Japan has been frantically ratcheting up preparations for North Korea's expected missile launch in mid-April.
South Korea has also taken steps, and the United States is also moving to track the missile.
In that regard, all three allies share a sense of purpose. Yet, they clearly do not see eye-to-eye on this apparent threat.
South Korea says Japan has overreacted, and the United States seems to be more concerned with what the missile can do, rather than what might happen if it malfunctions.
On April 6, Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka visited the Air Defense Command headquarters, located in the compound of U.S. Yokota Air Base in Fussa, western Tokyo. The ADC is under the jurisdiction of Japan's Self-Defense Forces.
There, he met with ADC Commander Harukazu Saito and U.S. Forces Japan Commander Burton Field, and expressed his hope that Japan and the United States would work closely to deal with the problem.
The ADC headquarters was transferred to the Yokota base in late March to facilitate coordination with the United States.
The office will analyze intelligence gathered by U.S. forces and Japan's SDF, and command operations to intercept the North Korean missile if there is any chance of it landing on Japanese territory or its waters.
"I was reassured by Commander Field that U.S. forces will share information with Japan," Tanaka told reporters after his visit.
On April 3, Tanaka spoke by telephone with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, during which they both agreed that Japan and the United States would work together to deal with the threat.
However, a Japanese Defense Ministry official said Washington's sense of crisis is more subdued than in 2009 when Pyongyang launched a long-range ballistic missile in the direction of the U.S. mainland.
This time, however, the missile will take a southern trajectory.
In both cases, North Korea asserted it was launching a satellite.
"The country that is feeling the biggest threat is Japan," said an executive of the Japanese Defense Ministry.
Japan is deploying Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air guided missiles in three locations in the Tokyo metropolitan area and four locations in Okinawa Prefecture.
But there appears to be little chance of missile debris, or the missile itself, falling on the Tokyo metropolitan area, a Defense Ministry official said.
The United States has yet to disclose full details of its own measures to deal with the missile launch.
On April 5, U.S. Defense Department spokesman George Little told reporters that the United States is monitoring North Korean moves and is ready to track the missile if it is launched.
The United States is deploying Aegis destroyers equipped with missile defense capabilities. Reconnaissance aircraft will also take to the air.
CNN reported that sea-based X-band radar equipment, which is used to detect incoming missiles, left a U.S. Navy base in Hawaii in late March bound for the Japan-Korea region.
Washington is particularly interested in the range and capability of the North Korean missile.
In a congressional hearing held in late March, U.S. Forces Korea Commander James Thurman was asked if North Korea had the ability in the near future to fire a ballistic missile that could reach the continental United States.
Thurman said North Korea, at its current pace of development, would soon be able to build a missile that poses a serious threat to the United States.
South Korea, meantime, is deploying two Aegis destroyers as a precautionary measure.
One is being deployed in the Yellow Sea separating the Korean Peninsula and mainland China, according to sources. It will track the missile until it separates its first stage and the portion drops into the sea.
The other destroyer will be deployed south of Jeju Island off South Korea's southern coast to track the second-stage portion still in flight.
Seoul is ready to fire Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) projectiles from Aegis destroyers or activate PAC-2 missile systems across South Korea if South Korean territory is threatened.
Although Japan, the United States and South Korea have emphasized the need to cooperate closely on this matter, differences in attitude are emerging.
In South Korea, there is a growing view in the media and among some government officials that Japan is overreacting.
"Japan is displaying an excessive reaction with its deployment of interceptor missiles and checking of the government's alert system to local governments," Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. reported.
South Korean media have instead focused on the general election to be held April 11.
"There are inaccurate media reports from Japan, apparently due to the excessive reporting there," said a South Korean government official. "We are feeling embarrassed about those reports."
For its part, Pyongyang is still insisting that it is launching a satellite, not a missile, and has bitterly criticized Japan, the United States and South Korea for raising their levels of alert.
According to North Korea’s state Korean Central News Agency, a representative of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland issued a statement April 5, which read: "It is an act of war to intercept a satellite that is launched for peaceful purposes. Such an act will bring extremely catastrophic consequences."
(This article was compiled from reports by Nanae Kurashige in Tokyo, Takashi Oshima in Washington and Akihiko Kaise in Seoul.)
- « Prev
- Next »