Japan bolstering defenses against North Korea threat, Abe says

As tensions continue to escalate in East Asia, Japan is bolstering defense measures in response to what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called his nation's most serious security threat since World War II.

Abe outlined his plan Friday during a policy speech in parliament. His agenda included strengthening Japan's missile defense capability and purchasing more U.S.-made missile defense systems.

Japan's leader said the country will take concrete action under the Japan-U.S. defense alliance to respond to any emergency amid Pyongyang's "escalating provocation."

"We will strengthen Japanese defense power, including missile defense capabilities, in order to protect the people's lives and peace," Abe said.

"We will strengthen Japanese defense power, including missile defense capabilities, in order to protect the people's lives and peace."

- Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan

Since taking office in 2012, Abe has steadily increased Japan’s defense spending.

The prime minister also called on the international community to help put pressure on North Korea.  

Meanwhile, the North Korean threat appears to be drawing Japan closer to its traditional regional rival, China.

In an uncharacteristic move, Abe opted not to comment on any disputes in the South China Sea during the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila, even though the issue has been a key concern of his for the past five years, the South China Morning Post reported.

Abe concluded the summit by suggesting that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet next year to further improve relations, the paper reported.

“The change in the security atmosphere in East Asia, especially when confronted by an increasingly provocative Pyongyang, made the two leaders sense the urgency to meet and cooperate,” Zhou Yongsheng, a Japanese affairs expert at China Foreign Affairs University, told the Post.

President Donald Trump recently held meetings with Abe and Xi, as well as Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, during his first official Asian tour, where the North Korea threat was a key topic of discussion.

Abe told Fox News earlier this month that he hoped to “further solidify the U.S.-Japan alliance” against North Korea.

"North Korea has used those talks just to gain time to further develop the nuclear program as well as missiles," Abe told Bret Baier. "So North Korean dialogue just for the purpose of dialogue is meaningless. That is our experience."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.