Japan and Britain agreed Tuesday to develop defense weapons together in Tokyo's first such arrangement outside of its security alliance with the United States.
Japan has cooperated exclusively with the U.S. on missile shield development and other equipment under their long-standing alliance. Easing its decades-long weapons export ban in December allowed Japan to extend the exception to other defense partners, including European nations and Australia.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his visiting British counterpart, David Cameron, agreed to cooperate in research, development and production of defense equipment. The leaders agreed to find at least one program as soon as possible in areas that will "contribute to both our countries' security and peaceful intent." They did not elaborate on what kind of weapons would be developed.
Noda and Cameron also agreed for their countries' troops to conduct joint exercises, and they raised concerns about uncertainty in East Asia and urged North Korea to abandon all nuclear and missile development programs just days ahead of its scheduled rocket launch.
Due to Japan's pacifist principles, Japanese-made weapons and their parts cannot be exported for use in global conflicts. The ban also restricts Japan and the defense partner to strictly controlled third-party transfer.
Japanese defense contractors have argued the arms export ban, dating to 1967, would hamper their competitiveness and access to technology. Officials have gradually modified the rules, and Japan has allowed supplying of weapons technology to the U.S. and joint development of missile shields between the two allies.
Government officials have said Japan's easing of arms export rules reflects Japan's desire to play a greater role in international peacekeeping, humanitarian support and take steps against piracy and terrorism.
Huge defense procurement cost has been a big concern. Officials hope that development and export of weapons parts by Japanese contractors would help to hold down costs.