Japanese react furiously to North Korean missile launch

Japan is looking for answers after North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile that crossed over the country’s north. Prime Minister Abe said the incident presented a “grave threat.” Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo.

Watch video01:04

North Korea fires ballistic missile over Japan

The Japanese government called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to seek a more exacting punishment on North Korea for its latest missile test on Tuesday that has significantly raised tensions in Northeast Asia.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, on Tuesday condemned the launch of a rocket across Japan as “absolutely unacceptable and irresponsible,” and said the UN Security Council now needed to take “some serious action.”

US President Donald Trump said the launch would only serve to isolate North Korea and said no action was being ruled out. “All options are on the table,” he said.

Read more: Euro, gold rise as North Korea tensions escalate

Political leaders in Japan appear ready to welcome any move to make Pyongyang more accountable for actions that they say no other nation would tolerate.

The government’s anger is shared by the Japanese public, with ordinary citizens insisting that the regime of Kim Jong Un has shown time and again that it cannot be trusted to behave reasonably and that more drastic measures are now called for.

Timeline of missile tests

Ordinary Japanese feel threatened

“By the time I saw the alert on my mobile phone this morning it was clear that it had already gone over Hokkaido, but what would have happened if it had disintegrated over the land instead of over the ocean?” Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor at Hokkaido Bunkyo University, told DW.

“And now that they have done this once, what is to stop them doing it again? In my mind, Japan and the rest of the international community have to be much firmer from now on,” he added.

Read more: North Korea: From war to nuclear weapons

Issei Izawa, a university student, said Kim Jong Un is attempting to take advantage of US President Donald Trump’s domestic problems and remains convinced that China would not approve the overthrow of his regime because it could lead to a reunified Korea allied with the US. All of which leaves the North Korean leader in a relatively strong position.

“But this cannot go on,” Izawa said. “There have been five nuclear tests so far and there are reports that they are planning another one. And now the missiles are flying directly over Japan.”

“No other country would tolerate that and it is unreasonable for North Korea to do so,” added Izawa. “The international community really needs to come together to put new sanctions into place and to make sure that they have the effect of making Kim see sense at last.”

Read more: What is China’s role in the North Korean crisis?

Drastic solutions?

Others, however, are proposing more drastic solutions, in part because they sense a gradual acceptance in the US administration of North Korea as a nuclear power.

“Conservatives in Japan are worried about those in the US who are proponents of an appeasement policy towards the North,” Ken Kato, director of the Tokyo-based Human Rights in Asia and a member of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea, told DW.

Former director of US National Intelligence James Clapper, for example, said in an address to the Council on Foreign Relations last year that “the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause. They are not going to do that. It is their ticket to survival.”

Read more: Eyeing North Korea, US and Japan to boost military ties

Similarly, in an interview with The New York Times, former US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said, “History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea in the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War.”

Kato disagreed with these assertions and said the North Korean regime is known for its belligerence rather than willingness for appeasement.

“These appeasers ignore the fact that North Korea has not in the past, and will not in the future, keep the promises that it makes,” Kato said. “And that means that people like me living in Tokyo could be killed when North Korea perfects a hydrogen bomb in a few years’ time. And it will be the same for people living in Los Angeles and other major cities in the US.”

As a consequence, Kato believes that more and more people in Japan are reaching the conclusion that “we need our own nuclear weapons to protect ourselves. And if the US capitulates to North Korea, then I think that they will be a majority.”

Watch video02:36

Japan takes cover as N. Korean missile flies overhead

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