The United States plans to deploy two additional Aegis destroyers to Japan by 2017 to reinforce missile defenses against increasingly provocative North Korea, visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday.
During a joint news conference following an hourlong-meeting in Tokyo with Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, Hagel said the two advanced destroyers, which are equipped with ballistic missile defense systems, will improve the ability of both Japan and the U.S. to protect themselves.
The ships will bring to seven the number of U.S. Aegis destroyers deployed in Japan, he said.
“These steps will greatly enhance our ability to defend both Japan and the U.S. homeland from North Korea’s ballistic missile threats,” Hagel said at the news conference, which was held at the Defense Ministry.
Hagel and Onodera met just days after Pyongyang test-fired two intermediate-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on March 26.
The exercise marked a significant escalation from the series of shorter-range missiles the North launched in recent weeks.
On Thursday, Onodera reportedly ordered a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer to the Sea of Japan to shoot down any ballistic missiles launched by North Korea before April 25.
To bolster its surveillance of North Korea, Washington will start sending long-range Global Hawk surveillance drones to Japan from around May for temporary deployment. The U.S. also plans to install its second advanced X-band radar system in Japan, at an Air Self-Defense Force base in Kyoto Prefecture.
As for China’s growing assertiveness in waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, Hagel said Washington maintains that the islets fall under the scope of the bilateral security treaty.
“I reaffirm since they are under Japan’s administrative control, they fall under . . . our mutual security treaty. We take seriously America’s treaty commitment and we strongly oppose any unilateral coercive action,” Hagel said.
The five uninhabited islets, called Diaoyu by China and Tiaoyutai by Taiwan, became a military flash point after the Japanese government purchased three of them from a Saitama-based businessman in September 2012.
Hagel, who will depart for China on Monday, said Beijing needs to respect its neighbors.
He also said actions like Russia’s recent annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine are not acceptable in the 21st century.”We must be very careful and we must be very clear that all nations of the world, that in the 21st century, this will not stand. You cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations by force or coercion or by intimidation. Whether it’s a small island in the Pacific or large nations in Europe, a nation must be clear on this,” he said.
“China is a great power. With this power comes a new and wider responsibility as to how you use that,” he said.
Onodera welcomed Washington’s strong commitment to Asia, saying the U.S. rebalance to Asia is crucial for the continuous peace and stability of the East Asia region.
Meanwhile, Hagel welcomed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s move to reinterpret the war-renouncing Constitution to lift the self-imposed ban on using the right to collective self-defense.
Abe hopes to make any changes before the U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines are revised this year.
“The United States welcomes Japan’s efforts to play a more proactive role, contributing to global and regional peace and stability, including re-examining the interpretation of its Constitution relating to the right of collective self-defense,” he said.