Tokyo Notes

Kan Tactless on North Korea

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Tokyo Notes

Kan Tactless on North Korea

Naoto Kan’s suggestion of an SDF deployment to South Korea in the event of war was badly timed.

With tensions rising on the Korean Peninsula, Japan is jittery about the shaky hand of North Korean despot Kim Jong-il and the consequences of a potential collapse of his regime.

Tokyo, quite rightly, is formulating contingency plans for numerous 'worst-case' scenarios, but comments by Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday that his government is considering means of rescuing Japanese abductees in the event of war on the peninsula beggar belief.

Speaking at a meeting of the families of abduction victims (snatched by Pyongyang agents between 1977 and 1983), Kan suggested that Tokyo may seek agreement with Seoul to dispatch Self-Defence Forces personnel to South Korea in the event of a military emergency. However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said Monday that the government is not exploring this option.

While the official line in Seoul is that Japan hasn’t approached it regarding such a plan, the Korea Herald reported that a senior South Korean government official dismissed Kan's words as 'completely unrealistic.'

Meanwhile, the right-wing Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean daily, derided Kan’s remarks as a ‘serious blunder’ that risk ‘causing needless diplomatic friction.’

Mizuho Fukushima, head of Japan's opposition Social Democratic Party (a small left-leaning party that Kan's Democratic Party of Japan has treated with kid gloves to win support on passing bills through the Diet), also blasted Kan. She was quoted as calling Kan's remarks 'appalling,' adding that the dispatch of Japanese troops to the peninsula could hasten war.

The constitutional grounds of such a deployment would also be shaky. And while Japanese law permits the SDF to transport nationals, there’s no provision for such actions in battle zones.

Sympathy must of course lie with the families of these abductees, and their crusade for the return of their beloved is admirable and completely understandable. But is it worth antagonizing Kim and his cronies for the sake of a dozen or so lives (the official Japanese government figure is 17)?

Kan's comments to these families seem to be a misjudged (and populist) shot at being seen to be strong on the abduction issue.

He should be more careful when making such remarks on such a sensitive issue. Does he really think that South Korea would welcome Japanese troops with open arms? He must have a very short memory.