In response to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and in an effort to strengthen the domestic defense industry, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has called on the ruling parties to expedite discussions on revising Japan’s strict regulations for defense equipment exports. The government aims to extend support to Ukraine, which is facing Russia’s invasion, by relaxing the rules and allowing the export of certain defense equipment. Kishida conveyed his intention to present the government’s stance on defense equipment and technology transfer, urging the parties to resume their halted talks promptly.
The working group, comprising members from Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito, previously compiled a report on the matter. According to the report, the group agreed that Japan should be allowed to export cars and vessels equipped with lethal weapons for noncombat purposes, but only to countries with which it collaborates on security matters. Initially scheduled to reconvene in the fall, the discussions are now set to resume earlier than anticipated.
Itsunori Onodera, the former defense minister and head of the working group, stated that the group will restart discussions after the government provides its official view on the matter. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno emphasized the importance of fostering a desirable security environment for Japan and establishing rules for supporting countries facing military invasion, referring to defense equipment export as “an important political tool.”
This move towards relaxing Japan’s stringent “three principles” on defense equipment and technology transfer began in April, following an agreement with Britain and Italy to jointly develop a next-generation fighter jet by 2035. Under the current framework, Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution prohibits the export of lethal weapons, except for items jointly developed or produced with other countries, which can then be transferred among those nations.
Despite these restrictions, Japan has previously provided defense products such as bulletproof vests and helmets to Ukraine. However, Western countries have gone a step further by supplying missiles, tanks, fighter jets, and other advanced military equipment to Kyiv. This highlights the urgency for Japan to review its arms export regulations in light of the global security landscape.
The working group’s report, released on July 5, also revealed divisions among its members regarding the permissibility of exporting fighter jets jointly developed with other countries to third nations. This aspect remains a subject of debate and requires further consideration.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s call to expedite discussions on defense equipment exports demonstrates Japan’s commitment to bolstering its domestic defense industry and offering support to countries facing military aggression. As the situation in Ukraine remains critical, relaxing the strict regulations could provide much-needed aid to nations in need. However, finding a consensus on specific export conditions, especially regarding fighter jets, will be essential to strike a balance between national security and international cooperation.