Meanwhile: Seoul-Tokyo tensions mount…

With all eyes on the crisis between North and South Korea, the international media have largely overlooked growing tensions between both Koreas and Japan. On April 5, Seoul lodged a diplomatic protest against Japan's renewed territorial claim to the Dokdo Islands, known as Takeshima in Japan. The protest came after Tokyo issued a formal claim over the Seoul-controlled easternmost islets through approval of a diplomatic report that stated: "Takeshima is clearly Japanese territory in light of historical facts and under an international law." In a separate protest days earlier, Seoul lodged a complaint over new textbooks approved in Japan that emphasize Tokyo's claim to the islets while downplaying Japanese wartime atrocities in Korea. (Dong-a Ilbo, April 6; Xinhua, April 5; AsiaOne, March 27)

And this comes amid an outburst of extremely ugly anti-Korean xenophobic protests in Japan. The biggest was March 31 in Shin-ĹŚkubo, a Tokyo suburb with a large Korean population. Hundreds of right-wing protesters marched through the streets carrying signs reading "Go back to Korea!" and labeling Korean immigrants "cockroaches." Thankfully, equally large numbers of Japanese anti-fa types also showed up to protest the protest, hurling back slogans like "Get back to the Internet where you belong!" (Rocket News 24, April 2)

The Daily Mail notes one ultra-disturbing phenomena stemming from an anti-immigrant protest in Osaka's Korean district of Tsuruhashi, where a young girl went on a "shocking anti-Korean rant," that has since gone viral on YouTube, with over 45,000 views. She spews into a mike: "I hate the Koreans so much I cannot stand it! I just want to kill them all now! …We will start Tsuruhashi Massacre like Nanking Massacre!" The crowd responds with an enthusiastic "YES!!!" (Rendered in all caps and with three exclamation marks in the vid's English subtitles.)

The anti-Korea outburst is of course exacerbated by the DPRK's threats against Japan. Rodong Sinmun newspaper, run by the North's ruling Workers' Party, ran a commentary this week helpfully reminding Japan that its largest cities—invoking Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, Nagoya and Kyoto by name—lie within range of its missiles. (Japan Daily Press, April 11) (Actually, this amounts to an implicit admission that, despite Pyongyang's bluster, Honolulu and San Diego do not.)

Political archaeology in Manchuria
There are similar disputes between both Koreas and China, touching on another case of political archaeology—concerning the Koguryo/Goguryeo Dynasty (37 BCE-668 CE), when a Korean kingdom ruled over much of Manchuria. Guess who wants to remember it and who wants to forget it? From the IHT Rendezvous blog, April 10:

For evidence of deep suspicion among Koreans about China, people need look no further than the reported discovery late last year of a memorial stone from the Koguryo, a dynasty that ruled approximately the territory of North Korea (and some of the South) and large parts of China's northeastern provinces, flourishing for 700 years until 1,300 years ago.

"China conducting closed research into ancient Korean dynasty," read a headline in the Hankyoreh, a South Korean newspaper. "Observers say work on the Goguryeo stele is an attempt to incorporate it into Chinese history," the paper said, using an alternative spelling for Koguryo….

The issue is not new. In 2004, China-South Korean relations soured over it… That year…the Chinese Foreign Ministry deleted references to Koguryo from the Korean history section on its Web site. A Chinese government study group, the Northeast Project, had been set up two years previously, in 2002, to establish the kind of history Beijing was looking for, and issued academic papers bolstering the position that the ancient kingdom was merely a Chinese vassal state.

Protests erupted in South Korea. But North Korea is no less sensitive about China's claims to the kingdom, which Koreans of all kind see as the forerunner of their nation.

The old Cold War logic that sees North Korea as China's ally or proxy makes less sense in the emerging New Cold War between the US and China. Beijing has for the past decade maintained an equidistant stance between the two Koreas—keeping the North as a buffer state against the US military forces in the South, but finding the South too alluring for capitalist investment to isolate. China's attempts to rein in the North's nuclear ambitions may be enflaming nationalism in Pyongyang that even extends to anti-China sentiment. Ironically, this could even provide a point of unity between North and South, if not of the most positive kind.

