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Editorial: Japan's diplomacy lacks urgency amid N. Korea missile launch spree

North Korea has carried out a spate of missile launches, including firing an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam, for a total of seven times so far this year. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, was present to observe the Jan. 11 test-firing for the first time in about two years.

    Ballistic missile launches are dangerous, provocative acts that flout a United Nations Security Council resolution. They are absolutely intolerable.

    While the string of missile firings is also a serious threat to Japan's security, the Japanese government's response shows no profound sense of crisis.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno rapped Pyongyang for the medium-range missile launches, calling them "highly intensive and severe." Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi referred to Japan's need to acquire enemy base strike capabilities.

    But many of North Korea's missiles are fired from mobile launchers. There are limits to what military means can be taken in response to the missiles.

    Since Kim Jong Un took office about a decade ago, Pyongyang has accelerated its nuclear and missile development programs with unprecedented speed.

    Several hundred North Korean missiles are capable of reaching the Japanese archipelago. Pyongyang is also believed to already possess technology for low-yield nuclear warheads. Lately it has been focusing on developing hypersonic and trajectory-shifting missiles that can evade missile defense systems.

    The North has also hinted at resuming nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches. Pyongyang could step up military activities for the 80th anniversary of the birth of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un's late father, and the 110th anniversary of his late grandfather Kim Il Sung's birth in April.

    Under the circumstances, Japan must take exhaustive diplomatic efforts.

    Japan's policy toward North Korea should be based on collaboration with the United States and South Korea. If the three countries are out of step, it would be difficult to up pressure on Pyongyang by involving China and Russia.

    The United States has been focusing on its response to the situation surrounding Ukraine and tensions with China. Japan must approach Washington and encourage it to improve efforts on the North Korean situation.

    Tokyo and Seoul relations remain sour despite bilateral cooperation being imperative to countering Pyongyang. There are also concerns Japan and South Korea are not even sharing information on the North's recent missile launches. The two countries must realize that leaving their tensions unaddressed is undermining their national interests.

    Japan, the U.S. and South Korea will soon hold face-to-face foreign ministerial talks. The three must mend their collaborative ties swiftly to deal with Pyongyang's ever-increasing threat.

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