Japan’s defence ministry said it will request its largest-ever annual budget, just days after nuclear-armed North Korea fired a rocket over the country in a provocation that drew global condemnation.
The ministry announced it is asking for 5.26 trillion yen ($47.9 billion) for the fiscal year through March 2019 to beef up its missile defence.
That follows on five straight years of budgetary increases as territorial tensions with China also aggravate Japan’s security concerns.
The current proposal calls for spending on new SM-3 Block IIA interceptors — developed jointly with the US to counter potential attacks by simultaneous missile launches, as well as a next-generation early-warning and radar system.
Adopting a land-based Aegis missile defence scheme to complement Japan’s sea-based system is also included in the multi-billion-dollar budget request.
The proposal comes two days after the North fired a ballistic missile over Japan.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who has been pushing to expand the role of his pacifist country’s Self-Defence Forces — denounced the launch as an “unprecedented, serious and grave threat”.
He agreed with US President Donald Trump to increase pressure on North Korea — which has so far been mainly through sanctions — to abandon its nuclear weapon and missile development programmes.
The two leaders had a telephone call early Thursday, their second this week, while Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera spoke with his US counterpart Jim Mattis.
Japan is closely allied with the US on security issues and hosts American bases and tens of thousands of troops on its territory, which North Korea considers a threat.
The North’s official KCNA news agency decried Japan in a commentary late Wednesday, saying the allies’ “military nexus” had become a “serious threat” to the Korean peninsula and Japan was “accelerating self-destruction”.
Japan’s latest defence budget proposal also asks for money to buy a half dozen F-35 stealth fighters, a pair of frigate ships and high-tech gadgetry to protect remote southern isles in waters where China has shown its expanding naval ambitions.
The uninhabited islets in the East China Sea are administered by Japan, which calls them the Senkakus but is also claimed by China which refers to them as the Diaoyus.
Japan has been boosting defence ties with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations, some of which have their own disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.
The previous year’s defence budget amount was 5.13 trillion yen, meaning the current request is for a 2.5 percent rise.
United States President Donald Trump warned “all options” are again on the table Tuesday after North Korea snubbed Washington’s bid to lure it back to talks by test firing a ballistic missile over Japan.
Trump revived his implied threat of pre-emptive US military action just days after congratulating himself that North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un appeared to be “starting to respect” him by holding off on missile firings.
Kim responded not only by resuming test launches, but by choosing a much more dangerous flight path, sending a ballistic missile high over US ally Japan, triggering consternation on the ground and in world capitals.
“Threatening and destabilising actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world,” Trump said, in a White House statement. “All options are on the table.”
Japan and the United States called an emergency meeting of the US Security Council in New York, where Washington’s Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that “enough is enough” and that tough action must be taken against Pyongyang.
“It’s unacceptable,” Haley said. “They have violated every single UN Security Council resolution that we’ve had, and so I think something serious has to happen.”
New sanctions on North Korea could be discussed, she said.
“I think we have a lot to talk about today. So with all of our partners, what we hope is that China and Russia continue to work with us, like they have in the past on North Korea.”
The Pentagon identified the missile that was fired as an intermediate range ballistic missile (or IRBM) — a projectile with a range of between 3,000 and 5,500 kilometers (1,864–3,418 miles).
Independent experts reacting to the publicly available information said the reports were compatible with the missile having been North Korea’s single-stage, liquid-fueled Hwasong-12 — fired from a land-based mobile launcher.
North Korea has tested longer range weapons, but the IRBM in the latest test would not have the range to hit mainland US cities. It could threaten US allies Japan and South Korea and reach the US Pacific territory of Guam.
But the Pentagon said that the launch was judged not to have represented a threat, adding in a statement: “We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from any attack or provocation.”
For its part, North Korea defended its right to take “tough counter-measures” in response to what it considers US aggression — despite repeated calls from Washington for it to come to the negotiating table.
– ‘No military solution’ –
The US president’s language might suggest he is rethinking any military options that might allow him to knock out North Korea’s small but growing nuclear arsenal and ever more advanced range of ballistic missiles.
