TOKYO — Japan has decided to cancel nationwide evacuation exercises held in preparation for North Korean ballistic missile launches, a government source said Thursday.
Following North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s summit this month with U.S. President Donald Trump, the Japanese government has changed its stance on the drills slated for fiscal 2018, given that the likelihood of Pyongyang’s launching a series of ballistic missiles as it did last year is now slim, the source said.
The decision was made in consideration of the easing security situation, exemplified by South Korea’s suspension this week of an annual major military exercise with the United States planned for August, the source said.
In addition, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to meet Kim in an attempt to make a breakthrough in the outstanding issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.
Among major countries involved in negotiations toward the denuclearization of North Korea, Japan has been left out of the loop since Kim’s active diplomatic outreach started this year.
Besides Trump, Kim has already held face-to-face talks with South Korean President Moon Jae In and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and there is prospect of a meeting between him and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the not-so-distant future.
The evacuation drills were planned in a total of nine prefectures, including Nara, Niigata and Tochigi, in the current fiscal year through March 2019.
They were scheduled to involve local municipalities, police and the Self-Defense Forces, with participants supposed to learn how to evacuate to safe public facilities after they are informed of a missile launch through J-Alert, the government’s emergency warning system, or community wireless systems.
A day after Trump and Kim met in Singapore, Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the severe security conditions have been alleviated.
Last year, North Korea test-fired around 20 ballistic missiles, two of which flew over Japan’s territory, and detonated its most powerful nuclear weapon to date.
The source said the government will consider resuming the evacuation drills if the situation surrounding North Korea becomes tense again.
Despite the decision, the government will maintain its plan to introduce two land-based Aegis Ashore batteries in fiscal 2023, which are designed to improve protection of the Japanese archipelago against the North Korean missile threat.