Political kabuki.

Japan’s warning to North Korea over its planned missile launch reveals the willingness and the ability of Tokyo to flex some of its military muscles amidst its supposed “lack of a standing military forces.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamuro said Japan could shoot down the rockets.

“Legally speaking, if this object falls toward Japan, we can shoot it down for safety reasons,” he asserted.

Yesterday, North Korea revealed coordinates forming two zones where parts of the multiple-stage rocket would fall, unveiling its plan to fire the projectile over Japan toward the Pacific Ocean sometime between April 4 and 8. One of the “danger” zones where the rocket’s first stage is expected to fall is in waters less than 75 miles from Japan’s northwestern shore.

Normally, countries planning to do a rocket launch do spell out these information, but it was the first time for North Korea to do so. Analyst believe that the reason behind this is because North Korea wants to use brinkmanship again to force the United States back to the negotiations while at the same time minimizing criticisms from the international community.

But the criticisms did come. Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, condemned the plan, saying that the missile launch would “threaten the peace and stability in the region.” The United States State Department, meanwhile, said the attack was “provocative.”

The South Korean Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that the UN Security Council should enact countermeasures for the tests. The Ministry also pledged close coordination with the United States and Japan in urging Pyongyang to call off the rocket launch.

The North Korean rocket launch serves only to confirm my earlier pessimism about the prospects of Six-Party Talks in particular and of resolving the North Korean Nuclear Crisis in general. But beside this, it seems to me that this planned missile launch would have positive political implications for Taro Aso and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Earier this week, the meeting of a former North Korean spy and a family of a Japanese abductee made headlines in Japan and renewed public sympathy for the abductees and their families. This time, the planned missile test could be utilized to revive the same public anxiety that was felt in Japan during the North Korean missile tests of 2006.

And these– sympathy for the abductees and anxiety over the missiles– could consolidate the conservative support base of Taro Aso and the LDP as it struggle to maintain its hold on power amidst the rising influence of the opposition Democratic party of Japan (DPJ), which controls the less powerful upper house of parliament and which has been blocking key LDP policies. This conservative power base could, in turn, utilize fear of North Korean in Aso’s favor.

And this is the perfect time for them to do so.

Earlier this month, the DPJ’s leader, Ichiro Ozawa, was implicated in a corruption scandal involving a construction company. The scandal gained media attention and resulted to a significant decrease in Ozawa’s approval rating. Taro Aso’s approval rating, on the other hand, has improved a bit, but he remains less popular that Ozawa, who is still regarded by many as a better choice for prime minister than Aso.

If Ozawa’s scandal drag on, and if Aso handes the North Korean missile test rather smoothly, then perhaps the LDP could rebound politically.

This is, of course, assuming that the financial crisis would not refuse to go off the list of priority issues for Japanese voters.

If you like what you read here, you will definitely like The Observers, a group blog on politics, society, history, and international affairs. The Nutbox has moved to the said website. 


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