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Survey of newspaper editorials on North Korea’s nuclear test, missile launch

(Sankei: February 24, 2016 – p. 6)


 By Tsugumasa Uchihata


 Japan, the U.S., and the ROK have each imposed their own sanctions after North Korea’s recent nuclear test and launching of a long-range ballistic missile, which have heightened military tension in East Asia. How should Japan and the world deal with this incredibly dangerous deviant country? This has become the most important issue since the beginning of 2016.


 This issue has been examined repeatedly from various angles, including defense and Japan-North Korea relations. All newspapers agreed that both the nuclear test and missile launch were unacceptable, outrageous acts that threatened world peace. It has become evident that UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions on North Korea so far had not been effective. All newspapers also basically agreed that the international community should adopt a tougher attitude in dealing with the Kim Jong Un regime.


 China holds the key in keeping North Korea in check. It featured prominently in the headlines of the relevant editorials on this subject: “China’s action questionable” (Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 9); “China and Sanctions against North Korea: Serious responsibility for plugging the loopholes” (Sankei Shimbun, Jan. 15); “[North Korea is] unstoppable even by China?” (Tokyo Shimbun, Feb. 6); and “China’s decision came too late” (Mainichi Shimbun, Feb. 14).


 Why was it not possible to stop the nuclear test and missile launch? Asahi noted that, “The main reason is that there is a gaping ‘hole’ in the encirclement – China, which North Korea relies on both politically and economically.” Sankei echoed this opinion, pointing out that, “China has consistently supported North Korea in the UNSC and elsewhere in the international arena.” Even now, China still maintains its negative attitude, thereby causing the impasse in the coordination process on a new UNSC resolution. Mainichi’s editorial stressed that “it is important to call on China, a permanent UNSC member, to make a decision on imposing strong sanctions.” (Feb. 11)


 Japan, the U.S., and the ROK had made separate behind-the-scenes efforts to engage North Korea in dialogue. North Korea has rejected dialogue, in effect, with its nuclear test and missile launch. Yet, Asahi still persisted in emphasizing the importance of dialogue. In an editorial on Feb. 13 asking the ROK government “to remain calm and not be carried away by provocation,” it argued that, “The Kim Tai-chung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations succeeded in holding North-South summits through the judicious adoption of both tough and flexible approaches, thus paving the way for the development of relations. The ROK should remain level-headed and make North Korea come to the negotiating table based on the special relationship between the two sides, while Japan and the U.S. should actively support such trying prolonged efforts by the ROK.”


 Both Sankei and Yomiuri Shimbun regarded North Korea’s nuclear arms and missiles as very real threats. They asked the question if Japan is fully prepared to deal with them. Sankei’s editorial on Feb. 17 criticized the Diet’s “appalling lack of consciousness” because it had failed to tackle the mounting issues squarely. It focused specifically on Japan’s inadequate deterrence to stop an invading country, which it regarded as the biggest problem. It asserted that, “Inasmuch as ballistic missiles targeting Japan actually exist, a discussion on possessing the capability to attack enemy bases to neutralize missile launching sites should begin.”


 It can be said that the UNSC is taking time drafting a resolution against North Korea precisely because it is grappling with the reality that a response that consists only of an extension of what has been done before will not be effective in stopping North Korea’s blatant provocation. On top of the sanctions imposed by Japan, the U.S., the ROK, and the UNSC, an international encirclement should be built to apply decisive pressure on the Kim Jong Un regime by prodding China to take action.

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