Japan on March 1 further relaxed a self-imposed ban on weapons exports by approving the dispatch of locally made components for the U.S.-built F-35 stealth fighter jet, despite concerns that Israel will buy the plane and thereby contravene an export embargo observed for more than four decades.
In 1967, Japan declared it, in principle, would never sell arms to a member of the communist bloc or to nations targeted by U.N. sanctions. It also resolved never to export weapons to countries involved in, or likely to be involved in conflict, a category that arguably includes Israel.
Various successive governments have tweaked the embargo, but on March 1 the government ruled that parts for Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35 combat aircraft would be seen as an "exception" and their export could proceed.
In a statement, the chief Cabinet secretary insisted the export would have no effect on Japan's fundamental stance against conflict.
"Japan will maintain its fundamental principles as a peace-loving nation in line with the U.N. charter," Yoshihide Suga said in a statement.
The ban was previously relaxed in 2011, when the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda permitted the export of weaponry aimed at boosting Japan's national security that are developed and built with nations in cooperative defense ties with Tokyo.
But the ban is not just a technical embargo. It is also widely seen as underscoring a philosophical belief that Japan should do all it can to avoid escalating international conflict, and defense experts say that could call into question the legitimacy of exporting parts for warplanes that Israel is expected to buy.
The F-35 is described as a next-generation fighter jet. It has been developed by the United States in cooperation with eight other nations, and the Air Self-Defense Force is to adopt it as its primary combat aircraft.
In his statement, Suga made no mention of the principle of "avoiding escalating international conflict" and, instead, referred to adhering to the U.N. charter.
"A war on terrorism is under way," Suga told a news conference on March 1. "We altered the expression because we need to contribute to peace and stability in the international community."
Suga's statement said F-35s containing Japan-built parts would be distributed only to nations under the rigorous control of the U.S. government and that their transfer would be limited to nations in compliance with the purposes and the principles of the U.N. charter.
This would enable tight control of exports, the statement said, thus warranting their distribution as an exception.
But defense experts say it remains unclear exactly how Japan could control the transfer of the plane parts to third-party nations once they are no longer in its hands.
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