Robust arms industry part of security policy

Bloomberg

The Abe administration will seek to make the Japanese arms industry more competitive globally, according to a near-complete draft of its first National Security Strategy, drawn up as tensions with China rise over the Senkaku Islands.

The strategy and a new 10-year defense plan will both refer to the need to maintain and strengthen Japan’s weapons industry, according to drafts given to reporters at a Liberal Democratic Party security panel meeting Wednesday.

The government will also “consider” whether to revise the self-imposed curbs on arms exports, according to the strategy document.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to lay out the security strategy after taking office a year ago, as ties with an increasingly assertive China deteriorated to their worst level in 40 years over the disputed islands in the East China Sea. He increased the defense budget for the first time in more than a decade and is also rewriting a defense plan issued by the previous administration in 2010.

The draft documents are “95 percent complete,” LDP security panel chief Takeshi Iwaya said Wednesday. The ruling parties are set to sign off on the two documents, as well as a five-year defense plan, this week and the Cabinet will give final approval next week, Iwaya said.

Abe is also considering reinterpreting the U.S.-imposed pacifist Constitution, and his security push has prompted criticism from China and South Korea, which remain wary over Japan’s militant past.

Opinions polls have indicated that voters are uneasy with any changes to the pacifist stance. The passage of the unpopular bill on state secrets last week, which Abe said is essential for national security, dealt the first serious blow to his popularity, with his approval rating falling below 50 percent for the first time in more than one poll.

Japan will make “more active contributions to the peace, stability and prosperity of international society,” according to the strategy draft. On China, it notes the need to deal “firmly and calmly” with “attempts to change the status quo by force,” including by sending ships into Japan-controlled waters around the Senkaku Islands and the establishment of a new air defense zone.

The release of the draft plan comes after China announced Nov. 23 that it had established the air defense identification zone over a large swathe of the East China Sea, including the uninhabited Senkakus.

The government will express concern about the “gray zone” situation becoming more serious over time, according to the draft. At the same time, Japan must attempt to build a “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests” with China and encourage its neighbor to play a constructive role in the region, the document said.

Japan loosened a four-decade self-imposed ban on weapons exports in 2011 to allow it to cooperate on international arms development projects. The arms industry is still largely limited to the domestic market, which increases costs by preventing manufacturers from taking advantage of economies of scale.

Current restrictions forbid arms exports to communist countries, nations subject to a U.N. arms embargo and those involved in or likely to be involved in international conflict.

The LDP will debate the rules on arms exports with its Buddhist-backed coalition partner, New Komeito, and may not reach a conclusion before the end of the year, Iwaya and his Komeito counterpart, Isamu Ueda, told reporters Tuesday.