June 23 (UPI) -- Japan's defense ministry has ruled out the deployment of a U.S. THAAD battery on Japanese soil, two months after the U.S. military installed the missile defense system in central South Korea.
Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported Friday Tokyo has decided to deploy the Aegis Ashore instead, a land-based component of a missile interceptor system, because it is less costly than the purchase of a THAAD battery.
The acquisition of the new missile defense will be added to the country's 2018 budget. The Japanese government said it is deploying the Aegis Ashore to "enhance its ability to respond to the launch of North Korean ballistic missiles," according to the Asahi.
The report states one Aegis Ashore system costs about $718 million but a THAAD battery would be a $900 million purchase.
Japan would also need to deploy a total of six missile interceptors across the country.
South Korea has had to pay a significant price for THAAD deployment in the form of domestic unrest and even economic sanctions from China, its largest trading partner.
Beijing continues to oppose THAAD and, according to China's People's Liberation Army Air Force Airborne Corps on Thursday, drills involving the airborne division's attack helicopter, the Z-10, recently took place at an air base in Jilin Province, a region bordering the Korean peninsula.
Chinese state media reported the exercises took place in Gongzhuling, "less than [560 miles] away from Seongju County" South Korea, where THAAD is deployed.
The Z-10 can be equipped with the Chinese developed HJ-10 anti-helicopter missiles.
The United States has stressed the "absolute importance" of THAAD deployment in South Korea since it was first installed in April.
Gary Ross, a spokesman for the Pentagon, told South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo the deployment of THAAD is "absolutely critical" in defending the South Korean people and U.S. forces.
The statement comes after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States would continue to work diplomatically with South Korea on THAAD, during his first phone call with newly appointed South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa.