In a move which alarmed China, where bitter memories of Japan's
past militarism run deep, the government decided to allow arms
exports and participation in joint weapons development and
production when they serve international peace and Japan's security.
That is a shift from a decades-old policy of banning all weapons
exports in principle, although quite a few exceptions to the rule
have been made over the years, such as the transfer of arms
technology to the United States, Japan's closest ally.
"This is beneficial for Japanese companies in that they can take
part in joint development and joint production and have access to
cutting-edge technology," Takushoku University Professor Heigo Sato
"If you live in a closed market like the Japanese defense industry
does, you clearly lag behind in technological development."
But even under the new regime, Japan is to focus mainly on
non-lethal defense gear such as patrol ships and mine detectors and
says it has no plan to export such weapons as tanks and fighter
The move comes when Sino-Japanese ties have been chilled due to a
territorial dispute over a group of East China Sea islets and Abe's
visit in December to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, seen by critics as a
symbol of Japan's wartime aggression.
"Japan's policy on military security concerns the region's
stability. We pay great attention to this," Chinese Foreign Ministry
spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily news briefing.
"We request that the Japanese side learn lessons from history,
earnestly respond to regional countries' strong concerns about the
relevant issue ... and do more to benefit the region's peaceful
Japan's self-imposed restrictions on arms exports have virtually
excluded defense contractors such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries,
Kawasaki Heavy Industries and IHI from the overseas market and made
it difficult for them to cut costs and keep abreast of technological
Japan's defense budget slipped for a decade through 2012, raising
concerns that some of the smaller and less diversified arms makers
might be forced to go out of business.
The new export policy alone will unlikely help Japanese defense
makers establish a big presence overseas, although some
high-performance Japanese components, such diesel engines for ships,
stand out among potential competitors.
"It's not as if Japanese (defense) goods will start selling right
away because of this. The government still needs to play a leading
role in their overseas expansion. Various governments are already
competing fiercely out there," said Bonji Ohara, research fellow at
the Tokyo Foundation, a think tank.
"Competition dictates prices. Of course, they cannot set the kind of
prices they are setting for the domestic market," said Ohara, who
once served as a Japanese navy attache in China.
[to top of second column]
One of Japan's potential defense gear exports is Kawasaki Heavy's
submarine diesel engines, which do not require air and allows
submarines to stay submerged for an extended period.
When Japanese Defense Ministry officials visited Australia last
year, Canberra showed interest in them, a Japanese government
Another one is ShinMaywa Industries' US-2 amphibious aircraft. India
is already in talks with the Japanese government for possible
Under the new rules, Japan still bans weapons exports to countries
that are involved in international conflicts and shipments that
breach U.N. Security Council resolutions, such as exports to North
Korea and Iran.
In announcing the new rules, Japan stressed that it would remain a
nation "striving for peace" and screen each case to see if exports
should be allowed, a move to assure its neighbors that Japan is not
taking a path to a military power.
Besides the easing of arms export rules, Abe last year raised
Japan's defense budget for the first time in 11 years and aims to
lift its ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense, or
aiding an ally under attack.
These moves, coupled with his Yasukuni visit, prompted criticism in
China that Japan is lurching toward militarism.
Under its post-war, pacifist constitution, Japan drew up the "three
principles" on arms exports in 1967, banning sales to countries with
communist governments or those involved in international conflicts
or subject to U.N. sanctions.
Over time, the rules became tantamount to a blanket ban on exports,
but that later became riddled with exceptions.
(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard in Beijing;
editing by Linda Sieg, Nick Macfie, Michael Perry and Ron Popeski)
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