For the first time in nearly half a century, Japan is reducing restrictions on its weapons exports.
The major reform of its arms transfer policy comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to strengthen ties with allies and bolster the domestic defence industry.
Announcing the overhaul, Japan’s Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida said: “The new export principle draws on what the previous rules sought to achieve, but allows for the movement of non-lethal arms in accordance with the current security environment.”
China has reacted with alarm describing Japan’s action as “endangering” the whole region.
“Japan’s policy in military security concerns the region’s stability, environment and strategic stability, and the direction of Japan’s national development. We are paying 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,” he added.
Japan’s defence budget slipped over the 10 year period up to 2012, raising concerns that some of the smaller and less diversified arms makers might be forced out of business.
The new export policy alone will unlikely help Japanese defence companies establish a big presence overseas, although some high-performance Japanese components, such diesel engines for ships, stand out among potential competitors.
Sino-Japanese ties have been strained of late due to a territorial dispute over a group of East China Sea islets.
Shinzo Abe’s visit in December to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine was also seen by many critics as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression.