Japan has activated its emergency alert system in anticipation of a long range ballistic missile test by North Korea.
Japan, South Korea and the United States have deployed navy ships equipped with anti-missile systems in the waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula as it was reported that the North moved to the preparation stage for a long range rocket test.
The North Korean government has said that it is preparing to launch a weather satellite into space in the coming weeks but Washington and its allies in the region suspect that it is really a cover for a long range ballistic missile test.
In addition, it was reported by the Associated Press that Pyongyang is preparing a tunnel for what would be its third nuclear weapons test in the area it used to detonate nuclear bombs in 2006 and 2009.
Residents in Tokyo this weekend noted with nervousness the contrast between Patriot anti-missile batteries deployed in the city and throughout Japan at the ready to shoot down any incoming missiles, with the full bloom of the cherry blossoms signaling the start of spring and all that entails.
North Korea, in its customary bravado, announced through its state media that should one of its rockets get shot down, it would consider it a hostile act and respond with full-scale war.
Thus, the potential for miscalculation and regional war in Northeast Asia is increasing once again.
With the death of Kim Jong-il in December 2011 and the earlier than expected elevation of his young and inexperienced son, Kim Jong-un, to the leadership position of the country, analysts predicted the transition to be rocky and unpredictable both inside and outside North Korea.
This missile test comes as the leadership is preparing for a massive one hundredth birthday celebration on April 15 of North Korea’s founder and revered leader, Kim Il-sung, at the same time it is dealing with widespread food shortages.
Some North Korea watchers believe that even if the young Kim wanted to cease the missile tests, his lack of experience in exercising leadership on a national scale, along with a shorter transition period than his father had before taking power, gives him little choice but to acquiesce to the wishes of the army and the security establishment.
In order to deal with its dire food situation, North Korea had agreed to a deal this past February with the United States to stop future missile and nuclear tests in exchange for food aid.
In trilateral meetings this weekend in China between the foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea, Beijing was noncommittal about any repercussions North Korea should suffer if it violated the February accord it signed.
China, in the middle of its own leadership transition this year and seeking stability in the region, stated that it hoped all sides would remain calm and exercise restraint.
The United States have halted food aid to the North in the meantime and deployed Aegis equipped destroyers to the region in support of its friends.
Japan is especially sensitive to another North Korean rocket launch because it was during a previous test in 1998 that a North Korean missile flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean.
Japan, alarmed and calling this provocative, pledged to shoot down any future North Korean missile tests that violated its airspace. So this time, the authorities have activated their J-Alert emergency system set up to warn its citizens of impending emergencies.