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Wary of neighbors' security threats, Japan mulls new missile defense system: gov't report

A North Korean rocket is seen in flight during a drill on March 2, 2020 in this photo from the Korean Central News Agency.

TOKYO -- The Japanese government expressed a strong sense of alarm over North Korea in this year's defense white paper as the neighbor state has constantly been improving its missile launch capabilities.

The annual report, which was approved at a Cabinet meeting on July 14, also provided the latest analyses of China and Russia, stating that those countries are developing new missiles that are difficult to intercept with conventional technologies.

In light of Japan's recent abandonment of its plan to deploy the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system, the white paper pledged that the Japanese government "will map out a new direction" as an alternative solution. The government and ruling Liberal Democratic Party are looking into developing a new missile defense system that incorporates enemy base attack capabilities.

North Korea has launched a total of 33 ballistic missiles and other projectiles since May 2019. The white paper analyzes that those projectiles included three types of new short-range ballistic missiles that use solid fuel and mobile launchers. These missiles can fly at lower altitudes than conventional ballistic missiles and on irregular trajectories and can be fired at less than one-minute intervals. The white paper says, "These enhancements in its capabilities make early detection of the signs of a launch and the interception of missiles more difficult" and expressed concerns that North Korea is attempting to "improve its ability to conduct surprise attacks" and enhance continuous fire and other capabilities.

With regard to the coronavirus pandemic, the white paper offers a view that "The COVID-19 pandemic may expose and intensify strategic competition among countries intending to create international and regional order more preferable to themselves and to expand their influence."

Speaking of China, the report points out that the country is seeking to acquire "strike capabilities that can penetrate missile defense systems." The document refers to the fact that China unveiled hypersonic glide vehicles that can fly at low altitude on irregular trajectories at an ultrafast speed during a military parade in Beijing in October 2019 and points to the possibility that those weapons can be deployed as early as this year. It also states that Russia began deployment of hypersonic glide vehicles in December 2019. These weapons "make interception more difficult," the white paper warns.

In regard to Japan's new missile defense system in the wake of its scrapping of Aegis Ashore plans, the report vows that the government will hold in-depth discussions on the matter at its National Security Council meetings.

Meanwhile, the white paper stresses that China is "suspected of intending to regularize" its activities in waters and air space near Japan. It also notes that the number of days in which Chinese government ships were spotted engaging in activities in the contiguous zone around the Senkaku Islands in Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa totaled a record 282 in 2019. It also reveals that Japan's Air Self-Defense Force aircraft scrambled 675 times in response to Chinese aircraft in fiscal 2019, the second largest ever recorded.

(Japanese original by Yusuke Tanabe, Political News Department)

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