TOKYO — Japan faces an increasing threat from North Korea’s development of longer-range ballistic missiles and feels more concern about China’s expanding military activities at sea and in the air, according to its annual defence report released on Tuesday.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes have reached "a new level of threat" to Japan and the international community, the defence white paper said. Last year’s white paper said they posed "serious and imminent threats."
As sources of the growing threat, the report cited North Korea’s attempt to extend the range of its missiles, as seen in its recent intercontinental ballistic missile tests, as well as its efforts to improve its ability to conduct a surprise attack, using solid-fuel missiles that can be readied faster than liquid-fueled ones.
"The risk that North Korea will deploy nuclear-tipped missiles covering Japanese territory will grow as time passes," the report said, noting that Pyongyang is also believed to be "making considerable progress" in its nuclear programme.
North Korea said on July 4 that it successfully test-fired an ICBM for the first time, making progress in its goal to acquire the ability to attack US mainland with a nuclear-tipped ICBM. Pyongyang went ahead with a second ICBM test on July 28.
The Defence Ministry report said that the July 4 missile, which was launched on a highly "lofted" trajectory, would have had a range of at least 5,500 kilometers when fired at a normal trajectory. This means the US state of Alaska may be within reach.
The report, however, was unclear on whether North Korea has actually mastered the atmospheric re-entry technology for the warhead that is essential for an ICBM to become operational.
If North Korea makes further advances in its missile and nuclear programmes and becomes "overly confident" that it has acquired deterrence power to counter the US, the country could step up militarily provocative actions in the Asia-Pacific region, which is a situation Japan should "be highly concerned about," the report added.
On US security policies under President Donald Trump, the report said the US is "strengthening its military presence toward North Korea" such as through the Trump administration’s assertion that all options, including military action, are "on the table" in ensuring the denuclearisation of North Korea.
With Japan portrayed as a free-rider on the bilateral alliance by Trump during his presidential campaign, the report said US forces are stationed in Japan not just for the benefit of Japan but also for the US, such as by enabling a more rapid US response to contingencies in the Asia-Pacific region. — KYODO