• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday reiterated his intention to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities, citing the “severe” security environment in Asia and North Korea’s continuing missile tests.

Speaking at the National Defense Academy, Abe said Pyongyang’s simultaneous launch of four ballistic missiles on March 6 — all of which fell within or near Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan — created “a very serious” situation.

“As the security environment becomes severe, we must enhance our own defense capabilities and aim to expand the role we can play,” Abe said during the academy’s graduation ceremony in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Touching on the recent decision to end the Self-Defense Forces’ participation in the South Sudan peacekeeping mission at the end of May, Abe hailed the troops’ contributions to the strife-hit African nation.

He called the SDF’s five-year stint in the African country Japan’s biggest-ever peacekeeping achievement.

Abe announced on March 10 that Japan would withdraw SDF personnel from South Sudan in light of the diminishing need for Japan’s help in building infrastructure.

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who also attended the ceremony, warned about China’s growing assertiveness in the South and East China seas.

China has strengthened its maritime assertiveness “by unilaterally changing the status quo and handling the matter as accomplished facts,” Inada said.

“We are strongly concerned about the future direction” of China, she added.

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