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Japan is to start full-fledged discussions on whether it should acquire the capability to attack enemy bases, ahead of a planned revision to its National Security Strategy this year.

The move is aimed at strengthening deterrence and response capabilities against China and North Korea, which are developing sophisticated missiles that are hard to intercept.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has already started work on drawing up a proposal. The focus would be on whether Japan should possess long-range missiles that can reach foreign territories.

“We’ll realistically examine all options, such as the capability to attack enemy bases, without excluding any of them, so we can drastically strengthen our defense capabilities with a sense of speed,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a speech on Dec. 23.

The government has been alarmed by the development of sophisticated missile technologies by China and North Korea.

In 2020, the government ditched its plan to enhance the country’s ballistic missile interception capabilities by adding the Aegis Ashore land-based system to its existing equipment, namely Self-Defense Forces’ Aegis destroyers and the Patriot Advanced Capability-3, or PAC-3, ground-based system.

Seeing the need to strengthen deterrence through other means, then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed his government to consider acquiring the ability to attack enemy bases.

China and North Korea are developing hypersonic missiles that can travel at speeds of over Mach 5 and missiles that take irregular flight paths. It is difficult to intercept such sophisticated missiles with existing missile defense systems.

“We have no choice but to own a counterattack capability,” a senior Defense Ministry official said.

In order to attack an enemy base in a foreign country, it would be necessary to have a satellite to determine the locations of targets and an electronic warfare capability to disrupt the country’s missile interception systems, in addition to long-range missiles capable of reaching the country.

At a plenary meeting of the Lower House in May 2019, Abe said, “We’re not considering building a system of equipment to attack enemy bases.”

Kishida will carefully consider whether to change the government’s position demonstrated by Abe’s remark and move toward the acquisition of necessary equipment, sources said.

The LDP, which supports the acquisition of the capability to attack enemy bases, is discussing the issue mainly at its National Defense Division and Research Commission on Security. The party plans to make a proposal to the government as early as May.

Meanwhile, Komeito, the LDP’s partner in the ruling bloc, is unenthusiastic about the idea of allowing Japan to possess the capability.

The two parties usually hold talks before an important policy decision is made in the area of national security. But it remains to be seen whether the two parties will have such discussions soon.

At a recent news conference, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi indicated that discussions on the issue should wait until after the election for the Upper House in the summer.

Yamaguchi referred to the next parliamentary session, which will be convened later this month, in which deliberations over the budget for the next fiscal year will be conducted, and the government’s new economic and fiscal policy guidelines to be worked out in the summer.

“I guess these will precede” discussions on the enemy base attack capability, he said.

In view of the remarks, a senior official at the Prime Minister’s Office said it is “difficult” to highlight the issue before the Upper House election.

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