How Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is actually enjoying North Korea missile crisis

Abe Shinzo and North Korea, love-hate relationship? (graphic art: Donguk Shin)

North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan earlier this morning. The missile ‘Hwasung-12’ flew over Hokkaido, one of Japan’s four main islands, traveling 2,700km from the launch site . Sirens blasted throughout northern Japan, TVs broadcast emergency warnings, and alert messages were sent warning people to find shelters.

After the missile launch on 29th of August, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo immediately condemned North Korea and called North Korea’s action ‘unprecedented, serious and significant threat’. He held 40 minutes long telephone call with the U.S. president Donald Trump and they agreed to increase pressure on North Korea. Abe said “We will make utmost efforts to firmly protect the lives of the people”.

However, despite his words against North Korea, Abe is actually benefiting the most from the crisis. It will most likely help him restore political leadership that has been on downturn.

What is important to understand in this crisis is that the possiblity of North Korea actually bombing Japan is very unlikely. It will initiate retaliation or full-on war which will turn Pyongyang to ashes in a matter of days. Although little do we know about Kim Jung Un, he definitely understands the consequences. The recent threat most likely aims at taking the lead in negotiations with the U.S. by dragging in Japan. Abe knows this.

So the threat from Pyongyang is a great opportunity for Abe to turn people’s attention away from a recent scandal. The prime minister has been accused of being involved in Kake Gakuen school scandal, allegedly providing illicit government assistance to his acquaintance. Abe’s approval rate had dropped to 34% in July from 60% in January after the series of scandals.

The effect is already visible. Abe’s approval rate has increased from 34% in July to 38% in August as North Korea started launching ballistic missiles near Japan’s territory since last month.

Response from China is also in Abe’s favor. China warned that more sanctions and pressure on North Korea will worsen the situation. This tension between China and U.S. will let Abe play a ‘strong leader’ in times of crisis. Abe will take advantage of the crisis and attempt to recover his leadership. Some also predict that Abe will take diplomatic actions to ease the tension and demonstrate his capability as Prime Minister.

This instability in East Asia will also likely strengthen Abe’s drive to re-militarize Japan as public’s concern over security is increasing. He has continuously emphasized the importance of military power to protect Japan and needs to amend the current Pacifist constitution.

North Korea has not launched a missile over Japan’s airspace since 2009. Now, Japan is actively involved in turmoil with North Korea. How Abe handles this crisis will likely determine his position as Prime Minister. He will either sink like some of the previous missiles from North Korea or manage to soar into the sky, taking him back to his political power.