TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is set to ease a decades-old weapons export ban, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Friday, paving the way for the country’s small defence industry to participate in multinational projects.
Defence Minister Yasuo Ichikawa had told Reuters this month that he expected a government decision on a possible easing of the self-imposed ban before long.
Japan in 1967 drew up its “three principles” on arms exports, banning sales to countries with communist governments, that are involved in international conflicts, or that are subject to United Nations sanctions.
But the rules evolved into a blanket ban on arms development and production with any country other than Japan’s chief ally the United States, hurting the competitiveness of the country’s defence industry, which accounts for less than 1 percent of total Japanese industrial production.
The easing would allow Japan, with a pacifist constitution, to export weapons and technologies to countries that have agreed to international arms export regulations, the Yomiuri said, citing government sources.
Easing the ban would allow Japan’s defence industry to join multinational projects such as the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 joint strike fighter and enable defence contractors such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to cut costs.
Other major Japanese defence contractors include Kawasaki Heavy Industries and IHI Corp.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said he had no knowledge of any planned easing of the ban as reported by the Yomiuri.
“Our position is to follow the weapons export ban that has been in place until today,” he told a news conference.
The Yomiuri said Noda would convey his plans on the issue to U.S. President Barack Obama in November when they are likely to meet. The United States has sought Japanese technology for use in joint weapons development, the newspaper said.
The ruling Democratic Party has called for easing the export ban but Noda’s predecessor Naoto Kan did not alter the rules.
Efforts to review the ban have faced domestic opposition in the past.
While parliamentary approval is not required to lift the ban, the government and the Democrats aim to discuss their position with the second biggest opposition New Komeito Party, which has been wary about easing the ban but whose help they need to pass bills in the divided parliament, where the opposition controls the upper chamber, the Yomiuri said.
(Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Edmund Klamann)