Tokyo wants to increase arms exports
by Guido Alberto Casanova

An agreement with Italy and the United Kingdom for the production of military aircraft could be concluded by the end of the year. Until now, the Japanese Constitution has only prevented the sale of armaments abroad. But a reform could put an end to the concerns of defence industrialists.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - Japan is in the final stages of negotiations with the United Kingdom and Italy for the development and production of next-generation military aircraft, which should enter service around 2035 to replace those currently in use.

The agreement, which is expected to be finalised by the end of the year, involves Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Britain's BAE Systems and Italy's Leonardo. But the importance of the agreement goes beyond joint development, because it could revive the domestic debate on the self-imposed arms export ban.

Since the 1960s, Japan has adopted a policy restricting the export of material for military use, in a manner consistent with the pacifist stance enshrined in the Constitution. In recent years some of the restrictions have been relaxed, but in essence today Japan still cannot export offensive military technology.

When Ukraine requested Tokyo to supply anti-tank missiles to counter the Russian invasion this year, Japan was not in a legal position to supply those armaments.

Japanese defence industries can only export their products for development and production purposes with other countries, but cannot sell them abroad. This restricts the market to only one buyer: the national armed forces.

More and more companies are withdrawing from the defence sector, driven by uncertainty about the future resulting from lower arms purchases by the military and increased imports from abroad, especially from the US.

Unable to reproduce an economy of scale that would allow them to offset high production costs, many companies in the sector find the economic outlook worrying. This is certainly a concern for the Japanese government, which claims it is necessary to maintain a healthy defence industrial sector to ensure its national security

The agreement with the UK and Italy goes in this direction, as collaboration with the two European giants could allow Japanese industry to approach new customers. In order to reap the full benefits of the collaboration, however, the government is aiming to revise the guidelines on arms exports: according to a government source reported by Kyodo News, a reform would allow arms to be sent as long as they support the buyer country's deterrence and at the same time also contribute to Japan's security.