The Liberal Democratic Party gave Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a proposal Thursday to change the way the government protects Japanese both at home and in South Korea in the event of ballistic missile launches by North Korea, which fired several suspected surface-to-ship cruise missiles the same day.
The LDP plan calls on the government to work more closely with airlines and shipping companies to plan for a potential evacuation for those living in or visiting South Korea.
It also calls for shelters to be built in Japan, and to carry out evacuation drills making use of underground facilities in densely populated areas.
Under the plan, the government would set up a televised public campaign on what to do in the event of a missile launch that could threaten Japanese territory.
Abe, who is also the ruling party’s president, said the government will handle the proposal “thoroughly.”
“With (North Korea) continuing to ignore warnings from the international community and fire (missiles), we want to do all we can to protect the lives of the public,” Abe said.
Earlier Thursday, North Korea fired missiles off its eastern coast into the Sea of Japan. Tokyo did not protest this move, saying it had no immediate impact on national security, but reiterated its condemnation of Pyongyang’s repeated ballistic missile tests, the most recent of which occurred May 29.
Last month, the government revised its warning messages to be issued through J-Alert, the satellite-based public warning system, if the North launches a missile that could hit Japan.
Previously, the messages only stated that a missile launch had been detected, but now they warn people in at-risk areas to take shelter in sound buildings or underground.
Officials said the change reflects estimates that North Korean missiles launched at Japan would take only a few minutes to reach their targets.
The missiles on Thursday fell in an area far from Japan’s exclusive economic zone, a senior government official told reporters.
The projectiles are believed to be short-range land-to-ship missiles.
The government did not hold an emergency meeting of key officials at the prime minister’s office Thursday morning, since it saw no immediate threat from the missiles, sources said.
On Wednesday, the government had become aware of signs of an imminent missile firing by North Korea and started preparations.
As part of the process, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who usually commutes from his private home, stayed the night at his official residence, sources said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga arrived at the prime minister’s office at about the same time as the usual schedule. He did not hold an emergency news conference.
The South Korean military said the missiles, fired toward the Sea of Japan, are believed to have flown about 200 km.
Roh Jae-cheon, a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news briefing the missiles flew northeast at a maximum altitude of about 2 km. Exactly how many were fired was not yet determined.
Roh said the military believes the purpose of the test was to show off the North’s capability with various types of missiles and its ability to precisely strike a large warship.
By test-firing a range of missiles in recent weeks, he also said the reclusive state appears to be trying to gain “the upper hand” in relations with South Korea and the U.S.
North Korea has continued with its development of weapons technology, despite international condemnation and sanctions.
Thursday’s launch came after two U.S. aircraft carriers, which had been deployed to waters near the Korean Peninsula in a show of force, recently left the Sea of Japan after engaging in exercises with Japanese defense vessels and fighter jets.
This is the fourth week in a row that North Korea has carried out missile tests.
It followed the May 29 test of a ballistic missile — the ninth this year. North Korea said the missile featured a precision-control guidance system and hit its planned target to within an accuracy of 7 meters.
On that occasion, the short-range missile flew about 400 km before apparently falling into waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Cruise missiles, much smaller and lighter than ballistic types, remain in the earth’s atmosphere and fly on a low-altitude trajectory. They are more difficult to detect by radar.
Some of the missiles North Korea has already launched this year are believed to be those displayed during a major military parade in Pyongyang on April 15.
Among numerous weapons, the parade presided over by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un unveiled an apparently new land-to-ship cruise missile equipped with four canisters. Those fired on Thursday could be this type.
North Korea is prohibited under multiple U.N. resolutions from testing nuclear or ballistic missile technology. But it has shown no signs of changing its aim to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, insisting that its quest is legitimate and for self-defense purposes.
The U.N. Security Council imposed fresh sanctions on North Korea last week, unanimously approving adding 14 individuals and four companies or organizations to its blacklist.
North Korea has denounced the additional sanctions, insisting that it will not stop firing missiles until the United States and its allies make the “right choices.”
In a statement issued on Sunday, the country’s Foreign Ministry said it is “the height of shameless arrogance, self-righteousness and double standards” that North Korea is not allowed to “test or launch any object which goes with the words of nuclear or ‘ballistic,’ ” while the United States “steps up its military buildup.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, however, pledged over the weekend at a major security forum in Singapore that the United States will “increase diplomatic and economic pressure until Pyongyang finally and permanently abandons its nuclear and missile programs.”