TOKYO — The Japanese government said Thursday it does not view North Korea’s launch that morning of apparent surface-to-ship cruise missiles as having an immediate impact on national security, but still convened the National Security Council to discuss the North Korea threat.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a meeting at his office with members of his Liberal Democratic Party, said North Korea continued to frequently launch ballistic missiles in defiance of international warnings to cease such provocations, and vowed to keep the Japanese people safe.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said what appeared to be surface-to-ship cruise missiles were fired Thursday morning from the vicinity of North Korea’s eastern coastal city of Wonsan and travelled about 200 kilometers before falling into the sea.
Cruise missiles are propelled by engines throughout their flight at low altitude, while ballistic missiles are shot high into the earth’s atmosphere before gravity takes them down to their target.
There have been nine ballistic missile launches by North Korea so far this year, the most recent of which on May 29 fell into waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
After the launch Thursday morning, North Korea’s official news agency released a statement warning the Japanese archipelago will become scorched earth ahead of the United States in the event of a conflict if Japan continues to criticize North Korea’s actions on the world stage.
That appeared to be a reference to, among other things, the statement issued at the Group of Seven summit in Italy late last month saying North Korea “poses new levels of threat of a grave nature to international peace and stability.” The statement, issued by the G-7 leaders including Abe, also called on North Korea to completely abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
On Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, told a press conference, “North Korea’s provocative conduct…is a clear challenge to regional and world security, and simply cannot be tolerated.”
Suga also said Japan and the United States have agreed to take specific action to improve and strengthen the deterrent capability of the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said Thursday in a Diet committee, “There is a possibility that North Korea will take further provocative action, and we will continue to work on gathering and analyzing the necessary information about its movements.”
But Inada said the missiles launched that morning were not of a type that could land in Japan or its EEZ.
The U.N. Security Council imposed further sanctions on North Korea last week following the latest ballistic missile test, unanimously approving the addition of 14 individuals and four companies or organizations to its blacklist.
While Pyongyang has said it is working on a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, Japan is within range of the ballistic missiles that North Korea has already developed and tested.
On Sunday, more Japanese municipalities conducted missile launch evacuation drills, after the first was held in March in Akita Prefecture which faces the Sea of Japan.