TOKYO – North Korea threatened to use a nuclear weapon against Japan, further escalating tensions in North Asia after being hit with fresh United Nations sanctions earlier this week.
“Japan is no longer needed to exist near us,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said on Thursday, citing a statement by the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee. “The four islands of the archipelago should be sunken into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche,” it said, a reference to the regime’s ideology of self-reliance.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the comments, which sent the Korean won lower, “extremely provocative”.
“If North Korea stays the course that it is on, it will increasingly become isolated from the world,” Mr Suga told reporters on Thursday in Tokyo. “Through implementing the new United Nations Security Council resolution and related agreements, the international community as a whole needs to maximise pressure on North Korea so that it will change its policy.”
The latest UN sanctions follow North Korea’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test earlier this month. In late August, the regime launched a ballistic missile over northern Japan in what it said was “muscle-flexing” to protest annual military drills between the US and South Korea. Leader Kim Jong Un called it a “meaningful prelude” to containing Guam. North Korea previously threatened to launch rockets over Japan into the Pacific and toward the U.S. territory.
“A telling blow should be dealt to them who have not yet come to senses after the launch of our ICBM over the Japanese archipelago,” a spokesman for the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee said in Thursday’s KCNA statement. The committee is an affiliate of the ruling Workers’ Party.
KCNA had previously described the rocket as an intermediate-range strategic ballistic missile.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch at the time, while US President Donald Trump reiterated that “all options” were under consideration in responding to North Korea’s provocations.
The threat comes a day after a Japanese lawmaker said some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were considering visiting Pyongyang for talks with North Korean leaders.
“In the LDP there are some people seeking dialogue,” independent lawmaker Antonio Inoki told reporters in Tokyo following a trip to the North Korean capital. “There’s a change in atmosphere at the moment” about the need for talks rather than pressure, he said.
The government in Tokyo had criticised Mr Inoki’s visit, with Mr Suga saying beforehand that all trips to North Korea by Japanese citizens are discouraged.
Mr Abe has stressed the need for pressure on Mr Kim via sanctions, as opposed to talks. He told the Nikkei newspaper this week that Japan was in agreement with the US and South Korea that dialogue would only be possible when North Korea committed to complete and verifiable denuclearisation.
Still, South Korea’s Unification Ministry is considering providing $8 million in humanitarian aid to North Korea through international organizations such as UNICEF, Yonhap News reported Thursday, citing the ministry.
If the aid is approved by the government it’d be the first time in two years that Seoul has provided such assistance to its northern neighbour. In 2015, the ministry sent 11.7 billion won ($10.3 million) through international bodies.
When South Korean President Moon Jae-in came into power in May he promised a new era of engagement with North Korea. But he’s turned more hawkish in recent weeks, seeking stronger warheads on ballistic missiles, stepping up military drills, and embracing a missile defence system he’d questioned.
North Korea also criticised Seoul for supporting the latest UN resolution.
“The South Korean puppet forces are traitors and dogs of the US as they call for harsher ‘sanctions’ on the fellow countrymen,” KCNA said. “The group of pro-American traitors should be severely punished and wiped out with fire attack so that they could no longer survive.”
By Andy Sharp