URGENT COUNTERMEASURES NEEDED AGAINST NORTH KOREAN VESSELS DRIFTING ONTO JAPAN’S WESTERN SHORES
Last year, there was a sudden surge in the number of North Korean fishing vessels drifting onto the west coast of Japan. A total of 104 such vessels, including more than 40 in December alone, were found in a wide range of prefectures, including Hokkaido, Aomori, Akita, Yamagata, Niigata (Sado Island), Ishikawa, Fukui, Kyoto, Tottori, and Shimane.
North Korean vessels continue to surge towards Japanese shores this year. Below are examples of vessels, debris, and corpses found in a January survey by COMJAN (the Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea). This private commission is headed by Professor Kazuhiro Araki of Takushoku University, an expert on Korean affairs committed to liberating Japanese abductees held in North Korea.
January 4 Debris from a wooden vessel on Kamayahama Beach in Mitane-cho, Akita Prefecture;
January 5 A wooden vessel adrift off Hakusan City, Ishikawa Prefecture;
January 6 Part of a wrecked vessel in Matsugasaki, Yurihonjo City, Akita Prefecture;
January 7 A wooden vessel in Aminocho, Kyotango City, Kyoto Prefecture;
January 8 A wooden vessel on Maze Beach in Nishikan Ward, Niigawa City, Niigata Prefecture;
January 8 Part of a wrecked vessel on Sarukawa Beach in Noishi, Oga City, Akita Prefecture;
January 10 A partially skeletonized body some 15 meters away from a wooden vessel on Yasuhara Beach in Shimoyasuharacho, Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture;
January 16 Seven bodies in the above vessel;
January 21 Debris from a wooden vessel bearing two Hangul words in red in waters some 200 meters (600 feet) offshore Hachiman Shrine on Awashima Island in Niigta Prefecture;
January 24 A wooden vessel on Saikaichinoura Beach in Shigacho, Ishikawa Prefecture. Severely damaged, the ship was assumed to have been adrift over a long period.
Professor Yoshihiko Yamada of Tokai University, an expert on maritime affairs who serves as a director of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF), a privately-financed think tank that I head, had this to say about the North Korean vessels:
“The conspicuous feature of the vessels washed ashore in December is that they obviously had drifted much longer than those discovered earlier. No small number of North Korean vessels, adrift on choppy waters in the Sea of Japan in the coldest season and mercilessly blown for days by northwesterly winds, somehow managed to avoid fatal damage. The boats were sturdily constructed and their crews were well built, not like ordinary Korean fishermen. There were 42 survivors in all in 2017, although there had been not a single survivor in the preceding two years. Quite a difference, I must say.”
Professor Yamada continued:
“Since last December, there has been a marked increase in the number of smaller vessels adrift from North Korea measuring between 7 and 8 meters (22.5 to 26 feet) long, while their predecessors were between 12 and 15 meters (38 to 48 feet) long. It is too reckless to venture out on the stormy winter waters of the Sea of Japan. Presumably, many of their larger or medium-sized vessels have been lost under such tough circumstances.”
Kim Jong-Un’s Pathetic Struggle for Survival
Speaking to the Hoover Institute at Stanford University on January 17, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shared what his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono had informed him about the vessels that drift 600 miles across from North Korea to Japanese shores. Tillerson quoted Kono as explaining that the North Korean survivors do not appear to be defectors or operatives but ordinary fishermen, as all of them have expressed their desire to go back home. They obviously had been compelled by Kim Jong-un to venture out to the rough wintry seas to haul in their catch without enough fuel.
Professor Tsutomu Nishioka, another expert on Korean affairs who also serves as a JINF director, attributes the fishermen’s ordeals on the seas to chronic food shortages in North Korea. He notes that in 2014 Jong-un issued a decree strictly commanding that the military secure a sufficient volume of fish for delivery every day without fail to all the orphanages, grade and middle schools, and nursing homes across North Korea.
On the other hand, points out Prof. Nishioka, North Korea has sold three-month fishery rights to 300 Chinese vessels for $200 per ship, allowing them to operate in the seas close to its shores. As a result, North Korean fishing vessels are forced to operate in the fishery grounds in the Sea of Japan far from their shores. Nishioka adds:
“Since early this year, the energy situation in Pyongyang has further deteriorated, with its primary thermal power station believed to have been forced to suspend operations for more than 10 days in January due to a stoppage of coke imports from China. I also have heard from reliable sources that rice is being replaced by corn as the staple food for the North Koreans.”
