Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

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  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Two prefectural governors expressed a growing reluctance to host the U.S.-made Aegis Ashore missile defense system in light of the recent defusing of tensions concerning North Korea.

However, the Abe administration is standing by its December 2017 decision to deploy the expensive system in fiscal 2023 in eastern and western Japan to defend the entire Japanese archipelago against incoming ballistic missiles, most likely from North Korea.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a June 18 Upper House Audit Committee session that the Aegis Ashore system was needed as a deterrent for the entire nation.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera last week visited Yamaguchi and Akita prefectures, which host Ground Self-Defense Force exercise areas that are candidate sites for the missile defense system.

In his meeting at the Yamaguchi prefectural government building, Onodera tried to highlight the need for the Aegis Ashore system.

“The threat from North Korea has not changed at all,” he said. “North Korea has deployed several hundred ballistic missiles capable of reaching Japan and most likely it also possesses a number of nuclear warheads.”

However, Yamaguchi Governor Tsugumasa Muraoka asked Onodera for a more convincing explanation of why the Aegis Ashore system was still needed, given the changes in the international situation.

The confrontational mood in East Asia has shifted to one of greater dialogue, especially in light of the June 12 summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Even Abe has indicated a readiness to meet with Kim to discuss the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang decades ago.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced on June 22 that evacuation drills for North Korean missile launches have been suspended for the time being. He said Japan is no longer in a situation where a missile attack could come at any time.

Akita Governor Norihisa Satake also demanded a further explanation from Onodera regarding the need for the Aegis system deployment, and he raised the possibility that the central government had hastily decided on the system without addressing the concerns of local communities.

A candidate site for the Aegis Ashore system is the Araya exercise area located near a school and private homes in Akita city.

Residents have raised concerns that construction of additional facilities for the defense system will worsen the environment. They are also worried that electromagnetic waves emitted by radar, a key component of the Aegis Ashore system, could disrupt their daily lives.

In addition, they were upset that the Defense Ministry issued a notification for accepting bids for a local study of the area the day before Onodera visited Akita.

Satake told Onodera that the Akita prefectural government has not yet agreed to the deployment.

“It would be very disappointing if the central government decided to push ahead without creating a convincing situation based on more specific explanations after additional consideration is given from a multifaceted perspective,” the governor said.

Onodera told reporters that he understood the need for further explanations to convince the two local governments.

The central government says the Aegis system is needed not only for national security but also a foreign policy perspective.

High-ranking officers of the Maritime SDF said that deploying the Aegis Ashore system would allow the four MSDF Aegis destroyers to be used for duties other than simply sailing in the Sea of Japan to guard against potential missile launches.

A high-ranking Defense Ministry official also said that buying the Lockheed Martin-manufactured Aegis Ashore system, which costs about 100 billion yen ($913 million) per unit, would placate the U.S. Trump administration.

“If we acquired the Aegis Ashore system, Trump would be very satisfied,” the official said.

(This article was written by Kunihiro Hayashi, Haruna Ishikawa, Hirotaka Kojo and Shinichi Fujiwara.)