Abe Panel Calls for Review of Japan Arms Exports Curbs

An advisory panel to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a review of Japan’s self-imposed curbs on arms exports and said the country’s defense industry should become more competitive.

Japan should take a more active role in global security, the panel of academics said in a draft of the country’s first ever national security strategy released yesterday. The draft referred to the rising influence of China in the region and provocations by North Korea, as well as growing marine and cyber space threats.

The report comes 10 months after Abe swept to power vowing to protect Japan’s territory amid a dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. He increased Japan’s defense budget for the first time in 11 years and is seeking to pass legislation this year to establish a National Security Council, in a bid to bring security policy more firmly under political control.

“We will contribute more than in the past to world peace, stability and prosperity,” the panel, led by Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the International University of Japan, said in a copy of its report distributed to media.

Japan loosened a four-decade effective ban on arms exports in 2011 to allow for international cooperation and Kyodo News reported earlier this month that the government would allow the export of engine parts by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. for use by the British navy. Current restrictions forbid arms exports to communist countries, countries subject to a United Nations arms embargo and countries involved in or likely to be involved in international conflict.

“I think it is a matter of course to loosen the tightening restrictions Japan has placed on itself,” said Ikuo Kayahara, a visiting professor at Takushoku University in Tokyo and retired major-general with the Self-Defense Forces.

Joint Projects

“It’s impossible for for one country to develop new weapons on its own,” he said. “If Japan says it cannot cooperate on a joint project because of its principles on weapons exports, it will be excluded from the world community. And sometimes you cannot buy weapons unless you have participated in development.”

The fact that Japan’s defense industry almost exclusively supplies only its own market increases costs by preventing manufacturers from taking advantage of economies of scale.

The panel’s report is set to be debated by Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its Buddhist-backed coalition partner New Komeito, as well as related ministries. Abe intends to have a finalized strategy approved by cabinet in early December, Kyodo reported last weekend.

The new strategy, meant to cover the next 10 years, will form the basis for the National Defense Program Guidelines, which are set to be revised by the end of the year and on which Japan’s military spending and equipment plans will be based.

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