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North Korea Launches Peace Initiative

SNA (Tokyo) — This Week in Japan is your source for news and information about politics and other happenings in this East Asian island country. This episode covers the Top Five stories of the first week of January 2018.

The year 2018 opened with an unexpected peace initiative from North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. While insisting that his nation’s status as a nuclear weapons power was irreversible, he also called for a rebuilding of positive relations with South Korea, including cooperation over the forthcoming Winter Olympics. The Abe government, fully committed to the path of pressure and sanctions with no visible or viable objective, kept a steely silence throughout the week, until finally it became clear they would welcome North Korea at the Olympic Games, but wanted the rapprochement to go no further than that.

From Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s standpoint, the timing of the North Korean peace initiative was awful. This is the year he is planning to push hard for the revision of the Peace Constitution, and tension and the threat of war on Korean Peninsula suited his domestic political objectives far more than Korean peace talks. Abe began employing the Japanese rightwing talking point that the pacifist Article Nine was imposed on Japan by the Occupation regime, and therefore needs to be changed because it doesn’t reflect the nation’s own way of thinking about war, duty, and sacrifice.

The Abe government’s relationship with South Korea wasn’t much better. The issue of Comfort Women remained at center stage in the bilateral connection, especially when the new progressive South Korean government concluded that the December 2015 pact with Japan was made without sufficient communication with the Comfort Women themselves. Remarkably, when President Moon Jae-In visited elderly Comfort Women in person to show his respect to them, the Abe government actually sent a note of diplomatic protest, as if this was some violation of bilateral commitments. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga even stated that the Abe government would not “move a millimeter” to address South Korea’s concerns about the Comfort Women pact.

Yet another US Marine helicopter based at Futenma had a mishap in Okinawa. This time, it was a crash landing on the beach at Ikeijima, apparently caused by a rotor malfunction. More than one observer expressed wonder about how frequent US military accidents in Okinawa had become. It was feared that it would be the prelude to a serious tragedy.

The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan signaled that its plan to eliminate the use of nuclear power in Japan by 2030 would be a key avenue of attack against the Abe regime. They were preparing to introduce legislation to the Diet. Other opposition parties looked prepared to support this initiative.

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