[EDITORIALS]Fear and anger in JapanJapanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who is a strong contender to succeed Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister, said yesterday the Koizumi administration was considering an attack on a North Korean missile base if that became necessary. After the North Korean missile launches, the foreign minister and defense minister in Japan also made similar remarks. The concern in Japan over North Korean missiles and nuclear weapons is understandable. It is the same here, and we have urged the Korean government to take stern measures.
But if Japan tries to use this opportunity to strengthen its military, it is a different story. Now is surely not the time to discuss policies against the North that could be misunderstood as being an expansion of the right of self-defense of Japan. South Korea, the United States and Japan are consulting on countermeasures against North Korea, and U.S. President George W. Bush also has said that he will try to resolve the problem by diplomacy. Talking about a military response is indeed an overreaction by Japan.
The Japanese constitution forbids the nation to wage war or even to have a military establishment. Nevertheless, Japan, citing a threat from the North, has strengthened its military. The self-defense force is already a world-class power. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a conservative, has decided to upgrade Japan’s defense department to ministry level. His Liberal Democratic Party has proposed a constitutional amendment that allows Japan to possess a military establishment. The constitution now only allows self-defensive measures, but conservative government officials and politicians are arguing that if it’s not possible to defend against a North Korean missile with a nuclear warhead, pre-empting an attack falls into the realm of self-defense.
It seems that someone is trying to fuel Japanese public anger toward the North and create a sense of crisis so that pre-emption would be accepted. The fact that Foreign Minister Taro Aso “thanked” the North’s leader Kim Jong-il suggests the same thing.
South Korea and China, which still have vivid memories of Japanese invasions and atrocities during World War II, are concerned about a rearmed Japan, even more so because Japan has not sincerely apologized for its deeds. A rearmed Japan will be a regional powder keg. Even if we try to understand Japan’s concerns, unnecessary overreaction will cause misunderstandings and mistrust. South Korea, the United States and Japan should resolve this problem calmly.