By Tsugumasa Uchihata
North Korea launched an ICBM right after the Trump administration redesignated it as a state sponsor of terrorism. This military provocation came after it had maintained two and a half months of silence.
Sankei Shimbun concluded that, “North Korea has clearly shown, once again, that it has no intention to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.” It pointed out: “There had been wishful thinking that North Korea had softened its attitude, but this was a complete mistake. Foreign Minister Taro Kono was right in saying ‘North Korea was not exercising restraint; it was steadily making preparations for its next actions.’”
Nikkei also indicated that it was now clear that North Korea had absolutely no plan to exercise restraint in its development of nuclear arms and missiles. It voiced concern that, “It is highly possible that North Korea will continue to conduct nuclear tests and missile launches while gauging the limit of the patience of the U.S. administration, which is threatening to launch a military attack.”
Several newspapers linked the ICBM launch to the redesignation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. Yomiuri Shimbun noted that, “North Korea probably wanted to show its determination not to bow to the U.S.’s pressure with this ICBM launch.” Nikkei said: “It is likely that this was also in reaction to the Trump administration’s hostile policy.” Tokyo Shimbun wrote that, “This could be taken as North Korea’s declaration that it will not bow to pressure and will persist in developing weapons.”
North Korea has announced that it has “completed the state nuclear force” and that it is now “capable of attacking the entire U.S. mainland.”
Mainichi Shimbun warned that, “If this means that North Korea has acquired the capability to attack the U.S. with nuclear weapons, the crisis level has risen substantially.”
On this point, Sankei expressed the opinion that, “This cannot be taken at face value. The ICMB’s range covering the U.S. mainland is a different matter from the ability to attack with nuclear weapons.”
Yomiuri pointed out that exaggerating its military power is a common trick of North Korea, indicating that, “It is possible that a warhead lighter than what would actually be used in combat was installed for flight to a higher altitude. Its acquisition of the technology to reenter into the atmosphere has also not been verified. It is necessary to make a level-headed assessment of its capability.” A subsequent analysis by a U.S. official indeed indicates that the ICBM might have disintegrated upon reentry into the atmosphere.
Japan and the U.S. confirmed that they will apply even stronger pressure after the ICBM launch. Sankei, Yomiuri, and Nikkei voiced their support.
Yomiuri stressed that, “The concerned nations must cooperate closely and apply stronger pressure to make North Korea change its dangerous and egoistic behavior.”
Sankei argued that all possible efforts must be made to stop North Korea from completing its development of nuclear capability. It also warned: “There is criticism that stronger pressure on North Korea will make it act precipitously. That is total nonsense. Such an argument may just please the dictator. Irrational judgments must be avoided by all means.”
Asahi Shimbun’s editorial stated: “North Korea’s breaking two and a half months of silence is a barbaric act that betrayed the faint hope that it would freeze nuclear and missile development.”
In its editorial on North Korea’s redesignation as a state sponsor of terrorism (dated Nov. 22), Asahi had indicated a positive view of North Korea’s “silence” in light of the U.S.-China summit, the dispatch of a Chinese special envoy to North Korea, and other developments. It was now forced to admit that “prediction is difficult.” Still, Asahi cited the fact that North Korea chose to launch the ICBM with a short flight range, interpreting this to mean that “the Kim Jong Un regime is trying to demonstrate its achievement to the people while avoiding a military conflict with the U.S.” It said that, “It is the responsibility of the Japanese, U.S., and ROK governments to” take into account North Korea’s circumstances and “utilize all available channels to make utmost diplomatic efforts.” (Slightly abridged)