ABE DISSOLVES LOWER HOUSE OF PARLIAMENT TO COPE WITH NATIONAL CRISIS MARKED BY INCREASING THREAT FROM NORTH KOREA
Amid rising tensions over North Korea, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced this week he would dissolve the lower house of parliament and call national elections on October 22.
The opposition, bitterly opposed to Abe’s plans, immediately criticized his decision as totally unjustifiable, claiming that he lacks “a just cause” and accusing him of trying to sweep under the carpet two recent cronyism scandals. Only until recently, the opposition had demanded an early general election in connection with these same scandals. How do they account for this sudden change of mind now that a general election is actually taking place?
Explaining the reasons for his decision during a news conference on September 25, Abe cited two major factors—the imminent threat from North Korea, and changes in how his administration plans to use consumption tax hikes slated for October 2019. As the prime minister said, he is dissolving the lower house in order to “overcome our national crisis,” and this is clearly the case: Japan today is facing an extraordinary threat from Pyongyang.
I think it reasonable to expect that drastic changes in the situation in the Korean Peninsula, spurred by the rapid revolutionary political and social changes witnessed in South Korea over the years, will inevitably lead to a sea change in the overall Far Eastern situation, that we have for so long taken for granted.
Lee Do Hyung, a South Korean journalist critical of the left-leaning administration of Moon Jae-in, recently flew to Japan to exchange views with members of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals—a conservative think tank that I head in Tokyo. Lee warned that now that the pro-Pyongyang Moon Jae-in is President of South Korea, the US forces in South Korea will sooner or later be compelled to move to Okinawa, Hawaii, or Japan. He further cautioned:
“There is a danger of the Eighth US Army (20,000-strong) and the Seventh US Air Force (8,000), which have helped maintain the military balance on the peninsula, being forced to withdraw from the South, leading to a virtual breakdown of the more than 20 divisions of the South Korean armed forces that are dependent on the US forces. How will Japan react when that time comes? A critical situation is bound to ensue on the Korean Peninsula that Japan will not be able to address sufficiently with its current military strength and defense budget.”
In his latest work, South Korea on the Road to Extinction (Soshisha, Tokyo; 2017), Lee expounds on “the Red Revolution” under way in South Korea today, pointing out that both South Koreans and Japanese are failing to come to grips with the imminent crisis confronting their nations.
Lee also noted that the Japanese generally are unaware of the full extent of the infiltration of North Korean operatives into the South and the deep dislike of the state and its chaebol system of plutocracy on the part of many South Koreans.
“Withdrawal of US Forces from South Korea”
It is clear that the incumbent South Korean leader is the most left-leaning of the nation’s leftwing forces and that he feels a greater affinity towards the North than South Korea itself. Therefore, despite the stricter-than-ever sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the international community against its continued missile and nuclear development, Moon seeks every opportunity to aid the North, such as by proposing that the Kaesong industrial complex be reopened.
Contrary to what the international community envisions as regards the future of the Korean Peninsula, Moon is trying to achieve a reconciliation with the North with an eventual reunification of the divided peninsula in mind. He tenaciously maintains that it is the right thing for South Korea to eliminate the “pro-Japanese” elements who have been at the center of his nation’s phenomenal growth since their nation was founded in 1948.
About 72% of South Koreans support Moon’s vision, according to Lee. He added that Moon values his nation’s ties with the North more than those with Japan or the US simply as a matter of nationalism over freedom and democracy. In other words, stressed Lee, Moon longs for being “together with members of the same ethnic family” rather than aligning with “alien forces.”
However, the “cohabitation with members of the same ethnicity” that Moon is dreaming about will not materialize under the free and open democratic system that South Korea has sought to build over the last several decades. It would be a cohabitation under the North Korean system dictated by Pyongyang. When that day comes, noted Lee, South Korea will be irreversibly and helplessly removed from the system of the “free world.”
In point of fact, the development Lee was referring to started a long time ago. When Kim Dae-Jung assumed the presidency in 1998, it suddenly became unnecessary for the North to infiltrate its operatives into the South because vital intelligence pertaining to the South was promptly delivered to Kim Jong-il on a daily basis with the cooperation of Kim Dae-Jung.
On the day he won the presidential election, Kim Dae-jung’s successor Roh Moo-hyun instructed the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff to conduct research on “a plan to pull the US forces out of South Korea and cope with the consequences.”
Stunned, the Joint Chiefs of Staff responded to the presidential order by rephrasing it as “a plan to return to South Korea the right of control of wartime operations.” What that really meant was that South Korea would still be entitled to remove US forces from its territory when it wanted.
In his third year as president, in 2005, Roh demanded that the US return the right of control of wartime operations to South Korea. In February 2007, an agreement was reached between the two governments that the projected reversion would materialize by April 2012.
In 2008, when the conservative Lee Myung-bak came to power, the reversion was postponed indefinitely. But this whole series of events clearly shows the influence North Korea has had over the South for a long time. Many Japanese are reasonably familiar with these developments, but Lee sounded an additional alarm about other important changes that are not as well known:
“Sensing the intentions of the pro-Pyongyang administrations in Seoul, the US transferred all its duties in the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom to the South Korean forces during the administration of Roh Tae-woo (1988-93). The US then removed from the front line the US Army Second Infantry Division—America’s only combat unit in Korea, with some 17,000 men. The US forces in South Korea had thus terminated its ‘trip wire’ role in Korea by the early 1990s.”
Responsibility of the Japanese Government
A “trip wire” in military terminology refers to a provision under which a unit automatically engages in combat the minute it is attacked. That the US military decided to terminate its role in Korea as a “tripwire” shows it had chosen to exercise caution in light of the instability of South Korean politics.
North Korea accelerated its missile and nuclear development last January as if to time it with the start of the Trump administration. Within the next year, the North is said to be able to complete its ICBMs with miniaturized nuclear warheads capable of reaching the US mainland. The Trump administration will never allow a direct attack against US soil.
What will likely happen then? There has been some horrifying intelligence reaching our shores, such as: America will attack North Korea in the extreme cold of winter—either next January or February, when the freezing temperatures of the peninsula are expected to slow down North Korean troops; the operation, aimed at neutralizing up to 10,000 North Korean rockets lined along the 38th parallel across the Korean Peninsula, would be fierce; and the battle would take two days at the most.
Preparations for such an operation are said to require at least two to three months, during which an evacuation of American residents in South Korea to Japan, Guam, or Hawaii would be completed while land, sea, and air forces are amply reinforced.
Of course, all this is based on speculation, and one never knows when and how President Trump might render a decision to attack the North. But one knows for sure a grave crisis is imminent.
The big question facing Japan is how it should act under such circumstances. The Japanese government has the responsibility to protect its citizens. It ought to be the Japanese government that will ultimately protect all Japanese, including those of us living in Japan and those hundreds of abductees believed to be alive somewhere in North Korea. After all, we have only the Japanese government to turn to for our protection. How should our government act amid such a national crisis? The coming election will enable voters to seek viable answers to this question.
That is why the possibility of Japan going nuclear is now being hotly debated in the US—the nation that wrote Japan’s “peace” constitution enacted two years after the war, in 1947, with the controversial war-renouncing paragraphs in Article 9. The world situation has significantly changed over these past seven decades.
And yet, the questions our journalists asked Abe on September 25 centered primarily around economic and welfare issues, reflecting an alarming lack of sensitivity on the part of our press towards the present national crisis facing Japan. As Abe has stressed, the coming election is first and foremost an opportunity for we Japanese to decide how to overcome our national crisis by choosing a political leader who can best cope with the North Korean threat. We must not forget that.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 772 in the October 5, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)