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Japan Makes Missile Defence Shield Priority

PAC-3 test launcg in Japan.
by Shingo Ito
Tokyo (AFP) Jul 07, 2007
Japan said Friday it aims to erect a missile defence shield as quickly as possible as North Korea develops increasingly sophisticated weaponry, including long-range rockets. Japan's annual defence report warned that North Korea is improving its missile system to cover all east Asia, including Japan, and potentially reach the northern tip of Australia as well as part of Alaska. The report, approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet, was the first published by the defence ministry, which was upgraded from agency status in January in line with Abe's initiative to expand the role of Japanese troops.

North Korea's ballistic missiles "are now regarded as more practical," the report said.

"North Korea is improving its capability of managing ballistic missiles. It is considered that North Korea is trying to further extend their firing range.

"It is necessary to finish deploying a ballistic missile defence as quickly as possible," the annual paper said, noting the need for Tokyo to strengthen cooperation with the US military.

The defence report comes after a series of missile launches by North Korea that have heightened tensions in the region.

In 1998 North Korea sparked alarm in Japan by test-firing a long-range missile over the country, prompting Japan and the United States to start working on a advanced missile shield.

North Korea also shocked Japan with its first nuclear test last October.

Hopes are rising that a long-stalled pact on North Korea's nuclear programme will finally be realised, with the communist state hinting that it is ready to meet its promise to close a nuclear reactor.

While there is a chance that the reclusive state will take action to freeze its nuclear programme, it is expected to continue developing missiles, a direct threat to South Korea and Japan, independent analysts said.

"Talks on nuclear weapons appear to move forward, but there is no progress in missiles at all," said Masao Okonogi, professor of international politics at Keio University and an expert on the North Korean issue.

"Security in northeast Asia will remain fragile for the time being, centered on North Korea's missile development," Okonogi said.

Japan has set aside 161 billion yen (1.3 billion dollars) on development and deployment of its missile defence for the current fiscal year to March 2008, up 4.4 percent from the previous fiscal year.

"While the entire defence budget has declined, we are spending our budget on what we have to spend, and the missile defence is the one," said Mamoru Koutaki, press secretary of the defence ministry.

In March, Japan installed two Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air interceptors at the Iruma Air Self-Defence Force base in suburban Tokyo.

The United States last year installed Japan's first anti-missile system on the southern island of Okinawa.

The ministry plans to deploy the US-developed PAC-3s, which can cover a 20-kilometre (12-mile) radius, at a total of 11 bases in eastern and western Japan by March 2011.

Independent experts agree North Korea is also upgrading its missile technology.

"North Korea has improved the capability of missiles by receiving technology from other countries," said Hideshi Takesada, professor at the National Institute for Defence.

"Military tensions in northeast Asia are much higher than in the past," Takesada said.

"The race for development and deployment of missiles is a global trend and northeast Asia is no exception," he added.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Japan PM Seeking Leeway To Shoot Down Missile For US
Tokyo (AFP) June 29, 2007
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday Japan should find legal leeway to allow its armed forces to shoot down a ballistic missile fired at its key ally the United States. Abe made the remarks before a panel of advisers which he set up in April to lay the legal groundwork for Japan to fight for allies under attack without breaching its post-World War II pacifist constitution.

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