When U.S. President Donald Trump was here last month, he said Japan should be buying more military hardware from America, and seemed to believe it would. Trump's penchant for talking off-the-cuff is well-known, but Japan's reluctance to address the matter forthrightly may have more to do with the fact that the nation now endeavors to be a competitor in the global arms market.

However, since 2014, when the Cabinet issued a directive effectively amending the Three Principles of Arms Exports implemented in 1967, Japan has not been successful in any of its attempts to sell finished military equipment to other countries. The U.K. decided to buy patrol aircraft from the U.S. rather than Japan, and what had seemed like a done deal to send submarines to Australia ended when the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott collapsed.

At present, the Boei Sobi-cho (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency), an agency set up in 2015 to sell military equipment abroad, is working on several sales the media has characterized as Japan's last chance to join the international arms merchant club. One is to sell C-2 transport aircraft manufactured by Kawasaki Heavy Industries to the United Arab Emirates, but while it was the UAE who requested the planes in the first place, according to a report in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei), the Three Principles, which are still in effect, prohibit sales of arms to countries currently involved in international conflicts, and UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition attacking forces in Yemen. One Defense Ministry official told Nikkei that it shouldn't be a problem since UAE is not "leading" the fight.