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N. Korea threat remains despite Trump-Kim summit: defense white paper

The Defense Ministry headquarters is pictured in this file photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- North Korea's nuclear and missile programs still pose an "unprecedentedly serious and imminent threat" to Japan even after the historic summit between the isolated country and the United States in June, an annual defense report said Tuesday.

Citing the North's possession and deployment of several hundred Rodong medium-range missiles capable of reaching almost every part of Japan, the defense white paper said "There is no change in our basic recognition concerning the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles."

Nevertheless, the document said it is "highly significant" that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gave a commitment to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula during the summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore.

"There have been no specific actions by North Korea toward abandonment of nuclear weapons and missiles, and the Chinese military with improved capability has advanced into the oceans, so we want Japanese people to know the security environment surrounding us is serious," Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a press conference.

As for China, the report said the country's rapid modernization of the military and escalation of activities in areas close to Japan are "generating strong security concerns in the region and international community."

Tokyo and Beijing have been at odds over the Japanese-controlled, Chinese-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, with Chinese government vessels frequently navigating in waters near from the isles. The report found such actions by China "totally unacceptable."

China also has territorial disputes with other nations in the South China Sea.

Infrastructure development under Chinese President Xi Jinping's "One Belt, One Road" initiative may lead to increased activities by the Chinese military in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, the paper warned.

On Russia, the report pointed to the need to "closely observe" its military activities, citing the deployment of surface-to-ship missile systems in 2016 on two of the four islands off Hokkaido controlled by Russia and claimed by Japan.

The paper also said Takeshima, a group of islets in the Sea of Japan controlled by South Korea and called Dokdo in the neighboring country, are "inherent parts" of Japan and that the territorial row remains "unresolved."

Japan's planned introduction of the U.S.-developed land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system, which the government is considering placing in two locations in fiscal 2023 to counter the North Korean threat, was specified in the paper as one of the main projects to promote in fiscal 2018.

Tokyo decided to introduce the Aegis Ashore system last December in response to North Korea's repeated test-firings of ballistic missiles and its sixth nuclear test earlier in the year.

The ministry said in July that the total cost of the missile shield project will reach 466.4 billion yen ($4.2 billion). By stressing that Japan is now facing serious security threats, the government is apparently trying to gain public understanding on the necessity of expanding the country's defense budget.

The report also cited concerns about the expanding capabilities of China, Russia and North Korea in cyberspace and outer space. Japan plans to increase the number of Self-Defense Forces cyberspace defense unit members from 350 to 430 in fiscal 2018, it said.

The document said the Japanese government aims to update the National Defense Program Guidelines, which set defense capability targets that the country should achieve over the next decade, by the end of this year.

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