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Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011

DPJ panel's call to ease arms export ban met with caution

Joint weapons programs would boost military strength, U.S. ties


Staff writer

The Democratic Party of Japan-led government reacted cautiously Friday to a proposal by the party's defense panel to resume talks on relaxing the nation's weapons export ban, a move that could potentially boost Japan's military capacities and strengthen ties with the United States.

The issue is drawing attention ahead of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's expected meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in November

Washington is believed to favor an easing of the ban, which would allow Japan to engage in joint weapons development projects with the U.S. and other nations. Some analysts in the Japanese media have been speculating that Noda could convey to Obama his intention to ease the ban during their meeting.

Some DPJ lawmakers, however, oppose relaxing the arms export ban, which they consider an essential element of Japan's war-renouncing defense policy, and it remains unclear how and even whether the government can move toward easing the long-standing arms embargo.

"The government has not made any decisions about revisions (to the weapons export ban) at this point," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said during a morning news conference.

Members of the DPJ's defense panel agreed at a meeting Thursday to ask the government to resume deliberations on relaxing the ban as soon as possible.

Easing the ban could potentially create opportunities for Japan to participate in international technology projects, while reducing the nation's reliance on importing expensive weaponry.

The panel's proposed revisions of the arms ban are based on the suggestions the party's security research committee made last year, and would maintain the ban on arms deals with communist countries, nations involved in international conflicts and states under a U.N. embargo. But arms exports to other nations could be permitted if they are restricted to peace-building and humanitarian efforts.

The revision also asks that nations Japan cooperates with to jointly develop military technologies be limited to the United States or other NATO member states, and that standards and frameworks be established to prohibit weapons from being transferred to third countries.

During a news conference following the defense panel meeting, DPJ policy chief Seiji Maehara said easing the ban has already been discussed and confirmed by ministers during last year's review of the nation's basic defense policy, and added he would "like to speak with the government at an appropriate time" regarding the matter.

Maehara, a former foreign minister and considered a hawk on defense matters, has been a strong advocate of reviewing the three principles regarding arms exports that were established in 1967 under the late Prime Minister Eisaku Sato.

The principles prohibit Japan from engaging in arms deals with communist nations, countries subject to an embargo under U.N. resolutions and states involved in international conflicts. The principles were further tightened in 1976, in effect banning almost all arms exports.



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