YOKOSUKA, Japan (AP) — North Korea’s flurry of missile launches — 20 of them just in the past year — are a new and alarming fact of life for Japan and its other neighbors.
But Pyongyang’s recent demonstrations of its capacity to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles, while worrying, are drawing shrugs from many in the region who reckon there’s not much anyone can do about them.
“We have no idea when and where (a missile) would strike. Honestly, I don’t think there is any way to prepare for it,” Akira Fukatsu, a 65-year-old retiree, said as he sat drinking a beer on a bench in a park overlooking a U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. “We’re simply unlucky if one strikes here.”
Many Japanese, South Koreans and Chinese appear to share that sense of resignation over North Korea’s apparent newfound capacity to launch missiles capable of reaching much of the continental United States.
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The July 4 firing of a Hwasong-14 ICBM, its first test, and another last weekend suggest that major U.S. cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago are within range of North Korean weapons. Such missiles could be armed with nuclear, biological or chemical warheads, although experts say North Korea hasn’t mastered miniaturizing them and might not have the technology to ensure a warhead would survive re-entry into the atmosphere from space or even hit an intended target.
Attitudes in Japan, South Korea and China toward the threat vary, but likely reflect a sangfroid partly born of living with the legacy of the Cold War and ever present risks of huge earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Many Japanese have mixed feelings about the latest developments, viewing them as a sign that by focusing on ICBM development, North Korea’s aggression is directed toward the U.S. rather than Japan, even if test launches have been splashing down off Japan’s coast.
“Japan was within range of North Korean missiles even before their range extended recently,” said Tetsuharu Nagashima, an official in charge of emergency response in Yokosuka, which is home to some of the 50,000 American troops stationed in U.S. ally Japan, as well as a Japanese naval base.
Instructions on the local government website tell people to take refuge in strong buildings or underground shopping arcades in case of attack, and to hit the ground and cover their heads if no such…