TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that Japan's government is drawing up contingency plans in case a crisis on the Korean Peninsula sends an influx of refugees to Japan.
Abe told a parliamentary session that the government is formulating measures including protecting foreigners, landing procedures, building and operating shelters, and screening asylum seekers.
Abe's disclosure came in response to a question that had been occasionally asked in the past but is now more realistic than ever with North Korea's missile capability rapidly advancing and tension with the U.S. rising.
The government has been also working on evacuation plans for about 60,000 Japanese from South Korea in case of a crisis.
Abe is set to discuss North Korea on Tuesday with U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence.
Pence will be flying to Tokyo from South Korea, where he declared "the era of strategic patience (with North Korea) is over," reiterating President Donald Trump administration's shift toward applying more pressure on Pyongyang. Abe praised the policy, noting a recent bilateral statement confirming the U.S. commitment to defending Japan with the use of both nuclear and conventional arms as extended deterrence.
"We'll closely co-operate with the U.S. and South Korea to change (North Korea's) attitude, and encourage China to play a greater role," Abe said.
Key ministers of Abe's National Security Council met to analyze the latest development in North Korea and discuss Japanese responses, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, without elaborating.
On Friday, the NSC members discussed how to deal with a possibility that armed North Korean soldiers pretending to be refugees may try to enter Japan, Kyodo News reported. According to one scenario, a U.S. military action sends a massive number of North Korean refugees to the Japanese coast in boats, but some armed soldiers hiding among them could plot terrorist activities after landing, Kyodo said.
Japan's government is considering dispatching commercial or military aircraft and vessels to South Korea in case Japanese nationals need to be evacuated. But critics say sending military aircraft and vessels is a sensitive issue for South Korea because of its bitter memories from the Japanese military aggression and colonization in the first half of 1900s.
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Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press