* Tokyo to export arms to serve peace, Japan's security
* Exports to bolstering defence industry, security ties
* Export ban remains on armed conflicts, U.N. resolutions
* No plan to export lethal arms such as tanks, fighter jets
(Adds comment from China)
By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Nobuhiro Kubo
TOKYO, April 1 Japan eased its weapons export
restrictions on Tuesday in the first major overhaul of arms
transfer policy in nearly half a century, as Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe seeks to fortify ties with allies and bolster the
domestic defence industry.
In a move which alarmed China, where bitter memories of
Japan's past militarism run deep, the government decided to
allow arms exports and participation in joint weapons
development and production when they serve international peace
and Japan's security.
That is a shift from a decades-old policy of banning all
weapons exports in principle, although quite a few exceptions to
the rule have been made over the years, such as the transfer of
arms technology to the United States, Japan's closest ally.
"This is beneficial for Japanese companies in that they can
take part in joint development and joint production and have
access to cutting-edge technology," Takushoku University
Professor Heigo Sato said.
"If you live in a closed market like the Japanese defence
industry does, you clearly lag behind in technological
But even under the new regime, Japan is to focus mainly on
non-lethal defence gear such as patrol ships and mine detectors
and says it has no plan to export such weapons as tanks and
The move comes when Sino-Japanese ties have been chilled due
to a territorial dispute over a group of East China Sea islets
and Abe's visit in December to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, seen by
critics as a symbol of Japan's wartime aggression.
"Japan's policy on military security concerns the region's
stability. We pay great attention to this," Chinese Foreign
Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily news briefing.
"We request that the Japanese side learn lessons from
history, earnestly respond to regional countries' strong
concerns about the relevant issue ... and do more to benefit the
region's peaceful development."
Japan's self-imposed restrictions on arms exports have
virtually excluded defence contractors such as Mitsubishi Heavy
Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and IHI
from the overseas market and made it difficult for them
to cut costs and keep abreast of technological development.
Japan's defence budget slipped for a decade through 2012,
raising concerns that some of the smaller and less diversified
arms makers might be forced to go out of business.
The new export policy alone will unlikely help Japanese
defence makers establish a big presence overseas, although some
high-performance Japanese components, such diesel engines for
ships, stand out among potential competitors.
"It's not as if Japanese (defence) goods will start selling
right away because of this. The government still needs to play a
leading role in their overseas expansion. Various governments
are already competing fiercely out there," said Bonji Ohara,
research fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, a think tank.
"Competition dictates prices. Of course, they cannot set the
kind of prices they are setting for the domestic market," said
Ohara, who once served as a Japanese navy attache in China.
One of Japan's potential defence gear exports is Kawasaki
Heavy's submarine diesel engines, which do not require air and
allows submarines to stay submerged for an extended period.
When Japanese Defence Ministry officials visited Australia
last year, Canberra showed interest in them, a Japanese
government official said.
Another one is ShinMaywa Industries' US-2
amphibious aircraft. India is already in talks with the Japanese
government for possible procurement.
Under the new rules, Japan still bans weapons exports to
countries that are involved in international conflicts and
shipments that breach U.N. Security Council resolutions, such as
exports to North Korea and Iran.
In announcing the new rules, Japan stressed that it would
remain a nation "striving for peace" and screen each case to see
if exports should be allowed, a move to assure its neighbours
that Japan is not taking a path to a military power.
Besides the easing of arms export rules, Abe last year
raised Japan's defence budget for the first time in 11 years and
aims to lift its ban on exercising the right of collective
self-defence, or aiding an ally under attack.
These moves, coupled with his Yasukuni visit, prompted
criticism in China that Japan is lurching toward militarism.
Under its post-war, pacifist constitution, Japan drew up the
"three principles" on arms exports in 1967, banning sales to
countries with communist governments or those involved in
international conflicts or subject to U.N. sanctions.
Over time, the rules became tantamount to a blanket ban on
exports, but that later became riddled with exceptions.
(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard in
BEIJING; Editing by Linda Sieg, Nick Macfie, Michael Perry and