The United States is considering the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Asian countries, including Japan, according to Donald Trump’s special envoy for arms control.
Marshall Billingslea told Nikkei Asian Review on Friday that the United States wants to engage in talks with “friends and allies” in the Asia Pacific region over what he called “the immediate threat” posed by China’s nuclear arsenal.
Billingslea added that several branches of the US military are developing hypersonic weapons, which could also be deployed in Asia as deterrence against Beijing.
The US official is scheduled to meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Vienna on Monday to discuss a new arms control agreement following the US's unilateral withdrawal from the INF Treaty with Russia.
The US opted out of the pact, which banned all of the two nation’s ground-based midrange missiles, last year on allegations that Russia violated the agreement by deploying a new type of cruise missile. Moscow denied the claims and accused Washington of pulling out because it wants to ratchet up a new arms race.
Confirming Russia’s suspicions, Trump very publicly complained that the INF Treaty does not put any limits on China’s ballistic missile programme. Billingslea indicated that he would like to agree in Vienna on a framework that would also include China.
“Our concept is that it is possible to have bilateral negotiations, us and the Russians and the United States and China, as long as the principles of those negotiations lead to a trilateral framework, in the end,” he said.
Beijing has so far refused to bind itself by any such deal with the US over concerns that Washington would not cut its arsenal to China's level.
The Trump administration signalled last year that it would like to deploy missiles to Asia “sooner rather than later” with the underlying goal of countering China.
Speaking in Tokyo in August 2019, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper conceded that it would take “a few years to actually have some type of initial operational-capable missiles” since the US currently does not field land-launched intermediate-range weapons. Australia and South Korea have refused to provide sites for US missiles.
According to Japanese media, US officials have raised the topic of deploying new ground-based missiles with their Japanese counterparts, though Tokyo has never officially confirmed such reports.
Japan’s Defence Minister Taro Kono said in an October interview with The Financial Times that the United States “doesn’t have non-nuclear missiles that can be deployed yet. Maybe they’re in the phase of development. We have not been discussing any of it.”
In June, Japan also abandoned plans to deploy the US Argis Ashore missile defence system, citing ballooning costs and technical issues.