Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles

Japanese find US the better devil to side with

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am

Opposition to military bases diminishes as fears grow over North Korea's launch

The public may generally be in favour of fewer United States military personnel and bases on Japanese soil, but faced with the possibility of North Korea launching another ballistic missile they are siding with the devil they know.

'There may be problems involving US troops in Japan, particularly in Okinawa, where there are lots of bases, but we know they are not a military threat to us and are here as part of our defences,' said Misako Ueshima, a restaurant worker from Kawasaki City.

'All we hear about the North Koreans is bad things and right now, while we wait to see if they will fire a missile or not, people are very worried,' she said. 'We remember what happened in 1998.'

Eight years ago, North Korea fired a long-range missile over Hokkaido, Japan's most northerly island, before it fell into the Pacific Ocean. Pyongyang claimed the launch was of a rocket putting a satellite in orbit.

With moves apparently afoot in North Korea to launch an updated Taepodong-2 missile, which military analysts believe is capable of hitting targets anywhere in Japan, Guam or the west coast of America, Tokyo and Washington are stepping up defences.

The US is to deploy Patriot interceptor missiles in Japan for the first time, a weapon designed to bring down cruise missiles, aircraft or the ballistic missiles of the type that North Korea has developed.

And while the Patriots may not be in position before the end of the year, the US military has moved forward plans to start testing a new early-warning radar system at the Japanese Air Self-Defence Force's Shariki base in Aomori Prefecture, due east of North Korea's missile launch pads.

'It's not something that I like to think about, but there are several US military facilities in and around Yokohama and I suppose that could make the city a target,' said Mutsuko Tsuyuki, a housewife who lives close to the US Navy's Negishi housing facility in the city.

'It's a small chance, of course, but I think a bigger concern is what might happen if they lost control of a missile after launch, and that could go for an American missile as well,' she said.

There are those, however, who are very much in favour of North Korea firing a Taepodong-2 missile.

'I think it is foolish for Japan to request that North Korea not launch the missile, or even to think about offering economic aid in return for halting the launch,' said international relations professor Yoichi Shimada of Fukui Prefectural University.

'It is very much in Japan's best interests if Pyongyang goes ahead with the launch as it will cause outrage in Japanese public opinion and deepen concern in the US.

'It will force demands for strong retaliatory measures, including economic sanctions, and increase military co-operation between Japan and the US,' Professor Shimada said.

'That situation would also help to face down the mounting military threat from China, which is also obviously a good thing,' he said.

'The Japanese public understands that any US missiles that are introduced to Japan are purely defensive measures and while there is sometimes friction between the bases and local residents, I think this will reassure most people,' he added.

One group in Japanese society that feels it is very much caught between the two sides is the ethnic North Korean community.

'Koreans living here really just want to get on with their lives in peace,' said Hyon-suk Chung, a second-generation Korean whose father came from the North but whose mother is from South Korea.