Japan Weighs Bomb-Shelter Bill With Eye on China, North Korea

(Bloomberg) -- With tensions around Taiwan rising and North Korea firing missiles at a blistering pace, lawmakers in neighboring Japan are pushing for a rollout of shelters where its residents can take refuge in the event of an attack.

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A bill laying out a schedule for shelter provision could be passed as soon as next fiscal year, Keiji Furuya, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker and former minister for national resilience, said in an interview last week.

“Japan hasn’t been involved in a war for 77 years, but what we’ve taken for granted since then no longer holds true,” said Furuya, co-leader of a lawmakers’ group pushing for shelter provision. “The world has changed a lot,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

Japan finds itself in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood, with China having fired ballistic missiles into waters close to its southwestern islands last year. North Korea is also rapidly building its missile prowess with launches, including one that flew over Japan in October.

While there are vast networks of subways in major Japanese cities that could be used for civil defense, the majority of homes in the country don’t have basements. This could leave people who live away from major metro centers at a life-threatening quandary in the event of a missile attack from China or North Korea that could come in a manner of 15 minutes or less from launch.

Japan has thousands of designated evacuation centers for use in natural disasters, but most of them are not underground.

The initial plan would be to strengthen existing facilities and equip them with emergency supplies, to avoid massive budget outlays, Furuya said at his offices in Tokyo. The strategy is similar to that of Taiwan, which the Taiwan News reported has more than 100,000 shelters in public and private buildings. Singapore is also well-equipped with such evacuation centers, including in rail stations.

Last October many Japanese expressed puzzlement after a warning urging them to shelter from a missile launched from North Korea, given that there was no nearby facility to use.

Last year, China shocked Japan by firing a barrage of missiles, some of which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone near the Okinawan island chain, to underscore its disapproval of a visit by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. Beijing has said it would “definitely respond” in the event Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen meets sitting Speaker Kevin McCarthy on her current trip to the US.

Japan pledged in its new National Security Strategy published in December to secure “various types of evacuation facilities,” and raise public awareness in preparation for ballistic missile emergencies. Cash was set aside in an extra budget last year to conduct a study on the issue.

Some regions, including those close to nuclear power plants, should be given priority, Furuya said. Assemblymen from the island of Yonaguni, about 110 km (70 miles) from Taiwan, called on the government earlier this year to build shelters there as soon as possible.

(Updates with details on shelters. A previous version corrected the timing of possible passage for the bill.)

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