TOKYO — Japan’s National Security Council has endorsed plans to cancel the deployment of two costly land-based U.S. missile defense systems aimed at bolstering the country’s capability against threats from North Korea, the country’s defense minister said Thursday.
Taro Kono said the country will now revise its missile defense program and scale up its entire defense posture.
The council made its decision Wednesday, and now the government will need to enter negotiations with the U.S. about what to do with payments and the purchase contract already made for the Aegis Ashore systems.
Kono announced the plan to scrap the systems earlier this month after it was found that the safety of one of the two planned host communities could not be ensured without a hardware redesign that would be too time consuming and costly.
“We couldn’t move forward with this project, but still there are threats from North Korea,” Kono said at a news conference Thursday.
Japan will discuss ways to better protect the country and the people from the North’s missiles and other threats, he said.
The Japanese government in 2017 approved adding 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 the two Aegis Ashore units could cover Japan entirely from one station at Yamaguchi in the south and another at Akita in the north.
The plan to deploy the two systems already had faced a series of setbacks, including questions about the selection of one of the sites, repeated cost estimate hikes that climbed to 450 billion yen (U.S. $4.1 billion) for their 30-year operation and maintenance, and safety concerns that led to local opposition.
Kono said Japan has signed contract worth nearly half the total cost and paid part of it to the U.S. He said Japan is trying to get the most out of what it has already paid, though he did not elaborate.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has steadily pushed to step up Japan’s defense capability, said last week that in light of the scrapping the government would need to reconsider Japan’s missile defense program and do more under the country’s security alliance with the U.S.
Abe said the government would consider the possibility of acquiring preemptive strike capability, a controversial plan that critics say would violate Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution.
Kono on Thursday also raised concern about China’s increasingly assertive activity in regional seas and skies. He said Chinese coast guard vessels are repeatedly in and out of Japanese waters around disputed East China Sea islands, and a Chinese submarine recently passed just off Japan’s southern coast.
“China is trying to change the status quo unilaterally in East China Sea, South China Sea and with Indian border and Hong Kong as well,” Kono said. “It is easy to make connections about those issues.”