Japan has lifted a self-imposed ban on weapons exports, introducing new arms rules that supporters say could unnerve China.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a plan that replaces the 1967 blanket ban, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
Under the policy, arms sales are banned to conflict-plagued countries or nations that could undermine international peace and security, the sales must contribute to international peace and they must boost Japan’s security.
“We have made the procedure for transfer of defence equipment more transparent. That will contribute to peace and international co-operation from the standpoint of proactive pacifism,” Suga said.
Japan’s post-World War II constitution, imposed by the US-led occupiers, banned the country from waging war.
That pacifism was embraced by the population and two decades later a weapons export ban was introduced.
Supporters hope the relaxation in the policy will boost home-grown arms manufacturers at a time of simmering regional tensions, including a territorial row with China and fears over an unpredictable North Korea.
The new rules could allow Tokyo to supply weaponry to nations that sit along important sea lanes to help them fight piracy – an important strategic consideration for resource-poor Japan.
Japanese arms could potentially be shipped to Indonesia as well as nations around the South China Sea such as the Philippines, which has a territorial dispute with Beijing.
Japan already supplies equipment to the Philippines’ coastguard, an organisation increasingly on the front line in the row with Beijing.
Any move to bolster that support with more outright weapon supplies could irk China, which regularly accuses Abe of trying to re-militarise his country.
China and Japan are at loggerheads over the ownership of a string of islands in the East China Sea, while Beijing is also in dispute with several nations over territory in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety.