One of the four ballistic missiles test-fired by North Korea into the Sea of Japan on Monday landed about 200 km north of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture, the closest ever such touchdown to Japan’s mainland, government officials said Thursday.
The location where the missile splashdown occurred was revealed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a news conference. A senior Defense Ministry official later confirmed that the impact site was the closest to the mainland among dozens of ballistic missiles fired by North Korea into the Sea of Japan or the Pacific Ocean to date.
Suga said one of the three missiles fired by Pyongyang in September last year landed about 200 km west of Okushiri Island off Hokkaido. This is now considered the second-closest to the mainland, the senior Defense Ministry official said.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada separately told a Diet session Thursday that the government has not ruled out the possibility that it would seek to acquire the military capability to attack overseas bases to deal with impending threats against the nation.
The Defense Ministry initially said that the four missiles landed 300 km to 350 km west of Oga Peninsula in Akita Prefecture, and that three of them fell within the nation’s exclusive economic zone.
Suga noted that the missiles flew about 1,000 km, which means they pose a threat to most of western Japan.
“This is the third time North Korean ballistic missiles fell into our country’s EEZ, following those in August and September last year,” Suga told reporters. “We believe North Korean missiles have become a real threat.”
Pyongyang, which also conducted two nuclear tests last year, may have already developed a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile, Suga said.
The comments from the government’s top spokesperson could be seen by some as an attempt to bolster support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by emphasizing the threat from North Korea.
Experts also pointed out that North Korea has likely improved its missile capabilities considerably through its multitude of recent missile tests.
“The government will continue to closely cooperate with relevant countries including the United States and South Korea” to deal with the threat, Suga said.
“We have taken every necessary measure to maintain high-level monitoring while strongly calling on North Korea to exercise restraint,” Suga said.
During Thursday’s Lower House Security Committee session, Inada was asked by an opposition lawmaker if the government would consider acquiring the capability to carry out preemptive strikes against overseas military bases, such as those hosting missiles targeted at Japan.
Inada said the government would not rule out the possibility of studying the issue, but said no such plan or study currently exists.
Some lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have long called on the government to acquire weapons powerful enough to attack North Korean missile bases if it was determined an attack was imminent.
But experts say the North is believed to have dozens of mobile missile launchers, which can easily be hidden. A long-range cruise missile alone, for example, would not likely be enough to guarantee the nation’s safety, they said.