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Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force in training near Mount Fuji.

Japanese defense report highlights stepped-up threat from Pyongyang

White paper raises concerns over advances in missile, nuclear tech

TOKYO -- Japan's 2017 defense white paper upgrades its threat assessment for North Korea from last year's, citing continuing development of nuclear and ballistic missile technologies.

Destabilizing factors affecting security in the Asia-Pacific region are growing more serious, notes the annual report, presented to the cabinet Tuesday by newly installed Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera.

In the 2016 edition, the Ministry of Defense had described North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs as "serious and imminent threats to the security of the region." The language has been expanded this time to highlight what it characterizes as a new level of threat, echoing rhetoric employed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since last September.

The new report says the rocket launched on July 4 traveled a steep lofted trajectory suggesting a range surpassing 5,500km if fired at a normal angle, putting the missile in the intercontinental ballistic missile class. Not only is the regime trying to extend the reach of its missiles, but it is also developing technology for atmospheric re-entry, the white paper explains. It also concludes that the possibility that North Korea can miniaturize nuclear weapons into warheads is conceivable.

A new type of land-based missile modified from a submarine-launched system can travel 1,000km, putting Japan within shooting range, the paper states, warning that North Korea could deploy this weapon.

The white paper also addresses the threat coming from Beijing, citing activities in the East China Sea and South China Sea in particular. The document raises strong concerns over their current effect on the international security environment. Last year's edition merely noted "strong concerns over China's future direction."

The report underscores how China's defense budget has tripled over the last decade and how military vessels are expanding their domain further south in the East China Sea. The passage by the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning through the Miyako Strait near Okinawa last December demonstrates the nation's ability to project power over a distance, the white paper says.


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