Japan Feels the Heat From North Korea Tests

Gerald Curtis, a visiting professor at the Graduate Research Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, talks with Lynn Neary about Japan's reaction to North Korea's surprise missile tests. The test missiles fell into the Sea of Japan.

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NEARY: The U.S. ambassador to Japan, Thomas Schieffer, had this to say about the North Korean action.

Ambassador J. THOMAS SCHIEFFER (United States Ambassador, Japan): This is a very provocative act, and we would hope that they would cease and desist from these kind of provocative acts. This is no way to advance their foreign policy goals.

NEARY: We go now to Gerald Curtis, a professor of political science at Columbia University. He's currently a visiting professor at the Graduate Research Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.

Professor Curtis, Japan is probably the nation which is most threatened by North Korea's actions. What is the reaction there?

Professor GERALD CURTIS (Political Science, Columbia University): Well, there's a lot of nervousness, and it strengthens the voices of those in Tokyo who want Japan to take a hard line - vis-à-vis North Korea - mainly in the form of economic sanctions, bringing the issue to the U.N. Security Council, and having - and working closely with the United States in trying to get the North Koreans onto a different course.

NEARY: Are they likely to take that hard line?

Prof. CURTIS: The Japanese already have. They announced some sanctions earlier, prohibiting of ferry shuttles between Pyongyang and Niigata City on the Japan Sea side. They've now suspended those visits for the next six months, and they're probably going to announce an effective ban on remittances by Korean residents in Japan towards North Korea. It's difficult to enforce, because they can do it through third countries.

But, yeah, the Japanese government now is - I think with the public very much supporting it, is going to shift to a much harder line on North Korea.

NEARY: What about South Korea? What kind of leverage does it have?

Prof. CURTIS: Well, the South Koreans seem taken aback by this action, because they've, you know, they've been pursuing kind of a soft line approach to North Korea. But, you know, it's hard to imagine what the North Koreans thought they were going to accomplish by this act. If they thought they were going to somehow get George Bush to say, wow, we better talk to them because they're dangerous, or the Japanese to kind of quiver and say, you know, we have to be nicer to them - if that's what they thought, then they're really living on a different planet.

Even the South Koreans, who inclined to take a soft line, were very tough with North Korea this morning and saying they have to work more closely with the Americans.

The key player here is China. China is the country, if any country has the ability to put a lot of pressure on North Koreans, it's China. They're a major source of food, energy, and so on. So, I'm sure the Bush administration must be talking with the Chinese very intently about how to respond, and particularly what to do if this is brought to the Security Council and the U.N., which it will be.

NEARY: Is it important that the Asian nations - and the U.S. for that matter -that they need to show a united front in their response to this?

Prof. CURTIS: Sure. Otherwise, it just convinces the North Koreans that this kind of provocative act and brinkmanship pays off. And while I think it's important to get a one-on-one dialogue between the U.S. and North Koreans going - which is what the Bush administration has been reluctant to do - you cannot, at the same time, give the North Koreans any reason to believe that if they engage in acts like this, that somehow there'll be positive payoff for them. So I think it just strengthens the hands of hard liners everywhere.

NEARY: To go back to China for a moment, relations between China and Japan have been somewhat tense recently. Is there any reason that China would not feel that it's in its interest to join with its Asian allies in its response to this?

Prof. CURTIS: Yes. Sure, the reason that it doesn't want to join in being tough is that it doesn't want to have a regime on its doorstep collapse and have chaos in North Korea and lots of refugees flowing over the border into China. It doesn't have anything to do with Japan. It has to do with China's concern about keeping the North Korean regime alive, or at least avoiding a chaotic situation.

But the Chinese also are really intent on having a good relationship with the United States. They cannot have a good relationship with the United States if they turn a blind eye to this kind of action by North Korea. So they're very much caught between a rock and a hard place, and I think we'll see some strong Chinese words about the North Korean act, but I'm not sure how much we're going to see in terms of concrete action.

NEARY: Prof. Curtis, thanks so much for joining us.

Prof. CURTIS: Thank you.

NEARY: Gerald Curtis is currently visiting professor at the Graduate Research Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.

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