Japan’s missile shield deployment scuppered by local pushback

TOKYO — Japan has scrapped plans to deploy the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system at a base on the Sea of Japan coast due to heavy local opposition.

The Japanese government plans to deploy the U.S.-developed missile shield at two locations in response to continued missile testing by North Korea. It chose the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Araya training grounds in Akita Prefecture as a candidate site in May 2019, but the survey results the decision was based on were found to contain errors.

The Araya grounds are located close to a residential area, and locals have long expressed strong concerns over potential health and environmental impacts of Aegis Ashore. Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake, as well as the local arm of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, have voiced their opposition to the deployment.

Japan is now reevaluating 20 state-owned plots across Aomori, Akita and Yamagata prefectures for an alternative site. It plans to select a new location for the missile shield based on the findings, whose deadline has been extended to the end of May from March 20 due to inclement weather and the coronavirus outbreak.

Defense Minister Taro Kono had planned to visit Akita, possibly including the Araya grounds, before the survey findings come out. But it is unclear whether this will be possible due to the pandemic.

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