As North Korea continues to launch occasional ballistic missile tests, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party is currently considering developing the capability to strike enemy bases.
North Korea has recently ramped up its nuclear and missile programmes, carrying out two nuclear tests and launching some 20 ballistic missiles last year alone.
In early March, Pyongyang test-fired four ballistic missiles, three of which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic waters.
Former defence minister Itsunori Onodera believes North Korea has “more compact and highly capable nuclear missiles.
We have seen a significant increase in the capability of North Korea’s ballistic missiles,” he told a news conference last week.
Gen Nakatani, another former defence minister, welcomed the US installation of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in South Korea and valued the cooperation with the two countries in order to deal with a growing North Korean threat.
Japan “needs to bolster its defence capability in the areas of detection, interception and counter attack,” Nakatani said.
A number of conservative lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), including Nakatani and Onodera, argue that Japan needs to obtain “counterforce capability” against attacks, but not the ability to “strike preemptively.”
It is “very important to neutralize the enemy through counterattacks to prevent the launch of the second, or third missile,” Onodera said.
Onodera has already urged the Japanese government to introduce the THAAD and a land-based Aegis missile defence system, among other assets.
Critics say the move violates the country’s war-renouncing constitution, but Onodera believes is “within the scope of self-defence.”
Article 9 of the charter prohibits the use of force to settle international disputes.
Abe’s government already has reinterpreted the pacifist constitution, allowing the military to defend allies under attack.
China, which adamantly opposed the US deployment of the THAAD in South Korea, criticized the Japanese lawmakers’ proposal.
“China is opposed to any country’s act of using the [North Korean] missile issue as an excuse to compromise other countries’ security and regional stability,” Beijing’s Ministry of National Defence spokesman Wu Qian told a news conference.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump held their first face-to-face talks in Florida last week.
They confirmed the importance of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and agreed to increase cooperation, without reaching specific arrangements on the matter, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.
While Washington urged Beijing to do more to deal with Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, Trump deployed a group of US warships, including the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, towards the Korean Peninsula, further escalating tensions in the region.
The US deployment comes just days after a US strike against an air base in Syria in response to an alleged chemical attack on civilians.
Asked if the strike against Syria was a message to North Korea, Tillerson told US broadcaster ABC on Sunday: “The message that any nation can take is, ‘If you violate international norms, if you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken.'”
North Korea fired a ballistic missile last week, just ahead of the meeting between Trump and Xi. The move prompted a swift rebuke from Tokyo, which said Pyongyang once again had violated United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Following the missile launch, Trump told Abe over the phone, “All options are on the table,” according to the premier.
Abe called Trump’s words reassuring.
Analysts, however, have said a US attack on North Korea could trigger a huge retaliation against Japan and South Korea, where tens of thousands of American troops are stationed.
“Abe does not understand the great risk,” says political analyst Minoru Morita. “He and many other LDP lawmakers think Japan is safe as long as the country is dependent on the US. They are naive.”
“When Abe considers how he can protect the public, he needs to do so from various perspectives.”