Sunday, November 28, 2010

North Korean Violence and Japanese Indifference

Recently, a deadly volley of North Korean artillery shells killed 4 people on a South Korean-held island near the disputed maritime border near the DMZ...South Korean government vowed revenge, American government launched immediate condemnations and sent in an aircraft carrier, while the Chinese called for calm while sending high ranking officials to meet both the North and South Koreans.

Amidst all the scrambles for reactions by each government in the aftermath of the bombing, Japanese government seemed to be completely aloof...the only thing it did was agreeing with the Americans on calling for the Chinese to help more and condemning the bombings as inhumane. The all-talk-and-no-action stance of the Japanese government is an obvious contrast to the scheming actions of the Chinese, the North Koreans, and the Americans.

Part of the blame is of course the same lack of leadership that plagues the short-lived Japanese administrations, which have largely been ridiculed by all functional democracies. As each prime minister fears for the stability of his position, there cannot be any energy left to opine about any foreign policy issues that does not have any immediate negative effects on the Japanese population. It is hard enough to maintain political support as it is without increased risks from being active outside the country.

But if a democratic government feels risk from taking open actions against something as potentially threatening as North Korea, then the primary responsibility should lie with the people. The Japanese people, being risk-averse (fearing some North Korean missile potentially flying across Sea of Japan) unintentionally have been pushing the Japanese government to be as low-key as possible after making the correct diplomatic response to back the South Koreans and the Americans.

Perhaps a view at the current situation in Tokyo amidst this tense standoff not that far away would be a good way to figure out why the Japanese are so unwilling to do anything beyond a bare minimum with regard to North Korea. As Christmas shopping season approaches, the great engine of Japanese consumerism is in full strength, driven by sale after sale in hollow promises of economic improvements in the near future.

The sensationalizing media and the ultra-right groups continue their usual tough rhetoric against China, portraying the Chinese government as the real culprit behind every North Korean act of craziness. Both the Chinese and the Korean community (pro-South and pro-North) have been keeping complete silence throughout this whole fiasco. Korean pop culture has not seen any decline in popularity both in China and here in Japan...

...really, the sense of political seclusion the average Japanese citizen seems to feel absolutely amazes me at times. Considering that North Korean ballistic missiles (potentially nuclear-tipped) can easily reach every single major city in Honshu from Sendai to Tokyo to Osaka, it is just incomprehensible how much the Japanese does not show any curiosity about the developments merely an hour and half away by commercial jetliner.

Surely, while the major newspapers topped their headlines with predictions of World War III, the only inquiries the average person here poses is "whats wrong with Korea?" done usually as a polite formality to Koreans to show a sense of neighborly care. And as genuinely indifferent as the question comes, the response by the average (South) Korean is just as nonchalant, "North Korea is just stupid, everything will be fine." Right, let's just not waste energy explaining the whole complex background to people don't really care.

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