Japan’s security allergy
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Thursday the Japanese government is ready to take action if a situation requires evacuation procedures for Japanese nationals in South Korea. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida also joined the bandwagon.
On the ministry’s website, the foreign minister advised Japanese residents overseas to keep closely informed about the developments in the Korean Peninsula. “Currently a hazard warning has not been issued … but please continue to pay attention to information on the situation,” he told Japanese travelers in South Korea.
Japanese media outlets reported that the Japanese government was ensured from the U.S. counterpart that it would consult in advance if it was considering a military option against North Korea. They said a strike order on North Korea’s ballistic missiles is permanently valid.
Japan has upped readiness for contingency in its neighboring country. It is most sensitive towards the safety of its citizens. There are an estimated 57,000 Japanese nationals in South Korea.
The Tokyo government already established a rescue scheme during the first North Korea nuclear crisis in 1993-1994 when former U.S. President Bill Clinton considered the option of bombing the nuclear facility in Yongbyon.
The evacuation plans have been adjusted over the years and will come under another view at the National Security Council meeting, according to local media. Japan is that serious about current developments in the Korean Peninsula. Tokyo probably knows the best about U.S. President Donald Trump and his security aides. Japan is also better informed about China and North Korea than any other nation in the world.
However, being prepared and stirring panic is different. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he asked Washington to assist in the rescue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea decades ago in the event of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, which is suspected to have more political design than being genuine. Abe publicly assumed that North Korea may already have the capability to deliver missiles with sarin nerve agent.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada claimed the threat of proliferation and use of chemical weapons is not only a problem of Syria. “It might happen in East Asia, in North Korea,” he was quoted as saying.
Abe and his administration may be riding on the Korean circumstances to beef up its defense capabilities and offense strategy. They are building up a rationale to win endorsement for the authority to strike overseas targets.
Shigeru Ishiba, the former secretary-general planning to challenge Abe in the 2018 race to lead the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, also spoke of an evacuation plan because “Seoul could turn into a sea of fire.”
Japan’s overhyped concerns only raise suspicion on the motivation and could undermine alliance among governments in the joint front against North Korean nuclear issue.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 14, Page 29
*The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.