National / Politics

U.S. help may be necessary to help evacuate Japanese from South Korea: Kono

JIJI, Kyodo

U.S. cooperation may be needed to evacuate Japanese nationals from South Korea in the event of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula, Foreign Minister Taro Kono has said.

In principle, Japanese nationals should leave by commercial aircraft or by other means, but U.S. help will become necessary if airports and seaports are closed, Kono told a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Upper House on Tuesday.

Kono also said that the Japan-U.S. defense guidelines stipulate cooperation in activities to evacuate noncombatants from a third country.

The remarks were made in reply to questions from Upper House lawmaker Antonio Inoki.

Potential operations by the Self-Defense Forces in or to South Korea are highly unlikely given the lingering memories of Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

If it becomes difficult to use commercial aircraft, Tokyo will consider various options, such as dispatching government-chartered aircraft and ships or working in cooperation with friendly countries, Kono said.

There are close to 38,000 Japanese residents and 19,000 short-term visitors in South Korea, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The Japanese Embassy in South Korea produces a safety manual every year in cooperation with Japanese-affiliated groups in the country that shows how to act and where to evacuate to in the event of an emergency.

Meanwhile, residents in the Oki Islands in the Sea of Japan conducted a safety drill on Wednesday prompted by Pyongyang’s threat to launch missiles over western Japan.

The exercise was held amid escalating tension as North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sunday, and last week fired a ballistic missile that flew over Hokkaido before falling into the Pacific Ocean.

Pyongyang has also threatened to fire missiles into waters near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, saying they would fly over of Hiroshima, Kochi and Shimane prefectures.

In May, a ballistic missile launched by the North Korea is believed to have landed into the Sea of Japan about 300 km from the Oki Islands, which are part of Shimane Prefecture.

About 2,000 people in the town of Okinoshima on the remote chain’s largest island participated in the exercise held in schools and the town hall. In the drill, a missile alert was sent to nearly 14,000 people in the area via a community warning system at 10:20 a.m.

After hearing the warning at one elementary school, teachers closed curtains to prevent injury from shattered glass while students gathered in the center of classrooms and protected their heads with book bags. They evacuated to a gymnasium about 10 minutes later.

Yoshifumi Inoue, a 12-year-old sixth-grader, said, “We don’t know when a missile will be launched but I hope to make use of this drill.”