Japan’s removal of its arms export ban could offer up opportunities for defence sales to Southeast Asian countries, government officials have divulged.
The news follows a decision on 1 April by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to approve a plan to ease the restrictions on arms exports.
Following the policy’s overhaul, Japan now has greater ability to provide military aid to less developed Southeast Asian countries that are locked in a territorial dispute with China, which could affect Tokyo-Beijing relations and increase regional tensions.
Samantha Hoffman, an independentent contractor specialized in China and Asia Pacific analysis, believes that the idea that this particular change is part of Japan's goal to increase regional influence has been overplayed in media reports.
'If Japan revises the constitutional interpretation of the defence clause, that would be a different story. China would perceive that as a threat and it would further increase bilateral relations,' she said.
Japan however, is seeking an increased security with Southeast Asian countries. 'An area where Japan has sought increased cooperation is through the coast guard, and much of this is territorial dispute related,' said Hoffman.
To date, Japan has supplied civil coast guard vessels to the Philippines, which has a dispute with China over the control of islands in the South China Sea.
Having agreed in January to strengthen cooperation on maritime security with India, Japan announced that it was planning to promote the export of ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious patrol aircraft.
Analysts believe that lifting the arms export ban will also make it easier for Japan to provide military equipment to ASEAN countries.
‘Exports will be allowed in cases where they contribute to global peace and serve Japan’s security interests,’ the Kyodo news agency reported.
Since Shinzo Abe has become the Prime Minister of Japan, his government has pursued better relations with Southeast Asian countries with the development of defence ties top of his agenda.
Cambodia, for example, recently signed a defence deal with Japan securing $135 million in infrastructure loans.
Abe has further promised to invest $20 billion in aid and investment for Southeast Asian nations including military expertise during the ASEAN summit in December 2013.
There is already an agreement on the use of Japanese defence equipment in responses to natural disasters and counter-terrorism operations. The new guidelines are expected to give a boost to the Japanese defence industry, which produces mainly aircraft, weapons, ammunition and communications equipment for the country’s Self Defence Force.
Hoffman however, questions if Japan can be a major playor in the international defence market. 'The cost of a Japanese-produced helicopter is far higher than the American-produced version. So Japan is not really competitive, they do not have the infrastructure to be competitive with this typ eof military technology,' she said.
It is believed that japan will concentrate on development, production and export of patrol ships, mine detectors and other non-lethal equipment with no interest in exporting fighter jets and tanks. In particular, high performance components, such as diesel engines for ships, could compete in the international market.
Japanese companies are further expected to benefit from the eased export restrictions by taking part in joint development and joint productions with access to advanced technology.
‘We will participate in joint development and production of defence equipment,’ said Chief Cabinet Yoshihide Suga. (Shepard Media)