Japan will abandon a plan to ease its decades-old weapons export ban under a new defence policy outline, media said which analysts warn could make the country’s small defence industry even less competitive.
The ruling party and the defence industry have called for relaxing the restrictions, which have prevented companies from joining multinational projects and made it difficult for Japanese defence contractors to boost competitiveness and cut costs.
But Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his defence minister have decided to forgo any easing in a defence policy review due later this month, after a pacifist former coalition ally said it was against the move, the Yomiuri newspaper said, Reuters reports.
Japan in 1967 drew up its “three principles” on arms exports, banning sales to countries with communist governments, that are involved in international conflicts or that are subject to United Nations sanctions.
But the rules evolved into a nearly blanket ban on arms exports and on the development and production of weapons with countries other than the United States, its main security ally.
The ban prohibits the nation’s defence industry from joining multinational projects such as the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and makes it difficult for Japanese defence contractors such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to keep up with cutting-edge arms technologies.
Easing the ban would have helped the domestic industry drive down costs, although output from the sector is less than 1 percent of total Japanese industrial production, analysts said.
Media have reported that Washington is also seeking an easing of restrictions to help clear the way for it to supply missile interceptors jointly developed with Japan to European and other countries.
“(Not easing the ban) could discourage the United States from working on projects with Japan,” said Narushige Michishita, associate professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
Kan has been trying to reach out to his party’s former coalition partner, the tiny Social Democratic Party, to pass the next fiscal year’s budget in a hung parliament.
Help from the SDP would give Kan’s ruling coalition and its allies the two-thirds majority needed in the lower house to override decisions by the opposition-controlled upper house.