Dissident voices of civil society
Rarely making international media are voices of civil society on the Korean peninsula demanding demilitarization of the conflict, and simple justice for people whose lives are caught up in the power game. Even North Koreans are finding a voice, albeit in the South. Last month,  the Network to Save North Korean Refugees held a protest at the Chinese embassy in Seoul, to demand that China stop forcefully repatriating North Korean refugees. Some actual refugees who were on hand testified that they feared torture and sexual abuse at the hands of authorities if they were returned, saying, "Dying is better than being sent back to North Korea." (NKNet, March 13)

Prof. Yang Yoon-Mo end a 52-day hunger strike on March 24 in a jail on Jeju Island, where he is serving time following a civil disobedience arrest to oppose construction of a new US military base. He ended the strike at the urging of Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea (SPARK), which expressed concerns for his health. Protests and prayer vigils continue outside the jail in his support. This is but the latest of several such sentences he has served for protesting the militarization of the island. (Save Jeju Now, March 24; The Nuclear Resister, May 25, 2011)

South eyes re-nuclearization
Unfortunately, some powerful voices in the South are calling for dropping the official policy of "denuclearization"—and even for withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Christian Science Monitor reports April 9:

Calling international efforts to stop North Korea from building atomic weapons a "miserable failure," a prominent South Korean lawmaker today called for the deployment of tactical US nuclear weapons in the South and suggested that his country think about developing their own nuclear deterrent. 

The call by M.J. Chung, a seven-term member of the Korean National Assembly and former presidential candidate, comes amid the biggest spike of tensions on the Korean peninsula in recent years. Among other threats, the new young leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, has threated to target Guam and Hawaii, and turn Seoul, South Korea’s capital, into a "sea of fire."

…Mr. Chung said "the lesson of the cold war" is that nuclear weapons must counter nuclear weapons for a threat to be credible. If deployed in South Korea, weapons of mass destruction would be an important bargaining chip, said Chung, who asked South Koreans to start "thinking the unthinkable" in order to deter war.

"North Korea's economy is collapsed, it is isolated, and yet we have failed to stop them from gaining nuclear weapons," he said to a roomful of policymakers and officials in a keynote address at an annual Carnegie Endowment for International Peace meeting in Washington. He argued that future generations would call the current dealings with North Korea one of the "most spectacular and consequential failures" of the age.

Chung recommended that if South Korea decided to develop its own nuclear deterrence, it could "temporarily" suspend its membership in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which it has been a signatory since the 1970s…

"We have all failed and it is now up to us to think of new options," Chung said later in a Monitor interview.

One wonders what exactly "temporarily" means in this context…

How much method to Pyongyang's madness?
While North Korea is certainly playing a dangerous game, we've noted before that there has always been a certain method to the madness. The nuclear posturing is aimed at avoiding regime collapse, with both an external and internal element. Externally, the regime has in the past sucessively bargained its nuclear program for much-needed aid. Internally, orchestrated paroxysms of nationalism and war fever provide a safety valve for discontent. But brinkmanship, of course, has its risks. How likely is it that things will spin out of control and actually lead to war?

The predictably spooky North Korea Leadership Watch website notes some rituals of regime continuity that may be influencing the timing of events in Pyongyang:

DPRK state media reported on 8 April (Monday) that a national meeting was held at the 25 April House of Culture in Pyongyang. to commemorate the 20th anniversary of late leader Kim Jong Il's election as National Defense Commission (NDC) Chairman.  KJI was elected NDC Chairman on 9 April 1993 at the fifth session of the 9th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), and used that position to establish himself as the country’s supreme leader. 

An official account of the proceedings is also quoted:

It was a historical event of great significance in developing the DPRK and carrying out the Songun revolutionary cause of Chuch'e that Kim Jong Il assumed the responsible post as chairman of the NDC as desired by all the service personnel and people of the DPRK and absolutely trusted by them… The reporter noted that Kim Jong Il successfully solved all issues arising in the nation-building in the era of Songun with his rare wisdom and sagacious leadership, setting a true example in building a thriving socialist nation in the era of independence.

