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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

Editorial: N. Korea’s latest dangerous act increases tension with U.S. / Strengthen intl pressure to induce talks

By flaunting its “nuclear and missile” development, North Korea has attempted to keep its despotic regime alive in spite of the international community’s encircling the country. It can be said that the latest missile launch has made its intentions ever more patent.


To have North Korea correct its perilous and self-centered behavior, it is necessary for countries concerned to closely cooperate with one another and increase pressure on Pyongyang.


North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).


The missile has been launched on a lofted trajectory, which sends a projectile up at a steeper angle than normal, with its altitude reaching far above 4,000 kilometers, the highest altitude ever recorded by a North Korean missile. After flying for 53 minutes, the missile fell into Japan’s exclusive economic zone off Aomori Prefecture about 1,000 kilometers from where it had been launched.


Analyze threat calmly


This marked the third launch of an ICBM by North Korea, following the two launches made in July. Some experts estimate that the latest missile, if it had been launched at a normal angle, could have traveled at least 13,000 kilometers. It is reckoned to be able to reach as far as all major cities on the U.S. mainland, including Washington, the capital.


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, “It is totally unacceptable that North Korea has conducted such an outrageous act, in complete disregard of the will of the international community to find a peaceful resolution.”


It is a matter of course that the government immediately conveyed a stiff protest to North Korea.


North Korea announced that it succeeded in test-firing the Hwasong-15, an ICBM which, Pyongyang said, is capable of striking the entire U.S. mainland and can be topped with a large nuclear warhead. Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, declared that the country has “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.”


It should be noted that exaggerating its own military strength is Pyongyang’s usual practice. There is a possibility that in order to allow the missile to achieve a higher altitude, the payload used in the test might have been made lighter than one that can be used for warfare. Nor was it confirmed whether Pyongyang has gained the technology to ensure a warhead’s stable reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. It is necessary to make a level-headed analysis of the missile’s capability.


For the past 2½ months, no military provocations had been made by North Korea. Pyongyang may have been trying to discern Washington’s next move.


U.S. President Donald Trump, during his visits to Asian countries in November, promoted the position of increasing pressure on North Korea, both on the economic and military fronts. Making clear that North Korea’s abandoning its nuclear and missile development programs would serve as a prerequisite for dialogue, Washington launched its redesignation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.


With the latest missile launch, North Korea seems to show its intention of not buckling under pressure from the United States. It can be thought that Pyongyang has again taken to a strategy of pressing Washington for concessions by creating a critical situation. It is inevitable that tensions will increase between the United States and North Korea.


Sanctions need bite


Trump indicated he intended to steadily push ahead with the established policy of applying pressure on North Korea, saying, “We have a very serious approach, but nothing changed.” He seemingly can sense the sanctions are having somewhat of an impact. Foreign Minister Taro Kono also said there was information suggesting economic sanctions “are having an effect.”


A flurry of North Korean fishing boats have washed ashore on the Japanese coastline. The dominant view is that these incidents were caused by low-quality fuel and conducting fishing operations that are beyond the ability of these dilapidated boats.


A soldier who recently defected from North Korea to South Korea by crossing the Military Demarcation Line at Panmunjom was found to be suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis and other ailments. This could indicate the poor treatment given to soldiers in North Korea.


During phone talks with Trump, Abe confirmed that both nations plan to increase pressure on North Korea to the maximum. The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting and discuss its response to the missile launch. Securing the cooperation of China and Russia will be vital for strictly implementing a sanctions resolution.


It is understandable that Abe emphasized this during a meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee, saying, “While there might be some differences in how to approach this issue, we will continue to carefully analyze the movements of China and Russia, and lean on them when we should.”


China’s Foreign Ministry also expressed serious concern about Pyongyang’s latest missile launch. China must not hesitate to slap additional sanctions on North Korea, such as expanding restrictions on exports of oil products to that nation.


Improve interception


Japan should improve its ability to intercept missiles in any contingency.


During compilation of the next fiscal year’s budget, it will be essential to set aside sufficient funds for costs related to ground-based Aegis ashore systems and acquiring new missiles.


It is worrying that military exercises and training drills have not been conducted in which the Self-Defense Forces, U.S. military and South Korean forces all participate.


Even when three U.S. aircraft carriers including the USS Ronald Reagan were positioned in the Sea of Japan in mid-November, military exercises were only conducted by Japan and the United States, and the United States and South Korea.


This is said to be because of strong opposition within South Korea to working closely with the SDF. There is also the fact that China has pressured South Korea to be cautious about any trilateral exercises because Beijing has been alarmed about closer security cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea.


Soon after North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch, South Korea conducted a missile drill in the Sea of Japan to demonstrate its ability to cope with the situation.


Even South Korean President Moon Jae In, who has favored a conciliatory stance toward North Korea, appears to have had no option but to take military countermeasures in reaction to the increasing seriousness of the situation. This should not be the time for dilly-dallying on strengthening security cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea.

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