The international economic sanctions against the Kim regime spearheaded by Japan have clearly started to bite. Trying to hide his nation’s plight, Jong-Un will try to make a big show of power, staging a massive military parade in Pyongyang on February 8, just a day before the opening of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
On January 22, Kim announced out of the blue that the official founding day of the North Korean People’s Army was actually February 8, 1948. This would mean that North Korea had its own armed forces before it started functioning as a nation, as its national foundation day is September 9 that year.
At the lavishly planned parade, Kim will without doubt boast once again about North Korea’s global nuclear weapons program. Undoubtedly, he hasn’t the slightest intention of giving up his missiles or nuclear weapons.
During the opening ceremony the following day, athletes from the two Koreas are slated to march under an odd flag called “the unification flag.” The world will witness how the despotic Jong-Un abuses what is meant to be a “peace and sports festival” in a crafty plot to survive as the Olympics are manipulated politically to the extreme.
One should not be deceived by the opening ceremony―or the games themselves. An Olympics manipulated by the North must be surely be unbearable for the proud people of South Korea. Unable to provide his people with a subsistence level of food, Jong-Un’s actions in Pyeongchang are nothing more than a pathetic effort to save his own hide. By any stretch of the imagination, one finds it hardly plausible that a joint Olympic participation by the two Koreas with such diametrically opposite systems and values will ease the North Korean crisis. A lot depends on the moves to be made by the Moon Jae-in administration, but one should sensibly be prepared for a worsening of the crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
“Large numbers of North Korean Refugees Landing on Japan”
Warned Prof. Yamada:
“One must ask why such an unprecedented number of North Korean fishing boats are washing ashore in Japan. I believe North Korea is trying to send large numbers of people to Japan. If a conflict breaks out on the peninsula, Japanese experts expect some 400,000 refugees to pour out of the North. It is possible to imagine that between 100,000 and 150,000 of them will head to Japan, with 50,000 eventually reaching our shores. It is likely that half to two-thirds of them will lose their lives at sea.”
A horrific scenario, indeed. The estimate of half to two-thirds losing their lives at sea is based on the data to date of the boats that had tried to make it to Japan. But why do North Koreans dare try to come to Japan, choosing such a risky sea route?
Prof. Yamada cites two major reasons. First, he notes, if North Koreans flee to China or Russia, there will be no guarantee that they will be protected as refugees or their lives saved.
By stark contrast, North Korean refugees can expect Japan to do everything in its power to protect them in an earnest effort to abide by international law. They can rest assured that Japan will provide them shelter, clothes, and food alongside medical care. And if the pro-Pyongyang General Association of North Korean Residents headquartered in Tokyo vouches for them, they can expect to stay in Japan for a reasonably prolonged period of time.
Also, even if some of them are discovered to be Pyongyang’s operatives, Japanese jails are clean, with meals and medical care provided. There really is nothing for them to fear about coming to Japan.
Prof. Yamada’s second reason: Refugees are likely attracted by huge funds Pro-North Korean organizations in Japan are said to have amassed, although the details remain undisclosed.
Prof. Araki warns:
“Among the tens of thousands of refugees expected to reach our shores must surely be those affected by infectious diseases as well as others under Pyongyang’s orders to function as spies. But the Japanese police, coast guard, or Self-Defense Forces can hardly cope effectively with so large a number of refugees rushing to our shores. Our people have not come to grips with the hard fact that Japan is not prepared to cope with such a contingency. That itself is the most serious crisis facing Japan today.”
The results of the general election last October were generally recognized as an expression of the nation’s determination to surmount the threat from North Korea. With this mandate in mind, the ruling coalition parties―the Liberal-Democratic Party and the Komeito Party―must join hands in proactively exploring ways to cope with the worsening crisis. The opposition parties also must awaken to a realization that they too have a responsibility to tackle this crisis head-on.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” article no. 789 in the February 8, 2018 edition of The Weekly Shincho)