North Korea’s state news agency followed up its somewhat surprising condemnation of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with a screed Tuesday warning that Japan is a “fascist fanatic” threatening to revisit the “miserable disasters in the Second World War” onto Europe.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and its corresponding newspaper Rodong Sinmun warned in a commentary that Japan’s government is “going more reckless, heated with militarism” by expanding the reach of its Self-Defense Forces and reportedly seeking more cooperation with NATO.
Japan is banned from having a standing army as per its post-World War II constitution, but it does maintain Self-Defense Forces whose ability to take military action are severely limited. At the writing of the KCNA post, the Self-Defense Forces appeared primarily occupied with search and rescue operations in and around the Hiroshima area, which is suffering extensive flooding and landslide damage, killing nearly 200 people so far.
Yet KCNA protests that Japan has expressed a desire to expand its military influence in the region, particularly condemning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for promoting a more robust Japanese self-defense presence globally. A report at the beginning of this month published by Reuters confirmed that Japan will be sending a helicopter carrier to navigate the South China Sea in “efforts to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to an unnamed official. China has become a significant threat to its neighbors in the South China Sea, building and militarizing artificial islands in maritime territory belonging to countries like the Philippines and Vietnam. Japan appears to be aiding an effort spearheaded by the Pentagon to increase Freedom of Navigation Exercises (FONOPs), which emphasize the international nature of the waters, which China claims as its own.
China is North Korea’s closest ally and largest trading partner.
“It was said that shortly ago, the Abe government formally decided to extend the area of the ‘Self-Defense Forces’ for overseas dispatch to Asia though it was limited to Africa under the pretext of its joining in the UN peace-keeping activities,” KCNA noted. “Such daily-escalating military move is nothing but a reckless act of those bent on overseas expansion.”
“The Japanese reactionaries’ such ambition and practical moves are not limited to Asia or Africa but aimed at the whole world,” the North Korean media outlet asserted. “This is proved by the fact that Japan is seeking ‘close cooperation’ with NATO.”
NATO will be hosting its annual summit this week, making the relationship between Japan and NATO somewhat topical, though Abe’s call for closer cooperation is an old one. Abe has for years warned Europe that North Korea is as much of a threat to that continent as it is to its neighbors. In a belated response, Rodong Sinmun warned Tuesday that Japan is the true threat to Europe.
“Not only the Asian people who had been subjected to pain and misfortune by the Japanese imperialists in the past but also the European people,” the state propaganda outlet argued, “who are remembering the miserable disasters in the Second World War will never remain a passive onlooker to the moves of Japan, a fascist fanatic, for turning itself into a military giant and deploying the SDF in other countries.”
“In the final analysis, Japan’s revival of militarism will only bring strong vigilance and backlash from the regional states and international isolation,” the piece concludes.
North Korea’s propaganda arms typically turn to vitriol against Japan when they have exhausted their attacks on the United States, often invoking the crimes of imperial Japan during its mid-century occupation of Korea to justify its rage against the modern government. In May, for example, shortly before dictator Kim Jong-un’s summit with American President Donald Trump, Rodong Sinmun condemned “half-witted Japanese politicians” for allegedly “flattering the American master” in an attempt to recolonize Korea.
North Korea has also saved some of its most aggressive rhetoric in the past for Japan, repeatedly threatening a preemptive nuclear strike on Japan that would destroy Japanese society. In August 2017, Kim Jong-un ordered the launch of a missile over Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost and largest island, triggering panic throughout the nation and outrage from Abe’s government.
More recently, Pompeo visited Tokyo following an overnight stay in Pyongyang, which he initially described as “productive” but the North Korean Foreign Ministry dismissed as contested because Pompeo insisted on complete denuclearization before sanctions lift. Pompeo traveled to Tokyo specifically to brief allies in the Japanese and South Korean government personally on the North Korean visit.