at the plant. *5
1999: The Kansai Electric Power Co(KEPCO) paid hundreds of millions of yen to Japanese Yakuza through an affiliate, in order to help ‘negotiate’ with owners of land which KEPCO was having ‘problems’ acquiring.*6

These are not all of the scandals that have rocked the nuclear power
industry in Japan. Just the more prominent ones. And though difficult
to believe (yes, this is Japan we’re talking about), the nuclear power industry problems are in fact emblematic of the way the Japanese economy, government, and much of society is actually run. Problems and all sorts of misdeeds are swept under the carpet. Accountability is nowhere to be found.
So in returning to the situation we now face with North Korea, these are vexing and frightening days. But whatever strategy we finally decide upon, encouraging the nuclearization and remilitarization of Japan should not be part of it. For what that would do would be to set off a horrible chain reaction. On the Korean peninsula, in China, and beyond.

*1 The New York Times, January 6, 2003
*2 The Washington Post, January 3, 2003
*3 Playboy Magazine Interview with Shintaro Ishihara, October 1990
*4 Mainichi Daily News Editorial, April 14, 2000
*5 , among others
*6 The Asahi Evening News, November 1, 1999

© JT Brown

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