(Tokyo Shimbun: January 7, 2016 – p. 5)
North Korea is increasingly becoming isolated as it conducted its fourth nuclear test. Its brinkmanship tactic of intimidating other countries with nuclear programs and then demanding negotiations cannot be accepted. The noose around the North will tighten.
North Korea announced it conducted its first successful miniature hydrogen bomb test. It claimed that this is a self-defense measure against the nuclear threat posed by the U.S. and other hostile nations and that it will not terminate or dismantle nuclear development programs.
The past three tests were conducted on nuclear bombs. Many experts doubt Pyongyang’s claim to have conducted a hydrogen bomb test, as the development of an H-bomb requires more advanced technology. A South Korean media outlet reported that a person close to authorities pointed to the possibility that North Korea tested a “hydrogen boosted fission bomb.” That technology is at a preliminary stage to the development of a hydrogen bomb.
North Korea did not give prior notice this time, different from when it conducted the previous test in February 2013. Kim Jong Un, first chairman of the regime, announced his New Year remarks on January 1, but made no mention of nuclear development. His repeated emphasis on the improvement of people’s livelihoods gave rise to speculation that he might have shifted his policy focus to the economy.
But the North Korean stance remains consistent. It wants to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile loaded with a miniature nuclear payload capable of reaching to the U.S. mainland and to take a tougher stance in negotiations with the U.S. so it can sign a peace treaty with the U.S. and win the assurance of its existence. This is precisely reflected in the released statement that calls for “not abandoning its nuclear programs.”
In May, North Korea will convene the Workers Party of Korea for the first time in 36 years. It is predicted that Kim will be elected General Secretary and lead efforts to promote a generational change to solidify his power base.
It is widely speculated that Kim may have carried out a nuclear test to send the message both at home and abroad that he is a leader capable of dealing with both the U.S. and China. The possibility remains that the North may launch a long-range ballistic missile under the pretext of launching an artificial satellite.
On the diplomatic front, the 32-year-old leader has made little mark. Many experts question his capability of handling complicated diplomatic relationships with countries in the neighborhood. Purging close aides one after another remains is cause for concern.
He has yet to meet with the leader of China, the largest supporter of the regime. A Chinese Foreign Ministry official said in a press conference: “China roundly condemns Pyongyang’s nuclear test and will urge the country to deliver on its denuclearization promise.” The deterioration of their ties is unavoidable.
The Obama administration will not respond to North Korea’s call for negotiations because it prioritizes obtaining a guarantee of denuclearization from the regime. The fence-mending with South Korea picked up momentum in October through resuming a program to reunite separated families, but this will not make headway for the time being.
Fears are growing that consultations between Japan and North Korea over the abductions of Japanese nationals may stall. If the international community moves to impose sanctions, it will become difficult for Japan to bring up the abduction issue.
Since Kim Jong Un came to power, Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, has been developed. He carried out reforms in the agriculture and industrial sectors. Food production has been boosted, which is said to have lifted the nation from the poverty experienced in the 1990s.
But for North Korea to rebuild its economy, international assistance and cooperation is a must. The Kim regime seeks to develop the economy and nuclear program simultaneously, but there is no doubt that its policy leans toward military expansion. If the nuclear test dampens international aid and trade, the North Korean people will suffer again.
As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Japan is expected to play a proactive role in the UN.
The security legislation enacted last year stipulates that the Self-Defense Forces will extend logistical support in the event of contingencies that pose a grave threat to Japan’s security, such as a crisis on the Korean peninsula.
It makes sense that Japan builds up defense capabilities to keep pace with the changing international circumstances, but it should not accelerate efforts to strengthen “military capabilities” by taking advantage of North Korea’s threat. It is difficult to gauge the true intention of the autocratic state, but it is more appropriate for Japan to urge Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear development by promoting international efforts to contain the regime. (Abridged)