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MSDF ships eyed to evacuate Japan, U.S. citizens in Korean Peninsula contingency

In preparation for a possible contingency on the Korean Peninsula, the government is considering establishing a plan in coordination with the United States for evacuating both Japanese and U.S. nationals in South Korea, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.


The plan will include provisions to enable U.S. forces in South Korea to transport Japanese and U.S. civilians via land, in the event that civilian airports in South Korea are closed.


There will also be provisions to allow Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) vessels and the use of other transportation means to move civilians from Busan to western Japan, including Fukuoka, government sources said.


However, many hurdles are yet to be overcome to actually facilitate the evacuation of over 50,000 Japanese in South Korea. The government plans to speed up development of the plan’s details.


The government’s basic stance regarding the evacuation of Japanese nationals in South Korea is to immediately issue an evacuation advisory in the event of an escalation of military tensions, and to reduce the number of Japanese citizens in the country by transporting as many as possible on civilian aircraft to Japan, including on chartered flights.


Airports in South Korea are expected to close if North Korea carries out military attacks, making use of civilian aircraft difficult. In such a scenario, Japanese nationals would immediately move to shelters. They would then begin evacuation within 72 hours or so, assuming the situation had calmed down, according to the sources.


U.S. forces in South Korea would use land transportation methods to move Japanese, U.S. and other civilians from meeting points specified in advance to Busan. MSDF and other vessels would then act as shuttles between Busan and ports in western Japan, including in Fukuoka Prefecture. U.S. nationals who evacuate with Japanese citizens would temporarily stay in Japan.


If circumstances allow, U.S. military aircraft would transport civilians from the U.S. Osan Air Base south of Seoul to such destinations as South Korea’s southern areas and Japan.


The idea to use MSDF ships for evacuation from Busan is based on the assumption that consent for doing so has been given by the South Korean government and relevant local governments. However, coordination with the South Korean side has not progressed due to the country’s negative stance toward Self-Defense Force activities in South Korea.


Based on the possibility that South Korea does not give consent, the Japanese government is considering another plan in which MSDF vessels approach Busan as closely as possible. Helicopters or small ships would then move back and forth between the offshore MSDF vessels and the South Korean city, according to the sources.


Details are yet to be worked out concerning the use of civilian aircraft and also land transportation means that require the cooperation of U.S. forces in South Korea. Many other issues need to be addressed, such as how to widely share information about shelters in South Korea and offset the limited transport capacity of the MSDF ships that would act as shuttles in the Sea of Japan.


The North Korean nuclear crisis in 1994 led the government to start considering a plan to evacuate Japanese nationals from South Korea in the event of a contingency. Tokyo has since been updating the plan in working-level talks with Washington.


There are about 57,000 Japanese citizens living in South Korea, including about 19,000 who are in the country for short stays, according to the Foreign Ministry. It is estimated that there are over 200,000 U.S. citizens in the country.

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