Japan removes export ban on military goods

Updated: 2014-04-02 07:40

By Zhang Yunbi (China Daily)

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Beijing concerned how change could affect region's security

Japan sparked domestic and global concerns on Tuesday by overturning a ban on military hardware exports in a move to help "restore its military power".

Previously, most military sales were banned, though exceptions for the United States and other selected countries had recently been made.

The Japanese Cabinet's reversal of the ban, which brought a swift response from neighboring countries, allows Japan to export military hardware, jointly develop arms with allies and allows its defense industry to access new markets and global technology.

Wu Huaizhong, a specialist on Japanese politics and defense at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the move was part of Abe's vision of "restoring Japan as a military power", and Tokyo's motives were extremely dubious.

The move makes redundant the Three Principles on Arms Export, a self-imposed embargo introduced in 1967, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.

The new guidelines state that the exports must adhere to Japan's national security and a ban will remain for countries involved in conflict or the subject of a UN arms embargo.

The shift "gives more clarity and leeway to Japan's weapons export policy", Kyodo said. But Japan's Asahi Television warned "the problem is whether a brake is in place to forbid the unrestricted export of arms".

Beijing directly stated its "great concern" and reminded Tokyo that the policy shift in military and defense issues "matters to the region's security environment and strategic stability".

"We hope Japan will sincerely draw lessons from history and place a priority on the security concerns of its Asian neighbors," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

Wu said Japan's neighbors have every reason to be on alert.

"As a country with a history of wartime atrocities, its neighbors have every reason to question its desire to flex its military muscle," Wu said.

The Wall Street Journal said Japan "significantly eased its rules on sales of military equipment", which was "in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy of having the country's defense establishment play a greater role".

The Japanese government has already prepared a draft of constitutional interpretations, which allow the exercise of Japan's collective self-defense right "on limited occasions", Japanese media said.

Japan and the US have also announced they will increase their military cooperation.

Seoul said on Tuesday that Japan should "take into consideration the feelings of neighboring countries", South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

"The principle of openness and transparency should be followed" when new policies are ushered in, said Cho Tai-young, spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

But Abe has not been able to convince the majority of the Japanese public about his military agenda.

Sixty-six percent of Japanese surveyed expressed opposition to the government's attempt to lift the export ban, according to a poll conducted by Kyodo in February.

Japan's Jiji Press news agency said the move was "a turning point in national security policy".

Sun Cheng, a professor of Japan studies at China University of Political Science and Law, said there is still a lot of work to be done by Abe before he eventually strips off all the restrictions on the armed forces imposed by the postwar order, but his intentions are clear.

The Japanese Cabinet is "fanning confrontation between China and Japan on all fronts", Sun said.

Even though the ban was in place, Japan exported military hardware on certain occasions "such as providing weapons technology to the United States", Japan's NHK World television channel said.

In October, Tokyo allowed the export of Japanese-made engine parts from the Japan Self-Defense Force ships to the British navy.

Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of Japan studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said Japan is now selling weapons in the name of peace and opposing voices within Japan have been weakened.

Japan is set on a course of rapidly expanding its military hardware sales, Zhou warned.