Japan 'can down N. Korean missiles with US weaponry'

US President Donald Trump ramps up his tough rhetoric against North Korea as he arrives in Japan, saying that the US and its allies are prepared to defend freedom.
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump being welcomed by Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on their arrival at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo yesterday.
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump being welcomed by Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on their arrival at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS

Trump pushes Tokyo to take tougher stance; Abe says Japan will coordinate actions with US

Visiting United States President Donald Trump said Japan would be able to shoot North Korean missiles "out of the sky" when it acquired the necessary US weaponry, as he tried to push Tokyo to take a tougher line on Pyongyang.

"The Prime Minister of Japan is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment, as he should," Mr Trump said at a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday. "It is a lot of jobs for us and a lot of safety for Japan," he added.

Mr Abe, however, said Tokyo will shoot down missiles only "if necessary", and will coordinate its actions with the US.

Japan is shoring up its defences amid the threat posed by North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear development programmes, with the acquisition of new fighter jets, interceptor missiles and warships.

Despite a lull in the North's provocative acts since Sept 15, the region remains on tenterhooks.

Earlier yesterday, the two leaders discussed steps to ensure Mr Abe's vision of a "free and open Indo-Pacific" to ensure freedom of navigation amid Chinese expansionism.

When it came to trade, Mr Trump assailed Japan's "chronic" surplus with the US and called for more "free and reciprocal" trade.

Not surprisingly, North Korea seemed to have dominated talks.

Mr Trump, who has pulled no punches in his rhetoric, repeated his mantra that "the era of strategic patience is over".

"Look what has happened with the very weak rhetoric over the past 25 years," he told reporters.

The two leaders said it was paramount to work closely with the international community to make North Korea give up its dangerous programmes, and to ensure the safe return of US and Japanese citizens held by Pyongyang.

Mr Abe vowed more unilateral sanctions, and a decision is due today to freeze the assets of 35 North Korean entities and individuals.

Their exchange over shooting down the North's missiles followed reports that Mr Trump had questioned why Japan - as a "samurai warrior nation" - did not do so when Pyongyang sent two missiles flying over Hokkaido this year.

Japan has said it was because the missiles had not posed any direct danger to its territory, and Mr Abe reiterated this yesterday.

Mr Trump made a strong pitch for US technology, noting how Saudi Arabia had shot down a Houthi missile aimed at Riyadh airport last Saturday.

"It was a needle in the sky and it was hit immediately, and it exploded without damage."

And he said, facing Mr Abe: "He will shoot them out of the sky when he completes the purchase of lots of additional military equipment from the US."

Mr Trump met Mrs Sakie Yokota, 81, whose 13-year-old daughter Megumi was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1977. Her case is now a cause celebre for the return of abducted Japanese citizens.

Mr Trump also referred to US citizen Otto Warmbier, who died in July after being imprisoned by Pyongyang for the purported theft of a propaganda poster.

"The US stands in solidarity with the people of Japan against the North Korean menace," he said. "History has proven over and over again that strong and free nations will always prevail over tyrants who oppress their people."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2017, with the headline 'Japan 'can down N. Korean missiles with US weaponry''. Print Edition | Subscribe