Japanese forces to protect US ships in drill

Mr Abe receiving a proposal on missile defence from Mr Hiroshi Imazu, chairman of the Research Commission on Security of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who is accompanied by former defence minister Itsunori Onodera at the Prime Minister's O
Mr Abe receiving a proposal on missile defence from Mr Hiroshi Imazu, chairman of the Research Commission on Security of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who is accompanied by former defence minister Itsunori Onodera at the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Move made possible by security-related laws, and will occur for the first time in peacetime

TOKYO • The Japanese and US governments have begun arranging for the ships of Japan's Self-Defence Force (SDF) to protect US military vessels for the first time in peacetime, during a joint drill this year.

Such protection became possible under the security-related laws, which saw the first anniversary of their enactment on Wednesday, and will be conducted as part of a joint exercise by the SDF and US forces. The laws expanded the range of situations in which the SDF can counter-attack to protect weapons and other items if ships or aircraft are attacked in peacetime. Attacks on US and other foreign forces on a mission to defend Japan were also included.

This legally resolved a previous contradiction: The SDF had not been allowed to strike back even when it was close to US military vessels facing a sudden attack. The new operational guidelines were adopted in December.

Both Japan and the US intend to demonstrate strengthened bilateral cooperation to improve their deterrence against North Korea, which has been accelerating its nuclear and missile development, and China, which has been expanding its maritime advancement.

Yesterday, Japan's ruling party urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government to consider acquiring the capability to hit enemy bases and to beef up missile defence, as North Korea defies United Nations sanctions with its nuclear and missile development. "North Korea's provocations have reached a level where our country can by no means overlook them... We cannot afford to lose any time to bolster our ballistic missile defence," said a Liberal Democratic Party proposal submitted to Mr Abe.

Japan has so far avoided taking the controversial and costly step of acquiring bombers or weapons such as cruise missiles with enough range to strike other countries, relying instead on its US ally to take the fight to its enemies. But the growing threat posed by Pyongyang, including a simultaneous launch of four rockets earlier this month, is adding weight to an argument that aiming for the archer rather than his arrows is a more effective defence.

"Our assessment is that threat from North Korea has advanced to a new stage, and this assessment is shared by the United States," Mr Abe said at a ceremony where the proposal was submitted. "We intend to grasp today's proposal firmly."

Washington-based 38 North, a website that monitors North Korea, said on Tuesday that satellite imagery of North Korea's main nuclear test site taken over the weekend indicated that Pyongyang could be in the final stages of preparations for a sixth nuclear test. Yesterday, North Korea's official media claimed that its nuclear deterrent has reached its highest level, Yonhap news agency reported.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 31, 2017, with the headline 'Japanese forces to protect US ships in drill'. Print Edition | Subscribe