Japan to host joint missile tracking drill amid North Korea threat

JOINT. South Korea and US soldiers watch from an observation post during a joint live firing drill between South Korea and the US at the Seungjin Fire Training Field. Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP

JOINT. South Korea and US soldiers watch from an observation post during a joint live firing drill between South Korea and the US at the Seungjin Fire Training Field.

Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP

TOKYO, Japan –  Japan will hold a drill with the United States and South Korea this week to practice jointly detecting airborne missiles, officials said Sunday, December 10, amid rising security threats from North Korea.

The announcement of the joint exercise, a 6th such drill since 2016, comes less than two weeks after Pyongyang test-fired a ballistic missile which dropped into the sea inside Japan's exclusive economic zone in late November.

The drill will be held in waters near Japan on Monday, December 11, and Tuesday, December 12, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said as he visited a garrison in northern Japan.

It is aimed at "practicing tracking an object and sharing information on it among the 3 countries," said a defense official who declined to be named.

"It will translate into a measure against ballistic missiles," the official said.

Tensions over the North's weapons programmes have soared this year, with Pyongyang carrying out its sixth nuclear test as well as a series of missile launches in defiance of multiple sets of UN sanctions.

The US State Department's special representative for North Korea policy will travel to Japan and Thailand this week for talks on efforts to build pressure against Pyongyang after its latest ballistic missile test.

"The United States looks forward to continuing its partnership with both these nations so that the DPRK will return to credible talks on denuclearisation," the department said in a statement.

A senior UN envoy warned Saturday there was a grave risk that a miscalculation could trigger conflict with North Korea as he urged Pyongyang to keep communication channels open after a rare visit to the seclusive state.

Jeffrey Feltman's trip to the North – the first by such a high-ranking UN diplomat since 2010 – also came after the United States and South Korea launched their biggest-ever joint air exercise.

North Korea reiterated its view that these manoeuvres were a provocation, accusing the drills of "revealing its intention to mount a surprise nuclear pre-emptive strike against the DPRK." – Rappler.com