North Korea might already possess the ability to strike Japan using ballistic missiles armed with deadly chemical weapons like sarin, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned Thursday.
Abe made the remark to the security committee of the Upper House when asked about a proposal by his ruling Liberal Democratic Party to have Japan pursue the capability to directly attack North Korean military bases.
Abe emphasized that Tokyo has no plan to acquire such powerful weapons and would never launch a pre-emptive strike against any country.
But the government at the same time should conduct “various studies” for defense and strengthen the Japan-U.S. military alliance, Abe said.
“It’s possible that North Korea has the ability to hit (Japan) with a ballistic missile carrying sarin in its warhead,” he said.
He also noted that “nearly 100 innocent people, including children and babies, were victimized” by chemical weapons in Syria.
“We need to squarely look at a reality like that, and firmly maintain the deterrence power to not let such things happen” to Japan, Abe said.
The South Korean Defense Ministry has estimated that Pyongyang, which reportedly started producing chemical weapons in the 1980s, now owns 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, including the lethal nerve agents sarin and VX.
At a news conference later in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo believes North Korea has “multiple numbers of plants” producing chemical weapons and possess “considerable amount” of them.
Abe’s remark follows on the heels of a Kyodo News report that said U.S. President Donald Trump promised Abe during a telephone discussion earlier this month to consult with Japan before taking action — including military action — against North Korea.
Quoting bilateral diplomatic sources, the report Wednesday said Trump also indicated to Abe that the United States will tighten sanctions on Chinese firms doing business with North Korea if China does not cooperate in addressing the threat presented by Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
That suggests Trump is prepared for active involvement in blocking further provocations by Pyongyang while at same time mindful of U.S. ally Japan, which has significant concerns about a potential U.S. attack on North Korea, the report said.
In telephone conversations on April 6 and Sunday, the leaders agreed that North Korea’s nuclear tests and repeated ballistic missile launches posed a grave security threat and affirmed that they will work together with South Korea on the matter.
According to the report, Trump showed Abe that he understands the risks Japan would face from a crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Abe said he highly appreciates Trump’s assertion that all options are on the table in dealing with North Korea.
While telling Abe the United States stands with Japan “100 percent,” Trump signaled his intention to consult with Japan before taking action on the North, the report said.
It also said the president sought Abe’s agreement with his administration’s security and diplomacy doctrine of “peace through strength” — an about-face from the “strategic patience” approach of his predecessor, Barack Obama, toward the reclusive state.
Ahead of the discussions, the Japanese government had requested the United States first discuss with Japan at the working level before mounting any attack on North Korea, out of fear that retaliation would directly affect Japan’s security, the report said.
The leaders also confirmed the necessity of urging China to get more involved in dealing with the North, it said.
After his summit last week with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump shared with Abe that he had told the Chinese leader that Washington has not ruled out taking unilateral action if no concrete moves are made toward de-nuclearizing Pyongyang, the report said.
The United States has fresh economic sanctions ready for the North, including asset freezes and stronger sanctions on Chinese firms that do financial transactions with the hermit state, Trump said according to the report.