SEOUL, South Korea — Japan deployed three Patriot missile-defense systems around Tokyo on Tuesday, as North Korea warned foreigners in the South to "work out measures for evacuation."
"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is heading for a thermo-nuclear war," read a statement attributed to Pyongyang's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee. "In the event of war, we don't want foreigners living in South Korea to get hurt."
The US-made anti-missile batteries have been deployed at two military bases and the defense ministry.
"The government is making utmost efforts to protect our people's lives and ensure their safety," Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
Japan's decision to deploy missiles is without a doubt a message to Pyongyang that it should back off the rhetoric, according to GlobalPost senior correspondent Geoffrey Cain.
"For North Korean leaders, Japan is enemy No. 1," Cain said from Seoul, "with many North Koreans believing it is responsible for colonialism and suffering in the country from 1910 to 1945, when Japanese administrators dominated Pyongyang."
Japan is a potential target, in addition to the US, although it is more likely North Korea will test a missile, Cain added.
Pyongyang's most recent threat comes amid international concern that it may soon launch a missile test in the region, stoking fears that the tense situation could quickly spiral out of control.
South Korea's Yonhap News reports North Korea has finished preparations for a mid-range missile test, which is capable of hitting the US base in Guam.
"According to intelligence analysis of North Korea's missile movements, it is believed to have completed preparations for a launch," a senior military official said. "Technically, it can fire off [a missile] tomorrow."
GlobalPost's Cain was in both Seoul and Fukuoka, the city on the southernmost island of Japan proper, today.
Many residents told him that they don't take the the bluster seriously even though some are anxious.
Foreign citizens living in South Korea have told me that they have no plans to leave, despite the regime's statement urging them to have an evacuation plan ready in the event of war. Two of them, however, said they have been in touch with their families.
While tensions continue to escalate, the US has taken to issuing a subtler message to the North in an attempt to curb further saber-rattling.
“It’s been conscious,” an unnamed official told Yahoo News. “The lowering of the profile of the military, going from showing pictures of stealth bombers to canceling this missile test, it’s all part of an overall attempt to stay lower key.”
The Pentagon delayed a ballistic missile test slated for this week in California. It was unrelated to the current crisis, but the test at Vandenberg Air Force Base might have been "misconstrued by some as suggesting that we were intending to exacerbate the current crisis with North Korea,” a senior defense official told Agence France-Presse.
Geoffrey Cain contributed to this report from Seoul.