Chuch'e (more commonly rendered Juche) is the official ideology first promulgated by dynasty founder Kim Il Sung, usually translated as "self-suffiency" (certainly an irony for a regime essentially trying to blackmail the world into subsidizing it with foreign aid). Songun refers to the "military-first" doctrine instated in the long period of crisis since the end of the (last) Cold War. April 25, after which the House of Culture is named, marks the 1932 founding of the Korean People's Army (to fight the Japanese, significantly).

The Commentator noted on March 31:

Yesterday the rising tensions in the region culminated in Pyongyang sensationally revoking the 1953 Panmunjom Armistice Agreement, which temporarily halted the conflict in the Korean War, and declaring that a state of war existed with the South… What seems irrational is the continued testing of nuclear and missile technology in spite of UNSC resolution 1718 [October 2006], which causes only further isolation and hardship… The success of gaining a nuclear deterrent is debatable, the continued proliferation has isolated Pyongyang in the region. It ended the Six Party Talks in 2009 and has brought about the suspension of both American and South Korean food aid. Despite this, the programme presses on.

In February 2013, the third nuclear test occurred and recent estimates by the Institute for Science and International Security have concluded that the North has acquired at least 12 nuclear weapons. The weapons themselves remain a strong persuasive argument domestically, that Juche ideology of the regime is delivering the promised goal of strong national security for the Korean People's Army and is a shining example of the nation’s technological progress….

In the end, we can be almost certain that there will not be another overt action against the South in the current climate, especially during combined US-South Korean military exercises. The test of brinkmanship for Kim Jong-Un is the Kaesong Industrial Complex on the border, employing over 50,000 North Koreans in 120 South Korean companies. It is a financial life line to Pyongyang.

Already today the North Koreans have threatened to close the complex, and if indeed it does close, then we know for sure that the Great Successor has ripped up the old rule book, and we have entered a dark new era of uncertainty.  

Now of course the North has indeed closed the industrial faciliity. Are we thusly in a "dark new era of uncertainly"—just in time for the 60th anniversary this July 27 of the Panmunjom agreement that ended (although not officially) the Korean War? 

And there's another big anniversary coming up even sooner. From Time, April 10:

On April 15, North Korea will mark the 101st birthday of the state's founding father, Kim Il Sung. It is the single most important day in the North Korean calendar… so much so that in 1997, Pyongyang replaced the Christian calendar with a juche calendar, in which history begins with the birth of the Great Leader, in 1912. Last year, Kim Jong Un celebrated his grandfather's birthday by trying, but failing, to launch a rocket two days before hosting a massive military parade.

Will Kim top last year's showing? In Seoul today most experts played down the likelihood of an attack, saying a test was more likely. Bernhard Seliger, an economist at the Seoul branch of Germany’s Hanns Seidel Foundation, predicts Kim might simply use the anniversary to "claim victory" over foreign aggressors, aligning himself symbolically with his grandfather, who is venerated like a god. Seliger, who estimates that he's been to North Korea about 100 times over the past 10 years, predicts the tension will dissipate quickly as attention turns to spring planting in the impoverished rural hinterlands. "North Korea can't wage war, because the soldiers are really needed in the fields," he says.

Let's hope so. 


  1. Japan deploys Patriot missiles in Tokyo, Okinawa

    Tokyo announced April 13 that it will permanently deploy Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) systems in Okinawa in response to the tensions with North Korea. Two PAC-3 launchers have also been deployed on an ostensibly temporary basis around the Defense Ministry complex in Tokyo. The Okinawa deployment had been slated for 2015, but has been moved up. Three destroyers equipped with Aegis Combat System have also been deployed in the Sea of Japan. (Prensa Latina, April 12; AFP, Asahi Shimbun, April 9)

  2. April 15 deepened Korea crisis…
    What a difference a couple of days can malke. As recently as the weekend, we were all freaking out over North Korea. The April 15 Boston attacks totally changed the channel. But, as noted above, that was a much anticipated day for the Koreas. What happened? As Pyongyang marked the birthday of Kim Il Sung—dubbed “Sun Day” in the DPRK’s cultish lingo—protesters in Seoul burned the entire Kim family in effigy. Pyongyang issued a typically overheated statement condemning the action as a “thrice-cursed crime.” The statement added: “The DPRK’s revolutionary armed forces will start immediately their just military actions to show how the service personnel and people of the DPRK value and protect the dignity of the supreme leadership.” (Global Post, EuroNewsKGS NightWatch, April 15)

