Japan’s new arms export rules offer many loopholes to nationalists

By Da Zhigang Source:Global Times Published: 2014-3-19 19:38:01

In the Asia-Pacific region, China and Japan are still gripped in a deadlock over historical and territorial issues, the disputes over the East China Sea and the South China Sea continue unabated, and the trilateral military alliance among the US, Japan and South Korea is bogged down in a bitter Tokyo-Seoul squabble. Against this disconcerting backdrop, countries in this region have been modernizing their marine and air forces in a bid to tackle potential crises.

As part of this looming arms race in Asia, the Japanese government has drafted new guidelines to reverse the "three principles" on arms export. What will the new draft bring about? And what influence will it have on the already delicate Asia-Pacific architecture?

On March 12, the Japanese government submitted the three principles on transferring defense-related equipment to the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc.

They are called the new principles on arms exports, because they reverse the principles set by then Japanese prime minister Eisaku Sato in 1967 to ban weapons exports to communist bloc countries as well as another former prime minister Takeo Miki's prohibition of weapons exports to all countries in 1976.

Furthermore, Abe's cabinet envisaged the new principles while pressing ahead on revising the war-renouncing pacifist constitution and exercising the right to collective self-defense, straining its ties with neighboring countries. That's why the new principles are under scrutiny by the international community.

The draft of the new principles has three highlights. First, the export of weapons will be prohibited if it hinders the preservation of international peace or security.

Second, cases in which exports are allowed will be limited, and strict screening will be carried out by the National Security Council.

Third, the use of weapons for purposes other than designated purposes and transfer of weapons to third parties will be allowed only when appropriate control and management is ensured.

Although they claim that the principles are aimed to safeguard world peace and justice, there are obvious loopholes.

To begin with, the vague expression on the definition of countries embroiled in disputes and defense equipment gives plenty of room for interpretation. The nation could export military equipment in the form of civilian goods.

Then, under the new principles, the newly established National Security Council will conduct strict screening of exports, thereby leaving power highly concentrated in the hands of four ministers led by the prime minister. It is highly possible that they will give misleading signals and engage in covert deals.

Tokyo's regular participation in the research and development of cutting-edge weaponry in the US and European countries will further consolidate Japan's military force. The reinforcement of the US-Japan alliance will surely help the latter beef up its capacity in regional confrontation.

Japan can also export arms under the excuse of ensuring the safety of oil and natural resources in countries located along sea lanes.

Given that Tokyo's energy lifeline extends from the Middle East to the East China Sea, this will undoubtedly bolster the power of certain claimants in the South China Sea.

With the new principles on arms exports, Japan is adding fuel to the flaming conflicts in the region.

The seeming objectives of peace and cooperation demonstrated by the new principles on arms exports will earn Japan endorsement from countries in dire need of military equipment.

This will, surely, provide more space for Tokyo to exercise the right to collective self-defense and deploy armies overseas.

Using the "democratic values" within the framework of Abe's strategic diplomacy with a global vision, the draft will probably turn into diplomatic leverage. Both other Asia-Pacific countries and the whole international community should follow its actions closely while keeping vigilant and coolheaded.

The author is director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies, Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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