Japan's Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, is urging the government coalition to find a way to bypass the unwritten rules that restrict defense exports.
Despite opposition in popular opinion amongst Japanese citizens regarding the overseas sale of weapons, Kishida believes it is crucial to explore acceptable alternatives.
During a panel discussion with his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito, the smaller partner in the government, Kishida expressed the need to consider supplying defense equipment and technology to other countries.
Previously, the panel concluded that Japan is permitted to export vehicles and vessels equipped with lethal weapons systems to countries with which it collaborates on security matters. However, there is a condition that the equipment must not be used in combat.
This decision represents a significant progression from the three principles on weapon exports adopted in 1967. The previous principles prohibited the sale of weapons to communist nations, countries under United Nations arms embargoes, and nations involved in or likely to be involved in armed conflicts.
Significantly, the position of Japanese governments for the past 55 years has never been a firm law, but rather guidelines.
The two-party panel was originally scheduled to hold further discussions in the autumn, but Kishida has requested members to resume talks immediately.
Kishida is keen on reaching an agreement as soon as possible, especially considering that many countries are supplying Ukraine with large quantities of equipment to defend against the Russian invasion, while Japan has been limited to providing helmets, medical equipment, and body armor.
The Japanese government is also aware of South Korea's military exports. Seoul has swiftly reached an agreement with Warsaw to sell modern tanks, self-propelled artillery, and fighter aircraft to Poland, allowing the European nation to transfer its Russian-built weapons systems to Ukraine.
Kishida highlighted that Japanese companies have been distancing themselves from the defence industry due to the export ban, which has made research and development unprofitable. However, by lifting the ban, Japanese defence technology could become more appealing, resulting in a tax windfall, job creation, and a reduced dependence on costly defence imports.
Being Japan's longest-serving foreign minister under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Kishida is likely to have a strong belief in the importance of the liberal international order and Japan's responsibility within it. This viewpoint is shared by Michael Cucek, an international relations professor at Temple University's Tokyo campus.
According to Cucek, Japan feels a sense of obligation to contribute internationally, which has been further emphasized by the situation in Ukraine.
Kishida's decision to provide weapons to Ukraine is driven by the desire to demonstrate Japan's positive role on the international stage, as a responsible and trustworthy actor.
One major concern is the self-imposed limitations and how the public will react to overriding those principles. A recent poll conducted by the Mainichi newspaper revealed that 48% of Japanese citizens oppose the export of lethal weaponry, while 32% are in favor.
One of the obstacles that domestic defence contractors in Japan will encounter is the relatively high prices of Japanese equipment. Additionally, these military hardware have never been tested in combat situations, which may raise doubts about their effectiveness.
Another hurdle for Japan's defence sector to make a global impact is the lack of a well-defined export structure and procedures. Unlike other countries that have developed these systems over many years of weapons exports, Japan still needs to establish clear guidelines and processes for exporting its defence products.
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