Japan stays on alert amid N. Korean missile threat


Japan remained on alert Wednesday for a North Korean ballistic missile launch expected in the next few days, but Tokyo acknowledged that it was unsure whether Pyongyang would take any action within the day.

Amid growing tensions over North Korea’s belligerence, Japan has sent Aegis-equipped Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers capable of missile interception to the Sea of Japan, while deploying land-based missile-defense systems in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

“We are taking every possible measure to protect Japanese people’s lives and safety,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in the morning.

He has ordered Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to prepare the Self-Defense Forces to shoot down any incoming missile.

Japan is maintaining close contact with the United States and South Korea to gather information about the possible launch, while preparing to issue early warnings to local governments and the public via nationwide systems if the launch proceeds.

“We are gathering various information and preparing just in case,” Onodera said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga warned of additional sanctions on North Korea if the isolated country were to launch another missile in defiance of international calls for it to show restraint and cease provocations, including threats to conduct another nuclear test following a third one in February.

But he also said Tokyo was unsure whether North Korea would fire a missile Wednesday. “We are devising countermeasures by (reviewing) past experiences.”

Unlike its launch of a rocket in December that was widely seen as a test of missile technology, Pyongyang has not announced this time any launch time frame or direction, a lack of information that makes Japanese officials wary of a “worst-case scenario.”

In addition, North Korea is expected to launch a new medium-range ballistic missile, about which officials in Tokyo know relatively little.

This is the fourth time the SDF has been ordered to destroy any incoming North Korean missile with its missile-defense system.

But the interception system has not been used in the past three launches, which caused no damage to Japanese territory.