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N.Korea crisis sparks nuclear debate in Japan, S.Korea
By Shingo Ito with Park Chan-Kyong in Seoul
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 7, 2017

In Russia, Japan PM urges 'greatest possible pressure' on N.Korea
Vladivostok, Russia (AFP) Sept 7, 2017 - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Thursday for the world to put the "greatest possible pressure" on North Korea to abandon its nuclear missile programme.

"The international community must unite in applying the greatest possible pressure on North Korea," he said just four days after Pyongyang staged its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date, which it described as a "perfect success".

"We must make North Korea immediately and fully comply with all relevant UN Security Council resolutions and abandon all its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner," Abe insisted.

"North Korea is escalating an overt challenge to the peace, prosperity, law and order of the region and indeed the entire world."

His remarks were made on the sidelines of an economic forum in the Russian port city of Vladivostok which is also being attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korea's Moon Jae-In.

On Wednesday, Washington demanded an oil embargo on Pyongyang and a freeze on the foreign assets of its leader Kim Jong-Un in a dramatic bid to force an end to the perilous nuclear stand-off.

South Korea has also pushed for moves to cut off Pyongyang's key supplies of fuel oil, but Russia has dismissed such a call, while China is also reluctant to take measures that could trigger instability or a refugee exodus on its frontier.

Trump says military action against N. Korea not 'first choice'
Washington (AFP) Sept 6, 2017 - President Donald Trump said military action against North Korea was not the "first choice" of his administration Wednesday, edging away from his most bellicose threats against the Pyongyang regime.

After a phone call with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping about how to deal with Kim Jong-Un's threatening nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Trump did not rule out military strikes if necessary.

But, he indicated, other avenues for pressure would come before military action.

"Certainly that's not our first choice, but we will see what happens," Trump said as he boarded Marine One at the White House.

Trump has previously warned of "fire and fury" if North Korea continued tests and warned its few international partners that trade with the United States could come to an end.

So far those threats have gone unheeded in Pyongyang which recently detonated an apparent thermonuclear bomb.

That and a litany of other tests appear aimed at marrying missile and nuclear technology in a way that could put the United States within striking distance.

Trump has accused China in particular of not doing enough to tighten economic pressure on its smaller neighbor. But on Wednesday Trump sounded more conciliatory.

"I believe that President Xi agrees with me 100 percent. He doesn't want to see what's happening there, either. We had a very, very frank and very strong phone call."

After years of incrementally tougher sanctions against North Korea, the United Nations is currently weighing additional steps.

Those could include an squeezing oil supplies or restricting North Korea's ability to collect remittances from workers abroad.

Nuclear-armed North Korea's testing of long-range missiles that could possibly reach US soil has kindled debate in Japan and South Korea about developing their own nuclear deterrent, prompting fears of a North East Asian arms race.

In the event of all-out war with North Korea, would US President Donald Trump risk American cities being targeted to protect traditional allies in Seoul and Tokyo?

That is the question causing jitters in South Korea and in Japan, where the topic of deploying or developing atomic weapons is especially taboo as the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack.

As a presidential candidate, Trump ruffled feathers when he suggested that Japan and South Korea should take more responsibility for their own defence.

And concerns that an "America First" policy might mean less military protection for allies many thousands of kilometres away have prompted some to suggest that they need to look after themselves.

In Japan, a series of missile launches from its unpredictable and nuclear-armed neighbour across the sea -- including one that crossed Japanese soil -- has caused some prominent figures to wonder aloud whether to reconsider the taboo.

Shigeru Ishiba, a hawkish former defence minister and veteran in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative LDP party, asked on a TV debate show on Wednesday: "Is it really ok not to talk about it any more?"

"Is it right to say that we want to be protected by US nuclear weapons but we don't want them on our soil?" asked the former minister, while acknowledging it was an "emotional" issue in pacifist Japan, still scarred by the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.

Similar noises are emerging from South Korea, which is banned from building its own nuclear weapons under a 1974 atomic energy deal it signed with the US.

"As nuclear weapons are being churned out above our heads, we can't always rely on the US nuclear umbrella and extended deterrence," the mass-circulation Donga Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial Monday.

And there appears to be popular support, with a Moonhwa Daily poll last month showing nearly two thirds of respondents in favour of Seoul developing its own independent nuclear deterrent.

- 'Hole' in US umbrella -

For decades, Japanese policy has been guided by the so-called "three principles": not producing, possessing or allowing nuclear weapons on Japanese territory.

And officials were quick to slap down Ishiba, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga saying: "Until now, we haven't discussed calling these three principles into question and we are not planning to do so."

South Korea has a similar official position, with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-Wha stressing Seoul is still sticking to its commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Polls consistently suggest that the Japanese public is against the deployment of nuclear missiles on its soil and Ishiba acknowledged that if Japan developed its own bomb, "that would mean that any other country could do so."

But Takehiko Yamamoto, professor emeritus of international politics and regional security at Waseda University in Tokyo, said that Japan could already be considered a "de-facto nuclear power state."

"It has maintained its nuclear technologies and possesses enough plutonium to produce tens of nuclear weapons," said Yamamoto.

While popular opposition is likely to prevent concrete action for now, "North Korea's escalating provocative actions may be used by hawkish politicians to open up the debate, questioning if the US nuclear umbrella is safe enough and calling for its own deterrence," he added.

This appeared to be Ishiba's line of attack, arguing on a Thursday morning debate show that the US umbrella appeared to "have a hole".

"We have to make efforts towards increasing its effectiveness," said Ishiba, who is seen as a possible future prime minister.

But another expert, Walter Russell Mead from the Washington-based Hudson Institute, warned of the risks of a US disengagement from its allies in the region.

"An American retreat in the Pacific would more likely lead to arms races and military confrontation than to peaceful development," he wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal published on Wednesday.

S. Korea seeks rare talks with North to ease military tensions
Seoul (AFP) July 17, 2017
South Korea on Monday offered to hold rare military talks with North Korea, aiming to ease tensions after Pyongyang tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile. The offer of talks, the first since South Korea elected dovish President Moon Jae-In, came as the Red Cross in Seoul proposed a separate meeting to discuss reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. The Sou ... read more

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