After North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared a “quasi state of war” for the nation’s troops near the South Korean border, Tokyo expressed “strong concerns” on Friday and condemned Pyongyang for its earlier “provocation” of artillery strikes across the border.
“The government is deeply concerned over the action (by the North). We urge North Korea to refrain from carrying out such acts of provocation,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference Friday.
On Thursday, the North reportedly fired shells in the direction of one of South Korea’s propaganda loudspeaker units. In retaliation, the South fired artillery shells back. No casualties were reported.
The North has given Seoul a deadline of Saturday evening to remove the loudspeakers, which have broadcast anti-Pyongyang propaganda after an 11-year lull, or face further military action, The Associated Press reported.
Suga said Tokyo is “closely cooperating” with the U.S. and South Korea and gathering information on the development.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified government source, reported Friday that South Korean and U.S. surveillance assets detected the movement of vehicles carrying short-range Scud and medium-range Rodong missiles in a possible preparation for launches.
But two noted Japanese experts on Korean affairs interviewed by The Japan Times Friday played down the likelihood of immediate escalation.
Hideshi Takesada, former researcher at the National Institute for Defense Studies and now professor of international relations at the graduate school of Takushoku University, said that there had been no reports indicating the North had mobilized a division-level troop unit.
“If the North is really serious, it would mobilize a division, and that would be reported in South Korea. But there’s been no such reports,” Takesada said.
The North’s main aim is probably to “harass” the administration of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has maintained a tough stance against North Korea, he said.
Another noted expert on Korean affairs, University of Shizuoka professor Hajime Izumi, also believed the possibility of the North escalating the tension was low.
He said the North may want to bring the South to the table for talks between their militaries.
Recent explosions injured two South Korean soldiers along the demilitarized zone between the North and South. Seoul says they were caused by land mines planted by the North, but Pyongyang denied this.
“North Korea wants to create a story that it was all carried out by the South,” Izumi said.
If the tension does not lead to conflict, North Korea can claim a victory over its neighbor, saying its tough stance prevailed, Izumi said.
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