Al Jazeera America – 2014-04-07 01:03:23
US Promises Warships to Japan to Protect from North Korea and China
Al Jazeera America
(April 6, 2014) — US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered a two-pronged warning to Asia Pacific nations on Sunday, announcing that the US will send two additional ballistic missile destroyers to Japan to counter the North Korean threat, and saying China must respect its neighbors.
Standing alongside Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera at Japan’s defense ministry, Hagel said the decision to deploy additional destroyers to the country was made in response to North Koreaâ€™s “pattern of provocative and destabilizing actions” that violate UN resolutions. He also said the ships will provide more protection to the US from those threats.
The vessels will be deployed by 2017.
The announcement came as tensions with North Korea spiked again, with Pyongyang continuing to threaten additional missile and nuclear tests.
In recent weeks, North Korea has conducted a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches that are considered acts of protest against annual springtime military exercises by Seoul and Washington. North Korea says the exercises are rehearsals for invasion.
On Friday, North Korea accused the US of being “hell-bent on regime change” and warned that any maneuvers with that intention will be viewed as a “red line” that will result in countermeasures. Pyongyang’s deputy UN ambassador, Ri Tong Il, also said his government “made it very clear we will carry out a new form of nuclear test,” but refused to provide details.
The two additional ships would bring the total to seven US ballistic missile defense warships in Japan.
The ships serve as both defensive and offensive weapons. They carry sophisticated systems that can track missile launches, and their SM-3 missiles can zero in on and take out short- to medium-range missiles that might be fired at US or allied nations. They can also carry Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can be launched from sea and hit high-value targets or enemy weapons systems from afar, without risking pilots or aircraft.
Japan has been on high alert since March 25, when North Korea fired two medium-range missiles at a test site. The missiles are capable of hitting Japan.
On Thursday, in response to the perceived threat, Japan announced it would take out any launched North Korean missile directed at Japan. Following the order a destroyer was dispatched to the Sea of Japan.
Also on Sunday, Hagel promised to support Japan in its land disputes with China. Japan is currently in a bitter feud with China over several small islands in the Pacific Ocean.
In unusually forceful remarks about the country, Hagel drew a direct comparison between Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region and the ongoing territorial disputes between China, Japan and others over remote islands in the East China Sea.
Hagel expects to tour China’s first aircraft carrier when he arrives in the country on Monday, a US official said.
The defense secretary would be the first official visitor from outside China to be allowed on board the carrier, officials believe. The planned visit will come at the beginning of Hagel’s three-day trip to China, which was quietly approved by Beijing at Washington’s request, an official said on condition of anonymity.
Hagel is on a 10-day trip across Asia Pacific, and just spent three days in Hawaii meeting with Southeast Asian defense ministers, discussing efforts to improve defense and humanitarian assistance cooperation. Japan is his second stop.
Announcing the deployment of two additional destroyers to Japan is just the latest move in America’s effort to beef up Tokyoâ€™s defenses. Last October, the US and Japan agreed to broad plans to expand their defense alliance, including the decision to position a second early warning radar system there by the end of this year. There is already one in northern Japan. The second one would be designed to provide better missile defense coverage in the event of a North Korean attack.
The US will also begin sending long-range Global Hawk surveillance drones to Japan this month for rotational deployments. They are intended to help step up surveillance around disputed islands.
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