Japan’s defense minister asserted Monday that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities have grown to an “unprecedented, critical and imminent” level, requiring “different responses” to the threat.
The minister, Itsunori Odonera, said that this rising threat compels his country to endorse the U.S. view that “all options” must be considered, which President Donald Trump says includes possible military action. Japan was alarmed by North Korea twice launching missiles over Japanese territory, in August and in September.
Odonera’s comments, made through an interpreter, came at the outset of a so-called trilateral meeting in the Philippines with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korea’s defense minister, Song Young-moo. Each made statements about North Korea before a group of reporters and news cameras, but none took questions.
Mattis was in the Philippines to attend portions of a two-day meeting of defense ministers from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He used the occasion to hold a three-way meeting with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea. He is scheduled later in the week to travel to Seoul to attend annual consultative talks with the South Korean government, which is expected to focus mostly on North Korea.
In remarks that were notably explicit about the North Korean threat, Odonera said North Korea’s most recent underground nuclear test could have been a hydrogen bomb, which is vastly more powerful than an atomic bomb.
“The country has steadfastly improved it nuclear and missiles capability,” said Onodera. He added: “The threat posed by North Korea has grown to the unprecedented, critical and imminent level.”
“Therefore, we have to take calibrated and different responses to meet that level of threat,” he said, without elaborating on what “different” responses Japan favors.
Trump has said he will resolve the North Korea problem alone if necessary, to prevent the North from gaining the capability to attack the United States with a nuclear-armed missile.
Mattis was somewhat more reserved in his remarks than Onodera, although he did slam Pyongyang for defying U.N. Security Council resolutions against its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But the U.S. defense secretary did not mention any potential military action. Mattis instead emphasized a unified U.S.-Japan-South Korea position in pressuring the North to give up its nuclear program.
“North Korea’s provocations threaten regional and global security,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Mattis used the opportunity to personally apologize to his Indonesia counterpart for an unexplained move by the U.S. government to prevent the top Indonesian general traveling to Washington over the weekend.
Erin McKee, the deputy U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, did not explain why Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo was prevented from boarding a flight to the U.S. to attend a conference of military chiefs but said the matter had been resolved.
South Korea’s defense minister, Song, said that North Korea’s behavior is “becoming worse and worse.”
Earlier Monday, in brief remarks to reporters, Song was asked about the risk of war against North Korea. He said defense ministers bring a special perspective that cautions against an early use of force.
“I want to emphasize that war is not as easy as the journalists make it sound in the press and the media,” he said. “As defense ministers who are in charge of national defense and other high tech weapons such as ballistic missiles, we understand the very weight of engaging in a war and as such we will make all the efforts necessary to resolve the issue in a diplomatic and economic way as possible.”
He added: “However, if we are attacked then we will have to take firm actions.”