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Saturday, April 14, 2012
Blown launch might be followed by nuclear test, internal strife, purge
By MASAMI ITO
North Korea's failed missile launch Friday could trigger a major internal dispute and political instability in the country, making Japan's dealings with the impoverished nation even more difficult, experts said Friday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could even escalate diplomatic tactics by conducting a nuclear test to make up for Friday's humiliation, analysts said.
Yet there isn't much Japan can do except urge the international community, especially the United States and China, to take firm action against Pyongyang, they said.
"Japan has been left out in the cold. North Korea is not interested in Japan so it can't even be a player in this game," said Shunji Hiraiwa, a professor on North Korean issues at Kwansei Gakuin University in Hyogo Prefecture.
He said trilateral negotiations among the U.S., China and North Korea will be the key to preventing Pyongyang from trying to test a nuclear bomb.
"Having no negotiations with Japan doesn't mean much to Pyongyang anyway. It relies on China for money now and wants to play a bigger negotiation game with the U.S.," Hiraiwa said.
The last time North Korea launched a missile, in April 2009, it conducted a nuclear test one month later. Experts say Pyongyang may follow the same pattern this time.
Japan wants to send a strong message condemning North Korea through a United Nations resolution, but it isn't even a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council and has no choice but to rely on its No. 1 ally, the U.S., to press the matter.
In February, North Korea agreed to suspend uranium enrichment and nuclear and long-range missile tests in exchange for 240,000 tons of food aid from the United States. The question now is whether the U.S. chose to "overlook" Friday's attempted launch, Hiraiwa said.
"The U.S. is being put to the test because the U.S.-North Korea agreement was made based on trust," he said. "But if the U.S. shows doubt and breaks its promise to North Korea, Pyongyang will have no choice but to strengthen its defensive capabilities by conducting a nuclear experiment."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated on Thursday during a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba that the U.S. "will be pursuing appropriate action." What that will be is still unclear.
Furthermore, Japan needs to urge China and Russia, allies of North Korea, to support whatever effort is made at the U.N. Security Council.
Lee Young Hwa, an economics professor at Kansai University and an expert on North Korea, said he expects Pyongyang to either launch another missile or conduct a nuclear test after a severe power struggle takes place among the various factions.
Experts believe the regime is made up of various groups ranging from moderates to militaristic hardliners.
"The Kim Jong Un regime has just begun, but the failure (of the launch) suggests the direction in which his leadership is going to head. A large-scale purge will take place with (people) being blamed for disgracing the leader," Lee told The Japan Times.
"When North Korea failed at currency denomination, many people were purged. I believe the number will be higher this time."
Experts agree that conditions are not even close to suggesting that the stalled six-party talks on denuclearizing North Korea can resume.
Moreover, the chances of Japan holding direct talks with the hermit state over the abduction issue are even slimmer.
"North Korea will continue to take a hardline attitude for a while and it is inefficient for Japan as well as the other six-party members to negotiate with a country that is in the middle of an internal power struggle and whose negotiating members could change," Lee said.