NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Senior defense officials from Japan and ASEAN countries agreed Tuesday to expand cooperation on the joint development of equipment to combat natural disasters and terrorism, as Tokyo seeks to revise its existing rules on arms exports.
Officials representing member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations cited the development of an early warning system and an information-gathering mechanism as potential areas of technological cooperation, a Defense Ministry official said.
The meeting was held in Okinawa for the first time — a location seen as strategically important, given China’s increasingly assertive sea and airspace activities.
Ryota Takeda, parliamentary vice minister of defense, told the gathering that there have been “unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force,” a reference to China.
Japan and ASEAN covered various topics ranging from post-disaster technical support in infrastructure-building to the introduction of Japanese defense equipment such as infrared radars and unmanned robots to clear explosives.
“We hope to deepen and enhance cooperation, as ASEAN countries are Japan’s partners that share basic values and strategic interests,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a message delivered to the meeting in Ginowan.
As part of Abe’s planned reworking of defense policy to bolster the capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces and increase its presence abroad, the government is expected to set new rules on arms exports that will ease restrictions on transferring defense equipment to other countries.
The ministry official said Japan had explained its ongoing review of the restrictive policy on arms exports, and gained support.
The Defense Ministry plans to showcase defense equipment at an Air Self-Defense Force base in Naha on Wednesday to explain how Japan conducts surveillance and warning activities in the East China Sea.
China appears to be at the forefront of Abe’s defense vision, bolstering the case for Japan to strengthen ties with ASEAN. Tokyo and Beijing remain staunchly at odds over the sovereignty of the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, known as Diaoyu in Chinese, with patrol ships and airplanes shadowing each other.
Other ASEAN member states, notably Vietnam and the Philippines, are tackling similar maritime challenges because they too have been embroiled in territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.
ASEAN involves Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Japan and ASEAN held a summit meeting in December in Tokyo to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their cooperation.
A group of around 70 lawmakers of the Liberal Democratic Party led by Nobuo Kishi, a senior vice foreign minister and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s younger brother, is aiming to institute a law that would serve as a basis for strengthening economic relations and personal exchanges with Taiwan, which does not have diplomatic relations with Japan.
The law is tentatively called the Japanese version of the Taiwan Relations Act, a U.S. law based on which Washington has been exporting weapons to protect Taiwan from China’s military threat. Details are expected to be worked out in the months ahead.
Chaired by Kishi, the association of junior lawmakers for the promotion of economic and cultural exchanges between Japan and Taiwan confirmed their plan for the legislation at a meeting Monday, a move that could invite rebuke from Beijing, which sees Taiwan as part of its territory.
At the meeting, Kishi said: “It doesn’t necessarily impair the position of China. Japan-Taiwan exchanges should be promoted.”