    Check out BBC‘s shots of the gigantic idol-like statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at the Pyongyang celebrations to get a sense of just how close the “atheist” DPRK is to theocracy. (And not a “theocracy” as the word is used today, to mean rule by clergy in the style of Iran, but a literal theocracy in which the leader is revered as a deity.) (More simply surreal North Korean propaganda videos are online at

    And in case you missed it, the next day China’s defense ministry made a thinly veiled attack on the US for increasing tensions in the Asia-Pacific region—just days after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Beijing. “There are some countries which are strengthening their Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanding their military presence in the region and frequently make the situation there tenser,” the ministry said in a 40-page document on the balance of forces in the theater. (Reuters, April 16)

    On April 12, the Chinese city of Huichen, near the border with North Korea in Jilin province, staged an air raid drill, sounding alarms in residential areas and having residents evacuate to underground shelters. Government sources supposedly said the drill was previously scheduled and was not a response to current tensions. (AP, April 12)

    1. DPRK game of thrones gets Shakespearean

      When Kim Jong-un took over two years ago, we noted that his uncle Jang Song-thaek was looked to hopefully by the West as a "technocrat" who would wield real power in the transition—and perhaps seek to open the country, in the style of China's Deng Xiaoping. Well, so much for that. In a purge trial quickly followed by summary execution, Jang Song-thaek "was accused of everything from plotting a coup to instigating disastrous currency reforms and dishing out pornography in a report issued by the official news agency KCNA early on [Dec. 13]. It denounced him as 'worse than a dog' and 'despicable human scum'… It also claimed he pursued a 'decadent capitalist lifestyle' –squandering at least €4.6m in 2009 alone, including in a foreign casino–and deliberately hampered construction projects in Pyongyang. He sold off natural resources 'at random' and committed treachery by selling off land at the Rason special economic zone for five decades, it added, apparently in reference to a deal with Russia." (The Guardian)

      What we don't get is… if the DPRK is as rigidly Communist as is commonly portrayed, how was this kind of malfeasance even possible? We've been aware of de jure and de facto moves toward market liberalization at the local level in North Korea. But wholesale selling off of state resources to foreign investors? Under a centralized Stalinist system? How does that work? (Not to mention that the Rason special economic zone is basically a free-trade zone of the kind developing countries use to lure investment in a laissez-faire atmosphere.)

      When will the idiot-left factions shilling for North Korea understand that, like most autocratic regimes on the planet today, it is a corrupt kleptocracy—and not even remotely "socialist"? And when will the Western boosters of "market reform" understand that this by no means necessarily implies democratization?

    2. North Korean Shakespearan drama gets scarier… and more surreal

      OK, did you see the front-page story in the New York Times, "Korea Execution Is Tied to Clash Over Businesses"? Um… "clash"? and, uh… "businesses"? It seems the dispute between Kim and his late uncle emerged over the latter's control of a fishery exploited for export to South Korea and China, and the final break came when there was a fire-fight between the army and Jang Song-thaek's seemingly private militia or security force, leaving two soliders dead. We are also told "Mr. Jang and his associates had provoked the enmity of rivals within the North's elite by dominating lucrative business deals, starting with the coal badly needed by China, the North's main trading partner."

      OK, the word "clash" is obviously pretty scary, portending a violent fracturing of the regime, not exactly what East Asia needs right now. But the word "business" seems absolutely surreal, given all the depictions we've been fed of a rigid Stalinist command economy in the DPRK. We are glad the pretense is finally being dropped that this increasingly self-devouring hereditary dictatorship is "socialist."


