The US is planning an expansion of missile defenses in Asia to address threats from North Korea that could also serve to counter China’s military build-up, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.
The Pentagon is discussing with Japan a new radar installation on a southern Japanese island, the newspaper said, citing unidentified US defense officials. Another facility is also being evaluated for Southeast Asia, linked to land and sea missile-defense systems, the Journal said. Pentagon spokeswoman Wendy Snyder in Washington said she couldn’t immediately comment; Japan’s top spokesman also declined to comment.
US President Barack Obama is escalating foreign-policy focus on Asia as China increases defense spending and contests jurisdiction over maritime territories with countries including Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has shown no willingness since assuming power in December to abandon his regime’s nuclear weapons program and oversaw an attempted launch of a long-range rocket in April.
“If they are moving down to Southeast Asia, they are probably making an effort to counter Chinese missile systems,” Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said of the reported missile defense plan. “The Chinese would probably think about how they would have to counter these counters, and that would probably mean acquiring more systems or perhaps targeting those radar sites.”
Japan and the US have decided not to put the new radar facility on Okinawa, given tensions over the US military presence there, the Journal said. The Philippines is a possible site in Southeast Asia for the X-Band early-warning radar manufactured by Raytheon Co, it said.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, speaking to reporters in Tokyo, declined to comment on the article.
North Korea is building a new launch pad for firing larger long-range rockets at its Musudan-ri site in the northeast, the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Washington said on its Web site in May. Japan is beefing up its anti-ballistic missile defense system in concert with the US and “most of that is geared against North Korea,” Bitzinger said.
China last year continued “sustained investments” in advanced cruise and anti-ship missile technologies that “appear designed” to blunt US military access to the region, the Pentagon said in a May report. The missiles are designed for launch to a general location, where the guidance systems take over and spot carriers for attack, with warheads intended to destroy aircraft on deck, airplane-launching gear and control towers.
The X-Band radar is used for tracking hostile ballistic missiles. It can be positioned at sea aboard navy ships to support tests of US missile-defense systems and to provide coverage against possible threats.
Placing the radar in Southeast Asia means “the US would actually have to step up patrols in the South China Sea and place these large destroyers in that region on basically regular patrols,” Bitzinger said. “That could be obviously taken by the Chinese as provocative.”
China called for the US to stop gathering intelligence in waters off its shores after a 2009 incident in which its vessels harassed a US naval vessel 120km south of Hainan Island. The US views the South China Sea as international waters and has repeatedly called for littoral states to respect freedom of navigation.