Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will ask President Moon Jae In during their talks this week to provide support for Japanese nationals evacuating from South Korea in the event of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, Japanese government sources said.
The decision reflects Japan's concern that escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula could lead to a military clash between Washington and Pyongyang, possibly after South Korea's Pyeongchang Olympics and Paralympics, according to the sources.
Although tensions have briefly eased in the run-up to the Olympics, speculation is growing within the Japanese government that North Korea could take action once the United States and South Korea resume their joint military drills, which they will suspend until the end of the Paralympics on March 18, according to the sources.
Abe is scheduled to pay a two-day visit to South Korea for talks with Moon on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the Olympics on Feb 9. But it is unclear how Moon may respond to Abe's request.
The two leaders are expected to meet for 45 minutes in a hotel near the venue of the opening ceremony. Abe plans to explain the urgency of crafting an evacuation plan and propose the start of working-level negotiations, possibly involving the United States and other countries, the sources said.
Moon is believed to be trying to show easing tensions with the North to the international community through the success of the Winter sports events. The two Koreas have agreed to march together under a unified Korean flag at the Olympics' opening ceremony and form a unified women's ice hockey team.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry estimates roughly 38,000 Japanese were living in South Korea as of October 2016.
"For the safety of the Japanese people, I will firmly request South Korea's cooperation," Abe said in the upper house budget committee on Wednesday.
Abe has said other possible topics will be trilateral cooperation with the United States to rein in North Korea's nuclear program and a 2015 bilateral agreement on "comfort women" who were forced to work in Japan's wartime military brothels.
Tokyo has studied emergency plans to send chartered aircraft to Seoul and other cities and transport Japanese citizens by land to the southern port city of Busan, before carrying them by ship to Japan's mainland via the southwestern island of Tsushima in Nagasaki Prefecture.
Many in the government believe it is necessary to use the Self-Defense Forces' destroyers and aircraft and the U.S. military's help will be needed to transport a large number of Japanese people.
Tokyo has offered negotiations to Seoul over the possibility of dispatching the SDF personnel for evacuating its citizen.