Japan scraps plans to install US anti-missile system

Tokyo, June 25 (efe-epa).- Japan on Thursday said it had permanently ruled out a plan to deploy American-made land-based missile interception system that was supposed to strengthen its defense against possible threats from North Korea.

Defense Minister Taro Kono announced the decision after a National Security Council meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and days after it was revealed on June 15 that Tokyo had temporarily suspended the project to deploy the Aegis Ashore system.

Japan has chosen to scrap the plan over the technical difficulties of installing the batteries of the system at two locations in the north and southwest of the country and opposition from the local population, Kono told reporters.

The minister said authorities had promised the locals of ensuring that the rocket boosters of the interceptor missiles would land only in designated areas but “it had become difficult to fulfill” the promise, and the project couldn’t move forward.

The scrapping of the missile defense system comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Korean peninsula and when both Pyongyang and Beijing are said to be developing new ballistic missiles which are difficult to intercept from ground-based batteries such as Aegis.

Kono said the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles continued as Pyongyang had fired many projectiles towards Japan, adding that the government would discuss how to protect Japanese people from these risks.

However, the minister did not answer questions over whether the government was exploring the options of carrying out “preventive strikes,” amid speculation in local media in this regard.

He simply said there was no “clear definition” about this kind of military actions.

The two locations where the United States-produced Aegis batteries were planned to be set up fall in the northern Akita prefecture and the southwestern Yamaguchi, which also hosts an important US military base.

The Japanese defense ministry had assigned around 235.2 billion yen (around $2.2 billion) in its 2019 budget for deploying the anti-missile systems, which were expected to be operational by 2023.

The Aegis Ashore system was to complement similar anti-missile batteries installed on vessels and the land-based mobile launchers of the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) system, designed to shoot down missiles that escape the first line of the Japanese defense deployed on naval ships.

Kono said the PAC-3 and the maritime defense systems currently available would protect Japan “for the time being.”

Japan has already paid part of the total cost of the project to the US under a contract which also includes their maintenance and operation costs for 30 years.

Tokyo is now set to try and renegotiate the outstanding balance.

Kono said the government had held discussions with the US over how to make the best possible use of the anti-missile systems already at its disposal, and Japan has to “consider what it will do (to respond to the situation) over the medium to long term.” EFE-EPA


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