TOKYO (AP) – The Japanese National Security Council has approved plans to cancel the deployment of two costly US missile defense systems to land, aimed at strengthening the country’s capacity against threats from North Korea, Defense Secretary said on Thursday.
Defense Minister Taro Kono said the country will now review its missile defense program and scale up its full defense stance.
The council made its decision on Wednesday and now the government will have to negotiate with the US on what to do with payments and the already signed purchase contract for the Aegis Ashore systems.
Kono announced its plan to shutdown the systems earlier this month after it emerged that the security of one of the two planned host communities could not be guaranteed without a hardware redesign that would be too time consuming and costly.
“We were unable to proceed with this project, but threats from North Korea remain,” Kono said at a news conference on Thursday.
Japan will discuss ways to better protect the country and its people from the missiles of the north and other threats, he said.
The Japanese government agreed in 2017 to add the two Aegis Ashore systems to enhance the country’s current defenses, consisting of Aegis-equipped destroyers at sea and Patriot missiles on land.
Defense officials have said that the two Aegis Ashore units could fully cover Japan from one station in Yamaguchi in the south and the other in Akita in the north.
The plan to deploy the two systems had already faced a series of setbacks, including questions about selecting one of the sites, repeated cost estimates that had risen to 450 billion yen ($ 4.1 billion) for their 30- years of operation and maintenance, and security concerns that have led to local opposition.
Kono said Japan signed a contract worth nearly half of the total cost and paid part of it to the US. He said Japan is trying to get the most out of what it has already paid, although it has not worked it out.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been steadily pushing for Japan’s defense capabilities, said last week that in light of scrapping, the government should review Japan’s missile defense program and do more under the country’s security alliance with the US.
Abe said the government would consider the possibility of acquiring pre-emptive strike capability, a controversial plan critically believed to violate Japan’s war-ravaging constitution.
Kono also expressed concern on Thursday about China’s increasingly assertive activity in regional seas and skies. He said that Chinese coastguard ships repeatedly sail in and out of Japanese waters around disputed islands in the East China Sea, and recently a Chinese submarine passed just off the south coast of Japan.
“China is trying to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and also with the Indian border and Hong Kong,” said Kono. “It’s easy to make connections on those issues.”
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