Japanese vent anger on Koreans

Click to follow
The Independent Online
DOZENS of North Korean schoolgirls living in Japan have been attacked and had their dresses slashed as tension over the nuclear weapons showdown with Pyongyang continues. The North Korean government, meanwhile, has branded Japan a 'nuclear criminal' after the Japanese Prime Minister's admission last Friday that Japan was able to make nuclear weapons. And North Korea has already threatened to 'punish' Tokyo if it joins in with possible United Nations sanctions.

But despite the unrelenting hostility and the ugly street- level animosity, the Japanese government is proving itself less than willing to stand up to the maverick Communist state. Tokyo has disappointed Washington by its lukewarm support for UN sanctions against North Korea. There is serious concern that if full- scale sanctions were imposed, the government would not enforce them out of fear of a domestic political crisis and a backlash by North Korean residents of Japan.

North Koreans living in Japan remit up to pounds 500m annually to Pyongyang, which is one of the main sources of foreign currency for the country. In April, police in Japan's second city of Osaka raided the offices of a North Korean business association, apparently to show it could get tough with illegal fund transfers outside the country. But when the association complained, backed up by Pyongyang, the government apologised and said the police raid was a 'mistake'.

Japan's relationship with Korea is difficult at the best of times, ever since the brutal colonisation of the Korean peninsula from 1910-45, when Tokyo attempted to wipe out the Korean language and culture and enslave the population. Part of the aggrandising myth built around North Korea's Great Leader, Kim Il Sung, is that he became an anti-Japanese guerrilla fighter at the age of 11.

In South Korea, Japanese books, films and music were banned completely until a recent easing of the regulations under the new president, Kim Young Sam. But despite Seoul's stated aim to improve relations with Japan, the underlying hostility still runs deeply, as seen in the frequent anti-Japanese demonstrations over the 'comfort women' issue of Korean girls forced into wartime prostitution for the Japanese army.

In Japan, Koreans have long been looked on as inferior. There are some 700,000 ethnic Koreans living in Japan, most brought from Korea as slave labour in the first half of the century. About one-third came from what is today North Korea. In the aftermath of the Great Tokyo Earthquake in 1923, rumours circulated that Koreans were somehow responsible for the destruction; hundreds were killed by Japanese mobs.

Similar prejudices have resurfaced: unknown men have been slashing North Korean schoolgirls' dresses and in one case pushing a girl down eight flights of stairs. The General Association of Korean residents in Japan says there have been 124 reported attacks on North Korean schoolchildren since April, with the frequency going up every month.

Pyongyang is not averse to provoking Japan: earlier this year the North Korean ambassador to India hinted that if his country had a nuclear weapon, its most likely use would be against Japan. Already North Korea has testfired a missile that can reach much of southern Japan. But when Japan's Prime Minister, Tsutomu Hata, said in parliament last Friday that Japan 'is certainly able to build nuclear weapons', North Korea turned the tables by saying this was proof that Japan's moves to become a nuclear power 'have gone beyond the danger line'.

BRUSSELS - The United States would suspend its push for sanctions and resume high-level talks with North Korea if Pyongyang confirms its willingness to freeze its nuclear programme, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said yesterday, Reuter reports.

The sanctions campaign 'should not be an obstacle' to taking advantage of an opening in the nuclear crisis created by former president Jimmy Carter's trip to North Korea last week, he said.

(Photograph omitted)