N. Korea Crisis: A View From Tokyo


TOKYO – Japanese leaders have maintained a steady, low-key demeanor during the latest North Korean crisis. That’s unlikely to change even if, as expected, their erratic neighbor launches a ballistic missile or two in the coming days.

That shouldn’t be surprising. When you have a powerful ally, a US$12 billion missile defense system and a domestic agenda that’s as daunting as anything likely to rocket in from across the Sea of Japan, there’s no sense in getting too excited.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December with a hawkish reputation. But he has focused largely on economic and domestic issues instead, and has been content to let the U.S. take the lead in the contest with North Korea. Abe has urged restraint, stressed policy coordination with allies, and ordered robust but minimum military preparations.

The threat facing Japan is real, of course. While North Korea may or may not have missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland, and may or may not be able to attach nuclear warheads to them, it can certainly strike Japan by at least convential means.

The North is believed to have at least 320 Rodong missiles with a range of 1,300 kilometers. That’s within easy reach of most of Japan’s major cities. Experts believe that if a Rodong were aimed at the center of Tokyo, it would have a 50-50 chance of landing inside the Yamanote line, the busy commuter railway that circles the city.

At least two Musudan missiles with even longer ranges reportedly have been moved to North Korea’s east coast. South Korean officials expect the North to test-fire one or both by April 15, the anniversary of the birth of the country's late founder Kim Il-Sung.

North Korea conducted its third nuclear weapons test in February, in defiance of UN resolutions. Though estimated at only about half the yield of the Hiroshima bomb or less, North Korea claims it exploded a “miniaturized and lighter nuclear device." Both the Rodong and Musudan missiles normally carry a conventional warhead, but fitted with even a small nuclear device, they could cause catastrophic damage.

So far, most of the North’s invective has been aimed at the United States or South Korea. But it has threatened to attack U.S. bases in Japan and warned that support for U.S. policies could lead to Japan’s “self-destruction.”

Japan’s pacifist Constitution forbids offensive military operations, so a pre-emptive strike would seem to be out (a case could be made that attacking launch sites in advance of a North Korean strike could be considered a defensive measure).

That doesn’t mean Japan is defenseless, however. Tokyo has been aware of the threat since 1998, when North Korea lobbed a ballistic missile over the main islands.  It was a traumatic experience for the Japanese, who already suspected that North Korean agents had been kidnapping citizens and conducting espionage along Japan’s northwest coast. 

April 23, 2013 at 15:03

Sorry. There's no need for any more arguments here. NK is not a Chinese buffer zone? Almost one million of Chinese innocent volunteers have lost their lives in Korea War (1950-53) for this sort of buffer zone. Some  recommendations : you should read some analysis from Stratfor or elsewhere on NK & China. ECS & SCS are complicated issues? Who on earth could grant a nation the rights to own the  international bodies of waters as its own ponds? Thanks.

April 23, 2013 at 11:13


The topic here is N. Korea Crisis and most of your qoestions are off topic. I'll give you some ideas on some off topics but I will not answer those which are totally unrelated.

Second question: No, China has not been using N. Korea as a buffer state. N.K. is not a buffer state by definition or by its role in N.E. Asia. It is a bucket of dynamite. It may be called a broken-muffler state being used by Uncle Sam to make big annoying noises for his dangerous stunt show. Of course this broken muffler also makes very loud noises by itself.

First question: off topic. For the Diaoyutai (Senkaku) I do not want to make any points here. Many objective comments and facts of the islands' true owenership have been posted and linked in this site and it is up to you to study, interpret and misinterpret them. I can not do any better than other knowledgeable commenters. US is the maker of this dilemma of conflict. He had played the roles of cop/judge/custodian/trustee/unlawful island-broker. Now he plays the role of director/producer of conflict. So far US dares not announce openly that the disputed islands belong to Japan legally. He will keep remaining in ambiguity for his best interest.

The islands' sovereignty is disputable but China may not need to claim the indisputable sovereignty to get the islands back. It doesn't have to be done that way. Take Hong Kong as an example (just a not even close example and don't start another debate).It doesn't need to involve UN or international court. Negotiations are likely. The dsipute could be put aside too. Don't ask me how. It is up to the efforts of the 2 countries' governments. I can onlt tell you the islands might go back to China one day. Given enough time nothing is impossible.

South Sea is off topic here too. SCS is more complicated and should be handled case by case. Negotiations and mutual developments of the area by the involverd countries are likely if Uncle Sam's stirring hands are off from the soup bowl.

Your questions link most of the recent Asia conflicts together with China as a common factor, like many other commenters said before. Don't forget Uncle Sam also involves deeply behind in shadow in every incident and conflict. China is just a reluctant main character being pulled around by the producer/director Uncle Sam for these shows.

