TOKYO -- Japan has strengthened its defenses against a potential missile attack by North Korea, with Defense Minister Gen Nakatani giving the Self-Defense Forces the green light to shoot down such a missile.
The government has not publicly acknowledged whether Nakatani has issued the order, citing security reasons. The SDF has sent ships equipped with the Aegis combat system and the Standard Missile-3 to waters around Japan, while Defense Ministry facilities in the Ichigaya area of Tokyo are preparing Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles for interception from the ground.
The National Security Council met Friday at the prime minister's office, where Shinzo Abe and relevant cabinet members discussed North Korea. "We are preparing thoroughly to protect the lives of Japanese people in any situation," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida spoke by phone Friday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, affirming coordination between the two countries. This presents the first opportunity to use the bilateral alliance coordination mechanism formed last November to operate at varying levels of the government and defense forces. Information sharing between the two countries is even smoother than before, a Japanese source said.
With the U.S. as a go-between, Japan will collaborate with South Korea as well. Nakatani stressed at a news conference Friday that Japan and South Korea are both allies of the U.S. and that Japan is in close communication with both to exchange intelligence and opinions.
The cooperation is based on a trilateral memorandum of understanding signed in late 2014 to share intelligence related to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. Japan does not have its own reconnaissance satellites for detecting infrared emissions from missile launches. But through the U.S., Japan has access to information obtained by South Korea, even though Tokyo and Seoul lack a bilateral agreement to share military and security information.
The government also notified municipalities Friday that it will send alerts to residents via communication channels in case of an emergency, such as when a missile launch is believed to be imminent.