Japan’s first-ever international defense trade show kicked off in Yokohama on Wednesday, attracting more than 100 exhibitors as the country aims to ramp up its global security role.

In opening remarks at the three-day MAST Asia 2015 defense conference on maritime security at Pacifico Yokohama convention center, former defense minister Satoshi Morimoto stressed the importance of establishing a system of maritime governance.

“I suppose most participants here would share the view that the Asia-Pacific region is the center of world growth,” Morimoto told the audience, which included high-ranking military officials from a number of countries.

“Maritime security and freedom of navigation based on the international rule of law are the most crucial agenda items for this region.”

Morimoto also said the maritime domain is a “cornerstone” of resource development, since seaborne transport routes account for up to 90 percent of global resource trade.

“As the world population grows, our reliance on oceans as a highway for commerce and source of resources will increase even more,” he said. “I’m confident that the conference and trade show will be (a) significant opportunity for many distinguished members to exchange their views . . . and establish valuable relations over the next three days.”

Organized by U.K.-based, privately-held MAST Communications, the event features forums and debates on topics including submarine and maritime security as well as product briefings by defense equipment developers and manufacturers.

Participating Japanese manufacturers welcomed the conference, saying it will give them a valuable opportunity to showcase their capabilities and technologies to the world.

“Our profile is still low (in the global arena), so we are excited to promote our products to guests from militaries around the world,” said Ryo Motosako, manager of defense programs at ShinMaywa Industries Ltd., which is famous for its US-2 amphibian aircraft.

Motosako said the government’s decision to relax rules on exporting defense equipment last year was a significant step that helped the Hyogo Prefecture-based company to expand its business overseas.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet approved the new export rules in April 2014, ending an almost 50-year ban.

The US-2, priced at almost ¥12 billion per aircraft, can take off and land even on rough seas, a standout feature compared to amphibious planes by other manufacturers.

An official for major heavy machinery-maker IHI Corp. also welcomed the inaugural event.

Among the company’s products are unmanned underwater vehicles for civilian use, which can gather undersea and seafloor information for resources development.

The official said that in light of the move to scrap the ban on weapons exports, the company saw bigger business opportunities for dual-use equipment that can be used for both civilian and defense purposes.

An official for Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., which is promoting its maritime patrol aircraft and an airborne anti-mine helicopter at the event, said they believe their technologies contribute to international peace and security.

“We’d like the visitors to get to know (our products),” the official said. “We hope (this exhibition) will lead to business opportunities.”

Other domestic exhibitors include Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and NEC Corp., while foreign exhibitors include Lockheed Martin, Saab and the Australian Government’s Department of Defence.

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