Tokyo has decided to cancel nationwide evacuation exercises designed to prepare for North Korean ballistic missile launches, a government source said Thursday.
Following North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s summit this month with U.S. President Donald Trump, the government has changed its stance on the drills slated for this year because it believes it is unlikely Pyongyang will launch more ballistic missiles over Japan as it did last year, the source said.
The decision was made in consideration of the easing security situation, exemplified by South Korea’s suspension this week of an annual major military exercise with the United States, which had been planned for August, the source said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is hoping to meet Kim in an attempt to make a breakthrough in the outstanding issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.
Among the major countries involved in negotiations toward the denuclearization of North Korea, Japan has been largely left out of the loop since Kim’s active diplomatic outreach started this year.
Besides Trump, Kim has already held face-to-face talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and there is a possibility he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the not-so-distant future.
The evacuation drills were planned in nine prefectures, including Nara, Niigata and Tochigi, in the current fiscal year through March 2019.
They were scheduled to involve local municipalities, police and the Self-Defense Forces, with participants being taught how to evacuate to safe public facilities after they are informed of a missile launch through community wireless systems and J-Alert, the government’s emergency warning system.
A day after Trump and Kim met in Singapore, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the severe security conditions have been alleviated.
Last year, North Korea test-fired around 20 ballistic missiles, two of which flew over Japanese territory, and detonated its most powerful nuclear weapon to date.
The source said the government will consider resuming the evacuation drills if the situation surrounding North Korea becomes tense again.
Despite the decision, the government will maintain its plan to introduce two land-based Aegis Ashore batteries in fiscal 2023, which are designed to improve protection against the North Korean missile threat.