JAPAN - After effectively outlawing arms exports for nearly five decades, Japan will now be able to sell Japanese-made transport planes, rescue flying-boats and other defence equipment to nations in South-east Asia and elsewhere.
Its Cabinet decided yesterday to allow the "transfer of defence equipment" overseas, overturning a policy that had been in place since 1967. The change, which does not require the approval of Parliament, also frees Japan to take part in the development and production of military equipment with friendly countries.
Reports said that the latest policy change was made with the hope of selling military equipment to countries that line major sea lanes in the region which Japan depends on for its oil imports from the Middle East.
Among the equipment likely to be exported are the US-2 rescue flying boat, which can land and take off on water, and the C2 transport plane, which is currently being developed by Japan's Air Self-Defence Force. When ready, the C2 is slated to become the force's next transport plane.
The policy change comes amid China's increasingly aggressive maritime presence in the region, including its assertion of sovereignty over island groups also claimed by the Philippines and several other ASEAN nations.
In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry said it was paying "great attention" to the easing of the restrictions and urged Tokyo to pursue peaceful development and take more actions that are conducive to regional peace.
Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters the new policy contributes to world peace. "With the increasing severity of the security situation surrounding Japan, through the appropriate transfer of defence equipment overseas, we are able to create new principles to promote peace and international cooperation," he said.
Since 1967, Japan had observed "three principles" governing arms exports. They were initially drawn up with the aim of banning such exports to communist countries.
Over the years, Japanese governments made exceptions whenever they deemed it necessary - no less than 21 times - including allowing Japan to jointly develop military technology with its only security ally, the United States.
A recent survey by Kyodo news agency showed that two-thirds of the Japanese people are opposed to changing the 1967 guidelines.
The new guidelines lay down clear criteria as to which countries Japan's defence equipment can be sent to. In principle, these should be countries that are not in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions or are party to any armed conflict. Less clear- cut cases would be referred to Japan's National Security Council.
Heeding concerns that the guidelines may not be properly enforced, the government promises to make the decision-making process as transparent as possible.
The new policy is also targeted at raising the level of Japan's military technology by allowing local companies to jointly develop and produce defence equipment with friendly countries.
Japan already has agreements with Britain and the US to facilitate such joint development, and is reportedly in the process of negotiating similar pacts with France and Australia.
This issue is expected to be raised when Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot visits Japan this weekend.
This article was published on April 2 in The Straits Times.
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