Following US, Abe cranks up pressure on NK

By Li Ruoyu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/31 19:23:40

The Japanese cabinet approved imposing new sanctions on companies and individuals that have relations with North Korea last week. The unilateral list by Japan included four Chinese enterprises and a Chinese individual, which inevitably sparked a ripple in Sino-Japanese relations that have only recently begun to stabilize. The latest sanctions raised a question: will the recently reshuffled Abe cabinet want to provoke trouble to test the bottom line in Sino-Japanese relations?

China's foreign ministry saw the real reason behind Japan's sanctions. "Japan, regardless of China's solemn stand, insisted on following certain countries to impose unilateral sanctions on Chinese enterprises and individuals. And China expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition," said foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying at a daily press briefing on the day sanctions were approved. She on the one hand, warned Japan not to hinder improving bilateral relations, and on the other pointed out that Japan's sanctions are results of blindly following the policy of "certain country" - the US.

The US maintains absolute control over Japan's security affairs through the Japan-US Security Treaty. The US Treasury Department also imposed further sanctions on relevant enterprises and individuals of China, Russia and other countries on August 22 for their engagement with North Korea. The duplicate sanctions issued by Japan undoubtedly show that Japan closely follows step with the US over issues regarding North Korea. Moreover, the sanctions target only just Chinese enterprises, but in the wake of multiple missile test launches, North Korea itself.

It is also possible that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to use a tougher stance against North Korea to ease domestic pressures, given his awkward situation following a series of political scandals.

In Japan's annual defense whitepaper in recent years, Japan's military focus has always been on China, North Korea and Russia. And these countries are most often used as hypothetical enemies by Japan to demonstrate the necessity of its military development. But for Japan, the three countries have different situations. The Abe administration, which has tried to address an ongoing territorial dispute between Japan and Russia, has avoided unnecessarily irritating Russia.

With regard to China, although the Japanese government has often hyped the "China threat theory," bilateral relations have tended to be less strained more recently and Japan will lose more than gain if it suddenly makes trouble on this issue. Besides, boosting the Japanese economy is critical for Abe to resolve political pressures with the country, and to this end, Abe cannot be seen to provoke the world's second largest economy. In this way, North Korea's nuclear issue is the only thing that Abe can use to enhance the image of his administration.

Unlike the "China threat theory" used in media propaganda, Japanese people feel a real threat from North Korean missiles that can reach Japan. When North Korea announced that it would complete its strike plan on Guam in early August, Japanese people became highly concerned about whether North Korea's nuclear bomb, if launched, would land on Japanese territory and cause nuclear fallout.

Tuesday's missile launch by Pyongyang triggered Japan's defense alarm systems, rousing many people from their sleep. In this sense, Japanese people would like to see heightened sanctions on North Korea that displays the Abe administration's determination to defend the country and protect its people.

Japan has no alternative but to toe the US line on security issues. After the Crimean crisis broke out, despite Japan's reluctance to provoke Russia, it still had to follow the US in imposing sanctions on Russia. On the North Korea issue, although China has repeatedly called on all parties not to irritate each other and avoid exacerbating tensions, Japan still showed its loyalty to the US by imposing sanctions on Pyongyang.

Having experienced overhead diplomacy, Japan is worried about being marginalized in the Six-Party Talks. Therefore, even if Japan realizes it has "seriously damaged the interests and judicial sovereignty of China" by unilaterally imposing sanctions on Chinese enterprises it considered to be involved in Pyongyang's nuclear development, this won't provoke a negative reaction from the Japanese people, but instead help rid Abe of his pressures. Moreover, if North Korea continues to test-fire missiles and spark constant panic among the Japanese population, conservative politicians in Tokyo who are good at inducing public opinion would use the nuclear threat to push to make the revision of pacifist constitution a reality.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Institute of Japanese Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


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