Sanae Takaichi, one of the contenders for the leader of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said she will ask the US to deploy intermediate-range missiles to the country as a deterrent against Pyongyang and Beijing.

“Deploying intermediate-range missiles is absolutely necessary to protect the lives and territory of the Japanese people,” Takaichi said on Sunday, as quoted by the Japan Times. 

Takaichi said ground-based missiles will serve as a deterrent against North Korea and China, adding that, if appointed prime minister, she would proactively ask the US to deploy the weapons to Japan. 

The politician’s statement came after Pyongyang announced on Monday that it had test-fired a new long-range cruise missile reportedly capable of hitting much of Japan. North Korea also reportedly tested a pair of ballistic missiles on Wednesday. 

A member of the lower house of Japan’s parliament, Takaichi held several top positions in former prime minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet and twice served as minister of internal affairs and communications. Kyodo News described Takaichi as a staunch conservative who in the past proposed to amend the country’s constitution to allow “national defense forces” instead of the current more constrained Japan Self-Defense Forces, which were established after the Empire of Japan lost the Second World War to the Allied powers.

Japanese media reported earlier this month that Abe, who governed the country between 2012 and 2020 and was Japan’s longest continuously serving PM, intends to back Takaichi in the race for LDP leadership set for September 29. The winner will be appointed prime minister if the party performs well in the general election this fall.

Rattled by North Korea’s missile activity, other contenders for the LDP leadership said Tokyo needs to improve its defenses as well.

Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida told the Wall Street Journal this month Japan must expand its missile program against potential enemies North Korea and China. “Can we protect the lives of the people by watching silently as Japan gets hit?” Kishida said. “Don’t we need to have the ability to block the other side’s missile attack ability? That’s the problem I’m pointing out.”

Administrative reform minister and former defense minister Taro Kono also called for the improvement of missile capabilities. “We will enter an era where we discuss how to enhance deterrence within the Japan-US alliance,” he said, as quoted by NHK.

Abe unexpectedly resigned in 2020, citing health issues, and was succeeded by his close ally Yoshihide Suga, whose tenure proved to be short-lived. After serving for just about a year, Suga suddenly announced in early September that he will step down by the end of the month. 

The decision to resign was made shortly after the end of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which were marred by the absence of spectators at venues and strict Covid-19 protocols. Suga is leaving office with a low approval rating and amid growing public dissatisfaction with the handling of the pandemic. 

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