Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera urged caution on Friday as further provocation from North Korea is anticipated on Oct. 10, when the start of Lower House election coincides with one of the North’s main anniversaries.
Tensions have risen on the Korean Peninsula since reclusive North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3, leading to a new round of sanctions after a unanimous vote by the United Nations Security Council.
U.S. President Donald Trump has since traded insults with North Korean leaders, raising the stakes even further.
North Korea has often marked significant events on its calendar by conducting weapons tests, such as its fifth nuclear test last year on Sept. 9, the anniversary of its founding.
Onodera said Oct. 10 also marks an important anniversary for North Korea. It is the date the North celebrates the founding of the communist Worker’s Party of Korea.
“I understand it is an important anniversary for North Korea. We would like to maintain a sense of urgency,” Onodera told reporters.
Coincidentally, Oct. 10 is also the day that Japan will kick off campaigning for the Lower House election, 12 days after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the chamber on Thursday.
Onodera’s warning echoed a comment by South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, who said in a meeting with President Moon Jae-in on Thursday that he expected Pyongyang to act around Oct. 10 and 18, but gave no details.
Oct. 18 marks the start of China’s all-important Communist Party Congress.
North Korea has conducted a series of ballistic missile launches this year, including two launches over Japan in recent weeks, in defiance of international pressure.
China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, has urged that dialogue is the only way to resolve the crisis, although Japan has tended to support Washington’s more robust approach.
Abe has said now is the time to apply pressure on North Korea, rather than dialogue, in order to convince North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programs.