Japan’s ruling parties divided over export of lethal weapons

In light of Russia’s continuing invasion, the two parties have agreed on the basic stance that restrictions set by the guidelines need to be relaxed.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Japan News


The Yomiuri Shimbun Itsunori Onodera, chairman of the LDP’s Research Commission on Security, right, and Shigeki Sato, chairman of Komeito’s foreign relations and national security committee, left, attend a meeting of the ruling camp’s meeting in the Diet building on Tuesday.

April 28, 2023

TOKYO – The Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito have begun discussions aimed at revising the government’s policy on possible arms exports in the future, but the two ruling parties face an opinion gap over whether exporting lethal weapons should be allowed.

Party members met on Tuesday to discuss a revision of operational guidelines under the government’s Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology.

In light of Russia’s continuing invasion of Ukraine, the two parties have agreed on a basic stance that restrictions set by the guidelines need to be relaxed, eyeing Japan’s enhanced assistance to Kyiv.

But the parties’ views are still divided over the export of lethal weapons.

On the day, a bipartisan working team of lawmakers responsible for security affairs held a meeting in the Diet building.

The meeting was chaired by Itsunori Onodera, who is also chairman of the LDP’s Research Commission on Security. He told Komeito members: “We have still have some homework to do. As the first step, I want to discuss hammering out a specific direction about transfers of defense equipment.”

The LDP and Komeito also discussed a revision to the guidelines in December last year, when they talked about revising the government’s three key security documents, including the National Security Strategy.

At the time, Komeito members were highly cautious about drastically relaxing the guidelines’ restrictions, and thus it was left as “homework” to be resolved later.

As this month’s unified local elections, on which Komeito placed high importance, have ended, the two parties resumed debate on the issue after long hiatus.

However, at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Shigeki Sato, chairman of Komeito’s foreign relations and national security committee, said, “I want to deepen the debates while firmly maintaining Japan’s steps as a peace-loving nation since the end of World War II and while paying sufficient attention to the role of the three principles.”

His remark spotlighted the opinion gap between the two parties at the outset of the debates.

In the LDP, there are opinions that Japan should provide Ukraine with surface-to-air missiles for intercepting Russian missiles or attack drones, and also that it should be made possible to export combat-capable ships to Southeast Asian countries.

On the other hand, Komeito members want to relax the restrictions enough to allow the government to increase exports or assistance to Ukraine in areas such as landmine removal, but they are wary of relaxing the conditions further.

At Tuesday’s meeting, officials from the Defense Ministry and others offered explanations about past developments, points of contention and the hardware that other countries want to acquire through transfers of Japan’s defense equipment.

Some LDP members have expressed the view that the issue should be concluded to a certain degree by the start of the Group of Seven summit to be held in Hiroshima in May.

But Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi took a cautious stance during talks with reporters on the day. “Considering processes in the past of establishing the rules and considering responses to the issue at home and abroad, it is very difficult to conclude it in a short period of time,” he said.

The Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology allow the government to export or transfer such items to other countries under three conditions.

One condition is the prohibition of exports or transfers to countries in armed conflicts. Another condition limits exports or transfers to cases in which they can contribute to peace, international cooperation or securing Japan’s safety. And a third condition requires that recipient countries’ proper management of the defense equipment is secured.

The current three principles replaced the previous three principles that restricted the export of weapons in April 2014, under a decision by the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The previous principles had effectively banned Japanese arms exports.

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