TOKYO (AP) — Japan relaxed a decades-old ban on military-related exports Tuesday in a bid to expand joint arms development with allies and equipment sales to Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
The new guidelines endorsed Tuesday by the Cabinet are part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to bolster national security amid China's military expansion and North Korea's nuclear threat.
Abe has said Japan needs to play a larger role in international peacekeeping and defense cooperation. His government is pushing to allow Japan to defend allies, such as the U.S., if they are under attack, by re-interpreting the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's constitution.
The new export guidelines pave the way for Japan to join arms technology development with the U.S. and other allies including Britain, France and Australia and acquire more advanced defense capabilities and equipment, said Nobushibe Takamizawa, deputy chief of Japan's recently created National Security Council.
He said Japanese contractors could also gain access to technology and enhance their competitiveness.
The move, which reverses Japan's nearly half century-old self-imposed restrictions on weapons-related exports, could escalate tensions with China and South Korea.
Yosuke Isozaki, a special adviser to Abe, said that weapons or related technology exports would be allowed only when they serve international cooperation or Japan's national security.
"There is no change to Japan's policy of not allowing any exports that would encourage other countries' conflicts," he told reporters at an embargoed briefing on Monday
Takamizawa said Japan will primarily export technology and equipment for rescue, transport, surveillance and mine sweeping, and is not considering assault equipment such as tanks and fighter jets.
Possible exports include rescue aircraft to India, mine detectors to developing countries and anti-piracy patrol ships to Indonesia, Philippines and several other countries in Southeast Asia, officials said.