Japan sees North Korean missiles, Chinese space activity as threats

Japan sees North Korean missiles, Chinese space activity as threats

Japan has raised its caution level about North Korea’s missile capability, saying in a defense report that the country resumed missile tests while taking no concrete denuclearization steps and had succeeded in making miniaturized warheads.

The annual defense paper approved in late September 2019 by the Cabinet underscores Japan’s fear of being targeted by its neighbor.

“Taking into consideration its technological maturity acquired by nuclear tests, North Korea seems to have already achieved miniaturization of warheads to place atop ballistic missiles,” said the report, which in 2018 only mentioned it as a possibility.

The North is now aiming to further increase missile ranges, improve accuracy and operational and surprise attack capability and diversify launching methods, it said.

North Korea’s military activity “still poses serious and imminent threat” to Japan’s security as well as international peace and safety, the report said.

Since a second summit between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea ended without consensus earlier in 2019, North Korea has fired 11 short-range missiles and projectiles deemed new and upgraded — the latest launched October 2, 2019, toward the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, from an underwater platform.

Citing its analysis, the Defense Ministry said there were three new types, including one resembling Russia’s Iskander, and flight distances ranged from 200 kilometers to 600 kilometers. It said the missiles were new and their capability upgraded, and that Japan needs to further strengthen its missile defenses.

North Korean missiles with those flight ranges could strike targets in Japan and South Korea.

“Naturally, we must be fully prepared to defend our country from North Korean missile threats, and we will continue to push forward our preventive measures,” Defense Minister Taro Kono, pictured, said at a late September 2019 news conference.

The defense report also noted China’s threat is expanding into space from the regional seas and said Japan must prioritize space security. China was mentioned as a second notable nation after the U.S., the ally and most important nation for Japan. China’s U.S. $177 billion defense budget for 2019 is more than three times Japan’s U.S. $50 billion.

Defense officials have said threats from North Korea and China’s assertiveness mean Japan needs higher deterrence and increased missile defense and fighter capability, including cruise missiles and aircraft carriers. Japan is also buying American F-35 stealth fighters capable of short takeoff and vertical landing and converting a pair of helicopter carriers for them.

Under the ongoing defense guidelines adopted in December 2018, Japan has been bolstering its defense role under its alliance with the U.S. and is now launching a space unit and measures against cyber and electromagnetic attacks. Japan needs to be well-prepared and to show it can withstand threats, the guidelines say.