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Abe rushing to revise ban on arms exports but Komeito remains wary

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration is in a rush to lift Japan’s self-imposed arms export ban in a major policy departure amid the changing security situation surrounding the nation.

The Liberal Democratic Party’s junior partner in the ruling coalition, New Komeito, is hesitant, however, to ease the so-called Three Principles on Arms Exports, which were established in 1967.

The LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc on Wednesday started to weigh a tentative outline compiled by the administration Tuesday that would allow the transfer and export of arms if it contributes to Japan’s and global security.

The new rules would no longer use the word “arms” and “export.” Instead, the guidelines would be called the three principles on transferring defense-related equipment. This is an apparent attempt to ease public concerns that Japanese weapons and technology could be used in global conflicts.

New Komeito, however, is hesitant to give the green light for drastic changes to the current principles.

Under the proposed new rules, arms exports would be banned to countries that are clearly involved in activities that threaten global peace and security or those that are involved in conflicts. The rules would also mandate strict screening of such exports and would only allow them to a country where controls are in place to prevent arms from being transferred to a third country or used for purposes other than originally intended.

The rules would retain the clause that blocks the transfer of weapons to countries subject to embargoes under U.N. resolutions, but exports to communist-bloc countries would not longer be banned.

“The notion of the communist bloc is from the Cold War era and does not suit today’s world,” Lower House member Takeshi Iwaya, who heads the LDP’s project team, said Wednesday after a meeting on the proposal.

The outline, however, is considered vague and not likely to dispel concerns that Japan could become indirectly involved in international conflicts by selling arms. The participants of the meeting said the outline should clearly define its terms, including “defense-related equipment” and “international conflict.” The outline also doesn’t have a detailed standard for screening exports.

The three principles established in 1967 ban arms sales to countries with communist governments, those that are involved in international conflicts and nations subject to U.N. sanctions.

All weapons exports were effectively banned in 1976 when Prime Minister Takeo Miki said Japan will refrain from selling arms to countries not covered by the three principles.

Exceptions were made via issuing statements by chief Cabinet secretaries. Japan has been exporting weapons to the U.S. since a statement was issued in 1983 by Chief Cabinet Secretary Masaharu Gotoda.

Last March, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo will allow Japanese companies to jointly develop the F-35 fighter because it will contribute to moves to keep the nation’s defense-related industries viable.