| Japan eased its restriction on arms exports on Tuesday, abolishing its principles of banning all weapons exports for the first time in 47 years. The move will likely bolster its domestic defense industry but will heighten military tensions in Northeast Asia.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday passed a decision on "three principles" on arms transfer that would replace the existing policy of banning all exports of weapons and military hardware and allow all arms exports that meet certain conditions. Tokyo plans to announce major arms exports.
The new principles ban exporting weapons to countries in armed conflict or under United Nations sanctions, permit arms exports only when they contribute to peace and Japan`s national defense, and limit export permits if the importing countries use the weapons for purposes other than the original ones or transfer them to third nations.
Japan`s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will normally conduct screenings of weapons exports. However, Tokyo`s National Security Council involving the prime minister, the chief cabinet secretary, the foreign minister and the defense minister will make final decisions on major arms exports.
Abe`s abolition of the decades-long ban on arms exports is aimed at bolstering his country`s defense industry. Some experts say that it is also an important turning point along with the pursuit of collective self-defense on the path to becoming an "ordinary state" that ultimately possesses the military and wages war if necessary.
Japan`s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a news conference after the cabinet meeting that the decision would facilitate Japan`s contribution to peace and international cooperation by allowing proper overseas transfers of defense equipment at a time when the security environment surrounding Japan is becoming more serious.
In 1967, then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato declared the original "three principles" banning the transfer of weapons to communist states or countries subject to U.N. sanctions or involved in international conflicts. The principles turned into a virtual blanket ban in 1976, when then Prime Minister Takeo Miki banned weapons exports to all countries in principle on the basis of the country`s pacifist stance.
However, Tokyo allowed exceptions in the principles in 1983 and 2004 to jointly develop missiles with the United States. The principles were frayed in earnest in late 2011, when Tokyo named the U.S.-built F-35 stealth fighter jets as its next-generation fighters.
"As unlimited arms race in Northeast Asia with China and Japan as the axes gains momentum, a sandwiched South Korea could find itself in a difficult situation," said Kim Kyeong-min, a professor political science at Hanyang University.
"The Japanese government should operate the principles in maximum transparency given concerns that neighboring countries might have," said Cho Tae-young, a spokesman for South Korea`s foreign ministry.