Japan responds to Pyongyang's latest missile launch with a shrug

The projectile landed in this country's exclusive economic zone, within 200 nautical miles of its coast.

November 29, 2017 18:03
2 minute read.
Japan responds to Pyongyang's latest missile launch with a shrug

Pedestrians walk past a TV set showing news about North Korea's missile launch in Tokyo, Japan, August 29, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)

TAKAYAMA, Japan – North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un fired an intercontinental ballistic missile to a record height on Tuesday, claiming the completion of his nuclear weapons program by the mastery of its delivery systems. American news organizations presented the development as critical headline news; Japanese media did not.

The projectile landed in this country’s exclusive economic zone, within 200 nautical miles of its coast. But Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s most circulated newspaper and one of the world’s largest, relegated Pyongyang’s latest provocation to page two. Several Japanese who spoke with The Jerusalem Post in rural Gifu prefecture were unaware that a launch had even occurred. And those who were aware of it considered it par for the course, an action entirely in character for he whom US President Donald Trump has dubbed the “Rocket Man”.

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Still others do read significance into this particular launch. Japan’s national broadcast networks led with the development, and its second-largest newspaper, Asahi Shinbun, featured a bold headline in English letters: “ICBM.” North Korea’s latest test is a projection of its power, the newspaper charged. They included a map of the Hwasong-15 missile’s range, after Pyongyang claimed in a special television announcement on Wednesday that its nuclear warheads could now finally hit Washington.

“North Korea is actually very strategic,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Japan’s National Assembly after the launch. “North Korea has always kept the upper hand in diplomacy by tapping into the global community’s fear it could run reckless if pressured too hard – which is actually its biggest diplomatic leverage.”

“If we back down to avoid them running reckless,” he added, “that would be exactly what they want.”

Since assuming the role of supreme leader in 2011, Kim Jong Un has fired off more missiles than his father and grandfather combined. Many have landed in the Sea of Japan, but two overflew Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island, during two weeks in September – reminding the nation of the direct threat posed by Pyongyang’s missile experiments.

There is an understanding that Kim’s intercontinental ballistic-missile program is, in fact, not meant to threaten Tokyo or Seoul, but rather Washington and New York – just as in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminds American visitors that Iran’s ICBM program is not meant to threaten Tel Aviv.

They can mount smaller, less sophisticated missiles for that purpose.

And yet there is also an understanding that any conflict primarily between North Korea and the United States would invariably involve Japan – a reality that has forced the Japanese to accept that their own leader, whom they recently reelected with a “super majority” coalition, must closely coordinate strategy with a US president whom they roundly disrespect.

A Pew Research Survey released last month found that 24% of Japanese have faith that Donald Trump will do the right thing by America’s longstanding allies – down from 78% for his predecessor Barak Obama, according to a poll conducted the previous year. Nearly half of Japanese expect relations to worsen in the near future. Similarly dramatic drops were measured in the public opinion of South Koreans toward the US president.

Trump told reporters on Tuesday that he’d “take care of” North Korea after its successful ICBM test. But whether the Japanese are listening is unclear: His reassurances did not make print.

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