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Japan Mulls Easing Lethal Weapons Export Restrictions

The Japanese government is considering relaxing its strict export policies on lethal defense products.

The ruling coalition has been urged to allow the transfer of local defense items to other nations, provided they are only used for non-combat missions.

The government cited rescue, transportation, vigilance, surveillance, and minesweeping as the five non-combat domains for which Japanese weapons can be used.

For example, Tokyo could permit the export of Awaji-class minesweeping vessels equipped with powerful cannons to dispose of sea mines.

The ruling parties will discuss revising the guidelines on defense equipment transfers.

“If direct exports are not allowed, it will hinder joint development,” a senior official at the Japanese Prime Minister’s office said.

‘Three Principles’

Under Japan’s “Three Principles” defense equipment transfer rule, lethal weapons can only be exported to countries that are jointly developing them.

It also prohibits the transfer of military technologies to third countries.

If Tokyo’s development partners opt to export the items to other countries, they must first ask permission from the Japanese government.

This principle is why the country opposes the entry of Saudi Arabia into a joint fighter jet program with Italy and the UK.

Japanese officials said Riyadh would only complicate discussions about which third countries can purchase the aircraft.

Concept of next-generation fighters under GCAP.
Concept of next-generation fighters under GCAP. Photo: BAE Systems/Leonardo

‘At a Disadvantage’

Japan’s move to reconsider its defense export policies comes amid concerns that it may be the only country unable to export the next-generation fighter jets.

The UK and Italy are willing to export the aircraft to allies to boost their domestic defense industries.

A member of the ruling parties claimed that the volume of the combat jets in circulation would decrease if Tokyo did not allow direct export.

It would make the aircraft less mainstream if only a few countries use it.

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