Your last questions are unrelated to the topic and I choose not to answer. My last words. You and I are not the same kind of Americans. I believe that conflicts and wars should be avoided and should not be encouraged. And you mentioned "blood for freedom" and "bloody war" in your replies to me. War is more than bloody. If we can still go on here please ask limited question in topic only. Just too many of questions from you.

Dan Zimmerman
April 17, 2013 at 11:52

A minor correction, F-22 fighters are not based in Japan, but rather rotate through US bases in Japan for deployments.  All F-22 squadrons are based in the US. 

April 16, 2013 at 15:17


I appreciate your persistence of keep coming back to me. You won't disappoint. I'll come back to you soon. I am a businessman who travel and this is one of my busiest weeks. Nice to hear from another American in this forum. By the way, you call yourself Freeman, and you ask me if I ever lived in a communist country. That's some kind of hint of your background. Isn't it? Just kind of sharing experience and ideas here. Don't get excited or emotional to what I comment here, everyone.

Kim's Uncle
April 16, 2013 at 14:53

Well the bombastic rhetoric from Lil Kim will certainly make Japanese politicians grow a spine and start re-arming Japan and scrap the pacifist constitution. Japan is a democracy today . She is no longer rule by the military. But this is what communist china fears the most! A militarily powerful Japan that has the backing of her people!

April 16, 2013 at 12:18


Hope so, Weloveamerica. I would like to ask you some questions. My first question for you: What do you make of China's ' claims to indisputable sovereignty' over the Senkakus & virtually the whole SCS?  My second one : Do you think  China's been using NK as its  buffer state against SK & the US? And my last question: Have you ever gone through a bloody war ? & Have you ever lived in a communist country, Weloveamerica? Just keep in mind I'm an American like you? Thanks.

kiwi asian
April 16, 2013 at 08:49

For those interested in the state of North Korea and Japanese relations have a look at the following links. Media loyal to North Korea are allowed to freely publish and broadcast in Japan. The video shows an apologist view of North Korea and it's recent developments in aerospace and military. It criticises the international community in particular Obama for demonizing North Korea. (The video is in a mix of Korean and Japanese)



The Chongryon are an organization of Koreans( with membership reported around 500,000) in Japan that pledge allegence to North Korea. They operate 140 schools around Japan for ethnic Koreans that educate their students in Korean. They are taught to be loyal to North Korea and great leadership of the Kim regime. They also have a significant presence in the lucrative Pachinko (legal gambling) business in Japan.

We will see that things are serious if Japan offers a one way ticket for the approximately 600,000 who associate with the DPRK to go back to their homeland. I would suspect that a vast majority would choose swapping their passports for Japanese ones despite the risk of attack from Pyongyang.

@John X

I agree that the source of the recent direction is from the CCP. Meanwhile international media are basically retweeting the agenda. Though the reactionary 2ch netizens will have to shoulder part of the responsibility. But then again they are merely exercising their freedom of speech.

April 16, 2013 at 07:39


Relax. I am not Chinese. I am American and I am more American than most of the American bloggers here, if there is any. Too much of bad and evil things has been done in the name of freedom. When you mention freedom you bring up blood. Is it really necessary? Readers of this article including you should look deeper into the causes of the N. Korea Crisis itself. Don't just put all the blame to N. Korea or China. The policy of United States itself is also a problem. Or more clearly to say, United States needs conflict and confrontation whenever and wherever it needs. It's all politics and balancing of power. Wish you understand. It is the freedom of choice of Uncle Sam to go for conflict or not so far, not the freedom of choice for the rest of the world. And don't try to stick me a label of "traitor of America". I witnessed waht happened to US from the top of the world to now in less than 40 years. 

April 16, 2013 at 04:56


You should go back to live in China for a while to understand what you've just said! Don't you know that freedom is not free, sometimes it must be bought with your own blood ?


April 16, 2013 at 04:32

@Protect Human Progress,

Of course Japan want to develop nuclear weapon but Uncle Sam will never allow Japan do this under any circumstance. When everyone has nuclear weapon its just like there is none. Nobody ever want to use it unless it is the last resort. And nucleare weapon development is not necessary a positive human progress.


April 16, 2013 at 00:59


China has no intention of breaking up the US-Japan alliance.. But Unites States is already shaking up and breaking up in many ways and many levels. You should come over here to US and live for a certain time to see to believe it. Uncle Sam and Japan are twin sisters in terms of economy failures. Uncle Sam is even worse. This huge empire has too much burden and is really hard to turn around for improving its situation. Both US and Japan alike gangs keep staying at the cold war mind level. That's the origin of all conflicts and problems, including the N. Korea crisis.

