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    Japan, US to Develop Missile Interceptor

    Japan's government has announced on Saturday it will join with the United States to develop a joint missile defense system against possible threats from North Korea and longer-term concerns about China's burgeoning military capabilities.

    Japan's Security Council and its Cabinet on Saturday approved joint development of a next generation multi-billion-dollar anti-ballistic missile system with the United States.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, in a statement released Saturday, calls the system critical for Japan's defense, to be able to counter any attack from ballistic missiles. Mr. Abe did stress, however, that Japan would maintain its policy against exporting weapons to the United States, or other countries, in relation to this project.

    Japan and the United States have been working together for six years to research missile defense. The two allies launched the project after North Korea in 1998 test-fired a long-range missile, which flew over Japan.

    The president of Japan's National Defense Academy, Tadashi Nishihara, acknowledges the joint missile defense project has faced criticism from China.

    "They will continue to criticize us for research, development and also deployment. But as our defense white paper has mentioned, there is a growing concern about the increase in the number of missiles being deployed by China," he said. "Therefore, the tension between China and Japan may intensify."

    Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga played down such concern, telling reporters Saturday that, when Japan significantly alters its defense policy, it always extensively explains its plan to neighboring countries. He says he believes Japan's neighbors are at ease with this decision.

    Other Japanese government ministers, however, have begun expressing increasing anxiety about a lack of transparency in China's growing military budget. Foreign Minister Taro Aso recently said China is beginning to be a threat to Japan.

    The next stage for the joint project will be to actually produce an advanced model of the sea-based missile interceptor. The government has authorized $30 million in next year's budget for development costs. There is no set date for deployment of the system.

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