Japan's defense chief warns of possible North Korea provocation on October 10

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera urged caution on Friday because more provocation was possible from North Korea on Oct. 10, when the start of lower house election campaigns in Japan coincides with one of the North’s main anniversaries.

Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera speaks to reporters after North Korea's missile launch, at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Japan August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Tensions have risen on the Korean peninsula since reclusive North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3, leading to a new round of sanctions after a unanimous vote by the United Nations Security Council.

U.S. President Donald Trump has since traded insults with North Korean leaders, raising the stakes even further.

North Korea has often marked significant events on its calendar by conducting weapons tests, such as its fifth nuclear test last year on Sept. 9, its founding anniversary.

Onodera said Oct. 10 marks an important anniversary for North Korea. It is the date the North celebrates the founding of the North Korean communist party.

“I understand it is an important anniversary for North Korea. We would like to maintain a sense of urgency,” Onodera told reporters.

Oct. 10 is also coincidentally the same day that campaigns will begin in Japan for parliament’s lower house election 12 days later after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the chamber on Thursday.

Onodera’s warning echoed a comment by South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, who said during a meeting with President Moon Jae-in on Thursday that he expected Pyongyang to act around Oct. 10 and 18, but gave no details. [nL4N1M9191]

Oct. 18 marks the start of China’s all-important Communist Party Congress.

North Korea has conducted a series of ballistic missile launches this year, including two launches over Japan in recent weeks, in defiance of international pressure.

China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, has urged that dialogue is the only way to resolve the crisis, although Japan has tended to support Washington’s more robust approach.

Abe has said now is the time to apply pressure on North Korea, rather than dialogue, in order to convince North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programs.

Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; Writing by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Paul Tait