THE proposed easing of a decades-old arms export ban could allow Japan to supply defence military equipment to countries in the East and South Asian regions to help check China's increasingly belligerent maritime presence.
The new export rules are currently being discussed by Japan's two-party ruling coalition.
The final document is expected to be endorsed by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this month and submitted to Parliament for debate.
The new guidelines would allow Japan to export military equipment to countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines and India, with which Tokyo has cooperative ties on maritime safety, including the protection of sea lanes vital to this country.
Existing guidelines from 1967 - when Parliament enacted three principles forbidding the export of arms to communist states and parties to international conflicts - have effectively banned all weapons exports for nearly five decades. There were exceptions, nonetheless, such as the sharing of Japanese military technology with the United States, Japan's security ally.
Japan's arms industry, said to be worth about two trillion yen (S$24.5 billion) annually, produces mainly aircraft, weapons, ammunition and communications equipment for the country's Self Defence Force.
Although the equipment that will be sold to these countries is likely to be of the sort used for rescue operations, transport and surveillance, such exports are likely to irritate China.
Last month, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying accused Japan of "trying to lift its export ban on weapons".
Significantly, Japan's move comes in the wake of China's attempts to enforce its controversial new fishing rules in the South China Sea and Beijing's bid to assert its sovereignty over disputed island groups in the area, which is rich in oil and gas.
The Abe government says the new guidelines are aimed at enhancing Japan's contribution to world peace and boosting international cooperation in security and defence.
To make the guidelines more palatable to the public, it says that they are for the "transfer of defence equipment" rather than "arms exports".