- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

TOKYO — When North Korea test-fired seven missiles on July 4, it sent a shock wave throughout Japan. The launching of so many rockets, including a Taepodong-2 thought capable of reaching parts of the United States, ignited a firestorm of criticism here. Some government leaders suggested attacking a North Korean military base.

Within hours, the Japanese government imposed sanctions against its reclusive neighbor, including a six-month ban on landings by a North Korean ferry that makes regular trips to Japan. The mass-circulation daily Yomiuri Shimbun said 92 percent of Japanese surveyed supported the government decision.

Japan also requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. On July 15, the Security Council voted to demand that North Korea suspend its missile activities and return to six-nation talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear-arms program.

Ryutaro Hirata, secretary-general of the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, called Tokyo’s reaction to Pyongyang’s missile tests “a turning point” in Japanese diplomacy.

“Japan had no independent foreign policy besides handing out money, but this time it made a diplomatic decision by itself,” Mr. Hirata said. “It was also significant since it was an expression of national will: Japan is furious with North Korea,” he said.

Nationalism bolstered

In 1998, North Korea had tested a Taepodong-1 that flew over Japan’s main island, prompting significant changes in defense and military ties between the United States and Japan.

The two countries decided to deploy advanced Patriot interceptor missiles at U.S. military bases on Okinawa.

Despite fierce protests from Okinawa residents, the United States will have the PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability-3) interceptors operational by the end of this year, and 600 more troops will be stationed on the southwestern Japanese island.

Some say that Japan overreacted, and that North Korea’s recent missile volley was intended to draw U.S. attention, because dictator Kim Jong-il wants direct talks with Washington. However, the tests appeared to bolster growing nationalism in Japan.

“Those who benefited from the missile tests seem to be President Bush, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, other hard-liners and U.S. military contractors,” said Kenichi Asano, a journalism professor at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

The missile tests appeared to boost the popularity of Mr. Abe, a hawkish member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Yasuo Fukuda, a former chief Cabinet secretary, has decided not to run in the upcoming LDP presidential election, which effectively selects the next prime minister. Mr. Abe is expected to run in the LDP election.

The North Korean missile barrage also prompted some people to harass and threaten ethnic Koreans living in Japan.

Kang Hyon, vice chairman of the Korea Educational Meeting, a Tokyo-based association of Korean teachers, said that soon after the report of the North Korean tests, many Korean schools in Japan received hate mail and blank or threatening phone calls, some of which warned of attacks against Korean schoolchildren in Japan. Several Korean youngsters were beaten, the group said.

Ethnic Koreans harassed

The Daini Tokyo Bar Association made a public appeal for an end to harassment of Korean children living in Japan. “It is clear that Korean children living in Japan have no responsibility for the missile launches,” the lawyers’ group said.

Mr. Kang added that some Korean residents “are afraid to turn on their television sets, because nearly all TV programs harshly criticized the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]” for its missile tests and the abductions issue. More than a dozen Japanese were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies.

“It seems they can say or do whatever they want against the DPRK. The media have created that kind of atmosphere,” Mr. Kang said.

Mr. Kang said many people are easily influenced by the media.

“The fundamental problem is that they don’t know history and our historical background, why ethnic Koreans live here,” he said — a reference to those brought to Japan against their will in the early 20th century, when the Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule. Millions of Koreans are thought to have been brought to Japan to do forced labor during World War II.

“They bring up history issues in order to hide their crimes,” Mr. Hirata countered.

“Whenever they do [mention Korean hardships under Japan’s past rule], they expect Japan to make some sort of compromise. They’ve gotten that taste,” added Mr. Hirata, who describes Japan as “a bullied kid” in the international community.

“When a bullied kid tries to get on his feet, he has to take a resolute attitude,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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