Japan deployed missile-defense systems at three sites around Tokyo early Tuesday ahead of a possible missile launch by North Korea, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
The Patriot missile batteries were set up in the central district of Ichigaya and in the suburbs of Asaka and Narashino, Suga told reporters Tuesday. The deployments come as U.S. and South Korean officials warn Pyongyang could be preparing for another provocative move after weeks of belligerent rhetoric.
Suga had said Monday that the Japanese government would not publicize any missile-defense deployment, saying "It would show our strategy to North Korea."
The comments came a day after North Korea said it would pull out all its workers and temporarily suspend operations at the industrial complex it jointly operates with the South, the latest sign of deteriorating relations on the Korean Peninsula.
The North said it would also consider permanently closing down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a shared manufacturing zone that is the last major symbol of cooperation between the two countries.
On Tuesday morning, the South Korean Unification Ministry said North Korean workers hadn't so far reported for work.
The deteriorating situation in Kaesong came after the South Korean government had briefly caused concern about the prospect of a new North Korean nuclear test.
South Korea's Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae's office clarified his earlier statements in the day about North Korea's nuclear test plans by saying the North had been "continuously preparing" for another nuclear test since February, and that there hadn't been any new signs.
There was some confusion that earlier comments may have suggested new information indicating the North's nuclear test plans -- something that could have ratcheted up tensions with North Korea. The minister's office made clear that this was not his intended meaning.
But the crisis at the joint industrial complex provided a tangible sign of the North's provocative stance.
In a statement carried by the official North Korean news agency, Kim Yang Gon, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, accused the South of seeking "to turn the zone into a hotbed of war" against the North.
Pyongyang was already preventing South Korean workers and managers from entering the complex, which sits on the North's side of the militarily fortified border, and threatened to shut it down entirely amid its recent stream of verbal broadsides against Seoul and Washington.
The South Korean Unification Ministry wasn't immediately able to confirm whether the North had actually begun withdrawing its more than 50,000 workers from Kaesong yet.
If Pyongyang follows through on its declaration, the move could be financially costly, since Kaesong is considered to be an important source of hard currency for Kim Jong Un's isolated regime.
The ban on the entry into the zone of new workers and trucks was already putting a strain on personnel and supplies for the scores of South Korean companies operating there, prompting more than 10 of them to cease production.
A torrent of threats
North Korea has issued a catalog of alarming threats against the South and the United States in the past several weeks, sharpening its rhetoric after the U.N. Security Council imposed stricter sanctions for Pyongyang's latest underground nuclear test, which took place it February.
The strong words have put the region on edge.
Seoul said Sunday that it believed Pyongyang could conduct a missile test this week after recently moving the necessary components to the coast.
Analysts had said at the time of the February nuclear test that the North might follow up with another detonation soon afterward as it tries to push forward its nuclear program that it says it needs as a deterrent to protect it from the United States.
A delicate situation
The North rattled the region last week by saying it would restart a shuttered nuclear reactor and block South Koreans from entering the Kaesong complex.
Reports then emerged late in the week suggesting the North had loaded as many as two medium-range missiles onto mobile launchers on the east coast ahead of a possible test firing. And the South Korean president's office said Sunday it believed a missile launch could happen around Wednesday.
The North frayed nerves further by warning foreign diplomats inside the country that if war breaks out, it cannot guarantee their safety.
The string of troubling announcements from Pyongyang followed weeks of menacing rhetoric, which included the threat of a nuclear strike on South Korea and the United States.