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Friday, October 30, 1998 Published at 18:06 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Japan plans $1.7bn spy satellites

North Korea's unpredictability makes Japan nervous

Japan is on the verge of buying a hugely expensive spy satellite system after failing to detect a North Korean rocket in its airspace.

The country's ruling Liberal Democratic party has agreed to spend $1.7bn on multiple intelligence satellites to warn of security threats, officials have said.

The proposal is expected to be discussed by the government next week.

Missed projectile

North Korea launched what it said was a satellite, but what many feared was a missile, in Japan's direction on August 31.

The Japanese had the embarrassment of being informed of the incident by the US military.

[ image: Japan may buy satellites from the US]
Japan may buy satellites from the US
The incident highlighted the country's vulnerability to a surprise attack and left it feeling dangerously exposed.

The BBC's Tokyo Correspondent Juliet Hindell says the Japanese are nervous because of the unpredictability of the regime in North Korea and rumours that it is still developing its nuclear capability.

'No return to militarism'

The LDP said Japan should "introduce information-gathering satellites at an early date to prevent threats and crises''.

It said that because of the urgency it had to consider US technology.

The satellites would orbit 500km above the Earth and be "able to get images of required regions regularly and reveal factors that could become a threat", an LDP report said.

It called for two of the satellites to carry optical sensors able to resolve images as small as one square metre - such as ballistic missiles and combat aircraft.

The LDP report said Japan's neighbour's China and South Korea had to be reassured that the satellites did not mark a return to militarism.

The Japan Times reported that Mitsubishi Electric Corp had told the LDP it could develop and launch a satellite system by 2003 for $1.7bn.

Former Japanese foreign minister Taro Nakayama told the newspaper he would visit America in November to discuss possibly importing US satellites or technology.

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