But, speaking privately, officials in Washington echo the warning that Trump’s now former chief strategist Steve Bannon made in his last media interview before losing his job earlier this month: it is too late for a pre-emptive strike.
“There’s no military solution, forget it,” Bannon told the American Prospect in an August 16 interview.
“Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
The U.S. State Department wants to work with China to convince North Korea that its best hope of ending its economic and diplomatic isolation is to enter good faith talks with Washington on nuclear disarmament.
Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Kim appeared to have shown a “level of restraint” in not responding to the last round of UN sanctions with a missile firing — and said talks may be possible “in the near future.”
That timetable, never precise, now seems to have slipped back, even if Trump has yet to repeat his earlier apocalyptic threat to unleash “fire and fury” after Pyongyang carried out two long-range ballistic missile tests last month.
Then Pyongyang, in turn, threatened to fire missiles into waters off the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam, to show its supposed ability to “engulf” in fire the hub of U.S. air power in Asia.
Any missile fired at Guam would have to pass over Japan, and analysts told AFP that the North Korean leader appeared to have chosen the trajectory of his latest test as a “half-way house” option to send a message without crossing a red line.
– Sirens blare in Japan –
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was nevertheless visibly unsettled by the launch, which he dubbed an “unprecedented, serious and grave threat.”
North Korean ambassador Han Tae-Song, addressing the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said his country had the right to react to ongoing “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” US-South Korean military exercises.
“My country has every reason to respond with tough counter-measures as an exercise of its rights to self-defense,” Han warned.
Sirens blared out and text messages were fired off across northern Japan warning people in the missile’s flight path to take cover.
Trains were delayed as passengers were urged to seek shelter inside stations.
“All lines are experiencing disruption,” said one sign on Sapporo’s metro system. “Reason: Ballistic missile launch.”
– ‘Tipping point’ –
South Korea said the latest missile was launched from Sunan near Pyongyang and flew around 2,700 kilometers at a maximum altitude of around 550 kilometers before landing in the sea.
Abe called the overflight an “outrageous act” and, after a 40-minute call with Trump, he said the allies had agreed to “further strengthen pressure against North Korea.”
But China, the North’s key ally and main trading partner, urged restraint, and said US-South Korean military drills were partly to blame for tension and warned that both sides should pull back from a “tipping point.”
The European Union (EU) on Tuesday denounced North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile which overflew Japan as another breach of its international obligations and a “serious threat” to regional security.
“These actions constitute outright violations of the DPRK’s international obligations, as set out in several UN Security Council Resolutions, and represent a serious threat to international peace and security,” EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.
“The DPRK must comply without delay, fully and unconditionally, with its obligations under all relevant UN Security Council resolutions and refrain from any further provocative action that could increase regional and global tensions,” Mogherini added.
North Korea — the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — fired a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday in a major escalation that triggered global alarm and a furious response from Tokyo which said it was “unprecedented, serious and grave threat”.
The UN Security Council has called an emergency meeting at Tokyo and Washington’s request.
“I express my full support to Japan and the people of Japan in the face of this direct threat,” Mogherini said.
She said the EU, which has imposed a series of sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes, would “consider further appropriate response in close consultation with key partners and in line with UN Security Council deliberations.”
Last month, Pyongyang staged two Intercontinental Ballistic Missile tests that appeared to bring much of the US mainland within reach for the first time.
At the time, US President Donald Trump threatened to rain “fire and fury” on the North, as Pyongyang warned it could fire a salvo of missiles towards the US territory of Guam.
Pyongyang fired the missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, in a major escalation that triggered global alarm and a furious response from Tokyo.
The rocket test is the latest in a series of recent provocations, testing US President Donald Trump, his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-In and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, raising fresh fears of a conflict.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday that he and United States President Donald Trump agreed to hike pressure on North Korea after it launched a ballistic missile over Japan, in Pyongyang’s most serious provocation in years.
“We must immediately hold an emergency meeting at the United Nations, and further strengthen pressure against North Korea,” Abe told reporters after a 40-minute phone call with Trump.
“Increasing pressure — Japan and the United States are in complete agreement about this,” Abe added, without elaborating on proposed measures.
