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UPDATED: April 15, 2014 NO. 16 APRIL 17, 2014
Marching to Militancy
Japan's efforts to break into the arms export industry signal growing military ambitions
By Shi Yongming

Sensing the opportunity, on March 1, 2013, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said exporting weaponry parts is not against Japan's 1967 "three principles" on arms exports and it will be conducive to the development of Japan's military industry. That same day, the Japanese Government held a security conference in which it decided to lift its ban on arms exports by reinterpreting the 1967 principles.

As a war-renouncing country for the past several decades, Japan has in place a pacifist Constitution based on the following five aspects: no formal army, no development of offensive weapons, restrictions on arms exports, commitments to being a nuclear weapons-free country and a ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense. However, now the first three promises of the Japanese Government have been broken. The fourth one is also in danger of being abandoned given Japan's persistent pursuit of nuclear technology. Moreover, the Abe administration is pushing for the revision of Japan's pacifist Constitution to lift the ban on collective self-defense so that it can carry out military operations along with the United States.

When the Japan Business Federation proposal was first raised in 2010, Kyodo News commented that the 1967 "three principles" on arms exports and the "three non-nuclear principles" are inscribed in history as evidence that Japan is a pacifist country. The Japanese news agency also said it is a matter for rejoicing that the then Naoto Kan administration refused the proposal. Japan, it seems, is moving farther and farther from being a pacifist country.

Threatening regional security

The problem caused by the modification of Japan's arms exports principles is not only that Japan will speed up its arms sales but also that it will use this as a means to pursue strategic political purposes.

Japan has been trying to build a military superpower, and then play its political role in the world arena based on its military strength. Apart from military deterrence, arms exports can also be used as a political tool in handling world matters.

In recent years, Japan has already begun to use arms exports to achieve regional strategic goals. This can be seen most clearly in its relations with the Philippines. On the surface, it seems that Japan worries about China's rise because of their sovereignty disputes over the Diaoyu Islands. But actually, Japan worries more about its influence in the region being overwhelmed by China in the future. It is also concerned that it will be gradually marginalized with the development of Sino-U.S. relations. Therefore, Tokyo tries to elevate its status in the U.S. Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy by intensifying regional tensions.

At the same time, to enhance its own regional influence, Japan makes every effort to sell the "China threat" theory in Southeast Asia and around the Indian Ocean. In the name of maritime security cooperation, it has conducted alliance diplomacy against China with countries in the region, with the Philippines, which also has territorial disputes with China, as one of its key potential allies.

During the Philippines-Japan summit in September 2011, the two sides reached an agreement on the South China Sea issue in addition to economic cooperation. According to their agreement, Japan would provide funding and training to help strengthen the Philippine Coast Guard. The two also agreed to establish an information exchange system relating to the South China Sea issue, which aims to build a platform for Japan's involvement in this issue. In May 2012, the Japanese Government decided to donate 10 patrol vessels to the Philippines, the costs of which would be covered by loans in yen to be provided as part of Japan's official development assistance.

The use of economic assistance funds for military aid hints that Japan is shifting its foreign policy to the direction of militarization. However, Japan's political system lacks the means to prevent this use of funds. This, from another perspective, has shown that there is still political soil to revive militarism in Japan. Thus, once Japan turns itself into an arms-exporting country and military power, it will become a major negative factor for regional security and stability.

The author is an associate research fellow with the China Institute of International Studies

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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