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Japan says North Korean threat remains despite summit pledge

FIE - In this Aug. 29, 2017, file photo, members of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) demonstrate the PAC-3 surface to air interceptors at the U.S. Yokota Air Base in Fussa, on the outskirts of Tokyo. Japan’s annual defense review says North Korea poses a serious threat to Japan since it hasn’t taken concrete steps to scrap its nuclear program after making a denuclearization pledge at a summit with the U.S. in June. The defense paper approved Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, by the Cabinet said Japan must add costly missile defense systems to be fully prepared while watching if North Korea keeps its promise. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

Japan needs to bolster its missile defenses and its alliance with the United States, its government said Tuesday in an annual defense review that judged North Korea to still be a serious threat since it has not taken any concrete step to denuclearize.

The defense paper, approved Tuesday by the Cabinet, said Japan must add to its missile defense capabilities to be fully prepared while watching if North Korea keeps its promise.

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a vague joint statement at their summit in June that included agreements to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Trump last week directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to delay a planned trip to the North, citing insufficient progress.

North Korea tested intercontinental ballistic missiles last year, including launching some over Japan, and it deploys several hundred shorter-range Rodong missiles that capable of hitting Japan. The defense paper also says Pyongyang likely has made miniaturized nuclear warheads it can place atop ballistic missiles, an advancement of its nuclear capability North Korea has claimed to have achieved.

North Korea has increased the range, accuracy and versatility of its missiles and diversified its launch sites and methods over the past few years. The North has since 2016 conducted three nuclear tests and more than 40 missile tests, the paper said.

"Its military actions have become unprecedentedly serious and imminent threat to Japan's national security," the paper said. "There is no change in our basic recognition about the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles."

While the United States is primarily concerned about the ICBMs that can reach its mainland, Japan is within range of North Korea's smaller missiles. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed to raise Japan's military participation and its missile defenses. Joint exercises with the U.S. and other defense partners including Britain and Australia have significantly increased, and Japan is buying costly U.S. equipment as Trump tries to sell more weapons and reduce the U.S. trade deficit.

Japan is currently updating its national defense guidelines and the medium-term defense program to reflect North Korea's threat, and to have "necessary and sufficient defense capabilities qualitatively and quantitatively," the paper said.

Tuesday's report comes days before the Defense Ministry is set to approve its fiscal 2019 budget plan that would include an initial acquisition cost for a set of land-to-air missile defense system, Aegis Ashore. Opposition to that purchase has risen since Pyongyang suspended missile tests this year as it made diplomatic overtures to its ally China as well as the U.S. and South Korea.

The defense paper also raised strong concerns about China, which has greatly increased its military budget to modernize and build up its forces and weaponry and has continued to move assertively in the region's airspace and seas.

The two Asian rivals have long disputed over history and a cluster of East China Sea islands, but their relations are seen as improving this year as China tries to be a regional leader while playing a better neighbor and contrasting Trump's self-centered policy.

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