Senior Japanese Official: North Korea a 'Crying Baby'

Japan's Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama discussed East Asian security and economics in conversation with Asia Society Policy Institute Kevin Rudd. (Ellen Wallop/Asia Society)

A senior Japanese official called North Korea a "crying baby" for its repeated flouting of global agreements, and urged the ‎international community to move beyond condemnations of Pyongyang and take the "further significant measures" that are called for in U.N. Security resolutions. Without such measures, said Deputy ‎Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama, "the crying baby wouldn't listen."

Sugiyama spoke on Wednesday at Asia Society in New York at an event formally opening the organization's Season of Japan ‎programming. The 90-minute session, moderated by Asia Society Policy Institute President Kevin Rudd, was dominated by recent events on the Korean Peninsula.

The deputy foreign minister said that North Korean behavior had worsened in the past year, the freshest examples being last month's nuclear test and this week's pledge by Pyongyang to launch a long-range rocket in February. He lamented the failings of past diplomatic efforts and urged China to use its influence in the largely isolated country. "China," he said, "is playing the key role."

Sugiyama also spoke at length about the priorities and leadership style of his boss, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is often characterized in the global press as a hawkish nationalist. Sugiyama called that a mischaracterization.

"Leaders are learning," he said, adding that Abe is "not hawkish or revisionist ... (but) a moderate conservative" whose priorities are clear: "Number one: economy. Two: economy. Three: the economy."

Those priorities — and the so-called "Abenomics" — have yet to bear fruit. Prime Minister Abe has struggled to revitalize Japan's economic performance, as growth rates have hovered between 0 and 1 percent during his tenure and have occasionally slipped into negative territory. Sugiyama said the already weak economy was further threatened by increasing signs of weakness in China, which he called "not good for anybody," and the drop in global oil prices, whose long-term trouble would outweigh any short-term gains.

Sugiyama cheered a trio of recent global agreements: The deal on Iran's nuclear program, the Paris accord to tackle climate change, and Japan's agreement to compensate and apologize to the so-called "comfort women" from South Korea who were victims of sexual coercion during World War II. Sugiyama called the latter deal, controversial in both countries, "far better than nothing."

As far as leadership styles are concerned, Sugiyama told the Asia Society audience that Prime Minister Abe was a leader who values eye contact and straight talk and often dispenses with briefings or talking points. ‎Pressed by Rudd for examples, Sugiyama said that Abe's relationship with Russia's Vladimir Putin "couldn't be better" and profited from a personal connection that has extended to judo, a martial art the Russian leader is known to enjoy. Abe speaks more often with Putin, Sugiyama said, than he does with President Barack Obama, though he quickly added an explanation for that. There is no need to speak more often with the American leader, he said, because the U.S.-Japan relationship is so strong. With Russia, he said,"it is so difficult." 

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Tom Nagorski is Executive Vice President of the Asia Society. Prior to joining Asia Society he was Managing Editor for International Coverage at ABC News.