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Japan sees North Korea's provocative actions entering new phase

Japanese government officials believe that North Korea's provocative actions have entered a new phase as a ballistic missile launched by the reclusive communist state on Aug. 3 fell into Japan's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Parts of long-range ballistic missiles launched by North Korea in 1998 and 2009 fell into Japan's EEZ, but this time the missile's warhead landed in Japan's EEZ for the first time -- a move Japanese government officials believe poses a greater threat.

Some Japanese government officials had thought North Korea's actions would be restrained at the time as Chinese and North Korean foreign ministers were set to meet on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Ministerial Meeting. Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said at a news conference on the evening of Aug. 3, "North Korea's threat stems from the fact that it takes actions that cannot be predicted and reasonably explained."

As the United States and South Korea are planning to hold a joint military exercise in late August, the Japanese government is vigilant about the possibility that Pyongyang could launch more missiles and carry out its fifth nuclear test. The Japanese government is poised to help the international community put pressure on North Korea in collaboration with the U.S. and South Korea, with a view to calling an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, among other steps.

Medium-range Rodong missiles have been deployed in North Korea in the past, and Pyongyang had made the flight distances of its missiles relatively short. But the missile launched this time flew closest to Japan's territory.

A Self-Defense Force source said, "North Korea has confidence as it has launched missiles that flew over its own territory. It is no longer at the stage of test-launches. It is a firing exercise."

The Japanese government is gathering information on and analyzing North Korea's intentions. There is a fishing ground where squid fishing boats gather near the spot where the North Korean missile landed. Therefore, the landing of the missile's warhead or main body in Japan's EEZ sent shockwaves through the Japanese government and fishing industry.

A Japanese government source said, "It would be extremely dangerous if North Korea intentionally flew the missile into the EEZ. If a missile reaches our territorial waters, it could develop into an 'armed attack situation.'"

Meanwhile, no one can deny the possibility that the North Korean missile flew longer than its intended target area and fell into Japan's EEZ. The Japanese government source said, "If North Korea did not intend (to fly the missile into Japan's EEZ), that means it cannot control the missiles it launches over waters close to Japan. In that case, it is scary in a different sense than the intended launches. In either case, I have to say the degree of danger is increasing."

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