    3. Kim Jong Un as Hugo Drax

      North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's powerful uncle was stripped naked, thrown into a cage, and eaten alive by a pack of ravenous dogs, according to a newspaper with close ties to China's ruling Communist Party. Hong Kong-based pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po reported that Jang Song Thaek and his five closest aides were set upon by 120 hunting hounds which had been starved for five days. Kim and his brother Kim Jong Chol reportedly supervised the one-hour ordeal along with 300 other officials. The newspaper added that Jang and other aides were "completely eaten up." (NBC, Jan. 3) Somebody seems to be watching too much James Bond

      The DPRK regime seems to have a fetish for this kind of thing. We're reminded of reports that emerged from defectors a couple of years back of a "Camp 22" in Haengyong, hidden away in remote mountains near the Russian border, where thousands of suspected thought-criminals are held—equipped with a gas chamber for those deemed beyond re-education. The Guardian reported Jan. 31, 2004:

      Kwon Hyuk, who has changed his name, was the former military attaché at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. He was also the chief of management at Camp 22. In the BBC's This World documentary, to be broadcast tonight, Hyuk claims he now wants the world to know what is happening.

      'I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber,' he said. 'The parents, son and and a daughter. The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing.'

      Of course they were all doubtless imperialist agents who deserved it.

      1. Life imitates art in North Korea?

        OK, The Interview wasn't exactly "art." But AFP, citing South Korean intelligence, is telling us that Kim Jong-Un had his defense minister Hyon Yong-Chol executed with anti-aircraft fire for dozing off during a military rally. Hundreds were apparently present to view what must have been a very messy spectacle. (In the execrable movie, Kim himself is killed by a shell fired from a tank. Maybe Hollywood is giving the dictatorship some perverse ideas?)

        The regime's boosters of course predict this story will be shortly debunked. It's been brought to our attention that The Guardian reported Jan. 6, 2014 that the story about Jang Song-thaek being eaten alive by dogs actually originated with "Pyongyang Choi Seongho," a "China-based satirist with millions of followers" on Weibo. However, the Beijing Cream blog portrays Choi Seongho as an ambiguous satirist: "a self-proclaimed North Korean patriot, he has written solely to glorify the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea." Is this edgy irony of the kind so endlessly fashionable in the West? Or a necessary guise to be able to get away with his criticisms of the Kim regime, even in China? Or both?

        Regime boosters I'm dealing with on Facebook also dredge up revelations from over a decade ago that defectors admitted they faked documents the BBC used as the basis for allegations that the DPRK has tested chemical weapons on prisoners. (People's Daily, March 31, 2004) But this has nothing to say about the Camp 22 claims cited above…

  3. Japan marks ‘restoration of sovereignty’
    This can’t be good. From NPR, April 28:

    Japan marked for the first time Sunday the end of the allied occupation of the country following its defeat in World War II.

    “We have a responsibility to make Japan a strong and resolute country that others across the world can rely on,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a ceremony in Tokyo that was attended by dignitaries, including Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

    During the election campaign that returned him to power last December, Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party promised to mark April 28 as “Restoration of Sovereignty Day.” April 28, 1952, was when the San Francisco Peace Treaty took effect, marking the official end of World War II and the allied occupation of Japan. Since his election, Abe has surged in the polls on the back of both his economic prescriptions for a stagnant economy as well as his plan to rewrite the country’s pacifist, post-war constitution. Such a move would loosen restrictions on the country’s armed forces.

    The developments have worried China and South Korea, both of which were occupied by the Japanese during World War II.

    We at World War 4 Report are worried too, China and South Korea, if that makes you feel any better.

  4. Japanese revisionism on WWII sex slavery
    From the New York Times, May 27:

    Japanese Politician Reframes Comments on Wartime Brothels
    TOKYO — Seeking to quell an uproar over his recent comments suggesting that sexual slavery was a necessary evil in Japan’s imperial past, a populist party leader said Monday that he had not meant to justify wartime brothels or deny the women’s suffering at the hands of Japanese soldiers.

    But the politician, Toru Hashimoto, who is a co-leader of the opposition Japan Restoration Association and the mayor of Osaka, Japan’s third-largest city, also argued that Japan was being unfairly singled out for its use of so-called comfort women, and that other nations needed to examine the mistreatment of women by their own militaries before pointing the finger at Tokyo.

