Why Is Japan Being So Quiet About North Korea?

With all the saber-rattling from North Korea and the at times equally loud responses from the South and the United States, there’s a conspicuous voice missing in the din — Japan.

Since North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un turned up the heat, going as far as declaring that a “state of war” exists on the Korean peninsula once more, the U.S. and South Korea have responded in kind. South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday gave the military the leeway to respond directly to any attack without “any political consideration.” The United States, for its part, flew B-2 stealth bombers over South Korea in a show of force meant to the show North Korea that it could strike without warning and has F-22 stealth fighters on stand-by to participate in a training exercise with South Korea.

China has expressed its displeasure with North Korea in the months since its third nuclear test, even as Beijing continues to back its fellow communist state. Even Russia has taken the opportunity to voice its opinion of the heated words coming from Pyongyang, Seoul, and Washington. So of the members of the Six-Party Talks, why is Japan the only one staying quiet about the DPRK’s bellicose rhetoric?

Given the proximity of Japan to the Koreas, and the DPRK’s history of threats against the Japanese people and U.S. bases in Japan, it’s surprising that Japan has yet to speak out during the last several weeks, particularly considering Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reputation for hawkish behavior towards North Korea and in general.


Part of Abe’s campaign platform was editing Japan’s post-World War II constitution to allow a broader definition of “self-defense” than is currently allowed. Abe has most definitely acted on those policies once taking office, including launching a series of military exercises designed to simulate a Chinese invasion of Japan, though it never directly referenced China. Military spending is up, as well, but what’s still missing has been an active role for Japan during the crisis on the Korean peninsula.

So what’s the reason behind Abe’s seemingly counter-intuitive lack of public statements in recent weeks? Dr. Sheila Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke with ThinkProgress on the matter, saying that the silence from Tokyo is the wise choice. In Smith’s view, the Abe government understands that the focus of Pyongyang’s rhetoric is on South Korea, with its statements designed for consumption in Washington and Seoul. Smith also believes that Tokyo is reassured by the United States’ security pledges and doesn’t see an advantage in inserting itself into the current crisis.

Smith may be right, given the lack of direct threats toward Tokyo from Pyongyang lately. Also playing into Japan’s decision may be that it does not view Pyongyang as likely to take action. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told journalists at the daily briefing that there are no signs of troop movement from North Korea to match its rhetoric. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Monday also said that he believes that “nothing is going to happen.” Despite that, military preparations from the U.S. are ongoing. On Monday, the Pentagon announced that the U.S.S. John S. McCain, an anti-missile destroyer, was being moved to the coast of Korea, with the the U.S.S. Decatur following on Tuesday.