Japan relaxes arms export ban

Updated: 2011-12-28 08:27

By Wang Chenyan (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Japan said on Tuesday it will ease its self-imposed ban on weapon exports, which might threaten the country's Peace Constitution and lead it in the wrong diplomatic direction, analysts said.

Osamu Fujimura, chief cabinet secretary, announced the decision on Tuesday after the meeting of the Security Council of Japan, saying it is aimed at "reducing its national defense costs".

Since World War II, Japan has tightly controlled its foreign weapons sales and further tightened the restrictions.

Now, the first change to Japan's arms export ban will allow Japanese companies to participate in multilateral research and development of arms and benefit its defense industry.

Moreover, "under the new standards, Japan will be able to transport military equipment for missions of peace-building and international cooperation," Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said, according to AFP.

Japan will also be allowed to provide equipment, such as helmets and bullet-proof vests, to the limited number of countries in which its Self-Defense Forces are deployed.

The previous prime minister of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) proposed the policy change last year, but considering the need for cooperation with the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDP), it had been postponed. Since then, the proposal has remained under the spotlight.

In a Nikkei Shimbun survey, 76.5 percent of the 3,055 respondents approved the relaxation of the ban, and 23.5 percent opposed it.

Supporters of the move, especially Japan's major arms companies, say it will save the "dying" defense industry from becoming outdated.

The relaxation will also reduce military purchase and production costs and thus somewhat relieve the Japanese government from its heavy financial burden, especially after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan on March 11.

But critics believe the cabinet's decision threatened the Peace Constitution.

An editorial on Sunday in the Asahi Shimbun criticized Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's "thoughtless" move as "intolerable" and asked the government to pay more attention to deepening trust with regional neighbors.

China hopes Japan will make more efforts to strengthen regional peace and stability, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said after Japan's announcement.

Su Hao, director of the Asia-Pacific research center at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, told China Daily that Japan's relaxation of the arms export ban will complicate security in the Asia-Pacific region.

"As a further step to become a normal country, the allowance of arms exports will provide Japan a new way to boost ties with countries in East and Southeast Asia, " Su said. "More important, Japan must have gained the approval of the US before it announced it was lifting the ban. This suggests that the two countries are working in coordination to adjust their Asia-Pacific strategy. So, it (the relaxation of the ban) will have a negative effect on China."

Yang Bojiang, a professor of Japanese studies at the University of International Relations in Beijing, also expressed concern about the possible profound impact of the policy.

"The lifting of the ban paves the way for Japan's air and marine forces to upgrade their hardware capability. So if we look at it over the long term, it will pose threats to China."

Yang added that the change could possibly reshuffle the international arms trade, and Japan's competitiveness in electrical equipment for military use may squeeze Russia's market share.

"For Japan, it now breaks into a politically restricted area. But for the Asia-Pacific region, uncertainties are increased," Yang said.

China Daily