AFP, TOKYO: The Japanese government on Tuesday welcomed a US plan to deploy a destroyer equipped with the high-tech Aegis air defence system off its coast facing North Korea later this year.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters the deployment had been planned for a long time, “in an effort to enhance security in the region and Japan as well as the reliability of Japan-US relations.
“I think it will serve as a deterrent,” he said of the plan to station the ship in the in the Sea of Japan (East Sea).
Earlier the government's top spokesman Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a regular news conference that missile defence “is an extremely important element in Japan's defence policy.”
“We share an understanding with the United States on the expanding threat from the proliferation of ballistic missiles,” he said.
He was commenting on an announcement by the US navy on Monday that it would deploy a destroyer equipped with the Aegis radar-combat system on a continuous basis from September as part of efforts to build a missile defence network against possible attacks.
Japan has been conducting joint research with the US on developing a sophisticated missile defence system since 1999, a year after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over the Japanese islands and into the Pacific.
The Aegis system's powerful radars and computerized battle management system can track over a hundred airborne targets simultaneously.
Both Koizumi and Fukuda dismissed suggestions that the deployment plan would agitate North Korea, which has been under US-led international pressure to dismantle its nuclear arms programme.
Japan has several Aegis destroyers in its own fleet since first acquiring one in 1993. It sent one to the Indian Ocean to make use of its intelligence gathering capability in support of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan.