The death of Kim Jong-il has raised the specter of a power struggle in North Korea and the possibility of instability on the Korean Peninsula. Kim’s death and the succession of his son, Kim Jong-un, has left the world with even less knowledge of a country that has been extremely difficult to fathom for decades.
It is no surprise then that Japan has responded to the incident by increasing its information-gathering activities in all areas of government, including increased surveillance by the Self-Defense Forces including, according the Yomiuri, the deployment of aircraft and increased interception of ELINT (electronic intelligence) out of the Hermit Kingdom.
According to Jiji Press, the uniformed officials at the Ministry of Defense’s Joint Staff Office pressed for increased intelligence-gathering. It quotes Gen. Oriki, SDF Chief of Staff, explaining, “Although there has yet to be a single movement by the North Korean military, intelligence-gathering activities have been increased by one level.”
The MoD explained that while the SDF has not been put on increased alert, it will be watching for shows of force as Kim Jong-un establishes power.
The Yomiuri suggests that the National Police Agency (NPA) was aware that a special broadcast was planned by the North Korean state media, but news of the leader’s death caught them off-guard. It quotes one official as saying, “Kim Jong-il’s health did not seem so bad,” adding, “It was completely unexpected.” The government is apparently trying to ascertain the facts on Kim’s death, collecting as many images of his public appearances as possible.
The Yomiuri quotes an official who stated that, “It is unclear whether the succession is favorable or not. To ascertain what extent Kim Jong-un has a grasp over the military, we will need to monitor North Korea troop movements from here on out.”
The Public Security Intelligence Agency (Koan) is also watching the disposition of the North-affiliated General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon). Chongryon has been a major support to the North Korean regime, remitting money and sending gifts back to North until the tightening of sanctions in recent years (see the excellent documentary Dear Pyongyang for a personal take on this).
The Yomiuri quotes an official from the PSIA, “We have begun gathering and organizing information. At the moment, we are hurrying to assess what influence this will have on Japanese-North Korea relations.”
A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan.
His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch