YAMAGUCHI - The mayor of a town in Yamaguchi Prefecture that was named in May as a potential host site for an Aegis Ashore missile defense battery unit, said Thursday that he opposes the deployment, after the municipality adopted a petition against the plan.
“(The site) is close to a residential area, and it goes against our policy of building a town that cares for nature and people,” Mayor Norihiko Hanada said at a plenary session of the Abu Municipal Assembly, which unanimously adopted a petition earlier in the day that called for the Defense Ministry to retract its Aegis Ashore deployment plan.
“It is the responsibility of the town mayor to remove any threat to residents’ safety,” he said.
Hanada is the first municipal leader of a potential host site to officially oppose deployment of the anti-ballistic missile defense system.
The Defense Ministry, which intends to deploy two batteries to counter the threat of North Korean missiles, has listed as candidate sites a Ground Self-Defense Force training area straddling Abu and Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture, and another exercise area in the city of Akita in the northern Tohoku region.
“The equipment is necessary to protect our country from the threat of ballistic missiles,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in Tokyo.
“The deployment must be based on local support and it is important to sincerely respond to various concerns and requests,” he added.
The ministry plans to survey the candidate sites to see whether their geography and ground composition makes them fit to host Aegis Ashore missile launchers and related facilities.
The petition adopted by the municipal assembly, which was compiled by 16 local residents’ associations and four farming bodies, states that hosting the Aegis Ashore system would be “too big of a risk” as Abu could become a target for attacks, and agricultural products could suffer reputational damage due to electromagnetic waves used in radar.
Japan decided to acquire the ground-based missile defense system in December.
North Korea test-fired around 20 ballistic missiles in 2017, two of which flew over Japanese territory.
While North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to work toward denuclearization at a historic summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June, Japan believes the North Korean missile and nuclear threat remains and is aiming to introduce the defense system in fiscal 2023.