'Japan will protect citizens in South Korea during crisis'

Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada speaking at a joint press conference with US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis (not pictured) at the defence ministry in Tokyo on Feb 4, 2017.
Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada speaking at a joint press conference with US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis (not pictured) at the defence ministry in Tokyo on Feb 4, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO • Japan will prepare to send troops to the Korean peninsula to protect its nationals there if a crisis requires their evacuation, its defence chief reportedly said yesterday.

The remarks by Defence Minister Tomomi Inada came as fears grow over North Korea, which is believed to be on the verge of a sixth nuclear test and has threatened to launch missile tests "every week".

But her statement in Parliament, reported by Jiji Press and public broadcaster NHK, is likely to be controversial in South Korea. There, memories of Japan's brutal colonial occupation from 1910 to 1945 have hindered relations, and the possibility of Japanese troops on its soil would likely cause anger.

Ms Inada said the country will be ready to mobilise its troops if Japanese needed to be evacuated. She said such a dispatch of troops is allowed under Japanese law, which also requires the consent of the related country.

Japan's Constitution renounces the right to wage war and its military is limited to self defence in the strictest sense.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Parliament on Monday that the government was considering measures to respond to contingencies stemming from a potential crisis on the Korean peninsula, including floods of refugees and the evacuation of Japanese citizens from South Korea.

"We assume a series of responses in case of evacuees into Japan, such as protecting them, the process of landing, housing facilities and their management and a screening on whether our nation should protect them," Mr Abe said.

Japan's National Security Council had discussed how to evacuate its nearly 60,000 citizens from South Korea in the event of a crisis, a government official said last Friday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline ''Japan will protect citizens in South Korea during crisis''. Print Edition | Subscribe