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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: April 14, 2014 NO. 16 APRIL 17, 2014
Marching to Militancy
Japan's efforts to break into the arms export industry signal growing military ambitions
By Shi Yongming

CALLS FOR PEACE: Demonstrators attend a rally in Tokyo on April 8 against government plans to soften Japan's constitutional commitment to pacifism and give its military a more active role (XINHUA/AFP)

The Japanese Government approved three principles on the transfer of defense equipment on April 1, replacing its 1967 principles on arms exports which turned into a virtual blanket ban of Japan's weapons exports in 1976. According to the new principles, Japan has shifted its stance from banning arms exports to encouraging weapons sales. It is a major step by the country to speed up building a military power and marks a significant change in the war-renouncing country's defense stance for the first time in nearly half a century. The change is sure to have a major impact on the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.

Building military industry

Japan's industrial capital is one of the major driving forces of the country's move on modifying its arms sales principles. Japan has highly developed civilian industries, but due to the impact of the long-term domestic economic downturn and international financial crisis, its industrial capital urgently needs to find a new way out. Against this backdrop, the Japan Business Federation, an influential business lobby, proposed to the Japanese Government in 2009 to remove the self-imposed arms export restrictions while revising its National Defense Program Guidelines, thus allowing Japanese enterprises to participate in the joint development of sophisticated weapons with international partners. In August 2010, the federation formally submitted a proposal letter to the Japanese Government, requesting an amendment of the 1967 "three principles" on arms exports.

The Japan Business Federation's proposal aims on the one hand to boost Japan's military industry through encouraging weapons sales, and on the other hand to allow the country to gain more sophisticated military technology and devices through international cooperation. Moreover, if private enterprises were endowed with the capacity to develop and produce sophisticated weapons, the Japanese Government could allocate more of its defense budgets to self-developed weaponry such as submarines, tanks and spy satellites.

Additionally, the military strategic needs of the United States are an important external factor promoting Japan's industrial capital to march into the military industry. After the Cold War, Washington has frequently adopted a military approach to settle international problems. Washington's military strategy has promoted the transition of the U.S.-Japan alliance from defense to global intervention. The United States has also continued to strengthen its front military deployment in the Asia-Pacific, including building regional missile defense systems with Japan as a pivotal point. With the support of the United States, Japan broke restrictions of the 1967 "three principles" in 2004 as it has since been jointly developing the missile defense systems with the United States.

Breaking key promises

However, the fundamental catalyst for lifting the ban on Japan's arms exports has been the political agenda of Japan's right-wing groups to make the country a military superpower. In the 1980s, Japan put forward its "political superpower" strategy and later the deceptive "normal country" theory. Since then, breaking the Japanese pacifist Constitution and building a military superpower have become main targets for the far right.

As an iconic figure, Shinzo Abe has been attempting to get rid of the restrictions that the postwar system imposed on Japan since he first took office as Japanese prime minister in 2006, actively promoting the process of building a military superpower. In January 2007, Abe upgraded the Japanese Defense Agency into a ministry, laying the groundwork for the transition of Japan's Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) into a formal army. After winning a second term in 2012, he not only continued to promote the transition of the JSDF but also sped up the process of upgrading the country's weaponry system in an attempt to further breach arms export restrictions.

In recent years, the United States has been promoting the development of the fifth generation fighter F-35 with international joint efforts. Japan also showed interest in the new generation of fighters and planned to equip four F-35 fighters into its air force by 2017. As U.S. enterprises met technical obstacles during the development of the new fighter, Japan seized the opportunity to join the associated research and development of the F-35. It also planned to introduce F-35 assembly lines, producing most of the F-35 fighters it planned to buy at home. Thus, Japan can not only reduce its cost on purchasing F-35 fighters but also make the maintenance of these fighters much easier. Moreover, it is convenient for Japan to improve the performance of the fighters independently.

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