Japan readies NKorea rocket response

March 25, 2009 12:00 am

, TOKYO, Mar 25 – Japan may order its military to prepare to shoot down a North Korean rocket if it threatens to hit the country, media reports said Wednesday, ahead of a meeting to discuss the plan.

The isolated Pyongyang regime has said it will launch a communications satellite over Japanese territory in early April, but the United States and its Asian allies suspect the launch is a long-range ballistic missile test.

Tokyo, which has developed a missile defence system with the United States, has warned it will shoot down any object — a missile or any debris — if it threatens to hit Japanese territory.

North Korea says it would regard a rocket intercept as an act of war.

Reports said Tokyo will likely issue an order Friday for its armed forces to prepare to intercept the rocket.

Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone and Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura were to meet Wednesday to discuss Japan’s response.

The ministers were set to decide whether the cabinet would make an instant decision after any missile is launched or whether it could give the military approval in advance to shoot it down.

The government will likely choose the latter option, Kyodo News and the Asahi Shimbun daily reported.

News of the Japanese preparations comes as China’s military chief , General Chen Bingde, met South Korea’s Defence Minister Lee Sang-Hee for talks amid rising tensions over North Korea’s planned rocket launch.

North Korea has warned that the rocket’s first booster will likely fall into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) off of Japan’s northern Akita prefecture, and the second will drop into the northern Pacific between Japan and Hawaii.

Washington and Tokyo have worked jointly on a missile defence shield, using land and sea-based missiles, against a possible attack from North Korea, which fired a missile over Japan in 1998 and tested an atom bomb in 2006.

On Tuesday Foreign Minister Nakasone admitted the difficulty of shooting down a flying missile, particularly when it comes unannounced.

"I guess it is true that it is difficult," he told reporters. "Our country has never really intercepted a missile. We would not know in what way, how, and to where a missile would be headed."


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