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Japan may abolish arms embargo


The Japanese government will soon begin reviewing its arms embargo, with the aim of creating new guidelines effectively abolishing the long-standing policy, a government source said Monday.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to review the policy, as the self-imposed arms embargo, introduced during the Cold War to block shipments of weapons to communist countries, is obsolete and out of sync with the global trend for sharing technologies and jointly developing weapons, the source said.

Officials from the foreign, defense, and industry ministries, as well as the Cabinet Office will start discussing the issue from late August, according to the source.

One option is to allow Japanese companies to take part in joint development of arms only if they promise to abide by the U.N. Charter, which aims to resolve international conflicts in a peaceful manner.

The Defense Ministry is expected to include the plan to create new guidelines in its midterm report on the new defense program that Tokyo is to compile by year-end. The report could be released as soon as Friday.

After Sunday's upper house election that delivered a vote of confidence for the Abe administration and its economic policies, the prime minister apparently intends to focus more on security issues as he now is in a stronger position to push such agenda items as his long-held goal of revising the Constitution.

Abe also believes it would be wise to set new guidelines regarding the development and trade in arms, rather than making exceptions case by case, the source said.

Abe will likely make a final judgment about the move, which would help nurture the domestic defense industry if the plan goes ahead, after taking into account opinions both at home and abroad.

However, there are people even within the government who remain cautious about reviewing the policy of banning arms shipments, as it has been widely supported by the Japanese public as part of Japan's pacifist stance after World War II.

Tokyo voluntarily introduce the arms embargo in 1967 when then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato declared it in the Diet.

Under the policy, Japan prohibited the export of weapons to communist states, countries subject to arms embargoes under U.N. resolutions, and countries involved in international conflicts.

The policy has never been a written rule, but prime ministers after Sato have kept the same stance.

Tokyo made an exception in 2004 when it decided to cooperate with the United States in developing an anti-ballistic missile defense system.

Also when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in 2011 eased the rules on arms shipments by making it possible to take part in joint development and production of arms with countries with which Japan maintains security ties.

And since Abe took power last December, his government has made an exception to the arms export ban so Japanese companies can jointly produce parts for the U.S. F-35 fighter jet. It did so on the grounds that does not violate the basic principles of the U.N. Charter.