May 31, 2017 4:54 am JST

Japan could become missile target, Pyongyang warns

Tokyo seeks closer partnership with Seoul, Beijing but rift remains

HIROSHI MINEGISHI, Nikkei staff writer

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, left, shakes hands with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

SEOUL -- North Korea has warned that Japan could be targeted in a missile attack if it "persists in hostility" toward the North, while Tokyo is reaching out to neighbors in an effort to turn up the heat on Pyongyang.

Although the North is currently only targeting U.S. military assets in Japan, that could change if Japan continues its current course, a spokesman for the North's Foreign Ministry said Monday. The country announced Tuesday that it has successfully tested a precision-guided missile, which it said came within 7 meters of the intended target.

North Korea aims to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the continental U.S. It is also working on shorter-range rockets to target American troops in Japan and Guam, weapons that would also likely be used in the Korean Peninsula should an armed clash erupt here.

Meanwhile, Tokyo is working to tighten the noose around the North. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the need for greater pressure on the rogue state, instead of pursuing dialogue for the sake of dialogue, in a 15-minute call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday. The two leaders agreed to work closely with the U.S. for a strong response to the situation, according to the Japanese government.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida also met with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, Beijing's top diplomat, in Tokyo that day. China accounts for roughly 90% of North Korea's trade, and is a key source of its oil as well. Kishida urged China to take a more active role in curbing the North Korean threat. Yang will meet with Abe on Wednesday.

"Unless China gets serious, we can't come up with effective measures," a Japanese official said.

On the other hand, South Korea and China are more interested in opening talks with the North. While Moon on Tuesday agreed that greater sanctions and pressure were necessary, he also argued for a more fundamental solution to the problem. He said that sanctions are merely a tool to get North Korea back to the negotiating table on denuclearization, and that countries must signal that they are open to talks, according to the South Korean government and other sources.

Yang also stressed the need for a dialogue with the North, although he promised China's cooperation in the United Nations and other international frameworks.

Japan and the U.S. are holding a defense ministers' meeting on Saturday. The countries are jointly developing the Standard Missile-3 Block IIA long-range interceptor. The Japanese government also hopes to discuss adopting the U.S. Aegis Ashore anti-missile system.

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