Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Photo: Handout

It’s official — Japan has ditched plans to deploy the ¥450 billion (US$4.2 billion) Aegis Ashore land-based missile interception system, Kyodo News reported.

“After deliberations at the NSC, we have come to the decision to cancel the deployment in Yamaguchi and Akita prefectures,” Defense Minister Taro Kono told a panel of ruling party lawmakers, referring to Wednesday’s closed-door meeting of the National Security Council chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The decision followed Kono’s abrupt announcement on June 15 that it had halted the process of deploying two US-made batteries of the missile system, citing technical problems and increasing costs amid strong local opposition, Kyodo News reported.

At a meeting of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, part of which was open to the media, Kono also said the Defense Ministry found it difficult to pick alternate sites.

While Japan will continue to defend itself from the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles via existing Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis-equipped destroyers, Kono said it is a bad idea to rely solely on these, Kyodo News reported.

Bearing in mind Beijing and Pyongyang’s development of new ballistic missiles, which seem harder to intercept, the minister said Japan has to “consider what we will do (to respond to such threats) over the medium to long term.”

Kono also said the MSDF destroyers and land-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system — designed to shoot down missiles that evaded interceptors fired from the ships — will protect the nation “for the time being.”

The Aegis Ashore units were to supplement the MSDF destroyers, with one candidate site in the northeastern prefecture of Akita and the other in the western prefecture of Yamaguchi, both near the Sea of Japan coast, Kyodo News reported.

Later in the day, Kono told reporters the government will continue to discuss defense needs with ruling parties and the United States, in addition to talks at the NSC.

According to the Japan Times, the Japanese government has so far spent or allocated nearly ¥200 billion in total for the deployment plan.

In December 2017, Japan decided to install two Aegis Ashore batteries after a series of ballistic missiles launched by North Korea, and US President Donald Trump’s push to sell more military equipment under the “Buy American” policy.

The party’s Diet affairs chief Jun Azumi said that Japan was “pressed by the United States to buy an expensive item. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is politically responsible for it.”