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Japanese Newspapers Strongly Criticize North Korea [ 2010.12.03 ]

[NewsJapan.net] On November 23 North Korea launched an artillery attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea that resulted in deaths and injuries on the South Korean side, including two civilian fatalities. Earlier in November North Korea had revealed to nuclear experts invited from the United States that it was constructing an experimental light-water reactor, and it also revealed a large-scale facility where it claims to be conducting uranium enrichment. Japan’s major newspapers have reported prominently on this series of moves by Pyongyang.

Response of Three Major Newspapers to Nuclear Development Problem

In their November 22 editions three major newspapers (the Yomiuri Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun, and Mainichi Shimbun), some as headline news, reported that North Korea had revealed its uranium enrichment facility. In a commentary article headlined “Saber rattling in quest of talks,” the Yomiuri said of North Korea’s aim in disclosing its construction of a light-water reactor and its uranium enrichment facility, “Pyongyang is continuing to play the card of stirring up a crisis in order to draw the United States into bilateral talks.” Regarding this background of North Korea’s groping for a dialogue with the United States, the Asahi noted in a commentary article, “The reality is that while the year 2012, which Pyongyang has promised the North Korean people will ‘open the grand gates to becoming a strong and prosperous power,’ is fast approaching, there are no signs of an upturn in the country’s severe economic condition.” The Asahi commented that Pyongyang wanted to use a dialogue with the United States as leverage to improve relations with South Korea and Japan and receive economic assistance.

In their November 23 editions the newspapers reported on talks on this matter between Minister for Foreign Affairs Seiji Maehara and the US special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, which took place at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo in the evening of November 22. Regarding North Korea’s uranium enrichment activities, Foreign Minister Maehara reportedly said, “If true, it is extremely alarming. There is a danger that this act violates the substance and spirit of UN resolutions.”

The Yomiuri editorial (November 23) commented, “Why did North Korea, which has brazenly conducted nuclear tests using plutonium on two occasions in the past, deliberately reveal its uranium enrichment activities to US experts this time? It is necessary for related countries, including Japan, to carefully ascertain its intentions and quickly adopt effective measures in order to prevent North Korea’s nuclear development.”

The Asahi editorial (November 23) remarked “what North Korea ought to do is abandon its nuclear ambitions in keeping with the six-party agreement to that effect” and return to the path of denuclearization. It went on, “Japan, South Korea, and the United States must coordinate their respective positions and further strengthen their unity in dealing with North Korea. China, on which North Korea relies for its economic and energy needs, also bears heavy responsibility. As the presiding nation of the six-party talks, China should do whatever it can to bring North Korea back to the right path, not just keep protecting it to avoid confusion.”

The Mainichi editorial (November 23) similarly warned, “North Korea’s ‘nuclear threat’ has entered a phase that is in a completely different dimension from before. That is how we should view the situation. Over the last couple of decades this problem has gone backward and forward. In the end, it has just deteriorated. Effective new measures are needed to find a solution. . . . Naturally, solidarity among Japan, the United States, and South Korea is important. And the six-party talks will probably be resumed some time as well. But the methods that have been employed so far will not lead to the scrapping of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. The United States and China should recognize that this is a tricky problem from which a way out can only be found by making efforts, and Japan and South Korea should lend support to shape countermeasures.”

Response of Three Major Newspapers to Artillery Attack on Yeonpyeong Island

Regarding the attack on Yeonpyeong Island in the afternoon of November 23, the Yomiuri and Mainichi both issued extra editions, and all three major newspapers reported the incident in top front-page articles in their regular editions on the following day, November 24. The newspapers also carried prominent commentaries on North Korea’s attack by informed persons. In the Mainichi (November 24), Keio University Professor Masao Okonogi was quoted as saying, “The United States and South Korea have adopted a policy of ‘strategic patience,’ ignoring North Korea and not entering into dialogue with it. North Korea aims to achieve a breakthrough here. The card that North Korea sees as most important is the recently revealed uranium enrichment. The latest incident is an additional measure designed to demonstrate Pyongyang’s seriousness about nuclear development and to open the eyes of the countries concerned.”

In their November 24 evening editions, the newspapers reported on the first meeting of the government’s countermeasures headquarters, consisting of all cabinet ministers. At that meeting, held in the morning of the same day, Prime Minister Naoto Kan reportedly said, “The bombardment of an area inhabited by ordinary citizens is a barbarous and intolerable act that we strongly criticize,” and stressed, “Japan will respond in close cooperation with the Republic of Korea and the United States. It is also necessary to urge China, which has a strong influence on North Korea, to restrain Pyongyang.” They also reported Prime Minister Kan’s telephone conversation with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak about noon on November 24, during which Prime Minister Kan expressed Japan’s support for South Korea’s position.

In addition, in their November 27 editions the newspapers reported that both the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives, at plenary sessions on November 26, unanimously adopted resolutions criticizing North Korea’s attack on South Korea.

In editorials, the Yomiuri (November 24) commented, “North Korea’s abrupt firing of artillery shells at an island where civilians live is a grave military provocation, which cannot be tolerated. The outrageous, reckless act, which could lead to a recurrence of war, is a clear violation of the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War. We strongly criticize the act.” It continued, “Recently, North Korea has made every effort to attract international attention through various activities, such as construction of a light-water reactor, disclosure of its uranium enrichment activities, and moves believed to be preparations for its third nuclear test. These moves are presumably intended to lead to one-on-one negotiations with the United States. But the latest incident, which broke out while Stephen Bosworth, US special envoy on North Korea, was visiting South Korea, Japan, and China to discuss steps to be taken to deal with North Korea, is expected to lead to the opposite result. Japan, the United States, and South Korea must take all possible steps to further bolster their cooperation in order to stop North Korea’s military provocations.”

The Asahi (November 24) observed, “. . . what happened on Tuesday was a military offensive against a South Korean island inhabited by many civilians. Such action can never be condoned.” It went on, “The deaths and injuries in the attack must be very difficult for South Korea to take. But we urge Seoul to maintain its stoic stance to prevent Pyongyang from resorting to another provocative act. Seoul’s self-control will certainly win the support of the international community, including Japan and the United States. And China, which has the most influence over North Korea, must act more firmly than ever before to make Pyongyang refrain from further acts of folly.”

The Mainichi (November 24) warned, “North Korea has recently shown highly dangerous signs that have not been observed in the past. In addition to its attack on the South Korean island, its demonstration to a US scientist of a uranium enrichment facility that can be used to produce nuclear weapons appears to be an attempt to drag Washington into negotiations on the signing of a bilateral peace accord. One cannot help but wonder whether the latest attack shows the desperation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il or was aimed at making a military statement to pave the way for the transfer of power to the next leader. The truth is still shrouded in mystery, but the international community must be on high alert against any emergency. Japan, the United States, and South Korea should reexamine their security cooperation to see if their preparations are adequate.”

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