The Japanese government gathered senior ministers Monday to discuss security concerns in the wake of the death of Kim Jong-Il as the government offered rare “condolences” on the passing of a much-reviled man.
Minutes after the noon broadcast by Pyongyang’s official media, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda canceled a speech and rushed back to his office where he chaired an emergency security meeting.
Noda said he had ordered officials to beef up intelligence-gathering on North Korea, to work closely with the United States, China and South Korea, and to prepare for further unexpected developments.
Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa said no unusual military moves by the unpredictable regime had been detected.
“I have told (military chiefs) to gather information and to be thorough about surveillance,” he said after meeting top brass.
Speaking after the emergency security meeting, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura offered Japan’s “condolences,” in an unexpected move from a country that has no diplomatic ties with the hermit state.
“We express our condolences upon receiving the announcement of the sudden passing of Kim Jong-Il, the chairman of the National Defense Committee of North Korea,” Fujimura said.
“The Japanese government hopes that this unexpected development would not bring any adverse impact on the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula,” he said.
Ties between North Korea and Japan have been fraught for decades, partly as a result of Japan’s sometimes brutal 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula.
In 2002, Pyongyang admitted orchestrating the kidnapping of a number of Japanese nationals to train its agents in Japanese language and customs.
Many of those kidnapped never returned home and the issue continues to stir strong sentiment among the Japanese public.
Kenji Yamaoka, the chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, who is also in charge of Japan’s response to the kidnapping issue, said police have beefed up efforts to ensure public safety.
Japan is home to a sizeable North Korean community, with dozens of schools throughout the country teaching ethnic North Koreans the ideal of “juche” or self-reliance.
Kim’s death came as Pyongyang proposed the resumption of six-party denuclearization talks.
Three of the six Japanese terrestrial national networks, including state broadcaster NHK, used regular afternoon news and information programs to air the North Korean broadcast.
The announcement caught Japanese diplomats off guard, NHK said.
“We will react appropriately as we gather various information,” Shinsuke Sugiyama, the man in charge of Asian and Oceanian affairs, told NHK.
Sugiyama is Japan’s top negotiator for the six-party talks, which group the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, China and the United States.