April 15, 2013 at 04:05


your entire point of view is based upon the chinese revisionist point of view which states, effectively, that if a territory was not the territory of some other kingdom, it should automatically belong to China. Nevermind the fact that China was rarely a maritime force, and the fact that most dynasties considered their territory to end at the shores of mainland China itself. This is perhaps why Taiwan was not annexed from the remenants of the Ming and the Dutch until 1684; everyone came to China, so why was there a need to go out to meet them? Foreigners, not mainland Chinese, also conducted the vast majority of tribute and trade missions. The islands that you reference, were at best used as safe havens for trade missions. Fishermen from Taiwan or China would not have fished out that far because, put simply, they did not have the range: for example, christopher columbus' galleys averaged about 8knots (as did old fishing boats), for an average of 80-100 miles per day; the spratlys are, thus, a nine day journey from mainland china, which–considering that salt was expensive–would have meant that it would be impossible to get that far. So, too, with the the Senkaku islands, which are 80 miles away from what is now Taiwan; they would have been traditional fishing grounds for the aboriginies and the peoples of Okinawa, but would have held no interest for the Ming or Qing Dynasty other than as a sailor's refuge; the islands are too small for any significant human settlement, the largest being little more than 1.27 square miles.

These territorial claims, by analysis then, have no verifiable support.

April 15, 2013 at 02:29

@ Lang1a,

How many times per year have Chinese subs ventured out of its 'home seas',Lang1a? Experiences must be learnt  through 'trial-by-fire', by your own blood, by deeds or actions not just words. Naval parade with shiny ships in a naval war game is surely not enough for any real war! Everybody knows that NK's recent bellicose provocations are tacitly sanctioned by CCP & served  as the latter's bargaining chips for  concessions on the 'ownership' of  some strategic islets in ECS & on  the control of SCS. Right?

John Chan
April 15, 2013 at 02:10

@Protect human progress,

Are you scared to name USA as the one preventing Japan, SK and Taiwan to develop nuclear weapons? They have the choice if they can shake off the yoke imposed on the by the USA.

April 14, 2013 at 16:25

Tommy wrote:

April 13, 2013 at 4:11 am

Get real, lang1a. Your hubris & boastful swagger made me feel sick & nauseated! Please make peace not war. Don't you know that your PLA's generals are as corrupt & incompetent as the Qing dynasty generals? With their 18 world's most advanced conventional submarines & their longtime experiences in ASW , the Japanese will easily sink all your submarine fleet in any naval conflict breaking out in the ECS just in a short time. So, think twice before you wish, Lang1a!


Tommy, Chinese generals today are far superior to the Qing generals.  They are better educate, better trained, better motivated and have far superior weapons to fight with.  Japan can't even operate a nuclear power plant safely.  We now know that Japnese nuclear power plants are infested with rats that chew through critical wires and who knows what else.  I just don't think Japnese technologies are now so very superior to Chinese technologies.  Those who are cognizant of world technological advancements would know that China's supercomputers are just as big and fast if not even bigger and faster than Japnese supercomputers.  We all know Chinese deep diving submersible had dived deeper (7.5 km) than Japan's submersible (6.0 km).  China has developed early warning planes (KJ-2000) that is even superior to America's E-3.  China has demonstrated many superior missiles and fighters and space ships and many other technological advancements that Japan is not even doing.

As to submarines, China has more than 60 submarines.  If Japan think it can defeat China's 60 submarines with its 16 submarines, then let it try.  The truth is, Japan has nothing but past glory.  I hope China will now pop that balloon and show Japan for what it has become – a declined country rapidly falling into second class status and lower.  China is not worried about Japan.  If any country worries China, it is America.  And in 10 years, even America will not worry China.

April 14, 2013 at 16:09

Linh_My wrote:

April 14, 2013 at 3:53 am


Oddly enough, though I am a Red, White and Blue retired American Soldier, I mostly agree with your post. The question is, "Whose system of Government and society are the least messed up?"

If China ever starts to respect the other nations in Asia, instead of vilifying them and trying to rob them of their maritime rights and tries to learn to live among different cultures instead of trying to exterminate them; China won't need 30 Carrier task groups to be the world leader.

Sadly, China seems incapable of showing any respect to other cultures and societies. So, until and unless China reforms it's attitude to the rest of the world, I suspect that America will remain the number one power for quite a bit longer.


