Today's date:
Winter 2004

Only Sanctions Will Force North Korea to Disarm

Shintaro Ishihara, the controversial novelist and nationalist, is governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Region. According to opinion polls, he is Japan's most popular politician and a potential successor to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Ishihara was co-author with Sony's Akio Morita of A Japan That Can Say No and is co-author with Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir of An Asia That Can Say No. He spoke with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels at the governor's office in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo on Oct. 23.

NPQ | At the APEC meeting in Bangkok, President Bush said he would propose some form of "security assurance" or non-aggression agreement to North Korea. Its initial response was to fire a missile into the Sea of Japan and call the proposal "laughable." Does that suggest to you that Kim Jong Il is intent on developing nuclear weapons and not serious about negotiations?

SHINTARO ISHIHARA | Yes, the only way for this regime to prolong itself is to continue its challenging stance. It already manufactures and exports Scud missiles to the Middle East and elsewhere. And it will do the same with nuclear weapons and sell them to anti-American countries.

I don't think North Korea would go as far as to actually hit Japan or South Korea with a nuclear bomb. The regime knows that would be the end for them because they would be destroyed by retaliation. So Kim Jong Il is walking a very fine line.

NPQ | Does it concern you that the American security "umbrella" that protects Japan might be stretched too thin because it is bogged down in Iraq, thus leaving Japan vulnerable?

ISHIHARA | If the United States does not come to Japan's rescue by retaliating against North Korea in the event of some attack, the US-Japan Security Treaty would be meaningless. Then, in a very short period of time, Japan would remilitarize.

NPQ | If North Korea actually goes forward and tests a nuclear weapon, would it prompt Japan to develop its own nuclear deterrent? After all, it would be surrounded by nuclear powers—both China and North Korea.

"A promise to five powers -- especially since China is involved -- is more likely to be kept than a promise to one. At the end of the day, the North Koreans will come around and disarm. I believe they will agree to disarm within two years. Their economy is so weak they can't hold out much longer."

Yasuhiro Nakasone, former Japanese prime minister.

ISHIHARA | In such a context, it would depend on how China and the US respond. If Japan becomes isolated or abandoned, then a major decision to build such a deterrent would be warranted.

NPQ | Because of Japan's nuclear power plant infrastructure, it is reported to have enough fissile material to make 3,000–4,000 bombs. Is that your understanding?

ISHIHARA | Yes, that is correct.

NPQ | The last crisis with North Korea (during the Clinton administration) occurred when it fired a long-range missile across Japanese territory. Should Japan have its own missile defense system?

ISHIHARA | I doubt North Korea has the capacity for an accurate strike now, but since it will continue to refine its capacity to deliver nuclear weapons by missile, yes, we need our own missile defense system.

Japan should launch satellites both to collect information on North Korea's missiles and to guide lasers that would intercept and destroy them on their short trajectory from North Korea to Japan.

If we do this, however, there is bound to be objection from both the US and China.

NPQ | If Japan does determine that North Korean weapons pose a threat to its security, is it within Japan's right of self-defense to make a preemptive attack?


NPQ | Do you have much hope the present multiparty negotiations will succeed in disarming North Korea?

ISHIHARA | No, I don't. Only if North Korea is hurt economically will it negotiate seriously. I don't understand why Japan does not use the considerable cards it has available—namely, decisive economic sanctions—to force dismantlement of the Kim Jong Il regime.

I am very critical of the present government for not pressing sanctions since Japan is the country that would have the most impact on North Korea if it imposed them. Indeed, it is irresponsible not to do so.

We should, for example, implement the same kind of sanctions against North Korea the US has employed to crack down on the financing of Al Qaeda, stopping the flow of funds to its terror cells.

North Koreans living in Japan repatriate funds to North Korea that end up supporting the regime. For example, most of the Pachinko game parlors that are very popular in Japan are owned by Koreans. They generate revenues of 40 trillion yen annually, and about two-fifths of that is by families with ties to North Korea. Not all, but a significant portion of those funds go back to North Korea. We need to monitor and stop that.

NPQ | The international community is relying heavily on China to pressure North Korea to disarm. Will China's influence over Kim Jong Il prevail?

ISHIHARA | I don't think China is serious. It doesn't care if North Korea has nuclear weapons. After all, it is no threat to China, which has its own arsenal. On the contrary, it is to China's benefit that North Korea is creating problems for Japan and the US. It ties them down with Kim Jong Il while China expands its power in the region. Indeed, the Chinese might like to colonize North Korea.

NPQ | You have argued that China is an economic threat because low wages and the lack of free trade unions means they are stealing jobs and "hollowing out" Japan's manufacturing base. Yet, Japan's export growth of late is almost entirely due to exports to China.

Is China more of a threat or an opportunity?

ISHIHARA | Of course, I welcome the fact that China is becoming a big consumer market. However, an economy is like a river—there is the upstream source where new products are developed, the midstream where manufacturing takes place and downstream where products are marketed and sold.

China is only a midstream, manufacturing economy. It doesn't have an upstream or downstream. As such, it will be a continuing threat, especially now—thanks to US sponsorship—that it is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Access through WTO will enable the Chinese to steal technology since they don't respect intellectual property rights. That plus the slave working conditions of a Communist state will present an ongoing challenge to all other manufacturing countries.

It is, above all, the responsibility of the US to force China to abide by the rules since, under President Clinton, it solicited China's WTO accession—despite the arguments of Japan and Europe that it wasn't mature enough.

The US doesn't understand something about China that its clear to us because we are its neighbor: China is not interested in rules, only in its own economic advantage.

NPQ | China has done something Japan never did. It sent up an astronaut to orbit the Earth. Doesn't that lend it a new prestige?

ISHIHARA | If Japan wanted to have a manned space flight, it could do it immediately. But what would be the significance of doing so at this historical juncture?

This was an act of national vanity, first, tantamount to propaganda by a Communist government and, second, a militaristic threat to the rest of the world.

Because China has no upstream or downstream, its military demonstration will have no beneficial economic consequence because the technology cannot be shared and commercialized. By contrast, the US space program shared its knowledge and created a stream of commercial benefits. For example, the air filter system developed for the Apollo spacecraft is now used in brewing Japanese beer. And the precise measurement technology developed for the Apollo moon landing is used today in designing earthquake resistance in Japanese high-rise buildings.