Japan mulls beefing up missile defence after Russian deployment on disputed island

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 1:50pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 9:56pm

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday that Russia’s deployment of missile systems on islands in the western Pacific isles that are also claimed by Tokyo was “regrettable”.

At the same time, the Japanese Defence Ministry said it plans to set up a panel to discuss ways to reinforce its ballistic missile defence system, a government source said, due to a missile threat from North Korea.

Headed by senior vice defence minister Kenji Wakamiya, the panel is expected to discuss issues including whether to install an advanced US missile defence shield known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD. The panel will conclude its discussions by summer, the source said.

Defence Minister Tomomi Inada told reporters the same day that the ministry has “no concrete plans to introduce THAAD”, but added, “The introduction of new equipment will lead to the reinforcement of our country’s capabilities.”

Under Japan’s multi-tier ballistic missile defence, the Maritime Self-Defence Force’s Aegis destroyers equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors are to intercept missiles in the outer atmosphere. If they fail, the Air Self-Defence Force’s Patriot Advanced Capability-3 surface-to-air guided interceptors will be ready to shoot down the missiles.

The THAAD is designed to intercept ballistic missiles flying at high altitudes in and outside the atmosphere, providing a longer-range defence than the PAC-3. But the system is very expensive to deploy.

A government source said earlier that Inada is considering visiting Guam in mid-December to inspect the THAAD system.

Abe’s comments about Russian missile deployment came less than a month before President Vladimir Putin is to visit Japan for talks aimed at progress on the decades-old territorial row. Moscow has already said it hoped the deployment would not damage efforts to settle the dispute.

Russian media reported on Tuesday that Bastion and Bal anti-ship missile systems were now in operation on the islands, part of an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean over which Russia and Japan have staked rival claims for 70 years.

The feud over the islands, called the southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, has kept Tokyo and Moscow from signing a peace treaty to formally end the second world war.

“The four islands are our country’s inherent territory. We have conveyed through diplomatic routes that this ... is not compatible with our country’s position and is regrettable,” Abe told parliament’s upper house.

Delicate diplomacy is underway to prepare for the meeting between the Russian and Japanese leaders in Japan on December 15 and 16. Both sides have said they hoped progress could be made towards settling the dispute.

Abe, who sees improved ties with Moscow as a counterbalance to a rising China, hopes the lure of economic cooperation will help ease a breakthrough when he meets Putin, given the hit to Russia’s economy from sluggish oil prices and Western sanctions imposed after its annexation of Crimea.

Additional reporting by Reuters