    “We must express our deep remorse at the violation of the human rights of these women by Japanese soldiers in the past, and make our apology to the women,” Mr. Hashimoto said, speaking to journalists at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. But, he added, “it is not a fair attitude to blame only Japan, as if the violation of human rights of women by soldiers were a problem unique to Japanese soldiers.”

    …Some historians estimate that 200,000 women were rounded up across Asia to provide sex for the Japanese military. Other historians put that number in the tens of thousands and say the women served of their own will. Japan formally apologized to the women in 1993.

    Two South Korean women who served as “comfort women” canceled a meeting with Mr. Hashimoto last week, saying in a statement that they were heartbroken over the mayor’s “outrageous comments.” …South Korea’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, called Mr. Hashimoto’s latests remarks “embarrassing and shameful,” and said they would “further isolate Japan in the international community.”

    Mr. Hashimoto charged that Britain, France, Germany, the Soviet Union and the United States were guilty of similar violations of women’s rights in World War II, as were South Korean soldiers who served in the Vietnam War. He urged those countries to acknowledge their past on the issue before scrutinizing Japan’s wartime history.

    He also invoked a belief shared by many Japanese, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that there was no evidence to suggest that Japan’s wartime government directly forced women to serve in the brothels. He brushed aside testimony to the contrary from a number of women who had been enslaved as unreliable.

    Mr. Hashimoto’s comments followed those of a string of Japanese politicians who had recently challenged what they said was a distorted view of Japan’s wartime history. Last month, Mr. Abe seemed to question whether Japan was the aggressor during the war, saying the definition of “invasion” was relative.

    But even Mr. Abe and his cabinet have distanced themselves from Mr. Hashimoto in recent weeks as he has tried to correct what he believes is an erroneous view of Japan’s wartime history.

    Mr. Hashimoto’s controversial remarks — sometimes in the form of an outpouring of posts on Twitter — have incited a furor from human rights groups here and have alienated much of the public. About 400 human rights activists staged a protest outside the Osaka city office this month, calling on Mr. Hashimoto to resign. After he made his initial remarks on “comfort women” on May 13, the State Department called them “outrageous and offensive.”

    …Public approval ratings for Mr. Hashimoto, who was once seen as a possible contender for prime minister, have plummeted, and a smaller party has called off plans to cooperate with him in the coming elections, citing his remarks on women.

    During his speech, Mr. Hashimoto apologized for suggesting to a senior American military official stationed on the island of Okinawa that United States troops at bases there should make more use of the local adult entertainment industry to reduce sexual crimes against women.

    “That was not what I meant,” Mr. Hashimoto said. “My real intention was to prevent a mere handful of American soldiers from committing crimes. In attempting to act on my strong commitment to solving the problem in Okinawa stemming from crimes committed by a minority of US soldiers, I made an inappropriate remark.”

    Still, Mr. Hashimoto did not shy away from delving into his interpretation of wartime brothels.

    Many wartime brothels were run not by Japanese, but by local brokers on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere, he said. And though some brothels were run by Japan’s wartime military, he said the military’s main task was to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases for the sake of the women.

    He stressed that while Japanese military boats and trucks were sometimes used to transport women to the brothels, the authorities themselves were not deeply involved in the coercion of women. He said he did not believe that Japan’s actions amounted to human trafficking.

    Banri Kaieda, who leads the opposition Democratic Party, advised Mr. Hashimoto to stop talking before he made the situation even worse.

    “There is a Chinese saying, ‘You cannot wrap a fire with paper,”” Mr. Kaieda said at a news conference. With Mr. Hashimoto, he said, “it’s as if he is trying to wrap it with oil instead.”

    Good to hear that this propaganda is not going down without protest within Japan…

    1. Japan to seek talks with Seoul in wartime forced labor case

      Japan will seek talks with Seoul over a South Korean court decision against a Japanese company over wartime forced labor. The court approved a request by plaintiffs to seize local assets of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. (CNA)

      South Korea's Supreme Court in November upheld a lower court ruling ordering Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan to compensate South Koreans who were forced into labor at their factories during World War II. (Jurist)