He added that Trump — who has been embroiled in an escalating war of words with Pyongyang over its weapons development — said Washington would stand by its ally Japan.
“President Trump made a very strong commitment that the United States is with Japan 100 percent,” Abe quoted Trump as saying.
“We will cooperate among Japan, the U.S. and South Korea. We will also reach out to China, Russia and the international community and apply strong pressure on North Korea to change their policy.”
Last week, Japan said it would impose fresh sanctions on North Korea by freezing the assets of Chinese and Namibian firms doing business with the nuclear-armed state.
The move against a half dozen organisations and a couple of individuals comes days after Washington expanded its own punitive measures against Chinese and Russian firms, as well as people linked to Pyongyang over its weapons development.
The sanctions are aimed at disrupting the flow of cash funding North Korean weapons programmes, which are in violation of United Nations resolutions.
Russia on Tuesday said it was “extremely worried” about the situation in North Korea, hitting out at a “tendency towards an escalation” after Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile over Japan.
“We see a tendency towards an escalation … and we are extremely concerned by the general developments,” Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti state news agency.
Tokyo also said the missile overflew Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe describing it as “an unprecedented, serious and grave threat” to regional security.
Ryabkov said the huge joint military drills between South Korea and the United States, which began on August 21, “had played their role in provoking Pyongyang into this new firing.”
Tens of thousands of troops are participating in the two-week “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” exercise on the Korean Peninsula in a move which the North views as highly provocative, seeing it as a rehearsal for an invasion.
Millions of Japanese awoke to ominous text messages on Tuesday, warning them to take cover as a North Korean missile flew overhead, with one train operator bluntly explaining its halted service as “Reason: Ballistic missile launch.”
Sirens blared out in northern communities that were on the flight path of the ballistic missile as it soared over Japanese territory for two minutes before crashing into the Pacific.
“Missile passing. Missile passing.” warned an official text message sent to people across the north of Japan.
“A short time ago, a missile apparently passed above this area.
“If you find suspicious objects, please don’t go near them and immediately call police or firefighters.
“Please take cover in secure buildings or underground.”
North Korea’s launch towards neighbouring Japan — a key US ally and Korea’s former colonial overlord — marked a major escalation by Pyongyang amid tensions over its weapons ambitions.
And for the first time in the most recent round of weaponised brinkmanship from the North, it brought real worries to people in Japan.
Morning commuters in northernmost Hokkaido were greeted by warning signs at train stations — bringing many rail services to a halt.
At one metro station in Sapporo, a major city of nearly two million, passengers were warned there would be delays.
“All lines are experiencing disruption,” said one sign. “Reason: Ballistic missile launch.”
Commuters took the government messages to heart.
“Some passengers came down to take cover in a couple of subway stations,” a Sapporo subway spokesman told AFP.
Others had little choice but to carry on with their usual schedule, including the crews aboard some 15 fishing vessels that had already left port off southern Hokkaido in an area under the missile’s path.
“I was surprised that it went above our area. This has never happened before,” Hiroyuki Iwafune, an official at the local fishery co-op, told AFP.
“I was worried. Everyone felt the same. But what can you do? Hide? But where?
“We called those who were at sea. But then they said, ‘Even with this (warning), what are we supposed to do?'” Iwafune added.
In Tokyo, more than 700 kilometres (435 miles) south of the missile’s flight path, some train services were temporarily halted.
“Currently, a North Korean missile is flying above Japan,” said announcements at Tokyo stations handling bullet trains, minutes after the launch.
“It is very dangerous. Please take cover at the waiting areas or inside the trains.”
Yoshiaki Nakane, a retired government worker, said he feared Pyongyang’s provocative launch would aggravate already tense US-North Korea relations.
“North Korea repeatedly launches missiles and don’t seem to take any warnings seriously,” the 68-year-old said.
“I’m hoping that the United States will not react too strongly to it and cause trouble. It would be Japan and South Korea that get damaged.”
At a US military base in Tokyo on Tuesday, Japan deployed a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile defence system as part of a previously scheduled drill.
