Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Thursday that Japan's Self-Defense Forces could intercept North Korean missiles targeting Guam, after Pyongyang threatened to strike the U.S. Pacific territory.
Onodera told a Diet committee that such a missile launch by North Korea can be recognized as a condition enabling Japanese troops to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of the United States and other allies under armed attack even if Japan itself is not attacked.
In July 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet approved three conditions to allow the exercise of the right to collective self-defense. Among the conditions is a situation posing a threat to Japan's survival following an attack on a friendly nation.
Onodera said any potential attack on Guam, a major U.S. military stronghold, could undermine Washington's deterrent power and strike capabilities, and thus can be deemed as a situation threatening Japan's survival.
In a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, the Korean People's Army said it is "seriously examining" a plan to simultaneously fire four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles over Japan for an "enveloping strike at Guam."
The North Korean army said its missiles could cross over three Japanese prefectures of Shimane, Hiroshima and Kochi.
Japan's missile defense scheme employs the Maritime Self-Defense Force's Aegis destroyers to shoot down airborne missiles and the Air Self-Defense Force's Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system aimed at countering missiles that evaded Aegis' interceptors.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference, "We cannot tolerate such a clear provocative act to the security of the region and international society, including our country," urging Pyongyang to exercise restraint.
"We will maintain our monitoring and surveillance at a high level and take all possible means to cope with any situation," the Japanese government top spokesman said.
Suga said the government is ready to strengthen security cooperation with the United States, tapping into security talks involving the two countries' foreign and defense ministers scheduled to be held Aug. 17 in Washington.