Aso, government watch North Korea like a hawk
Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 22, 2008
THIS ARTICLE in The Australian reports that Aso Taro, who will become Japan’s next prime minister later this week (barring a hole opening in the earth and swallowing him up), is urging the government to update its contingency plans in the event of instability in North Korea. The article also mentions there is a growing consensus overseas that Kim Jong-il has in fact suffered a stroke and is unlikely to fully regain his health.
The Japanese government is starting to draw conclusions:
The Cabinet Office is reported to be today convening a meeting of senior officials from across the Government to review and update the national contingency plan for dealing with North Korean military action, regime collapse or leadership instability.
What might happen?
The contingencies include conflict on the North-South and North Korea-China borders, uncontrolled refugee flows into the region, civil war between competing elements of the People’s Liberation Army, and the threat of missile attacks or, less likely, nuclear strikes on Seoul and Japan’s east coast cities, including Tokyo.
Planning will be complicated by another uncertainty in Pyeongyang: Who’s in charge there?
Nobody outside a few hundred people in the inner Korean Workers’ Party, the PLA command and the elite family groups around Mr Kim has any clear idea about the deployment of authority beneath him. But it is often speculated that the PLA top brass in the NDC are more belligerent and less attuned to external realities, except in relation to their associates in the Chinese armed forces, than Mr Kim.
Apart from the difficulty in dealing with the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, the situation in North Korea might also have an impact on the political situation in Japan.
A lower house election in Japan is expected to be held sooner rather than later, and some people think it could come as early as next month. Voters everywhere tend to shy away from domestic political change in the face of external threats or uncertainty.
If instability in North Korea becomes manifest, it might cause those Japanese willing to cast a vote for change and the opposition Democratic Party to think twice and stick with what they know: The LDP and the ruling coalition. The DPJ’s overall dovish stance wouldn’t help their chances in this climate, either.
And as this AFP article points out, the turmoil in global financial markets over the past week might be another factor working in the favor of Mr. Aso and the LDP.
Unfortunately, those who favor Koizumi-style reform might wind up as disappointed as the DPJ:
Aso…promises to return to the old ways of the long-dominant LDP by using public money to boost the countryside, where the economy is in particularly dire shape. He has hinted that he will ignore promises made by former reformist prime minister Junichiro Koizumi to rein in spending to tame the public debt, the highest among major economies.
But then Mr. Aso was never an enthusiastic reformer to begin with.
Afterwords: What a refreshing change to see an overseas newspaper run a responsible article about Japan without any blatant nonsense. It’s even more refreshing to see it in The Australian, which is often a perpetrator of that nonsense.
Now all they need to do is find a better translator. I’d didn’t see Mr. Aso’s original Japanese, but I’d bet it wasn’t that clumsy.