The last time a North Korean rocket overflew Japan was in 2009, when Pyongyang said it was satellite launch. Washington, Seoul and Tokyo believed it was a clandestine test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Japan has previously aired public service TV ads and held emergency drills — with schoolchildren ducking on the street, covering their heads and running for cover — to prepare for the ever-present threat from its erratic neighbour.
Tokyo university student Julia Kotake said she was scared that North Korean missile may strike Japan one day.
“But I don’t think there is anything that we could do,” the 18-year-old told AFP.
China warned that tensions on the Korean peninsula have reached “tipping point” after North Korea Tuesday fired a ballistic missile over Japan, but said the United States and South Korea are partly to blame.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged all sides to avoid provocations and repeated Beijing’s call for the North to suspend missile tests in return for a halt to US-South Korean military exercises.
The situation is “now at a tipping point approaching a crisis. At the same time there is an opportunity to reopen peace talks,” Hua told a regular news briefing.
“We hope relevant parties can consider how we can de-escalate the situation on the peninsula and realise peace and stability on the peninsula,” she added.
Sirens blared out early Tuesday and text messages were fired off across the north of Japan, warning people in the missile’s flightpath to take cover.
Seoul and Washington last week began annual war games which China opposes and are viewed by nuclear-armed Pyongyang as a highly provocative rehearsal for invasion. The North always meets them with threats of strong military counteraction.
Hua said the United States and South Korea “held one round after another of joint military exercises and they exerted military pressure on the DPRK (North Korea)”.
“After so many rounds and vicious cycles, do they feel they are nearer to peaceful settlement of the issue?
“The facts have proven that pressure and sanctions cannot fundamentally solve the issue,” she said, referring to UN sanctions imposed against North Korea.
China has backed the sanctions but also called for peace talks.
About 40 protesters held a rally on Monday in Seoul to protest an additional deployment of the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile defence system.
The deployment of THAAD in rural Seongju has been met with protests from farmers concerned that the sophisticated missile defence system’s advanced radar will damage local melon crops and make the small town a target of a North Korea attack.
Town head of Soseong-Ri where THAAD has been deployed, Lee Seok-Ju, said: “The THAAD system cannot protect us from the North’s ICBM. I think that the (South Korean) government is trying to deploy THAAD to detect (the North’s) missiles upon the U.S. request.
“However, we oppose the deployment to keep peace on the Korean peninsula and the world and we hope the government maintains independence despite the U.S. pressure.”
The Director General of South Korean Defence Ministry’s Policy Planning Bureau, Jang Kyung-Soo, said: “To manage conflict with the opposition group, we will proceed with the safety evaluation of electromagnetic waves with the participation of local residents and hold local public hearings.
“We will explain the government’s position, emphasize our efforts to communicate with local residents and examine support plans for them at a government-wide level as well as at the defence ministry level.”
South Korea said on Saturday it will proceed with the deployment of four additional units of the U.S. THAAD anti-missile defence system after North Korea’s latest launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The deployment of the additional units had been delayed after the initial two units after South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered an environmental assessment.
“The reason why (we) conducted the maximum range simulation of ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) test launch was to send a stern warning to the U.S. that has applied sanctions against North Korea at this time, losing their mind.
“If the U.S. fails to come to its senses and continues to resort to military adventure and ‘tough sanctions’, the DPRK will respond with its resolute act of justice as already declared.”
DPRK is short for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It did not specify what further action it would take.
The latest missile test came a day after the U.S. Senate approved a package of sanctions on North Korea, Russia and Iran.
North Korea said on Tuesday that it successfully test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which flew a trajectory that an expert said could allow a weapon to hit the U.S. state of Alaska.
The launch comes days before leaders from the Group of 20 nations are due to discuss steps to rein in Pyongyang’s weapons programmes, which the North has pursued in defiance of U.N. Security Council and unilateral U.S. and South Korean sanctions.
The launch, which North Korea’s state media said was ordered and supervised by leader Kim Jong Un, sent the rocket 933 km (580 miles) with a flight time of 39 minutes and reached an altitude of 2,802 km.
Earlier on Tuesday, officials from South Korea, Japan and the United States said the missile had landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) after being launched near an airfield in Panghyon, about 100 km (60 miles) northwest of the North’s capital, Pyongyang.