Japan sent a Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis destroyer to patrol the Sea of Japan on April 3 in response to North Korea’s launch of two Rodong medium-range ballistic missiles on March 26.
Although Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera ordered the SDF to intercept any North Korean missile that threatens Japan, the central government did not publicly announce the deployment, reflecting Tokyo’s desire not to whip up hysteria ahead of the next round of talks slated with Pyongyang.
The interception order, based on the Self-Defense Force Law, will be effective through April 25, the 82nd anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army.
Based on the order, the SDF Aegis destroyer Kirishima, carrying Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) interceptors, is routinely patrolling the Sea of Japan under the guise of conducting military exercises.
In April last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government issued an interception order after North Korea deployed Musudan medium-range ballistic missiles and Rodong missiles. Although two Aegis destroyers were sent to patrol the Sea of Japan last year, the government sent only the Kirishima this year.
The government also decided not to deploy the surface-to-air guided Patriot PAC-3 missiles, which were installed last year in the compound of the Defense Ministry in central Tokyo.
The latest interception order is the fifth since 2009. All were issued to counter North Korean missile launches. Since Pyongyang did not issue an actual launch warning last year, Tokyo also held back announcing its interception order. But the Defense Ministry showed deployed PAC-3 missiles to the media in a show of its counter-missile preparedness.
The government proceeded with the deployment without fanfare this time and held back deploying PAC-3 missiles because it “wants to make necessary responses out of public view,” according to a government source.
Government officials have explained that efforts had been made “not to stir up public anxiety and give strong consideration to the diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea.”
Japan and North Korea resumed official high-level talks in late March in Beijing, attended by bureau chiefs of their respective foreign ministries. Confidential, closed-door negotiations are also under way.
The Abe administration has set the settlement of the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea as one of its primary political goals. It apparently does not want to irritate Pyongyang by playing up its counter-missile responses.
Meanwhile, neither Japan, South Korea nor the United States predicted the launch of the Rodong missiles on March 26. As of April 4, Japan had not detected any sign that Pyongyang is preparing another launch.
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