Linh_My, It is obvious that you have been brainwashed by American media.  The truth is it is not China who is "robbing" the maritime rights of its neighbors but its neighbors who are robbing China's maritime rights.  The sovereign waters enclosed by the 9-Dotted Lines have belonged to China for thusands of years.  Philippines claimed it had "discovered" some 56 features in the S. China Sea by one of its citizens by the name of Cloma in 1956.  At that time some of the bigger islands were inhabited by Chinese.  Therefore, it is obvious Philippines cannot "discover" islands that are already China's sovereign territories for thousands of years and inhabited by Chinese citizens any more than Chinese can go to America today and claim to have discovered it.  Vietnam claimed to have discovered the S. China Sea islands since the 17th Century.  Again, China had already discovered these islands for thusands of years since the time of Han Dynasty and had incorporated these waters and islands into the Tang Dynasty official territorial maps.  Therefore, the waters enclosed by the 9-Dotted Lines belong to China.  The Chinese government has been very reluctant to defend these disputed territories and tried to settle the disputes by offering "joint development" thereby giving China's enemies' the chance to say China is stealing its neighbors' maritime rights.  Obviously, no self-respecting government would ever offer joint development of its sovereign territories.  America would never do such a foolish thing.  We all know how Russia would respond to any infringement on its territories.  It is therefore, a betrayal of its trust for the CCP government to offer joint development to China's enemies.  This is why I say I'm worried most by the betrayal of the Chinese government.  If the Chinese government is staffed by a group of highly intelligent, highly competent and highly patriotic officials, then China could develop rapidly and become the most powerful in the world and nobody would be able to harm it in any way.

In the end, China is not robbing its neighbors of their maritime rights.  It is China's neighbors who are robbing China's maritime rights.  Hopefully, the new Chinese leaders are now more prepared to fight to defend China's sovereignty.  And thereby garner more respect from China's neighbors.  Then we can all live in peace.  And then China can use its vast economic power to help its neighbors in SEA.  It is obvious that without China's help, the SEA countries will never develop to any significant extent.  Therefore, those who desire peace and prosperity for the region should know that China has been excessively desirous of peace.  China has excessive respect for its neighbors' sovereignty and culture.  It is China's neighbors who disrespect China's sovereignty and culture.  They disrespect China because of its weakness in the last 200 years and because America has incessantly demonized China especially in Philippines and Vietnam and other Asian countries where it has dominance.  Hopefully, the truth will be known through the efforts of people like John Chan and other patriotic Chinese at this and other web sites.

April 14, 2013 at 06:15

John Chan wrote: "Chinese bloggers are here to protest when China is portrayed unfairly, to rebuke lies told about China, to correct distorted facts fabricated for China and to clear smear painted on China."


The problem John Chan is you seem to be unsure what is truth and what are lies and tend to respond in the same manner to both.


Plus, you seem to respond with insults and attacks against nations that the Chinese Government seems to have a problem with; Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and next week it will be, what ever country China has a land dispute with.


While I read your posts, watch CCTV, read Global Times, the China Times etc. to understand the issues, I must say that sometimes I don't think the Chinese really understand the rest of the world well enough to even have a debate with them.


I watched CCTV the other day and the expert on NK they interviewed seemed so oblivious to facts on the ground that I wondered if he had ever visited SK or just read about it in a book. How can he be the Chinese expert on SK/NK relations when he seems to think SK is still living in the 1950s.

April 14, 2013 at 06:06

Good points.


Though I believe that many of the commentator posts that are about Japan being a threat have come from the push by the Chinese Propoganda Dept. If you read a number of different articles you will see that the Japanese issue really only arose since the time that China decided it had a problem with Japan.


You then get all these posts stating that Japan is a threat and while it is no more a threat then China, it is in Chinese Government interests to try and convince non Chinese that it is or could be one so that thier actions against Japan would be seen in a so called better light.


I am not sure if we will ever tryuly understand each other as we are the reciepents of a push for globalism (in response to the negatives that nationalism brought our nations) and China and Chinese posters are a reciepent of nationalism (in repsonse to the uncertainty that a global united world brings the CPC).


Though if you wish to listen to the propoganda put out by China then by all means do so, just take it as intelligent discussion of real issues but rather as a regurgitated props experiment by China.

Protect human progress
April 14, 2013 at 04:21

Time for Japan, S. Korea, and Taiwan to develop nuclear weapons. They really have no other choice.

There is a powerful impetus that often compels countries to unite together for a common cause. That is having a common threat. And we all know who that is.

April 14, 2013 at 03:53


Oddly enough, though I am a Red, White and Blue retired American Soldier, I mostly agree with your post. The question is, "Whose system of Government and society are the least messed up?"

If China ever starts to respect the other nations in Asia, instead of vilifying them and trying to rob them of their maritime rights and tries to learn to live among different cultures instead of trying to exterminate them; China won't need 30 Carrier task groups to be the world leader.

Sadly, China seems incapable of showing any respect to other cultures and societies. So, until and unless China reforms it's attitude to the rest of the world, I suspect that America will remain the number one power for quite a bit longer.

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